Personal experimentation: context specific?

A last way that personal experimentation could be worth it for me, yet not already completely covered by others, is that most of the facts one is likely to learn are quite context-specific. That way, everyone in history might have figured out for themselves what the best time and sugar-content for lunch is, and it would be worthless to me.

This also seems quite plausible. It could either be that people are so varied that there is just no good answer to whether it is better for productivity to eat snacks throughout the day or a few big meals for instance. Or it could be that which value of one parameter is best depends on all the other ones, so if you tend to eat more sugar than me and sleep less and laugh more, exercise might make you less sleepy than I.

The latter possibility bodes poorly for those who would experiment a lot. After you have determined the best quantity and timing of exercise, you might go on to try to optimize your sleep or sugar intake and make the original finding worthless.

This explanation would also seem to explain the observations in the last post: that many people do seem quite keen advise on the details of one’s life, but that the content of such recommendations seem a bit all over the place. Perhaps each person’s discoveries really do work well for them, but just look like a sea of noise to all the other people.

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  • http://twan.home.fmf.nl Twan van Laarhoven

    Another possible problem with personal experimentation is that people are especially biased when it comes to themselves. It is really hard to know if some change works and that you are not just seeing the result of paying attention to a specific property, confirmation bias, or some other bias. If that were true, then you should expect many of the personal experimental results out there to be somewhat wrong. Not just for you, but for everyone.

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    This can’t work on its own. If it were merely context specific but every other part of the process & community were functional and self-experimentation were worthwhile,  what we’d see is a lot of advice/recommendations as before – but instead following complex conditionals to cover the previously discovered contextual variations; so instead of simple recommendations like ‘take 1-5k IU vitamin D’, we’d see people giving recommendations more like ‘if you eat X amount of carbohydrates for breakfast and also live above the 40th parallel, you should take 4-5000 IU of vitamin D in the morning but if you’re black add another 1k IU’.

    • Vaniver

       Mmm. It seems to me that this is what *useful* advice would look like, but since most people don’t know enough data to know the entire complex conditional, you get a bunch of noise.

      One example of advice that looks like what you’re describing is leangains’s claims about breakfast and hunger here: http://www.leangains.com/2012/06/why-does-breakfast-make-me-hungry.html

      It does seem like that sort of advice is often correct, but very difficult to give, and often difficult to find.

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    I’m going to recommend Chris Kresser’s paleo blog if you want to get some idea of the range of human metabolisms and ailments.

  • Will

    This does not bode poorly. If you run an experiment and implements the results, you will always get a superior outcome, according to whatever definition you used to run the experiment. Then the outcome will be a constantly increasing function. It may not recah the highest possible value, but it will surely get pretty high!

  • Guest

    This is so unsystematic and vague that I fail to see how anything here can be discussed properly; let speculation go wild.

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