Experience and the Experiment

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“Dad, let’s do an experience” my 6.5 year old said to me this morning. “Let’s see how far away these walkie-talkies can go and we can still hear each other.”

“Do you mean experiment?” I ask. “Yes, ex-per-i-ment” she says. We go over its pronunciation a few times. It’s a mix between my daughter having no front teeth and that she just gets her word choices mixed up now and then. Experience. Experiment. It’s an easy one to slip up on, plus they could be viewed in the same category in her head. “I will have an experience and learn something.” “I will do an experiment and learn something.” Same thing, basically, to a 1st grader.

So, you can see this question coming: Do you get Experience and Experiment mixed up?

Probably more than you think. The outcomes of which are “I just learned something” in both cases. One controls for bias, the other does not. (not to say one is not biased, it just attempts to control it).

So, because the PT part of my brain (somewhere in the superior Pons, right?) is always going, this little comment get’s me thinking about some things. If we look to recall bias (the ease at which something can be recalled lends more weight to it’s importance, frequency or perceived prevalence) then Experience often outweighs Experiments because we are continuously experiencing the practice of Physical Therapy, and less so seeing the Experiments (research).

When you make that next clinical decision you are relying on what you learned, but what you learned from where is the question. Please understand the value in each, along with the limitations in each, but frequent reflection could provide you some enlightening answers:

Perhaps you use Experience way more when treating hips, and you use Experimental info for cervical spine pathology because you happen to have read more of that literature, or more has been completed and published on it. Whatever the case may be, you view yourself as an EBP-lead practitioner because you spend Thursday evenings, as a rule, reading 2 articles. So therefore you continue to learn and utilize Experiments to help you understand your practice. This self-perception (and perhaps I’m speaking about myself here) gives the impression that you are not just treating from Experience.

An Experience can look like an Experiment as well; enter the case study. Again, these can be excellent, and one can learn a lot from them. As I’ve said before “You can learn just as much by reading a book about Leonardo da Vinci, as you can a book about Tuscany.” They are both just different, and that difference needs to be understood.

So, the next time you decide to choose a movement, a manual technique, an additional exercise to incorporate into this-or-that, reflect on where that idea came from? “What groupings of information came together for me to think this thought and choose this action?” From the answers to those questions can come your next direction: What do you need more Experience in? What Experiment do you need to read?

I hope you enjoyed this Experience…

Matt D

*PS: The walkie-talkies work 1540 steps away from each other. Pretty cool.

One thought on “Experience and the Experiment

  1. Pingback: A Year In Review: II | PTbraintrust

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