The two big surprises have been how easy it is and how helpful it is. In the beginning it wasn’t easy to find interesting things to say. Somehow it got easier and easier. Partly because I had more ideas — about omega-3, the umami hypothesis and fermented foods, the effect of animal fat on sleep. Partly because readers sent me interesting stuff. Partly because I started teaching at Tsinghua and moved to Beijing part of the year. Partly because the Shangri-La Diet produced results that I wanted to brag about. And — a very big part of it — because there are enough comments here and elsewhere to make me think people are reading it. I think everyone has an innate desire to be listened to. As our concerns and knowledge become more and more specialized, it becomes harder and harder to find an audience. When Spy magazine was around I read every issue three times. I was dying to talk about it with other fans. I couldn’t. I couldn’t find them.
Some of the stuff people have sent me has been incredibly helpful. Most of the examples involve trying my ideas. Taking omega-3 (via flaxseed oil or fish oil). Tyler Cowen’s experience, for example. Tim Lundeen’s results. The effect on sports injuries. Or eating more fermented food. Tucker Max’s experience. Not only does it make the whole subject much easier to talk about, it convinces me I’m on the right track. Some of the examples involve telling me about other more conventional data related to my ideas. For example, I’m very glad to know about hormesis, which supports my ideas about fermented food. Knowing about radiation hormesis makes me stop worrying about the small dose of radiation I get from my cell phone. The recent comment about two morning faces being better than one might turn out to be really helpful and important.
I haven’t read She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th century play, but the title is brilliant. My self-experimenation, I now think, had a dose of that because I was willing to do something as humble as study myself whereas most scientists wouldn’t stoop to that. Too low-status. Blogging has a lot of that. How many Berkeley professors blog? Uh, Brad DeLong? And someone else, rarely. Blogging is beneath them. Whereas half of Tsinghua students have blogs. They aren’t worried about appearing undignified. The phrase keeping up with the Joneses means your car has to be at least as expensive as your neighbor’s car, and so on. A kind of arms race. Such an arms race goes on in science: What you must do to appear high status takes up more and more of your resources, leaving less and less to actually make progress. So less and less progress is made. Self-experimentation breaks out of that vicious cycle. Blogging is the same thing more generally. Supposedly professors, especially at a place like Berkeley, have interesting things to say. But the demands of status, as Veblen described in the last chapter of The Theory of the Leisure Class, make it harder and harder for them to say them. Blogging breaks out of that vicious cycle.
When I taught introductory psychology I found I could often weave whatever I’d been thinking about into my next lecture. It’s good to start a lecture by saying “Something interesting happened to me a few days ago . . . ” Now I can just blog about it.