Experience is more
How to actually experiencing a situation changes the dynamic. How only full consciousness and awareness can provide full understanding in any given circumstance.
Experience. You are going to read this word a lot in this article, so I better give you a proper definition:
1. The apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind.
2. Active participation in events or activities, leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill.
3. An event or a series of events participated in or lived through.
Source: American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language
Here’s my story:
As a graphic designer I studied Art and Design History at university, and for lack of resources I — and most of my colleagues — always had to rely on old used books and black & white photocopies for visualisation. I’m from south of Brazil’s countryside, a not-so-much developed country with very limited access to artistic and intellectual productions, and where what’s available is mainly centralised in Rio and São Paulo. So basically a context where is very difficult to get any real contact with art and design. We learned about the artists, their creations, the movements and the concepts and values they express, but the visual representation that we have from these were exclusively printed reproductions. And that was it, that’s how I built my knowledge of Art and Design. Later, a few years after my graduation I came to London for the first time and one of the first things I did was to go to the National Gallery. There I saw Monet, Dali, Van Gogh and many more.
That was it, that’s when it all made sense. What happened is that I thought I knew about Art, about the artists and the movements and what they represent but at that moment I realised I didn’t, and browsing the museum was all I needed to actually give my superficial knowledge some relevance. It was only when I experienced the action of seeing real artworks that my brain searched for all that stored information and it clicked. I finally get what the artist was expressing and the importance of this contribution to the world.
I couldn’t possibly imagine the same realisation only looking at the reproduction images on the books I had access to while studying years earlier. It was only after seeing the real brushes, textures, colours and the real size of the artworks that I really got it clicking.
I like to use Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ as one main example of how seeing the real artwork changes the dynamic. Because it’s quite a small painting when compared to the standard artwork size, this fact, to me, changes the perception and it builds so much more strength and meaning to its presence.
This is only one example of the many occasions where I then started to become more conscious and aware of the difference that it makes to actually experience something, giving the situation more meaning and understanding. A few other scenarios where I then started realising the change on dynamic with a real experience in place:
- Learning a new language: years of English classes and self-learning lessons were quickly put to the test when I had to go to real job interviews abroad. Only talking to people on real situations and on a daily basis gave me the support I needed to actually build the language skills.
- Meeting people in person instead of only engaging via email or phone: talking to people face to face can bring real understanding as, besides the obvious details on voice and expression that are only possible to catch in person, it’s also a more emotional engagement, with perceptions of the person’s personality and the way he/she interacts with you and the context.
- Driving: reading The Highway Code and attending theory classes on road signs and best practices gave me the basis for driving but only when I went on the road on my own and in a real situation is that I could build the confidence and ability to seriously tackle driving.
So does only a real experience triggers a real cognition? That’s too much for me to say within the science of brain behaviour. But on my personal experience, I’m even bold enough to say that my first visit to the National Gallery was life-changing, something that I’ll never forget and that opened my eyes to a whole new world.
With all this, my point is that we should try to experience as much as we can of the things we want to learn and develop. Or even on smaller things that we are just trying to better understand or put into practice.
Use the 5 senses that nature gave us and taste, see, touch, smell and hear the world around you. Start small, paying attention to what really matters and things will naturally fall into place.
We already know that the brightest minds are not only hidden behind screens or submerged into books, but they are also experiencing the world. So all it’s left is to give a bit more importance to this rich and essential part of our lives that is the active comprehension of knowledge: the action of experiencing.