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Thursday, 5 July 2012


Experience is what we don't learn from.

Someone clears their throat, "Experience has taught me that .... " and you know you are about to hear a sixpenny morality tale. Life has simply served to confirm someone's prejudices.

You get drunk and you wake up with a hangover which is unpleasant. This experience may be repeated a remarkable number of times in a lifetime, quite painfully so, but whether it is "learnt" from is an entirely separate matter. If you want to avoid hangovers, you have to take decisions and stick to them. Neither has anything to do with experience. An alcoholic is someone who can take a decision but not stick to it, however painful the supposed learning from continuing hangover experience.

Of course, trying to master a practical skill, like driving a car, we learn how to avoid our mistakes, But it is not "experience" that tells us they are mistakes. It's the Driving Instructor.

We learn from teachers, we learn from books, we learn from thinking and imagining.

We simply change in ways we don't register as they are happening and over which we have no control. We become older and wiser or older and more foolish.

It's a contingent matter whether we become wiser or more foolish. Some experiences may push us towards wisdom and some may push us towards stupidity. Often enough, we don't get much choice over which way we make use of them.

Some experiences are crushing and telling someone to "learn" from them crushes them again.

Children don't become speakers from experience. They try to get in on the game everyone around them seems to be playing and seems to want them to join in with. What they hear triggers their native language learning faculty.

That goes off in its own delightful directions, wildly independent of what is going on around them. Only later do parents and teachers succeed in shaping the child's speech (and writing) into something approximating what they want.

Experience hasn't taught me very much. I think that is true for all of us.

1 comment:

  1. Experience, like history, teaches nothing; it's what you make of it that counts.