Saturday, June 10, 2017

Analysis and Experience

Plato said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

By that standard, also an unlived life is not worth examining.

Analysis and experience are two ways of getting to understanding. Both can be valuable, but both also lead to error. Mere analysis creates a bunch of smug, mean-spirited backseat drivers who think that they are smart and that everyone else is stupid – who see only the appearance of things and not their experience – who have academic understanding of things but no clue as to how to apply it. Mere experience creates a bunch of mindless people who do all sorts of stupid – and frequently destructive – things. But when you have the perspective of both analysis and experience, you understand both how things are seen from without and how they are experienced from within. And this creates a fuller perspective that understands both the experience of participants and its effect on others.

When I was 19, just finished with university and working in the computer industry, a highly competent psychiatrist was trying to steer me into the academia. I told him that I wanted to live life first, at which point he asked something like, “Is life going to run away from you?” I do not regret the choice that I have made – to experience life in its different aspects before making an effort to study it. If I had gone to the academia as a youth, I would have been bound to the errors in academic thought, of which there are plenty. Instead I have a broad base of experience from which to draw valuable conclusions on different subjects.

Analysis and experience can, and should, work together. Either one can lead and either one can follow. Sometimes experiencing things creates the life knowledge that can lead to useful analysis. Sometimes analyzing the experience can create the wisdom necessary to improve one's experience. It is possible for the two to feed into one another, with experience informing analysis and analysis leading to more informed experience. Life should be both lived and examined. That way, one understands both the experience and its external effects.

I call this integrative cognition. Something is both experienced and analyzed, resulting in a more complete understanding than through either acting alone. One understands both the reality of the experience and the reality of its external effects. A related methodology can be used in journalism, sociology, politics, psychology and business: To both observe and experience a phenomenon. The result of this is understanding both the experience of the participants and its effect on others. In other words, a full picture.

Academics are often rightfully accused of teaching students about life without having lived it. I have taken a different path. I have decided to live life – in quite an unusual way – before writing about it. I have familiarity with any number of features of academic thought. But there are some that are simply wrong; and I have an experiential base to see it for what it is.

There is a need for both experience and analysis. The first gives one understanding of how something is felt by participants; the second gives understanding of its external effects. The result is an integrative portrayal that creates a full picture, allowing a more profound understanding of life.


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