Self-Experimentation Is The Future
You need to be able to figure things out for yourself.
Self-experimentation is the future: you need to be able to figure things out for yourself. Do you trust the mainstream health and fitness advice? The education system? The politicians? We're entering a phase with no central trusted authority so you must trust yourself, plus a few people with knowledge and skills.
There is a lot of talk online about actionable advice. Is what you are learning practically useful? Does this expert explain how, as well as the what and why? Will this even get me what I want? It’s nice to “have a guy” for everything - someone you trust who saves you weeks or years of learning and stupid mistakes – you can’t specialise in everything obviously.
But the holy grail of actionable advice is to get better at giving yourself advice.
I am not offering a “system of thought” if that means a few idées fixes arranged in a pattern on a shelf.
I offer a system of thinking.
Any biologist will understand you if you say mankind is my bug.
– Ezra Pound
You don’t want completed thoughts (dead), you want a system of thinking (living). Well, we also don’t want a system of actions – a bunch of readymade solutions you take down from the shelf. What we want is a system of acting. A system for turning theory into practice, which we can use for whatever skill or knowledge we are interested in now.
We might need a few completed thoughts and actions at the beginning of any new skill. This the function of a teacher, to give you basic concepts and methods to get started, and often needs to give you the solutions early on to help you understand what you’re doing.
But it’s a poor teacher who doesn’t help you develop your own system for finding your own solutions. A good teacher pushes you and gives you tools for solving your own problems, introducing new tools at the right time in the right order. “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master” but it’s also a poor master who doesn’t give his students the tools he needs to surpass himself.
Giving yourself actionable advice
So how do you learn to trust yourself? How do you start figuring things out? How do you find people with skills and knowledge you can trust?
The only way is to self-experiment, practice what you learn, and get your fingers burnt. Not only do you get better at each skill but over time you develop a “sense of reality” for recognising who the bullshitters are, and who the real players are, in any industry.
Figuring things out for yourself - even under the guidance of a teacher - is hard work, it’s tiring, you have to THINK and thinking takes energy, don’t assume thinking is all in your ‘mind’ and nothing to do with body. Nothing becomes real in the world without muscle movement, without you doing something with what you learned, without enacting the principles and embodying them in the world.
Figuring Things Out for Yourself
Figuring things out is not just grabbing a few objects and banging them around like an ape. Humans have speech and use concepts, which means you can bang around a few concepts in your head first, choosing the best course of action before and start moving objects around in the real world.
Simulating possible outcomes in advance is a good way to avoid big mistakes and a useful way to stumble across new ideas that aren’t immediately obvious. This expands our range of possibilities and makes us more free. We are not just a slave to what we immediately see and feel.
It took many thousands of years for this capacity to develop in our species, and it still take years of learning and development for children to get good at overcoming the urge to just bang around objects hoping for the best. This inhibition of our instinctive reactions allows for non-obvious ideas and intellectual solutions to emerge. Problems which are to the ape merely physical problems in the immediate present. He works only with what he can see and experience right now in front of him, without thought for the future.
You don’t need to tell an ape to “live in the now, man” he is already there, and it doesn’t make him any freer.
Self-Experimentation is Literally the Future.
It’s about planning in advance, making a decision to try a few things in a certain way, doing it, and then seeing what happens. When you experiment you are looking towards results in the future not right now, this second. So the next question is not what you want in the future, but HOW you go about getting it? Do you try to get it directly by banging things around without a plan, or do you reason about the best method and get it indirectly. Intelligently.
You don’ need to have imagined it all perfectly in advance obviously. Trying a few different things to see what works, and stumbling across a solution you then pivot to, is also a strategy you thought of in advance. Fuck around and find out is future oriented. It’s not banging around, trial and error, in the felt present.
Self-experimentation has been dominated by people who love gadgets and tracking data. They mostly miss the point. The point is to think in a different way, not just to have more and more data and then keep “optimising” the results. It feels like they are thinking because the numbers keep changing, but it shallow approach obsessing over dead numbers and not what I’m recommending here. They are trapped in getting to the next big “new better completed thought or action.” So they can arrange it on their shelf in a nice pattern and impress other people and themselves later.
Become a Method Addict
It’s good to “have a guy’” for everything but even better is to have a method for everything. Become a Method Addict. The method of methods is learning a system for self-experimentation and making it your own. You can then take this basic process and apply it to the next thing.
You don’t need readymade answers off the shelf for long. You get the key principles and concepts and start using them straight away. You will be more aware of your real abilities. You will have more confidence. You will trust yourself to find the right expert to teach you next. You will avoid scammers and low level people.
We all know a guy who seemed to just figure everything out for himself, is always learning new skills, and ultra practical. Before you have even finished discussing some thing, or are only half way through blurting out a half thought idea, and he is already getting to work and doing something. But most of us aren’t like this naturally, at least not anymore. We need to relearn the how. In fact more intellectual guys often find these practical guys annoying because don’t seem much interested in ANY ideas they can’t use right now.
A Technique for Self-Experimenters
So the most actionable advice I can think of is this: Learn a method that helps you give yourself better advice.
No, I don’t mean read about a bunch of “mental models” which are detached from physical reality, that you can’t see and measure results from but might delude yourself that you feel better. That is just more brain porn. I mean learn some technique or system that is (1) practically useful in its own right AND at the same time (2) teaches you how to self-experiment. Later you can apply this to anything skill or field of learning.
This is what I did in my video course: Principles of Posture: a Practical Guide for Self-Experimenters.
You don’t get all the completed thoughts and actions – you get what you need to get started experimenting on your own. A technique. And now you can start giving yourself actionable advice on posture, movement, skills.
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"The method of methods is learning a system for self-experimentation and making it your own. You can then take this basic process and apply it to the next thing."
This is a great article. And this is a good takeaway. I also like the idea that your method should be beyond mental models. I work with self-directed young people on intention/reflection cycles but I am wondering if I need to make my questions more likely to provoke answers that are more embodied, to avoid the trap of just giving them mental models.