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The primacy of experience

The only experience is the experience itself

When dealing with the explication process – the explication of one’s implicit knowledge – explicators are caused to reflect on their prior knowledge and experience. In reflecting on their prior knowledge and experience, explicators embark on an iterative process where the memories of their past are surfaced, tested and refreshed in the light of (a) current insights about their past and (b) ambitions and prospects about their future. All of this is a highly iterative interpretative process: new explicit knowledge emerges each time one revisits the archives and artefacts of one’s past, whether they’re people, documents, gifts or photographs: i.e. whatever happens to help the explicator to echo or picture the past.

When dealing with the past, the explicator is dealing with memories of past experiences. However vivid these memories are, however, these memories are NOT the actual experience itself. And in that context I find it helpful to utter an apparently self-evident truth: “the only experience is the experience itself”.

If “the only experience is the experience itself”, it seems to me that whether we are dealing with scholarship, where new knowledge emerges from the readings of others’ work, or research, which derives from inductive or deductive methods, we’re forced to admit that our understandings and our new knowledge come from a sort of synthesis of ongoing and prior work which has face validity grounded in disaffirmation (i.e. so far such and such an idea or explanation or theory hasn’t been shown to be inappropriate or wrong).

But this is still a derivative outcome. Similarly, the outcomes of scholarship and research are a sort of fictionalisation; a fictionalisation where we deal with proxies for the real thing. And if all this is too elaborate and remote for you, just think about the idea of competitive advantage and compare how it’s characterised in the business literature versus how it feels when one’s battling tooth and nail to make or sustain an impact on one’s market, or beat a competitor, or deter an entrant.

If the “only experience is the experience” itself, any expressions of that experience will never match up to the experience itself. Whether expressed in words or pictures or music, or in mathematical equations, all expressions and representations of the prior experience can never do justice to the experience itself. At best these expressions are understatements… and/or proxies… which the creative mind invents and manipulates. And then inevitably and ironically all of these expressions are open to mis-readings and misunderstandings by the reader. Hence it’s possible to deduce that in explication, as with the arts and humanities generally, “the text is never settled”.