# 304: Radical Experience
Story behind the Passage
No, the title today is not a typo. You might think so if you happen to know the term “radical empiricism” by William James. I am building on James today but I want to focus more on the concept of experience itself. How that factors into empiricism, both the ‘regular’ and the one of James, is a different matter. I want to focus on experience because I have come to conclude that experience is the one and most prominent concept that currently divides the social spheres and has been doing so for many centuries, at least in the West. Yes, I have been writing about the head/heart dualism quite a few times but the connecting element between the two is: experience.
You might think that experience is something that can never be lost because it is immanent in human being and living. How much experience requires reflection in order to count as experience is another thing to ponder. But what I want to question today is the very axiom of experience and its meaning to the “common” man or woman nowadays. In some circles, particularly in business and entrepreneurship, experience is everything. In other circles, including science, experience is more or less denigrated, at least if it is not accompanied by “scholarly” research. So, the two exist in both and many more worlds but they are judged in very different ways.
Now, back to the question of whether or not experience just happens naturally. You might argue that it depends on the kind of experience that makes all the difference, right? So, I can argue that sitting at home from morning till evening — during Covid or even before — deprives one of “life experience” because the latter, so the popular legend goes, happens “outside,” among people, in the middle of the social realm — where things are “happening,” as we like to say. If we engage in this “public” experience, we supposedly gain more life experience.
I am making all this sound a bit questionable because I do not necessarily think that one is better than the other or can replace the other. What I definitely think, however, is that neither of the two just happen. I think, you have to actively seek different experiences — at least the ones that you have control over — just like you seek knowledge. And knowledge and experience, back to James and my own world view, are immanently intertwined. This is why James turns against the argument that scientific empiricism suffices because it misses the big picture — the connections between the tiny dots of single and isolated experiences. What this excludes, and this is why I chose the passage, is the time aspect.
“While we live in such conjunctions our state is one of transition in the most literal sense.” The concept of transition is crucial for me as I ponder the meaning of experience in the context of education for the current student generation. Yes, every human being is in constant transition as long as our heart beats and our cells split, whether we are aware of it or not. But the life-transforming experiences that really bring about a transformation that feels like a quantum leap are, at least partly, are the ones that you actively seek and then might have the privilege of pursuing.
What I am worried about is that the digital and supposedly globalized world thinks it can replace this with virtual experiences which are not personal in the sense that stories are everything. Even study “experiences,” i.e., online degrees, are altogether imagined in one war or the other. If I watch the story of a successful person, I know what it means to be successful? If I watch a documentary about France, I know what France is like? If I play car simulator, I can drive? Especially the latter example shows that these simulated experiences can partly replace the real experience, but only partly. I am concinved that truth requires experience and that truth requires risk taking. What I mean by risk is that your new self might not be the old self anymore, even though it is rather more of your true self but you did not see this before.
Is this confusing?
It does not have to be.
If you follow the radical experiential mode of James, there is only one way to understand what I am writing about.
Go out into the world —
the “real” one and the one inside.
Get to KNOW yourSELF.
1) What is “radical” about basing knowledge on experience?
2) Do you think that Covid has lastingly affected the willingness of the young generation to gain experience abroad?
3) Who is your favorite philosopher? Why?