I want to make regular experimentation a part of my life and don't really know how. I thought that I should associate with and assist people who do run experiments (I'm interning with a psych lab and a paranormal investigator, and hope to work with some behavioral economists who run field-experiments), but I relied that I haven't taken the time to consider if that is actually a good approach or if there is somthign else I should be doing in addition.


How do I gain proficiency with experimental methods and build the habit of running simple experiments regularly? I suppose that there's a certain kind of phenomenon that to the educated mind is automatically flagged as ripe for experimentation (I'm thinking of Feynman's curiosity about the ants in his room, from Surely You're Joking, or Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres testing with his army to find out what the optimal way to fight is, prior to the first of Quirrell’s battles), but I don't have that intuition, yet.


What are the key insights, procedures, or guidelines that I need to know in order to experiment fruitfully? How do I build that intuition?

I’m looking either for recommendations or critiques. Perhaps personal experimentation is not as useful as my veneration of science in general leads me to believe? It seems to me beneficial that when faced with a problem, confusion, or dispute, one of my go-to approaches is to run an experiment.



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I like this question, because I should get better at this myself. Since this sort of thing does require some time and effort, I'll focus on low-hanging fruit - the traits I most want to improve. While we're waiting for someone who has more experience with this, here are two nice articles I found:



I have spent a lot of time with Quantified Self and in that community. From there my impressions:

1) Structured experimentation doesn't come naturally. It's hard work for anybody in that community. At the beginning I would have thought that a lot more people get into it, but it seems to be a really hard habit to pick up. There seem to be strong cognitive barriers that you have to overcome.

2) Getting claims specific enough to be testable is hard.

3) Reflecting about what you learn in writing is useful even if you can't put numbers on things. Having questions that you care about in writing in Evernote is useful.

What is your motivation?

What do mean? Can you rephrase your question?

I can not speak for cameroncowan, but I was tempted to ask the same question. For which reasons are you interested in forming the habit of experimentation? For example, is your main motivation to pick up low-hanging fruit, do you have some particular question concerning yourself (such as diet, medication, habits, etc.) that you wish to test, or do you perhaps wish to become more adept at spotting moments ripe for experimentation in the long run?

The examples in this thread are of different sort, and require different approach. The links posted by coyotespike show examples of long experiments on yourself, where you sit down once a day for a long period of time (weeks/months) to draw a conclusion. The (fictional!) HPMOR example is a clear case of low-hanging fruit: taking a couple of hours to find a better battle strategy is a good investment of time. I'm not sure about the Feynman example, but this also seems to be a low-hanging fruit example (if the experiment would have taking him a month I'm not sure he would have done it). So, what sort of experimentation skills are you looking for?

All sorts.

I keep a spreadsheet of my daily metrics so that I can peruse it for correlations with productivity. I'd like to do that better, and more efficiently.

I've done small experiments to test a claim, essentially praying over an apple slice daily and comparing it's decay to that of a control. I'd like to get "better" and more rigorous at doing that.

do you perhaps wish to become more adept at spotting moments ripe for experimentation in the long run?

This is closest. Basically, I want to put another tool in my toolbox, more then I have a project in mind.

Does that answer your question?

How would you build any other skill or habit? I don't really understand how the answer to your specific question would be different.

Making a habit out of a simple action is easy. Reading non-fiction 30 hours per day doesn't have complex steps, for example. This seems true for a lot of habits people try to form. Reactive habits (such as noticing confusion) are harder to form. Reactive habits that are relatively complex, such as the habit of experimentation are probably the hardest to form and specific hints, tips or techniques might be useful.

There may be people here with insights in to how to experiment well, that I can apply. alternatively, I might be told that my approach is misguided and Id to better to --

Write things down. I think 90% of successful experimentation is keeping good notes.


Do you have access to a college-level Physics and/or Chemistry courses, with lab components?

Yes. But,

  1. I don't know how transferable the skills are to more general experimentation outside of the laboratory context.

  2. My (limited) experience with lab work for classes is that it is usually play-acting. The procedure is extremely simple and prefabricated, denying access to perhaps the most important part, experiential design. Furthermore, the "answer" is known in advance, students typically fudge the data to get what they know they were supposed to get.

Are these legitimate concerns?

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