Welcome to my website! I am Wolfgang Leidhold, Professor at the University of Cologne — here I’ll introduce you to my current project on the history of experience, and how it evolved. (For the artistic part of my life see here.)
From the concept of experience
I took the first steps towards a history of experience in my dissertation on Francis Hutcheson and in my later works on the concept of experience. (Read more about the works of Wolfgang Leidhold related to the History of Experience on the books and essays pages.)
Experience is the way we get in touch with reality. In other words, experience is conscious participation. There are many varieties of participation: through the senses, via the imagination, through self-awareness, thinking, meditation, etc. Thus, experience is a domain with multiple dimensions. That is to say, the domain of experience is like a forest with many different kinds of trees.
to the changing structure of experience
Eventually I discovered that humanity had not mastered all of these dimensions right from the start. Instead, they have evolved step by step over time. This discovery inspired me to explore the history of experience. Therefore, I wanted to know how the structure of experience has changed from deep history to the present day.
Finally, I found a total of nine changes. The first took place in the Paleolithic Age: the turn from unconscious information processing to conscious perception. And the most recent one was the discovery of the unconscious. In between there are seven more experiential turns.
The forest of experience has been growing step by step for thousands of years. So the ”History of Experience” is a study in the tribal history of human experience, its gradual growth and its impact.
and its impact on human existence
These experiential turns affect all areas of human existence: the course of individual lives as well as that of human history, the dynamics of culture, the evolution of political order, and ecology alike. For example, it was only the conscious use of a vivid imagination that allowed humans to create art since the Upper Paleolithic; and the conscious experience and training of creativity spawned the continuous growth of innovation that is characteristic of the culture of modernity.
So what’s next?
When we look at how the forest of experience has grown since the Paleolithic, we ask: Was the most recent change – the discovery of the unconscious – also the last transformation? Has the history of experience come to an end? In fact, there is no sufficient reason to think so. However, future directions are still uncertain. If you have an idea: please write to me!
I will address this challenge of a next turn in experience in the epilogue to the book I am currently working on: The History of Experience, describing the nine transformations, and their impact on human history.
In 2018, I outlined my main theses in an essay entitled “History and Experience”.