A Hidden Benefit of Self-Experimentation

Today I met a Unix consultant named Jerry Lugert who has done a lot of self-experimentation. He made a point I hadn’t heard before: When you start to measure something carefully, you become a lot more motivated to improve it. In practice, this means when you start to measure something at home every day or often in contrast to having it measured every six months when you see a doctor. One of his examples was blood pressure. He became a lot more motivated to lower his blood pressure when he measured it himself. Another example involved using chemstrips to measure his urine. He used them to measure both his hydration and the amount of protein in his blood.

The usual idea is that knowledge is power. Sure, if you measure your blood pressure every day you can better control it than if you measure it once per six months. That’s obvious. This is different: knowledge is motivation. If you measure your blood pressure every day you’ll want to control it more than if you measure it every six months. That’s not obvious at all and way more important.

This idea is so close to my idea about connoisseurship (which Jerry of course hadn’t heard of) I wonder if the mechanism is the same. I believe connoisseurship arises from side-by-side comparisons of very similar items: close-in-time comparisons of two orange marmalades, for example. Or two vanilla ice creams. Or two cheddar cheeses. Or two merlots. Etc. It’s obvious that if you make these close comparisons you’ll become better at discrimination — e.g., better at discriminating varieties of vanilla ice cream. What interests me is the hedonic change: making these comparisons causes you to care more about the dimension. You get more pleasure from the good stuff and less pleasure from the bad stuff. Connoisseurs are basically people who will pay more for this or that than the rest of us. (When income or wealth is equated.) Not because they’re snobs or showing off — because they derive more pleasure from it. This is part of a theory of human evolution.

3 Replies to “A Hidden Benefit of Self-Experimentation”

  1. I think there’s also a similarity between hacking (in the computer subculture sense of that word) and self-experimentation…that occurred to me when you mentioned your friend is a Unix geek. Unix admins are also used to monitoring complex systems that log lots of data which then needs to be analyzed to see if anything is about to go wrong.

  2. “It’s obvious that if you make these close comparisons you’ll become better at discrimination”
    Or maybe you’ll just start to believe this about yourself. E.g., wine connoisseurs.

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