An Experiment Of One
Every six months I go for a review with the consultant who is supervising my medical treatment or some other specialist that he refers me to. In discussion I’m often asked whether some aspect of my life correlates with how well I am. For example does the weather affect me, or eating dairy or stress. Now these people are highly trained, have a good grounding in science, know full well that I have a condition with a very high level of inherent variability and should understand cognitive biases and the placebo effect. So how do they expect me as an experiment of one to be able to find reliable causation rather than random correlations?
When I point this out to them they are always abashed, but it seems part of the human condition that we expect to be able to do this, despite evidence every day that even carefully designed clinical trials with hundreds of participants struggle.
I long gave up trying to experiment on myself, which I’ve decided is a route to obsession and endless disappointment. Instead I focus on living well, in the expectation that time honoured aspects of a good life should be good for me as well. Similarly I try to avoid universally acknowledged things that are bad for almost everyone, exposure to toxins, chronic stress etc.
I’ve written a series of articles on what living well means to me and even a simple guide to health and I think I can tease out of my daily pain level tracker a correlation with living well that’s likely to also be a causation, but even then it’s tenuous.
This article shows an often hilarious examples of correlations that are pretty certain not to involve any element of causation, it was the inspiration for this post and is definitely worth a look!
The photo is of the southern end of Haweswater, just near the car park. Walking in nature is definitely part of living well, but it’s pretty hard to predict whether I will be feeling better or worse the day after a good hike.