The debate between things vs experiences becomes a lot more interesting when its things vs experiments.
My mind was blown—for many reasons—while listening to this podcast: Dr. Andrew Weil — Optimal Health, Plant Medicine, and More (#350).
Dr. Andrew Weil is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine; he received a degree in biology (botany) from Harvard College and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. If that wasn’t overachieving enough, he’s also a New York Times best-selling author and has published 15 books on health and well-being.¹
He breezed through this in the podcast, but it really stuck with me:
In all languages derived from Latin—unfortunately not English—the word for ‘experience’ and the word for ‘experiment’ are the same…So your own experience is a form of experimentation that produces useful information.
Experience & Experiment Etymologies
Not to get too deep in the weeds here, but etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Etymologies are not definitions; they’re explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.
So, what are the etymologies of experience and experiment, and what do they have in common (emphasis added in bold)?
- “observation as the source of knowledge; actual observation; an event which has affected one,”
- from Old French esperience “experiment, proof, experience” (13c.),
- from Latin experientia “a trial, proof, experiment; knowledge gained by repeated trials,”
- from experientem (nominative experiens) “experienced, enterprising, active, industrious,” present participle of experiri “to try, test,” from ex- “out of” (see ex-) + peritus “experienced, tested,” from PIE *per-yo-, suffixed form of root *per- (3) “to try, risk.”
- “action of observing or testing; an observation, test, or trial;” also “piece of evidence or empirical proof; feat of magic or sorcery,”
- from Old French esperment “practical knowledge, cunning; enchantment, magic spell; trial, proof, example; lesson, sign, indication,”
- from Latin experimentum “a trial, test, proof, experiment,” noun of action from experiri “to try, test,” from ex- “out of” (see ex-) + peritus “experienced, tested,” from PIE *per-yo-, suffixed form of root *per- (3) “to try, risk.”
Experience & Experiment in Layman’s Terms
OK, if you’re like me then you only understood part of that above. How about an attempt in layman’s terms:
- “The words experiment and experience have the same Latin root: they both come from the word experior, which means to gain knowledge through repeated trials. Let us think about the word trial for a minute, because for most of us, this word represents the difficult, even horrendous, experiences we have in life. But in the scientific world, the word trial has positive connotations. It refers to experiments repeated in order to learn something valuable. For example, a clinical trial can be used to study the effects of a new drug or medical procedure. In science, then, the word trial is not associated with the difficult parts of the experiment; it is the experiment.”4
It all comes back to perspective. Here’s to trialing your next experiment!
Also published on Medium.