Thursday, September 22, 2005

the plural of anecdote may not be evidence, but it does make things more curious

My bozzom buddy Tom has written a couple posts lately about Seth Roberts (here and earlier here), who recently gained some plum NYT freakonomics attention for the various experiments he conducted on himself regarding his sleep, his mood, and his weight. But, as a strange coincidence, the original Roberts article in Chance was assigned as part of a causal inference course I'll be sitting in on for at least part of this semester. I began reading it with the thought that this was going to be a quirky-fun but mostly unconvincing article--for the economist, there is the saying that if you are so smart, why aren't you rich; I think the equivalent for the self-experimenter would be that if you are so right, why isn't there a funded clinical trial?

But much of the article, as it turns out, is about Roberts's efforts against his problem with early awakening--that subspecies of sleep disorder where a person wakes up earlier than they should and can't fall back asleep for at least an hour. As someone with a rather profound tendency toward early awakening himself, it's a matter that gains my attention and found the article fascinating (it also has the virtues of being short and charmingly written).

More importantly, one of Roberts discoveries jibes oddly with something that I have observed over the last four months: he found that he needed less sleep overall either if he lost weight or if he ate a diet high in water content (namely, high in fruit and salad). Me, I have lost a bunch of weight in the last four months and have vastly increased my fruit and salad consumption. Entirely independently, I've also observed (and I'm absolutely convinced of this) that I have needed less sleep. I can't assert that it is due either to the weight loss or the fruit-salad-ascendance or both. If I had the discipline and motivation to be a Serious Self-Experimenter, I would start keeping detailed sleep records and start cycling through gains and losses in weights and increases and decreases in my weight. I am not actually going to do this.

Another of Roberts's self-discoveries is that he lost a marked amount of weight by a diet that consisted of taking in a lot of his calories via drinking fructified water (you'll have to read the article for an explanation of his taste-and-set-point theory of why this works). I am tempted to re-enact The Great Weight Gain of 2003, just so I can see if I can lose weight through this tricky-body-overclocking method as opposed to the conventional way that I have. Again, though, I am not actually going to do this.

For that matter, given how slow I am to get going in the morning, I am also tempted to try Roberts method of waking up to talking-head television as a way of improving his morning energy and mood (he has an evolutionary theory to explain this, which is nonsensical on its surface but contains a less nonsensical element as well). Given how slow I am at getting going in the morning, I though that this is something that might actually be worth a try. Still, I presume I am not actually going to do this, although any self-experiments I conduct will be dutifully reported here on JFW.

11 comments:

Absolut said...

Regarding this part: "if you are so smart, why aren't you rich" - for a labor economist, wouldn't that simply mean that as long as they're employed they are fine?

Anonymous said...

if economists are so smart, why can't they come up with a more intelligent catch-phrase regarding the relationship between intelligence and wealth?

Tom Bozzo said...

I always thought of "if you are so smart, why aren't you rich" as being something that business and finance types said to us smarty-pants economists, actually.

Having heard back from Timothy Beneke (of the "taste celibacy" diet, which I am starting to think makes more sense than "Shangri-La," though I have no personal interest in giving up flavor), I feel compelled to note that I was really more interested in the methods of the burgeoning discipline of freakonomics than the merits of Roberts's self-experiments.

Anonymous said...

yeah, sounds more like a business-major's phrase than an economist's....

Rhymes With Scrabble said...

I've always been a slow waker-upper, too. In high school, I used to set my clock radio (which was on the lower level of my room; I slept in a loft) to one of those hideous morning shows with two submoronic jackals shrieking at each other. It certainly got my ass out of bed. Does that count as "talking heads"?

jeremy said...

No, the whole thing with the Roberts theory is that you actually have to see the heads. In fact, they should be as large as they would be in an ordinary conversation like the ones your ancestors had to start their days back in the Pleistocene.

Anonymous said...

would sleeping (and thus emerging from under) large fur pelts help? what about cooking breakfast over an open flame?

Drek said...

You know, Jeremy, you might consider the virtues of your new running habits as well. I run about 4 miles every morning (Monday through Friday) and I've found that I need less sleep now than I did before I started running.

Anonymous said...

zzzzzzzzzzzz

jeremy said...

I was going to title this post "from zzz to zz."

Drek: I think you might be right about the running being potentially the key causal variable. If only I had kept records of these things!

Brayden said...

Perhaps a new journal - the journal of self experimentation?