Seth Roberts wrote The Unreasonable Effectiveness of My Self-Experimentation. He explains how self-experimentation improved his sleep, mood, health, and weight.
Self-experimentation is similar to foraging and hobbies more than strict lab-science, he says:
“My self-experimentation resembled foraging, hobbyist, and artisanal exploration, Professional science is a poor match for any of them. The similarity of foraging, hobbyist, and artisanal exploration suggests that our brains are well-suited for jobs with a lot of exploitation and a little exploration. Although full-time scientists are expected to explore full-time, full-time exploration is very uncomfortable.”Seth Roberts
The idea is that foraging and hobbies involve exploration followed by rewards in a way that lab-science does not. In other words, self-experimentation is an engineering approach to personal problem solving using aggressive-tinkering. Taleb reminds us in Skin in the Game, “The knowledge we get by tinkering, via trial and error, experience, and the workings of time, in other words, contact with the earth, is vastly superior to that obtained through reasoning, something self-serving institutions have been very busy hiding from us.”
This makes sense. Now, self-experimentation involves some major problems. If you tinker with small changes in a way that increases risk, you’re making unwise gambles. For instance, experimenting with strength training almost guarantees health and strength gains. Experimenting with drugs to improve strength may sacrifice long-term health for short term strength.
Self-Experimentation and Published Science
Sometimes, when you have a specific problem, you can look up published research, determine the process used to test a hypothesis, and then try something similar on yourself if your problem was solved or improved by the experiment. But you want to do this in a risk-reducing fashion. For instance, when I used Kjaer’s chronic tendon loading research to cure my 8-year bout of patellar tendinitis, I knew that squats had never made it worse. I knew that my back was healthy. I knew that the highest risk I had was getting weaker over a few weeks or making my knee feel a bit worse.