In a TED talk, Paula Scher, a graphic designer, told how a hobby of painting maps turned into something like a job.
I was up in my country house, and for some reason, I began painting these very big, very involved, laborious, complicated maps . . . They would take me about six months initially, but then I started getting faster at it. Here’s the United States. Every single city of the United States is on here. . . . One of my favorites was this painting I did of Florida after the 2000 election that has the election results rolling around in the water. . . . Somebody . . . saw the paintings and recommended them to a gallery, and I had a first show about two-and-a-half years ago, and I showed these paintings that I’m showing you now. . . . They sold quickly, and became rather popular. . . . The gallery wanted me to have another show in two years, which meant that I really had to paint these paintings much faster than I had ever done them. . . . I was no longer at play. I was actually in this solemn landscape of fulfilling an expectation for a show, which is not where I started.
A hobby turned into a job. This has happened countless times — I believe all jobs started as hobbies.
One hobby that turned into a job is science. The first scientists were hobbyists — for example, Darwin and Mendel. The success of hobbyist scientists led to the creation of full-time jobs that included doing science — professors of science at universities. When science became a job, something was gained (professionals had more time per day, money, training, institutional support, collegial support, and prestige than hobbyists) and something was lost (professionals had less freedom than hobbyists). Professionals could do many things hobbyists could not, but the reverse was also true: hobbyists could do many things professionals could not. For example, they could work on a question for ten years without publishing anything (Mendel, Darwin) and entertain highly heretical ideas (Darwin). Professionals needed steady output and dared not offend, for fear of losing their job.
My personal science (personal science = using science to help yourself) is another step in this history. I combined the freedom of hobbyists with the knowledge, skills and resources of professionals. I can do whatever self-experiments I want and test whatever ideas I want. Yet I also have professional levels of training, knowledge, skill, and (to some extent) equipment provided by my job as a psychology professor, Berkeley library access, the Internet, free software, and cheap computers. To these two elements — the freedom of hobbyists, the resources of professionals — my personal science added a third element not found in hobbyist or professional science: the motivation of a person with a problem. I wanted better health. My personal science helped me get it. In the beginning, I wanted to sleep better, lose weight, have less acne, and be in a better mood. Later, I discovered new ways to improve my brain function and blood sugar. Just combining the freedom of hobbyists with the resources of professionals, personal science would probably be a big improvement. Adding better motivation suggests that personal science is even more likely to improve our lives by learning what professional scientists haven’t learned. The combination of professional science and personal science will be far more powerful (= more useful) than professional science alone.
I’ve seen this in my own life, over and over, and I predict it will eventually be true for everyone. Learning how to control one’s own health — how to sleep well, for example — is non-trivial knowledge.