John D. Freyer decided to sell everything he owns — yes everything — on ebay. Stage two is to visit those objects in people’s homes around the country and record their tales. Stage three is to publish this book.
When Oh When will people appreciate how deep Seth Roberts’s self-experimentation concept runs? Descartes started with the idea that we know only ourselves, Seth realizes that the self is often the last thing we know and discovering the self is the highest stage of science not to mention performance art. The innovation of hermeneutics (as found say, in Paul Riceour) was to set the self apart from the social world and trace the implications of a dualistic and indeed interpretative social science. Seth reestablishes methodological monism by turning the world-self distinction on its head, relocating the self in the world of science. Add to that mix a working knowledge of experimental psychology, insights from neurodiversity (the meticulous recording of self, the focus on detail, plus the deeply autistic speak of the self in the third person as an external object to be observed; are they so wrong?), and sugared water, for a potent mix.
Virtually all of you — that’s right you — underinvest in self-experimentation at the relevant margin. Status quo bias is one reason, plus we fear negative feedback about who we are and what we are doing. Who wants to learn that his or her **x life (family blog!) could have been 63 percent better for the last fourteen years?
Scientists should spend at least one-third of their time with self-experimentation. Robin Hanson lectures us on bias, favoring one’s self excessively, failing to agree with smarter or better informed others, and intellectual hubris. We need to correct for these flaws, just as we might wipe the dirt off the lens of our microscope. Good luck.
A’la Heisenberg, measuring the self does not differ in degree from constructing the self. Seth thus solves the age-old problem of avoiding the collapse of German Idealism into German Romanticism and then into complete subjectivity. The construction of the self is brought squarely into the realm of science; this integrates the two sides of early Wittgenstein, namely the affinity for the mystical and the analytics which gave birth to logical positivism.
Did I mention politics? Wilhelm von Humboldt, a descendent of the Romantics and forerunner of Mill, portrayed self-experimentation as the essential outcome of freedom and the ultimate justification for a free society. Plato saw the same in Book Eight of The Republic, where it is argued that the life of a philosopher (i.e., critical self-examination) can flourish only under democracy. Dan Klein’s paper is called "Go Ahead and Let Him Try."
Of course it was Goethe who understood most of this, and even put it into verse, but that is another post altogether. Nor are Jung and Nietzsche irrelevant. Seth Roberts is my new ersatz Continental philosopher.
Addendum: Seth responds