1st Edition

The History of Experience A Study in Experiential Turns and Cultural Dynamics from the Paleolithic to the Present Day

By Wolfgang Leidhold Copyright 2023
    342 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    342 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In a wide arc from the Paleolithic to the present day, this book explores the changing structure of human experience and its impact on the dynamics of cultures, civilizations, and political ideas.

    The main thesis is a paradigm shift: the structure of human experience is not a universal constant but changes over time. Looking at the entire range of human history, there are a total of nine transformations, beginning with conscious perception and imagination in the Paleolithic and ending, for the time being, in modern times with the discovery of the unconscious. In between, this book explores six more transformations that took place in different regions and at different times, which include a sense of order, self-reflection, the eye of reason, spiritual experience, as well as the experience of creativity and of consciousness. As such, The History of Experience presents both a cross-cultural and comparative theory of experience and cultural dynamics, and an exploration of rich materials from East and West.

    This book is of great use to upper-level undergraduates, postgraduates, and scholars interested in the relationship between history, human experience, culture, and political order.

    Prologue  Introduction  1. Exploring Experience  2. The First Tree of Experience  3. The Turn to Imagination  4. A Sense of Order  5. Reflections of the Self  6. The Eye of Reason  7. Exploring History  8. The Life of the Spirit  9. Creative Imagination  10. The Turn to Consciousness  11. The Inner Transcendence  12. No End to History—An Epilogue


    Wolfgang Leidhold is Professor of Political Science in the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Cologne (Germany). His publications cover topics from the Paleolithic to Modernity. The study of experience is the main focus of his research.

    Few concepts are more commonplace than "experience." But seek to describe what experience is and one is lost in a fog of obscurity. Wolfgang Leidbold’s encyclopedic new book cuts a path through the fog. It examines not just the structure of experience but the transformations of this structure since Paleolithic times. Brace yourself for a ride through time and space. Experience will never look or feel the same again.

    Prof. Peter Baehr, Fellow of the Center for Social and Political Thought, University of South Florida

    Time, domains of reality, speculative theories, all partake in a participatory universe; according to Wolfgang Leidhold, one of the preeminent Western thinkers connecting the dots across the sciences, art, and human history, from our inner dimensions to the dimensions of outer space. A must-read for the curious, looking for what’s next in human experience by examining some of our past.

    Prof. Rhea Alexander, Strategic Design & Management, Parsons School of Design in The New School, NYC

    Leidhold combines an encyclopedic grasp of intellectual and social history with an expansive sensibility regarding the varieties of human experience, as part of as sustained meditation on the nature of mind. The stupendous reach of his scholarship has culminated in a sustained reflection on "the changing structures of human experience." He gives us a project of unusual breadth and ambition with many implications to work out. One that seems particularly important is that it helps us become more fully aware of a fundamental narrowing of the gaze of the modern social sciences: we are dealing with a case of atrophy of experience, leading the social sciences to a "timid metaphysics", where the most stable human motivation is presumed to be that form of greed that economists call "utility maximization."

    Prof. Heinz-Dieter Meyer, education governance, organization and policy, The State University of New York at Albany

    This is a deeply researched and thorough analysis of the process by which human beings have developed from simple awareness through nine stages of gradually unfolding turns in experience and differentiations of consciousness. Leidhold shows how, once the biological and neurological bases for these developments was completed in homo sapiens, they led step by step to profound changes in thinking, culture, and politics all over the world — changes widely dispersed in both history and geography and that are still going on, both within societies and within individuals. Leidhold’s exposition is lucid and convincing, with careful attention to both literary and scientific evidence — a very important and amazingly well-written book!

    Eugene Webb, Professor Emeritus, The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

    Wolfgang Leidhold’s book, The History of Experience, is an extraordinary attempt to help readers understand how human experience, containing the full amplitude of prehistoric and civilizational contexts, is the mother of all reality. The 300 pages of this densely argued book are never boring, despite a plethora of quotations from primary sources and countless references to scholarly literature from a broad range of disciplines. Until his recent retirement Leidhold taught political philosophy at the University of Cologne in Germany and is also a practicing artist with many exhibitions to his record…Perhaps the most important result of his journey of discovery has been to retrace the experiential anchorage of the numerous truth quests he has encountered and discussed. This may be the major accomplishment of Leidhold’s book — to have retrieved the primary importance of the experiential center of all existential truth quests.

    Manfred Henningsen, Prof. em. of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa

    A lifelong fascination with experience that brings together phenomenology, neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy, and art to explore the history of the encounter of human consciousness with the world. A masterpiece!

    Michael Allen Gillespie, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Duke University

    The publication of The History of Experience is analogous to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, in that its sensitivity is more than a hundred times previous lenses. Leidhold's radical theory of the architecture of human experience is an eye that sees into the depths of human evolution far beyond the consensus view. For scholars in the areas of history, philosophy, mythology, or consciousness studies, a careful reading of his work will become a before-and-after lifetime event.

    Brian Thomas Swimme, Professor of Evolutionary Cosmology, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco

    A bold, creative, and thought-provoking work.

    Prof. Melissa Lane, Professor of Politics at Princeton University, and director of the University Center for Human Values