As a child, the word “science“ evoked image of making volcanoes out of vinegar and baking soda. Of course, I enjoyed making the ensuing mess as much as any kid. But I think it is a tragedy that I (and maybe you too!) finished school without realizing what science really means.
Making volcanoes is not experiment
We followed the volcano worksheet, and got exactly the result we were promised. It was like a cooking recipe, with a paragraph about chemistry at the end. We never got to say “I wonder what would happen if I tried it that way?“ Nor did we ask about the principles at play. At the root of it, that’s all scientists are doing: Looking for universal patterns and principles.
The specific techniques vary based on what is being measured, but all scientific disciplines share the basic cycle of brainstorming a theory, designing an experiment and analyzing their data.
If you want personally relevant insights, you might need to discover them yourself
As much as astrophysics is fascinating, I don’t have the money for a radio telescope. As much as cancer research is important, MIT wisely prohibits amateurs from messing around in their labs. But smaller things matter, too. Maybe they’re not life threatening, or only impact a tiny percentage of the population. But I think that we’re all “a tiny percentage of the population” in one way or another. If you’re frustrated that nobody’s figured out the universal solution to your problem yet: Good news! You and your sample size of 1 are uniquely well positioned to do some SCIENCE.
And, as anyone with a mosquito bite can tell you, nothing is so motivating as your own itch.
So, Quantified Self
The British Royal Society’s 358-year-old motto is Nullius in verba, “Take nobody’s word for it”. Quantified Self says that you do not need to rely exclusively on an expert or even a book to make your decisions. You can brainstorm a hypothesis, design an experiment, and analyze the data – all by yourself. If you don’t get the outcome you want, just run another! It doesn’t have to be complex, and most experiments that I’ve seen people do are virtually risk free.
Nor does it invalidate expert advice. In fact, one of the benefits of experimentation is that you come into conversations with experts with much more knowledge (and confidence!). Many of my most successful experiments have been in collaboration with doctors and other medical professionals.
Whether it’s managing an ache, improving my personal productivity or even deciding on my retirement plan, the scientific mindset has enabled you to systematically develop understanding and make progress in life every day, and I hope it can help you too!