Saturday, September 2, 2023

Review of Transformative Experience by L. A. Paul

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (05/04/2024)

Watch Short Review


“When we face a choice like this, we can’t know what our lives will be like until we’ve undergone the new experience, but if we don’t undergo the experience, we won’t know what we are missing.  And, further, many of these new and unknown experiences are life-changing or dramatically personally transformative.  So not only must you make the choice without knowing what it will be like if you choose to have the new experience, but the choice is big, and you know it is big.  You know that undergoing the experience will change what it is like for you to live your life, and perhaps even change what it is like to be you, deeply and fundamentally.” – L. A. Paul, Chapter 1: Becoming a Vampire, Page 14

“When a person has a new and different kind of experience, a kind of experience that teaches her something she could not have learned without having that kind of experience, she has an epistemic transformation.  Her knowledge of what something is like, and thus her subjective point of view, changes.  With this new experience, she gains new abilities to cognitively entertain certain contents, she learns to understand things in a new way, and she may even gain new information.  For any epistemic transformation, the degree of epistemic changes depends on how much the person already knowns, and on the type of experience that is involved.” – L. A. Paul, Chapter 2: Transformative Choice, Page 19

“Stories, testimony, and theories aren’t enough to teach you what it is like to have truly new types of experiences – you learn what it is like by actually having an experience of that type.  Unless and until scientists discover how we are to leap the explanatory gap between scientific theory and experience, real people face this kind of epistemic limitation, that is, real people (including scientists) can’t know what it is like to have new experiences just from knowing what scientists know right now about how the brain works.  Given this, you must have had the right kind of experience to know a subjective value, because you must know what an experience of that type is like to know its value – for example, you must experience color before you can know the subjective value of what it’s like to see color.” – L. A. Paul, Chapter 2: Transformative Choice, Page 21


Is This An Overview?

There are many choices in life in which it would be best to consider as much information about them before making a decision.  Choices of what to experience, or not experience.  The problem is that informed decisions can be impossible.  As life presents many choices without being able to understand the different options, how they would impact the future of the individual.  These are transformative experiences, that fundamentally change the individual.  Changing what it would be like to live.  There is no way of knowing how the change would affect the individual, until the individual has the experience.  An experience in which the individual has an epistemic transformation given the new information.  An experience that changes how the individual understands and processes information. 

Information limitations prevents knowing what to expect and make an informed choice.  Lived experiences cannot inform what it would be like to undergo the change because the change would alter values attached to previous and new information.  Different individuals have different reactions to the same change, therefore testimonies of others about their experience cannot be relied upon, especially because their experiences transformed the way they think.  The only source of information about the experience, is the experience itself.  The choice needs to be based on what the individual wants to discover.  To discover how the change will affect them, or a life without the change.


The book is a systematic analysis of transformative experiences, providing various theoretic and practical examples.  The examples and explanations tend to be self-similar and repeated.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are transformative experiences?
•What information limitations prevent making an informed choice? 
•What is an epistemic transformation? 
•How to understand animal experiences? 
•What is a subjective value?
•Should a deaf individual obtain the technology needed to hear? 
•Should the individual become a vampire?
•Should the individual become a parent?
•What are transformative experiences that you are considering? 

Book Details
Edition:                 First Edition
Publisher:             Oxford University Press [University of Oxford]
Edition ISBN:      9780191027819
Pages to read:       142
Publication:          2014
1st Edition:           2014
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4