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I believe that I had read the definition for a word that was described as an experience that must be experienced in order to be understood. The example was parenting in that you cannot Simply read about it to gain understanding and that you must actually live it. Is there a single word that describes this?

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A common phrase for such an experience is a "first-hand experience" or something that can "only be experienced first hand." A more informal way to say this is: "you had to be there."

Similar adjectives:

  • personal/individual/unique experience
  • a live experience
  • empirical, hands-on
  • indescribable, ineffable, beyond words

And so on. I was not able to find one that specifically refers to the need of such a first-hand experience in order to fully understand something. I typically hear phrases like, "You won't understand until it happens to you."

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Quale (plural: Qualia).

It's a mildly pretentious word, so use with caution. But I think it means what you want.

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This seems more like a technical word than a pretentious word. – MrHen Nov 23 '11 at 4:43
@MrHen: I know qualia as a technical word bound up with the question of how/whether everyone's experience of, say, "red" or "pain" is identical. It's pretty much confined to philosophy / theoretical physics / biology / neuroscience / psychology, but you do get the occasional IMHO pretentious use in, say, art criticism. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 5:10
@Andrew: I think OP isn't looking for a "deeper meaning of conciousness" word here - just something along the lines of practical as opposed to theoretical. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 5:12

In such context "practical" can also be used because practical means to experience anything on your own.

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