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    Thread: Is only personal experience valid, or is experience + information better?

    1. #1
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      Is only personal experience valid, or is experience + information better?

      Lately I've run across the experiential viewpoint a few times on this message board, which as I understand it states that only personal experience counts as knowledge - ie anything you learn from textbooks tutorials or word of mouth is to be treated as if it doesn't exist.

      Am I misunderstanding it? Overstating it? If so please let me know, because this sounds foolish to me. I mean I can understand saying that you shouldn't blindly trust everything you read, but things that have been scientifically evaluated in peer-reviewed journals and accepted as facts shouldn't be discarded out of hand simply because you personally didn't run the experiments.

      As a civilization, we've made most of our progress by standing on the shoulders of giants - beginning where established learning of others has left off. If it were necessary for each of us to begin by re-inventing the wheel for instance, the automotive industry would consist of hand-built wooden carts. Say what you may about the environmental aspects of the automotive industry, it's a branch of human industry/accomplishment that has advanced staggeringly because the people involved were smart enough to first study what's been done by those who came before - to discard steam engines for example because they read that others had tried it and discovered that internal combustion works better.

      I'll readily agree that not all information is accurate - but that's no reason to toss the baby out with the bathwater and reject all book learnin'!

      While it's true that information we haven't earned might be slightly less valuable than that which we've discovered ourselves, it's also true that personal experience without understanding is useless. Before the scientific age people trusted their own experience to tell them everything, and came to a lot of wrong conclusions that common sense suggested.

      It seems only prudent to me to accept both experience and information, since together they form a gestalt much greater than either alone. In fact it seems they can provide checks and balances on each other - a sort of in-progress course correction.

      Discuss.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 01-05-2012 at 09:31 PM.
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      I agree with everything you've said. There are advantages to both, and neither should be discarded. I wonder where you've been hearing any opposing viewpoint.

      It might be said that there are three types of learning you're talking about.

      1) Knowledge gained through direct experience. (ex: you've performed the experiment yourself)
      2) Knowledge gained by reading about someone else's experience. (ex: you've read about the experiment in detail)
      3) Knowledge gained by trusting an authority. (ex: you're given the result of the experiment but have no idea how it was carried out)

      I can imagine people having trouble accepting (3) if the authority of the information is bad. For example, a chain email telling you that we swallow 5 spiders in our lifetimes, or a Christian group claiming that experiments show prayer works, or a top scientist in the relevant field who has a lot of opposition from other top scientists. Maybe that's where the opposition is coming from.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      I wonder where you've been hearing any opposing viewpoint.
      Are you being serious here? (I mean with the part I quoted - I agree with what you said about #3 above)

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      Yeah. Where have you been hearing it?

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      Ok, wasn't sure if you were joking, because it was on your thread about the origin of the universe being arbitrary. Not from you of course. From Really, and with some support (though with modifications) from PhilosopherStoned. It led me to look up Experientialism, and my conclusion is that it's essentially an insular philosophy that rejects all science and learning.

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      The definition of knowledge includes knowing something through direct experience and association, so I'd guess this includes associating experience with information, which seems to just be a more complicated and refined experience.

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      I agree - if I read that something was determined through experimentation, I've experienced READING about the experiment's conclusions. It's a sort of secondhand experience. Though it can be hard to determine sometimes if what you're reading is accurate or not.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Ok, wasn't sure if you were joking, because it was on your thread about the origin of the universe being arbitrary. Not from you of course. From Really, and with some support (though with modifications) from PhilosopherStoned. It led me to look up Experientialism, and my conclusion is that it's essentially an insular philosophy that rejects all science and learning.
      That thread made me think about the definition of knowledge too. It seemed that some people were defining it as direct experience + information and others were defining it as information about direct experience.

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      And some seem to consider belief to be knowledge. Is that the extremist version of experientialism? Or maybe a misunderstanding of it?

      I think my main reason for starting this thread, aside from (obviously) stating my own opinion on the matter, is to try to learn more about the experiential viewpoint - to try to understand it.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      I agree - if I read that something was determined through experimentation, I've experienced READING about the experiment's conclusions. It's a sort of secondhand experience. Though it can be hard to determine sometimes if what you're reading is accurate or not.
      Yeah, this bothers me all the time. You can never truly know unless you do it yourself, that's why I always wonder why scientists aren't more sympathetic about making these kinds of experiments more accessible. Until then, according to my personal epistemology, you can only skeptically let it guide you.
      Last edited by Wayfaerer; 01-05-2012 at 10:19 PM.

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      Well - even then you can't be completely sure - as I said above, just because you experienced something doesn't mean you really understand it. That's why it seems to me that experience needs to be tempered with information.

      Example - most of the archeological evidence supporting evolution consists of a vast array of fossils that must be considered together before any conclusion can be drawn. Can any one archaeologist really amass enough personal experience to say that the overwhelming evidence points to evolution, or is it the kind of thing that relies on teams correlating their findings?

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      Well, hopefully the teams share their evidence for the sake of better information. I wouldn't be able to consider the archaeologist a good scientist if he didn't directly observe all claims before making attempts to understand the information behind them.
      Last edited by Wayfaerer; 01-05-2012 at 10:17 PM.

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      Those 2 sentences directly contradict each other.

      How many fossils had to be dug up and examined before science was able to reasonably claim "all the fossil evidence points to evolution"? Can you name any single archaeologist who was involved personally in all those digs and examinations?
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 01-05-2012 at 10:26 PM.

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      I'm sure there are other ways to tell if it's a real fossil other than digging it up. I'm just saying that in my opinion, any good scientist would make sure, and have the integrity to set the standard to their experience alone.

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      So, are you rescinding this statement then - "I wouldn't be able to consider the archaeologist a good scientist if he didn't directly observe all claims before making attempts to understand the information behind them."?

      No scientist has personally been involved with every part of every examination of enough fossils to call them "overwhelming evidence". It took thousands of scientists correlating their data... every one of them couldn't possibly have directly checked every fact at every stage for every fossil. At some point they have to simply take it on faith that the other scientists are reporting their discoveries accurately.

      Now I'm confused - at first I thought you were supporting 'experience + information (as long as said information seems reasonably valid)'. Now it sounds like you condone only personal experience.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 01-05-2012 at 10:34 PM.

    16. #16
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      Sorry if I'm repeating concepts here, but I believe Experience with information is useful.

      Sure you could always go to reliable sources to be cognizant of certain aspects, and it is generally better to receive information based on what other people experienced. (Like dancing for instance, normally someone a bit older can teach someone younger how to move to the beat better than someone who is just as young as they are, of course, that's assuming that the older person already has experience with dancing in general). That's just based on remembering what the person taught you based on what they experienced. But when you apply that information for your benefit to be just as good as them (and possibly better if you're a quick learner) I consider that as knowledge.

      I think knowledge is how you use it for your own way of thinking. The information we process (like learning techniques for dreaming for instance) can easily be remembered, but actually attempting them and learning from them is what makes the difference than just seeing the technique.

      No matter how much information teaches you about anything, it can't teach you how to think. If you want to learn something from the information given to you, you have to apply it to how you think, sort of like leeching bits of it so that it conforms to your perspective.

      For experimental viewpoints, what I believe is that it's better to try things out for yourself if you're really skeptical about a source that is claimed to be almost irrefutable. Not everything is going to be absolute, and the theories that are generally accepted now are just there in the mean time until someone provides more evidence that it is wrong. (or just needs a little push to the presumed status quo)

      And when something like that occurs, it turns into a huge ego trip because imagine if you found something (like new bacteria's behavior in interacting with another organism for example), and NO one else has ever found this. You start to become saturated with the potential of making break-through! And when you publish it and someone comes in and criticizes it, it's going to hurt you, even if you may be the one that is subjective and opened to new things.

      As for belief, I think of it as a way to keep yourself stable with reality. If you become too open with various schemata, you'll find yourself invariably back-tracking to your original plan that allowed for such subjective learning. And that will just make reality more complicated on your part. If you want to learn something, sometimes it's best to temporarily eradicate your beliefs of something and let it process into your mind. When you're done doing that, you can go back to your primal belief and see if it conforms to what you just learned.

      Of course that's flawed to a point because it's always compelling to force the information to make it ideal for our original belief, ergo, reality becomes distorted to you because your schemata doesn't like the information given to you. That's when the corruption begins in my perspective because one starts to make excuses as to why the information isn't valid in their minds.

      There so many things to learn from, and it's kind of hard to confine an origin that defines knowledge. Even though textbooks, etc. try to give a universal meaning to prevent criticism and debates, I think it's for your own personal discovery.

      Sometimes there is information that cannot be avoided ( Cruel example here, but hopefully it helps what I'm trying to declare: like the fact that there are people in the world that enjoy seeing others die and having their guts turned inside out, if someone who generally has a "pure" and almost naive mentality sees an event where humans are considered nothing but body bags being ripped apart, it will obviously cause trauma and mess up how they try to justify the reasons to why these people would do something like that).

      Because it can't be defined or ignored, it forces one to experiment to see why others think that way, but rather than trying to learn what the other person feels, the one experimenting learns it through their perspective.

      A professor once told us at my University that it doesn't matter if something is right or wrong if you can justify your way of thinking in an acceptable and "intelligent" manner.

      I quote "intelligent" because that itself is subjective.

      That's my opinion.

      People can only teach you techniques, but they can't teach you how to think. They can motivate you and possible push you towards a path, but they still cannot teach you how to think. You are responsible to letting the information come to you, and if you think it's nonsense, you have the option to eliminate it out of your mind.

      Sometimes it's better to know certain things than everything. (Because usually divergent thinking can be more useful because you know how you can branch off information for your own discovery and realization). We can't possibly be omniscient.
      Last edited by Linkzelda41; 01-05-2012 at 10:42 PM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      No scientist has personally been involved with every part of every examination of enough fossils to call them "overwhelming evidence". It took thousands of scientists correlating their data... every one of them couldn't possibly have directly checked every fact at every stage for every fossil. At some point they have to simply take it on faith that the other scientists are reporting their discoveries accurately.
      Overwhelming evidence for evolution isn't that difficult lol

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Before the scientific age people trusted their own experience to tell them everything, and came to a lot of wrong conclusions that common sense suggested.
      I'm not sure what you mean by this because it's kind of backwards. The great period of intellectual decay before the scientific age was definitely a result of the other side of the coin: people thought that authority was the best source of knowledge, as opposed to personal experience (or personal reasoning). The authority of the Catholic church, the direct authority of the Bible, and the professed authority of Aristotle and his dogmas, were what you appealed to if you wanted to be wise, and many of the claims run very contrary to 'common sense'. The overthrowing of this paradigm in favour of common sense and personal veracity was a cataclysmic event (caused by several factors like the rediscovery of Greek sceptics, Luther protesting against the church, the discovery of cultures with very different myths...) which directly engendered the Enlightenment, and is still its most basic tenet.

      Now, I think what you're talking about isn't so much of a problem, and can still be easily reconciled with the central idea of putting personal experience over authority. The reason is that the emphasis is never on authority itself; the authority is simply gained from providing good arguments, which are directly accessible to personal experience, and physical evidence, which, crucially, is, in the vast majority of cases, directly accessible in principle to personal experience; that is to say, if you are sceptical of a particular result, you personally can follow the methodology presented and repeat the results.

      Now, the issue of how to actually define 'knowledge' is a notoriously difficult one (in fact I saw it on a relatively short list of 'unsolved philosophical problems'). I have a kind of different view of what we should be doing here, but for the sake of interesting discussion I suggest you give it a go and try to classify it in a terse manner. One of the main things to bear in mind is that it has to be quite weak in a sense, because there is very very little you can be certain of. On one side, because you could be a brain in a vat. On another, because of the problem of induction; there's no way of proving that gravity won't start pushing stuff away tomorrow, all we know are the instances we observed.
      Last edited by Xei; 01-05-2012 at 10:48 PM.
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      @ Linkzelda:

      Ok, in some instances it is possible to hear something or read about something and then re-create the experience for yourself, as in your dance example.

      How do you feel about accepting 'knowledge' that you can't or simply don't care to try to experience for yourself? Like example - do you accept the knowledge that the earth is actually a sphere? I'm assuming you've never personally traveled all the way around it (in at least 2 directions, because to go around it once means it could be a cylinder). I doubt any person has actually personally experienced the spherocity of the earth, and been awake every part of the way so as to prove to themselves that no trickery occurred while they were sleeping, and yet I think we all accept that the earth truly is (roughly) spherical.

      Of course we get correlating info from multiple sources that all agree - but still I seriously doubt that even one person can truthfully say they've actually experienced the shape of the earth in any meaningful way. Its scope is just too vast to allow for that. So some things we simply have to take on faith and can't test ourselves. Even if we could, a lifetime isn't long enough to check the validity of every fact you've been taught, nor do you have the technical training or the laboratory facilities to do so.



      @ Xei:

      What I meant is that for instance people would see insects emerging seemingly miraculously form piles of garbage and say "Well, insects spontaneously grow from garbage - I know it's true because I saw it with my own eyes!"

      Before science came along and allowed us to check our findings against reality this is how knowledge was acquired. Through observation and "common sense". Everybody just knew the heavens were a series of glass bowls turned upside-down over the flat plain of the earth. Everybody just "knew" this, nobody bothered to test it (and they didn't have reliable means of doing so at the time).

      ow science has answered the vast majority of these 'common sense; fallacies, and we can google to find the answers. I personally think that's a better alternative to just looking t something and making your own deduction. By all means, do that, but also check it against the findings of others who might actually have done experiments. I don't know about you, but I don't have a lab of any kind and don't care to spend my time doing experiments to check everything.

      I believe information sharing is expanding awareness and understanding. Certainly people are free to ignore it if they want and live in insulated ignorance, the way cultists and religion extremists do. But they rely on information from authority, as you said - they don't check their facts using the internet or anything.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 01-05-2012 at 11:01 PM.
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      the authority is simply gained from providing good arguments, which are directly accessible to personal experience, and physical evidence, which, crucially, is, in the vast majority of cases, directly accessible in principle to personal experience
      I agree.

      As long as authority can justify it's beliefs and intentions in a good and intelligent manner that persuades people and makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside, they can make any crap eventually conform to a status quo.

      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Ok, in some instances it is possible to hear something or read about something and then re-create the experience for yourself, as in your dance example.

      How do you feel about accepting 'knowledge' that you can't or simply don't care to try to experience for yourself? Like example - do you accept the knowledge that the earth is actually a sphere? I'm assuming you've never personally traveled all the way around it (in at least 2 directions, because to go around it once means it could be a cylinder). I doubt any person has actually personally experienced the spherocity of the earth, and been awake every part of the way so as to prove to themselves that no trickery occurred while they were sleeping, and yet I think we all accept that the earth truly is (roughly) spherical.

      Of course we get correlating info from multiple sources that all agree - but still I seriously doubt that even one person can truthfully say they've actually experienced the shape of the earth in any meaningful way. Its scope is just too vast to allow for that. So some things we simply have to take on faith and can't test ourselves. Even if we could, a lifetime isn't long enough to check the validity of every fact you've been taught, nor do you have the technical training or the laboratory facilities to do so.
      When you start declaring about things that is beyond standard human reach, then it becomes complicated.

      Also competence to go beyond the scale of that standard will help with justifying whether or not it's cylinder or a sphere. But I am just a TEENAGER, I cannot do that! It could be possible if I had large sums of money to fund my journey to verify the accepted belief of it being a sphere.

      But other than that, no I can't really say anything about something like that. I'm only limited to what I can learn being confined on Earth.

      Of course, if I start grabbing some concepts with Astral Projection/OBEs as competence to see if it is spherical or not, that would just make things more controversial (because someone can give a good argument that it's just what my subconscious is trying to create to associate to my personal agenda for verify something beyond the scope of human reach). So I'll just limit what I said to what I am capable of learning on this planet.
      Last edited by Linkzelda41; 01-05-2012 at 10:58 PM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Now I'm confused - at first I thought you were supporting 'experience + information (as long as said information seems reasonably valid)'. Now it sounds like you condone only personal experience.
      Information isn't just "other people's claims". As you said, it should be a reasonably valid progress, and constitute everyone's personal experience.
      Last edited by Wayfaerer; 01-05-2012 at 10:54 PM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      Overwhelming evidence for evolution isn't that difficult lol
      Overwhelming evidence that one single person has had actual personal experience of is.

      Lol.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      Information isn't just "other people's claims". As you said, it should be a reasonably valid progress, and constitute everyone's personal experience.
      Well, when we first encounter it, we can't be sure how accurate information is. Some of course seems much more reliable than others. Of course I'm not classing vague internet rumors or hearsay from barroom drunks alongside scientific findings made by other people.

      "and constitute everyone's personal experience."

      What does "everyone's personal experience" mean in this context though? The experiences of various scientists combined through information-sharing? Or that everyone must personally experience each experiment themselves? I'm saying that I believe information-sharing is valid, especially when that information comes from a reputable source like scientific experiments that you didn't personally conduct. At one point above you claimed that you don't trust any scientist who accepts results he didn't personally experience himself. Now it seems you're contradicting that and you seem to accept information-sharing as valid.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 01-05-2012 at 11:08 PM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      Information isn't just "other people's claims". As you said, it should be a reasonably valid progress, and constitute everyone's personal experience.
      I think conformity is what limits us from finding something new. Being afraid of being laughed at and ridiculed by others saturated with conformity makes us weak.

      @Darkmatters, yeah mortality also limits us from validating things. (I could talk about transcendental immortality), but then that would contradict your original post as to what defines knowledge.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Linkzelda41 View Post
      @Darkmatters, yeah mortality also limits us from validating things. (I could talk about transcendental immortality), but then that would contradict your original post as to what defines knowledge.
      How so? I'm claiming that it's not necessary to personally experience something in order to call it knowledge.

      And on the issue brought up by Xei about information coming from Authority - where did the authority get their facts from? People made observations nd drew conclusions based solely on "common sense" without anyone bothering to do experiments to check things. Or even worse, they simply manufactured 'information' as propaganda. Nobody had any other recourse that to believe what they were told - if there had been science or an internet (or better yet both) they could have had other recourse. But without information-sharing to balance out the bad information there was no way to get any better info.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 01-05-2012 at 11:14 PM.
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