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Experience as a general concept comprises knowledge of or skill in or observation of some thing or some event gained through involvement in or exposure to that thing or event.

Experience is the teacher of all things. ~ Julius Caesar
Experience is the teacher of fools. ~ Livy
Even if there are failures, it brings experience. Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer. ~ Randy Pausch
Experience teaches. ~ Tacitus


  • The dog [in Pavlov's experiments] does not continue to salivate whenever it hears a bell unless sometimes at least an edible offering accompanies the bell. But there are innumerable instances in human life where a single association, never reinforced, results in the establishment of a life-long dynamic system. An experience associated only once with a bereavement, an accident, or a battle, may become the center of a permanent phobia or complex, not in the least dependent on a recurrence of the original shock.
  • The condition of all progress is experience. We go wrong a thousand times before we find the right path.
    • Felix Adler, Life and Destiny (1913), Section 8 : Suffering and Consolation
  • Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills.
    • Minna Antrim, Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions, p. 99 (1901).
  • Experience can be merely the repetition of same error often enough.
    • John G. Azzopardi, Problems in Breast Pathology, W.B. Saunders Company Ltd London . Philadelphia – Toronto, p. 113 (1979).
  • Experience, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognise in an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.
  • The generation to which Einstein, Bohr and I belong, was taught that there exists an objective physical world, which unfolds itself according to immutable laws independent of us; we are watching this process as the audience watches a play in a theatre. Einstein still believes that this should be the relation between the scientific observer and his subject. Quantum mechanics, however, interprets the experience gained in atomic physics in a different way.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
    • Rita Mae Brown, Alma Mater (2001). (The same or a closely similar quote is attributed to too many earlier writers to list, including Will Rogers.)
  • Oh, who can tell, save he whose heart hath tried?
    • Lord Byron, The Corsair (1814), Canto I, Stanza 1.
  • Experience is a dim lamp, which only lights the one who bears it.
  • Experience is a great spoiler of pleasures.
    • Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms, Fourth Selection, New York (1987).
  • Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself.
    • T. S. Eliot, Eliot's doctoral dissertation in philosophy; submitted to Harvard in 1916. Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley, Chapter 7, Columbia University Press (1964).
  • Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
  • Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
  • Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.
  • 'Pure experience' is the name I gave to the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories.
    • William James, The Thing and Its Relations, Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912).
  • There is a large stock on hand; but somehow or other, nobody's experience ever suits us but our own.
  • The way to recover the meaning of life and the worthwhileness of life is to recover the power of experience, to have impulse voices from within, and to be able to hear these impulse voices from within — and make the point: This can be done.
    • Abraham Maslow As quoted in The Meaning of Life : According to the Great and the Good (2007) edited by Richard T. Kinnier
  • Experience, next, to thee I owe,
    Best guide; not following thee, I had remain'd
    In ignorance; thou open'st wisdom's way,
    And giv'st access, though secret she retire.
  • As stated in the book, the First Penguin award went to students who went out on a limb and failed! This came "from the notion that when penguins are about to jump into water that might contain predators, well, somebody's got to be the first penguin." So, even if there are failures, it brings experience. Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.'
    • Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (2008), Chapter 39: Be the First Penguin, p. 149
  • By and by people learn how not to believe, how not to trust, how to become chronic doubters. And this happens so slowly, in such small doses that you are never alert to what is happening to you. By the time it has happened, it is too late. This is what people call "experience". They call a person experienced if he has lost his contact with his heart: they say that he is a very experienced man, very clever, very cunning, nobody can deceive him.
    • Osho, Life, Love, Laughter: Celebrating Your Existence (2009)
  • You could never teach other people anything that mattered. The important things they had to learn for themselves, almost always by making mistakes, so that the lessons arrived too late to help. Experience was in that sense useless. It was precisely what could not be passed along in a lesson.
  • Experience is the cane of the blind.
    • Jacques Roumain, Masters of the Dew, p. 83, Les Éditeurs Français Réunis (1946).
  • Experience comprises illusions lost, rather than wisdom gained.
    • Joseph Roux, Meditations of a Parish Priest, pt. 4, no. 28 (1886).
  • Experience is a mere whiff or rumble, produced by enormously complex and ill-deciphered causes of experience; and in the other direction, experience is a mere peephole through which glimpses come down to us of eternal things.
    • George Santayana, letter to the Marchesa Iris Origo (May 1933) The Letters of George Santayana, ed. Daniel Cory (1955).
  • I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
    As watchman to my heart.
  • I know
    The past and thence I will essay to glean
    A warning for the future, so that man
    May profit by his errors, and derive
    Experience from his folly;
    For, when the power of imparting joy
    Is equal to the will, the human soul
    Requires no other heaven.
  • Experientia docet.
    • Experience teaches.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), Book V. 6.
  • The experience of every past moment but belies the faith of each present.
    • Henry David Thoreau, letter to Lidian Jackson Emerson (June 20, 1843); in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 6, p. 88, Houghton Mifflin (1906).
  • There are those who imagine that the unlucky accidents of life—life's "experiences"—are in some way useful to us. I wish I could find out how. I never know one of them to happen twice. They always change off and swap around and catch you on your inexperienced side.
  • Experto credite.
    • Believe one who has tried it.
    • Virgil, Æneid (29-19 BC), XI. 283.
  • Experience is a wonderful teacher, but one whose lessons come too late.
    • Gene Wolfe, The Book of the Short Sun, Volume 2: In Green's Jungles (2000), Ch. 1.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 244-45.
  • Suffering brings experience.
  • Behold, we live through all things,—famine, thirst,
    Bereavement, pain; all grief and misery,
    All woe and sorrow; life inflicts its worst
    On soul and body,—but we cannot die,
    Though we be sick, and tired, and faint, and worn,—
    Lo, all things can be borne!
  • By experience we find out a shorter way by a long wandering. Learning teacheth more in one year than experience in twenty.
  • It is costly wisdom that is bought by experience.
  • To show the world what long experience gains,
    Requires not courage, though it calls for pains;
    But at life's outset to inform mankind
    Is a bold effort of a valiant mind.
  • In her experience all her friends relied,
    Heaven was her help and nature was her guide.
  • Tu proverai si come sa di sale
    Lo pane altrui, e com' è duro calle
    Lo scendere e'l salir per l'altrui scale.
    • Thou shalt know by experience how salt the savor is of other's bread, and how sad a path it is to climb and descend another's stairs.
    • Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XVII. 58.
  • Experience is no more transferable in morals than in art.
  • Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes.
  • We read the past by the light of the present, and the forms vary as the shadows fall, or as the point of vision alters.
    • James Anthony Froude, Short Studies on Great Subjects, Society in Italy in the Last Days of the Roman Republic.
  • Experience join'd with common sense,
    To mortals is a providence.
  • I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.
    • Patrick Henry, speech at the Virginia Convention (March 23, 1775).
  • Stultorum eventus magister est.
    • Experience is the teacher of fools.
    • Livy, Annales, XXII. 39.
  • One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.
  • Semper enim ex aliis alia proseminat usus.
    • Experience is always sowing the seed of one thing after another.
    • Marcus Manilius, Astronomica, I. 90.
  • What man would be wise, let him drink of the river
    That bears on his bosom the record of time;
    A message to him every wave can deliver
    To teach him to creep till he knows how to climb.
  • Nam in omnibus fere minus valent præcepta quam experimenta.
    • In almost everything, experience is more valuable than precept.
    • Quintilian, De Institutione Oratorio, II. 5. 5.
  • I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
    Gleams that untravl'd world whose margin fades
    Forever and forever when I move.
  • And others' follies teach us not,
    Nor much their wisdom teaches,
    And most, of sterling worth, is what
    Our own experience preaches.
  • Experto crede Roberto.
    • Believe Robert who has tried it.
    • A proverb quoted by Robert Burton, introduction to Anatomy of Melancholy, Common in the middle ages. Experto crede Ruberto is given as a saying in a discourse of Ulricus Meliter to Sigismond, Archduke of Austria (1489). Same in Coronis—Apolog. pro Erasmus Coll. First version is in an epitaph in an old chapel of Exeter College. (1627). Le Roux de Lincy traces it to Gomès de Trier, Jardin de Recreation (1611).
  • Learn the lesson of your own pain—learn to seek God, not in any single event of past history, but in your own soul—in the constant verifications of experience, in the life of Christian love.
  • Da dacht ich oft: schwatzt noch so hoch gelehrt,
    Man weiss doch nichts, als was man selbst erfährt.
    • I have often thought that however learned you may talk about it, one knows nothing but what he learns from his own experience.
    • Christoph Martin Wieland, Oberon, II. 24.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this—that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone.
  • I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.
    • Patrick Henry, speech to the Virginia Convention, Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775. William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, 9th ed., p. 138–39 (1836, reprinted 1970). Language altered to first person.
  • We know nothing of what will happen in future, but by the analogy of experience.
    • Abraham Lincoln, speech on the sub-Treasury, in the hall of the House of Representatives, Springfield, Illinois, December 26, 1839. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, vol. 1, p. 166 (1953).
  • We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
    • Mark Twain, Following the Equator, vol. 1 (vol. 5 of The Writings of Mark Twain), chapter 11, epigraph, p. 125 (1897, reprinted 1968).
  • I've seen the elephant, and I've heard the owl, and I've been to the other side of the mountain.
    • Author unknown. "'Seeing the elephant,' though it has pre– and post–gold rush currency, was an immensely popular expression among the overlanders [those journeying in covered wagons to Oregon and California] … connoting, in the main, experiencing hardship and difficulty and somehow surviving. Emigrant diaries and letters are filled with humorous references to that ubiquitous animal." John D. Unruh, Jr., The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60, chapter 4, p. 443, note 22 (1979).
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