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Monday
Mar082010

a new variety of experience

Anecdotal evidence is the procreative mulch of science. Aspirin came from folk remedies involving willow wood high in salicylic acid. Mould was known as a cure for certain infections before Fleming stumbled upon penicillin. Rumours of Milkmaids not getting small pox provided the clue to Edward Jenner to develop the smallpox vaccine. I’ve heard that bee keepers don’t get arthritis- so expect a major breakthrough in arthritis medicine after a thorough study of bee sting venom is made.

Anecdotal evidence is often confused with received wisdom. Received wisdom is often so general as to be wrong. Received wisdom suggested that objects fell at different rates depending on their weight. Gallileo showed that all objects, heavy or light, fall at the same rate. But received wisdom is not evidence- anecdotal or otherwise, it is just a commonly held generalization. Evidence is specific, and anecdotal evidence is specific, though scientifically unproven, information.

Anecdotal evidence isn’t always spot on. It isn’t always right- but so what? Mulch is for growing flowers, it’s not for display in its own right. The more mulch the better if your objective is discovery. If you find anecdotal evidence challenging then your faith in science is actually weak rather than strong.

But some anecdotal evidence can’t be measured easily. And just because something can’t be counted doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Science is all about counting things when you get down to the nitty gritty, not about saying what is real and what is not real.

Examples include things from your own experience that rely on your own lack of self-delusion and ego involvement to be useful. I call this experidence. It’s evidence, its proof, but it can’t be counted, it comes from experience.

Why would anyone else accept your experidence? Well, why do we listen to anyone? Because we are scared of them, because we respect them, because we like them, because what they say interests us and seems to chime in with our own experidence.

It’s easy to be deluded. After every early aikido lesson I downloaded my latest ‘secret of aikido’ to my friends in the local coffee shop where we met. It was all fantasy, or just words. I didn’t have enough experience to pass anything useful on. It was just ideas.

Experidence is not an idea or a hypothesis.

Experidence differs from ‘experience’ because experience is both something transitory such as experiencing a sandstorm and something durational that refers to having repeated something a lot. There is an implication of learning having occurred but we are all familiar with the man who speaks of his ‘twenty years of experience’ which means one year of mistakes repeated twenty times.

Experidence is never passed on wanting another to ‘believe it too’. You say it in a quietish voice more as an observation that anything else. You aren’t excited or even that eager to ‘pass on the idea’. Experidence can be hard won. After years of pounding away at trying to do several things at once I can safely say that experidence tells me that momentum is crucial to high productivity, and changing tack more than once a day massively reduces momentum. But I won’t argue about it; I don’t need to- I know it.

You know experidence in a different way to the way you know information. Experidence is not a skill though, it is a verbalization of something true, that cannot be counted, and relies on your own integrity for its value.

That’s why experidence is fragile. It needs not only an objective observer but a sincere one. We’re not talking sainthood here. A sincere enough one though, an objective enough one.

Experidence makes its big weight felt in its effect on judgment. That’s why judgment, to those too egodriven to notice, looks so mysterious. In fact with enough experidence you are bound to have good judgment.

To gain experidence you have to be open to it. ‘Open’ is the key word here- you have to be in the right state of mind to be optimally learning. This doesn’t mean imagining you are learning, it means being focused on what you are doing to a sufficient degree that self-consciousness is minimized. In that state you will observe fairly objectively what is really happening in any situation. From this observation you will get ideas of how to solve problems. These, if successful, provide the bedrock of experidence.

The best use of experidence is to be able to benefit from that of others. Get used to the quiet way it is usually passed on. There is no reason it can’t be shouted out but usually people just drop their real experidence into a conversation in a rather humble tone. Get used to taking it on board even if it makes no sense. Someone with a lot of traveling experience once said to me ‘there comes a point on every trip when you just have to trust’. This made no sense to me until I started traveling when I had to get things done on my trips. And it’s true- sometimes you just have to trust. Can’t be counted but it’s as real as scientific evidence. Experidence.

 

 

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