In yesterday’s post, a friend of mine with bipolar disorder told how he used my faces/mood discovery. It allowed him “to enjoy life and relate to others in ways that I never could my entire life,” he wrote. Partly because it allows him to stop taking the usual meds prescribed for bipolar disorder, which have awful side effects.
What do I think about this?
To begin with the obvious, I am very happy that something I discovered has helped someone else. Practically all science has no obvious use. (A tiny fraction is eventually helpful.) In experimental psychology, my field, I can’t think of a single finding that’s helped many people. Because of this background, managing to help someone via science seems like a fairy tale. It’s too soon to say the story has a happy ending — it isn’t over — but it is beginning to have a happy ending.
Thank heaven for blogs. Something like my faces/mood discovery is difficult to publicize, yet without accumulation of evidence it will go nowhere. It wouldn’t be easy to publish in a psychiatric or psychotherapeutic journal because I’m not a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Even if published, the chances of interesting psychiatrists and psychotherapists are low because it doesn’t involve a treatment you can make money from (gatekeeper syndrome). It should greatly interest persons with bipolar disorder but they are not the typical readers of the scientific literature on mood disorders. However, like all sufferers, they search the Internet.
In my internal calculus, the story provides what I think of as “industrial strength” evidence. Industrial-strength evidence is evidence that something works in practice, not just in the lab. In a laboratory setting, which to some extent includes me studying myself, you try to keep things constant. You want to reduce noise. Noise reduction makes signals clearer. An effect you can see easily in a lab experiment, however, may be too small to matter outside the lab, where more powerful forces push people around. Whether your lab experiment — in which you have managed to control Force X — has practical value depends on the size of Force X relative to other forces at work outside the lab. An example is the theory behind the Shangri-La Diet. Does that theory tell us anything useful about why people are fat? Does it explain the obesity epidemic, for example? I knew the theory had plenty of truth because it had led me to several new ways of losing weight and had helped me lose considerable weight and keep it off forever. But that was far from showing (a) it was the only thing that controls weight or even (b) one of the big things. Lab experiments can’t do that. It’s been claimed that obesity is due to a virus. Experiments support the idea. Yet the idea is irrelevant to everyday life, I’m sure. No one has written How to Lie With Laboratory Science but it could be written. The only way to find out if a “true” idea explains enough of reality to be useful is to use that idea in real-world situations. Which is what my friend did.
But that isn’t the biggest thing. The biggest thing, from my point of view, is that what my friend has done helps keep this idea alive. When it comes to ideas, grow or die. My friend’s story keeps the idea alive by expanding it. It gives it a new and personal dimension. It isn’t just about mood measurements, it’s about living a reasonable life. I’ve given talks about this idea, but this story makes it much easier to talk about to a general audience.