9. Experimental Experientialism

Type ‘experientialist’ into any device with spell check and you’ll probably be asked if you meant ‘experimentalist’. Whilst spell check can be a boon sometimes, this particular correction bugged the hell out of me when I started this blog.

But having seen the word so often it got me thinking. Was a similarity in spelling the only connection between these two words?

A good place to start is with the definitions:

Experiment -

  • A course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the outcome.

  • A test done in order to learn something or to discover if something works or is true.

  • To test or to try a new way of doing something.

Experience -

  • Something that you live through; something that happens to you in life.

  • The knowledge that you get from doing, seeing or feeling things.

  • Something that happens to you that affects how you feel.

As ‘experientialists’ our aim is to build our store of life experiences, to learn from them, to grow as individuals.

We should be trying new things; eating different food, finding new ways to spend our free time, meeting new people.

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” 

― Eleanor Roosevelt

Our experiences, positive or negative, have shaped our pasts. They’ve made us the person we are today, and they’ll make us a different person in the future. 

New experiences are the key to keeping our lives from becoming stagnant and boring. They stop us becoming lethargic and tedious.

And how do we get those new experiences? We experiment!

All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, having established the link, let’s dive a bit deeper.

I’ve talked before about intention. Whatever else happens in our lives we can be certain of one thing; we always have a choice.

I don’t mean that we can always choose what happens to us. That’s obviously not the case. What I mean is that whatever happens, we can always choose how to react. 

Perhaps this is where becoming an ‘experimentalist’ could be useful.

Suppose the inevitable happens, something occurs that we neither sought nor wanted. Our default state pushes us towards feelings of being hard-done by, and urges us to complain about our bad luck.

But what if we remembered that life is just an experiment? What if we treated that event as simply part of an experiment that went wrong. 

Experiments are just that, an experiment. The whole purpose is to establish if something works or not. Failures are to be expected.

A scientist conducting an experiment may not welcome failures, but knows that a lot can be learned from them, that they may even give some unexpected benefit.

Google ‘accidental scientific discoveries’ and you’ll find a big list.

Here’s one to save you the trouble:

In 1938, Roy Plunkett, a scientist with DuPont, was working on ways to make refrigerators more home-friendly by searching for ways to replace the current refrigerant, which was primarily ammonia, sulphur dioxide, and propane. After opening the container on one particular sample he'd been developing, Plunkett found his experimental gas was gone. All that was left was a strange, slippery resin that was resistant to extreme heat and chemicals. — His failed experiment had produced Teflon.

OK, not everything that goes wrong has a positive outcome, but step-back a little, try to detach emotion, and you’ll see that at the very least there will be a lesson to learn. You’ll know also that you never really know whether something is good or bad until much later, when you can connect all the dots. Negative consequences can sometimes lead to positive outcomes down the track.

“You never can tell whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck … One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision. — Winston Churchill

Taking the viewpoint of a scientist conducting an experiment is surely a better way to deal with events beyond our control.

But why restrict yourself solely to reaction? Why not take some control and become proactive?

Why not start a grand experiment aimed at answering the question: How could I live a better, happier and more fulfilling life?

What experiments could you conduct that would allow you to live life in this way?

Life is all about constant and never-ending improvement. By choosing to live your life as an experimental experientialist you are committing yourself to growth and development. With every experiment you conduct you learn a tremendous amount about yourself, about other people, and about the world around you. 

You don’t need to be a scientist (rocket or otherwise) to understand this. Neither do you have to be any sort of expert.

If everyone waited to become an expert before starting, no one would become one. To become an EXPERT, you must have EXPERIENCE. To get EXPERIENCE, you must EXPERIMENT! 

So stop waiting. Go experiment!