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Experience is the process through which conscious organisms perceive the world around them. Experiences can be accompanied by active awareness on the part of the person having the experience, although they need not be. Experience is the primary subject of various subfields of philosophy, including the philosophy of perception, the philosophy of mind, and phenomenology.
Several different senses of the word "experience" should be distinguished from one another. In the sense of the word under discussion here, "experience" means something along the lines of "perception", "sensation", or "observation". In this sense of the word, knowledge gained from experience is called "empirical knowledge" or "a posteriori knowledge". This can include propositional knowledge (e.g. finding out that certain things are true based on sensory experience), procedural knowledge (e.g. learning how to perform a particular task based on sensory experience), or knowledge by acquaintance (e.g. familiarity with certain people, places, or objects based on direct exposure to them).
In ordinary language, the word "experience" may instead sometimes refer to one's level of competence or expertise, either in general or confined to a particular subject. In this sense of the word, "experience" generally refers to know-how rather than propositional knowledge (or in other words, on-the-job training rather than book-learning). This article is not about "experience" in this sense, but is instead about the immediate perception of events.
The word "experience" shares a common Latin root with the word "experimentation".
In everyday usage, the word "experience" may refer, somewhat ambiguously, to both unprocessed, immediately perceived events (such as "the experience of looking out the window"), and to the purported knowledge gained from these events or from reflection on previous events (i.e. "several years of experience working in that discipline"). This article is about the former, not the latter.
Experience is, first and foremost, sensory, and perceptual experience encompasses much of what we call "experience". One of the main topics of the philosophy of perception is determining the features which are constitutive of perceptual experience, including the content that our experiences have, the representational or non-representational nature of experience, and the role of consciousness in experience.
Mental experience involves the aspect of intellect and consciousness experienced as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination, including all unconscious cognitive processes. The term can refer, by implication, to a thought process.[clarification needed] Mental experience and its relation to the physical brain form an area of philosophical debate: some identity theorists originally argued that the identity of brain and mental states held only for a few sensations. Most theorists, however, generalized the view to cover all mental experience.[clarification needed]
Mathematicians can exemplify cumulative mental experience in the approaches and skills with which they work. Mathematical realism, like realism in general, holds that mathematical entities exist independently of the human mind. Thus humans do not invent mathematics, but rather discover and experience it, and any other intelligent beings in the universe would presumably do the same. This point of view regards only one sort of mathematics as discoverable; it sees triangles, right angles, and curves, for example, as real entities, not just the creations of the human mind. Some working mathematicians have espoused mathematical realism as they see themselves experiencing naturally occurring objects. Examples include Paul Erdős and Kurt Gödel. Gödel believed in an objective mathematical reality that could be perceived in a manner analogous to sense perception. Certain principles (for example: for any two objects, there is a collection of objects consisting of precisely those two objects) could be directly seen to be true, but some conjectures, like the continuum hypothesis, might prove undecidable just on the basis of such principles. Gödel suggested that quasi-empirical methodology such as experience could provide sufficient evidence to be able to reasonably assume such a conjecture. With experience, there are distinctions depending on what sort of existence one takes mathematical entities to have, and how we know about them.
Humans can rationalize falling in (and out of) love as "emotional experience". Societies which lack institutional arranged marriages can call on emotional experience in individuals to influence mate-selection. The concept of emotional experience also appears in the notion of empathy.
Mystics can describe their visions as "spiritual experiences". However, psychology and neuropsychology may explain the same experiences in terms of altered states of consciousness, which may come about accidentally through (for example) very high fever, infections such as meningitis, sleep deprivation, fasting, oxygen deprivation, nitrogen narcosis (deep diving), psychosis, temporal-lobe epilepsy, or a traumatic accident. People can likewise achieve such experiences more deliberately through recognized mystical practices such as sensory deprivation or mind-control techniques, hypnosis, meditation, prayer, or mystical disciplines such as mantra meditation, yoga, Sufism, dream yoga, or surat shabda yoga. Some practices encourage spiritual experiences through the ingestion of psychoactive drugs such as alcohol and opiates, but more commonly with entheogenic plants and substances such as cannabis, salvia divinorum, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, DXM, ayahuasca, or datura. Another way to induce spiritual experience through an altered state of consciousness involves psychoacoustics, binaural beats, or light-and-sound stimulation.
Newberg and Newberg provide a view on spiritual experience.
Growing up and living within a society can foster the development and observation of social experience.
Social experience provides individuals with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own societies, as a society itself is formed through a plurality of shared experiences forming norms, customs, values, traditions, social roles, symbols and languages. Experience plays an important role in experiential groups.
Using computer simulations can enable a person or groups of persons to have virtual experiences in virtual reality. Role-playing games treat "experience" (and its acquisition) as an important, measurable, and valuable commodity. Many role-playing video games, for instance, feature units of measurement used to quantify or assist a player-character's progression through the game - called experience points or XP.
Someone able to recount an event they witnessed or took part in has "first hand experience". First hand experience of the "you had to be there" variety can seem especially valuable and privileged, but it often remains potentially subject to errors in sense-perception and in personal interpretation.
Second-hand experience can offer richer resources: recorded and/or summarised from first-hand observers or experiencers or from instruments, and potentially expressing multiple points of view.
Third-hand experience, based on indirect and possibly unreliable rumour or hearsay, can (even given reliable accounts) potentially stray perilously close to blind honouring of authority.
Some post-modernists suggest that the nature of human experiencing (quite apart from the details of the experienced surrounds) has undergone qualitative change during transition from the pre-modern through the modern to the post-modern.
Immanuel Kant contrasted experience with reason:
These views of Kant are mirrored in the research of ideasthesia, which demonstrates that one can experience the world only if one has the appropriate concepts (i.e., the ideas) about the objects that are being experienced.