Thoughts on the ‘experience gap’ – the importance of experience in “personhood”

Here’s a thought I had:

I often speak of what I call the ‘experience gap’.  This basically refers to a condition where we are seeking or relying on an experience that we never had.  Because of this, the experience is replaced by other things, such as concepts and ideas – mental fabrications – which give the illusion of experience.  As a result, we develop what can be described as an ‘experience-as-mental-fabrication point of view’.  In this way, the experience becomes an abstract mental fabrication and, therefore, is not a “real” experience in any way.  We tend to treat it as real and, in so doing, we deceive ourselves.

The ‘experience gap’ shows that there are two conditions:

  1. The ‘false-experience’ condition.
  2. The ‘actual experience’ condition.

The ‘false-experience’ condition is when it is just something ‘imagined’, usually, or that is ‘abstract’ . . . something considered to be true but not a reality. In other words, it is an experience that did not take place.  The ‘false-experience’ condition sets the stage for the ‘experience-as-mental-fabrication’ point of view.  The ‘actual experience’ condition, on the other hand, means that it has been experienced.

In actuality, most people live in the ‘false-experience’ condition most of the time, particularly nowadays.  This is particularly aggravated by things such as:

  • TV and media
  • Too much news
  • Too many ideas
  • Too much learning
  • The social media

Things, such as these, tend to cause a prevalence of things like:

  • Imitation
  • Abstraction
  • Information
  • An absence of actual doing

These tend to create a condition that promotes mental fabrications of experience, creating an illusion of experience.  This is basically the ‘experience gap’.  Being devoid of ‘actual experience’ we could speak of an ‘experience poverty’ that the ‘experience gap’ creates.  This may progress, with some people, to what can be called an ‘experience starvation’ where people are so desiring of experience but can’t seem to achieve it.  My observation is that people who reach this state will continue to seek experience in mental fabrications which is actually what caused the problem in the first place.  Because of this, it becomes like a viscious circle that goes around and around and gets nowhere.  Perhaps we could call this the ‘circle of the experience gap’?

Problems, such as these, are far more serious than it may, at first, appear.  The reason why this is so serious is because we ‘become our experiences’.  We rely and need experiences to live, grow, and become someone.  We do not become what we imitate, what we think, or what we know (that is, mental fabrications do not make us a person).  In many ways, “personhood” is found in experience.

This fact shows a close association between the person and experience.  But, as I mentioned above, the person is based in experience making experience an integral part of the person.  Because of this, one could say that the “person” is made up of two elements:

  1. The self.
  2. Experience.

This makes it so that the association between the self and experience is critical.

But what is the quality that makes this association?

It is relevancy.

Basically, the self, by its nature, is something that is removed from experience.  Because of this, it needs something to connect itself with experience and unite them into one.  Relevancy establishes this connection.  It makes the experience important to the self, establishing an association.  Personhood, then, needs relevancy to make experience important and meaningful.  Without it, experience tends to have no value.  This connection is the ‘person-relevancy condition’.   To put it another way, relevancy allows the experience to be “absorbed” into the self.  This “absorption” becomes “personhood”.  So we see this pattern:


This association creates the person.  But, in the ‘experience gap’, relevancy is removed creating this condition:


The lack of relevancy makes it so that experience is not “absorbed”, creating a ‘gap’ in experience:  the ‘experience gap’.  When this happens there developes a ‘dilemma of personhood’ as one of the qualities of personhood is missing.  In effect, personhood is disrupted, altered, or prevented.  Because of this, the ‘dilemma of personhood’ creates a number of problems such as:

  • Anxiety and despair.
  • An absence of growth.
  • A sense of detachment . . . alienation.
  • A sense of artificiality.
  • A tendency to blind following of things, such as trend.

In other words, the ‘experience gap’ tends to cause various forms of mental problems and dilemma’s.  This is because it disrupts with “personhood”.  This shows that relevancy is very important in a persons life.  This is why it is wise for a person to seek relevancy in life.  This must be done in a variety of ways such as:

  • Active relevancy – finding relevancy in what one does.
  • Observational relevancy – seeing meaning in things.
  • Passive relevency – finding meaning in what happens to us.

This shows that there are different forms and grades of finding relevancy and meaning.  In other words, a person doesn’t just “find” meaning and that’s that.  To truly find relevancy and meaning is to discover the many different forms of it.

Another significant aspect of relevancy is what I call “para-experience”.   These do not consist of experience, itself, but are qualities that as if supports, guides, and buttresses experience.  Because “para-experience” is so closely associated with relevancy it can be as important, or even more important in some cases, than “actual experience”.  This is because “para-experience” as if aligns or directs experience to a good end.  In this way, “para-experience” is critical in giving experience a relevancy.

“Para-experience” seems to have two main forms:

  1. Social “para-experience”.  This primarily says that society determines a lot of relevancy and meaning in experience.  Examples include culture, belief, social framework, etc.
  2. Personal “para-experience”.  A persons character and personality can have great impact on ones “absorption” of experience and its relevancy.  Examples include awareness of ones situation, the framework and context of what one does things, how one views ones worth in what one does, one emotional state, etc.

Both of these, really, seem to consist of the creation of a number of qualities:

  • A persons “stance”.  That is, how they see themselves in the scheme of things.
  • A persons “attitude”.  This is the general way in which a persons looks at things.
  • A persons “awareness”.  This is how much a person knows what’s going on.

These, in a sense, are the qualities of “para-experience”.   Through these qualities experience is aligned and directed, helping to give relevancy to experience.

An absence, or distortion, of these qualities (the “para-experience”) can create an ‘experience gap’ even though a person may do things (that is, have experience).  Without the “para-experience” to guide and direct it experience can become almost worthless and have no meaning.  Perhaps we could call this particular type of “gap” the ‘para-experience gap’?

A good example of this is how a person who has no culture to give their experience meaning has a similar reaction as the ‘experience gap’.  What this means is that even with experience the absence of the qualities to support it and give it meaning can have the same effect as not having the experience!

Another example is the following of ideals.  When a person “does things”, because its the ideal, it tends to create an ‘experience gap’ (some examples of that, seen in this society, is a lot of sports, going to the University, and such).  This is because a person is “doing things” because of the abstract idea of “its the ideal”.  The focus is on the ideal not the experience.  This makes the experience “less than experience”.

The ‘para-experience gap’, because of its nature, can create unique effects such as:

  • An emptiness in life
  • A meaninglessness.
  • A feeling that one has done nothing in life.
  • A sense of not being connected.
  • A nihilism, a belief in nothing.
  • A poor view of life.
  • A narrow view of life.

So we can see that the ‘para-experience gap’ can have great impact on how one lives.  In fact, it can make life miserable.  This is because its absence leaves a big hole in a persons life . . . something it missing . . . ones experience has no value.

The existence of ‘para-experience’ tends to create what can be described as ‘character’.  One could say that character is the “absorption” of the ‘para-experience’ into ones self.   In other words, character shows the impact the ‘para-experience’  has on ones personality, personhood, and self . . . it “absorbs” it making the ‘para-experience’ part of its nature.  In this way, ‘para-experience’ is critical for the development, growth, and health of “personhood”.  This is why things like culture, belief, and being genuine to ones self are so important.  In short, for character to “work” a person must:

  • Believe in something (like a religion, a world view, etc.).
  • Belong to something (like a culture, a people, etc.).
  • Be a ‘person’ (that is, participate in life and uphold themselves).

In ways, such as these, character develops in a person allowing the ‘para-experience’ to manifest itself.

Character can be described as a ‘pre-ordained’ way of reacting or, to put it another way, a “guided reaction” or, perhaps, a “guided experience”.  It does this by creating a pre-established way or pattern of reacting and doing things.  This makes it so that a person “knows”, at least deep down (and usually unconsciously), how one will react and do things.  This creates several effects:

  • It builds and grows with experience.
  • It creates a confidence.

In these ways, character as if “builds a person up”. It ends up helping a person in life, helping one to adapt and grow with life.

One of the unfortunate effects of character, though, is that it becomes limited.  The ‘pre-ordained’ reacting to things becomes monotonous and one sided over time.  It may make a person ‘rigid’ and predictable, decreasing any spontaneity and originality.  It often leads to ‘habit’ in experience.  This seems to be a problem as a person ages, in particular.  This can become an ‘experience gap’ in itself.  Perhaps we could call this the ‘over-character gap’?  In this way, it shows that there is actually a “climax” with character and its effects.  In other words, it follows this pattern following ones age:

  • No character – birth to late childhood
  • Growing character – late childhood to adulthood
  • Climax of character and its effects – adulthood
  • Decreasing effect of character – late adulthood to early old age
  • Rigidity (the ‘over-character gap’) – early old age to death

Character appears to “climax” in adulthood (about the 20’s to 40’s).  In other words, old age, itself, creates an ‘experience gap’ by the growing rigidity of character (the ‘over-character gap’).  Perhaps we could speak of this as the ‘old age experiential gap’?  This ‘over-character’ is probably what makes people “old”.  They become more narrow-like, limited, and lacking in spontaneity.  This makes them appear detached, unconnected, and such.  Interestingly, these are signs of the ‘para-experience gap’ described above.  In other words, in old age it often happens that character, which is the result of ‘para-experience’, ends up becoming so strong that it ends up creating a ‘para-experience gap’.  This, of course, is the ‘over-character gap’.

With the “climax” of character it seems that experience becomes a “full experience”.  Here, everything is mixed together in the correct way like a bowl of soup (the self, “personhood”, experience, relevancy, ‘para-experience’, character, etc.).  Often, this is perceived as “living”.  As one ages this period of time is often looked at nostalgically and can be spoken of as “back in the day”.

But, as the ‘over-character gap’ develops and grows there often becomes a splitting of the self.  This splitting seems to be a result of the fact that the rigidity of the  ‘over-character’ becomes so strong that it begins to “strangle” the self.  As a result, the self as if “detaches” itself and becomes separate.  This creates a new orientation of the self or, perhaps, a ‘new self’ begins to appear as a response.  This new orientation of the self tends to be a moving away from experience in the outer world and a growing development of a more interior-based self.  A person becomes more self-absorbed.  Their experience and views often becomes the measure of everything.  There begins to be a growing rift or division between the world and the self.  This can go to such an extent, in old extreme age, that the outer world practically disappears.  Perhaps we could speak of this as the ‘post-character self-absorbed self’?

One of the effects of the ‘post-character self-absorbed self’ is the deterioration of the “full experience”.   Life seems “less lived” or “less vivacious”.  For some people, life may of even seemed to of “died”.  This can become one of the dilemma’s of growing old.

We must keep I mind that a person cannot truly experience everything they do.  In addition, a person should not seek to experience everything to the fullest.  That’s as bad as having no experience.  Its simply too much.  Instead, one should seek experience that is relevant.  To put it another way, a person should seek quality in experience.  One could very well say that a “full experience” is experience that is relevant to the person, giving it quality.

Another aspect of the “full experience” is the need for awareness.  A good example of this is something that happened to me.  In my twenties I suffered from a lot of anxiety.  During this time I was Mr. Scholar, studying this and that.  I became very ‘cranial’ and learned a lot about things.  That is to say, I became too abstract dealing with ideas, information, and such.  And then, one day, I had this strange sense that I had become too ‘cranial’ and have become alienated from my self in some way.  And so, what I did is to sit and observe myself doing things.  That is to say, I’d become aware of everything I did.  I no longer brushed my teeth, for example, but became aware of myself brushing my teeth.  When I reached up to open the door I became aware of my hand reaching up to reach the handle.  In short, I became aware of what I did, however small.  Once I did this, I found that a number of things happened, such as:

  • My anxiety went down.
  • I seemed to be more “in the word”.
  • I seemed more “in tune” with life.
  • I seemed to grow and develop.
  • I felt more of a person.

In short, I had developed an ‘experience-as-mental-fabrication point of view’, because I spent too much time thinking and studying, which created, in me, an ‘experience gap’ which deprived me of a “personhood”.  This caused me anxiety.  Only by becoming aware of the experience of living did this anxiety go down.  This shows that, sometimes, just the lack of awareness can cause an ‘experience gap’.

This lack of awareness can be caused by a number of things:

  • Not being aware.
  • Having other things that interfere with awareness (such as my studying and thinking too much).

This shows a close association between experience and awareness.  In other words, to experience one must be aware of the experience.  I spoke of similar things in “Thoughts on ‘Practicing Awareness’“.

In actuality, the ‘experience gap’ can be described as a form of dehumanization and alienation.  This is particularly so as a lot of this is caused by the condition of the times (too much info, machines doing too much, etc.).  In so doing, it degrades the person and as if undermines them causing problems with growth and development, as described above.

We see, then, that the ‘experience gap’ reveals the complexity of experience as well as its importance.  It also shows how many things can interfere with experience and that it can have great impact on a person.  More importantly, it shows the importance of having a good healthy relevant quality experience.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Dehumanization and alienation, Existence, Awareness, Beingness, Consciousness, Conceptionism, and such, Life in general, Philosophy, Psychology and psychoanalysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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