Experience is more important than knowledge

During a lesson the other day I was reminded of a most important message which is often neglected.

The belief among many seems to be that you learn a lot of theory, then you apply it to the real world, and everything will go smoothly. That’s why people study theory and theory and theory… then go along, try a bit in the real world, and are disheartened when things don’t go to plan.

This leads to slogans such as:

There is no failure, only feedback

This kind of reverse rationalisation is representational of the overall trend of getting everything arse-backwards. Here’s how theory was developed:

1. Experience

2. Description and rationalisation of experience (theory)

The problem is therefore not that things don’t go to plan – the problem is the plan, not the things. When you don’t have a plan about how reality must go, there are two pleasant results:

1. Everything goes just perfectly

2. Nothing is disappointing

Everything becomes a success because you just can’t have failure when you don’t have expectations.

A little disclaimer – can we ever get to a point where there are no disappointments? No – because we’ll always have expectations to some extent. But the fewer and fewer expectations you have the better – because you have no choice but to spend your time in reality, the present moment, experience (all names for the same thing) instead of plans, expectations, outcome dependence, the future or the past, thoughts (all names for the same thing).

Back to the lesson, and how what I’ve just written applied practically.

At the end my student saw a two set going into a cafe. Off you go! I said…

“But I don’t know how to do that!”

This hit me like a thunderbolt, because I could see that a great deal of his frustration comes from getting it all arse-backwards, believing that knowledge leads experience. The thing that sets me apart from him is not my knowledge or “talent”, but that when these opportunities came I took them even when I had ABSOLUTELY ZERO idea of how I would do them. It’s about jumping in with no idea how to swim.

And this is just the point – no one “knows” how to do that – they experience it, and then they know.

Before I get caught up in a false dichotomy, I’m not saying never plan for anything – of course do, and I’m not saying that knowledge is useless. Knowledge well-applied to experience can work wonders. But we should work from a foundation of the truth – experience leads and informs knowledge first and foremost.

You can have experience without knowledge, but you can’t have knowledge without experience. 

Why? Because animals like us have been experiencing things for ever – but writing things down and passing on knowledge? It’s a very recent, very young, very naive game.

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Branston in a Pickle

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