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A paper by Seth Roberts on how/why self experiments are so effective (PDF) via Quantified Self.

Over 12 years, my self-experimentation found new and useful ways to improve sleep, mood, health, and weight. Why did it work so well? First, my position was unusual. I had the subject-matter knowledge of an insider, the freedom of an outsider, and the motivation of a person with the problem. I didn’t need to publish regularly. I didn’t want to display status via my research. Second, I used a powerful tool. Self-experimentation about the brain can test ideas much more easily (by a factor of about 500,000) than conventional research about other parts of the body. When you gather data, you sample from a power-law-like distribution of progress. Most data helps a little; a tiny fraction of data helps a lot. My subject-matter knowledge and methodological skills (e.g., in data analysis) improved the distribution from which I sampled (i.e., increased the average amount of progress per sample). Self-experimentation allowed me to sample from it much more often than conventional research. Another reason my self-experimentation was unusually effective is that, unlike professional science, it resembled the exploration of our ancestors, including foragers, hobbyists, and artisans.

Some of the most prolific makers I know seem to enjoy improving themselves as well as the things around them – they’re like little laboratories of optimization. Pictured above, a photo from my recent visit to Instructables. Christy and Eric who run the show there found they work better if they walk all day slowly at the computer – a challenge, so they built treadmill computer desks.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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