Book Recollection: My Life as an Experiment

Unfortunately, I do not get to knock any height off the “to read” stack with this book since my brother Ron actually gave me this as a gift after I had compiled this year’s reading list.  With that said, it was definitely worth the time to read it.  I have been a fan of A.J. Jacobs since I read his first book The Know It All.  This led to the second book I read of his, The Year of Living Biblically.  This particular offering was previously published as the Guinea Pig Diaries and consists of a collection of short stories on various experiments A.J. has taken upon himself.  I happen to consider myself a lab rat as well but tend to put myself through experiments related to health and fitness (P90X, Core Performance, running philosophies, weight loss tricks etc.).  If there is a genuine thought on how to improve yourself physically or make you better at athletics, I’ve probably personally validated it or in most cases refuted it.  A.J. has taken this well beyond the next level and puts himself through some pretty bizarre experiments and in some cases, ones I would NEVER attempt.  Take for instance the Radical Honesty section where he tries out Brad Blanton’s philosophy to happiness.  You guessed it, say what you think without concern of implication.  Once again, we get a glimpse as to what an angel his wife must be to put up with these crazy ideas.  Linda would be horrified to have me around her friends knowing at any moment I could say something that might embarrass her.  A.J’s wife does take exception to his response to her friend’s meeting request, but for the most part is pretty tolerant of this specific experiment.  On a side note, this happens to be one of his funniest experiences I’ve read in all his books.

One of the nice things about this book was the ability to start and finish a particular experiment in a relatively short amount of time making it the perfect bedtime reading material.  That is, of course, if you can actually go to sleep after laughing so hard. One of these days I might have to catch his regular articles for the Esquire magazine.  If I remember correctly, most of the chapters in this collection were compiled from those articles.    If you enjoy journalistic experimentation and have a similar passion for human behavior A.J. is your guy.  On top of all this, his sense of wit rivals any stand up comic out there.  One word of caution though.  Do not and I repeat DO NOT let your wife or girlfriend read the section on Whipped – this is not a concept we want to get any traction.

Hit the jump for a summary of my take-aways from the read.

  • He suffers from the same need to multi-task as me – I can’t remember the last time I could just sit through a TV show without doing something more productive – there is a claim this desire to do multiple things at once costs the economy $650B a year
  • Just how hectic has life become when you (read AJ) has to devise a way to beat Lotus Focus on the Wii by simply stacking books on the Wii board
  • One of his experiments was to outsource his life (both business and private) for $1,400/month.  Needless to say, this was extremely intriguing especially when he used it to settle arguments with his wife.  Looks like outsourcing the shopping needs some tweaking based on a mustache remover showing up for his wife instead of wax paper
  • By far my favorite experiment was the one on Radical Honesty founded by Brad Blanton.  A principle that we would be happier if we stopped lying.  It probably isn’t much of a leap to understand how this can get you into major trouble.  On the other hand, it might reduce some stress if you could blurt out anything you wanted and simply blame it on a movement.  The bad news is you might get more honesty back than you want.. like Blanton’s sex life.  As a note, I will NEVER be adopting this movement
  • He summed up his distaste for gift certificates as someone giving him an errand to run
  • Apparently I need to read the book Nudge
  • He hit it on the head – Journalism is an enemy of rationality – this is the same rule I have on consulting firms – news/and advice is more popular the more unusual and spectacular it is – no one buys an IT product strategy that mimics how successful they currently are at doing the same thing
  • Facts are initially stored in the hippocampus but eventually migrate to the cerebral cortex … however the source of the fact is not maintained which is interesting because this makes one stored fact equal to another although the other may have come from the Enquirer.
  • Apparently shaving your hair doesn’t make it grow back thicker – this is one of those misplaced facts that apparently made it to my cortex before being corrected
  • I’ve already documented AJ’s superstitions – nice to hear everyone has their share of quirks
  • George Washington wrote a list called Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversations – (may have originally come from a French Jesuit) – I didn’t realize how structured George was.  All 110 are listed in the back of the book – a few of my favorites were: Don’t Mock (that one is for you Linda), don’t point at someone you are talking to, Let your recreations be manful, not sinful … to be honest, this entire list is worth the read if for nothing else to understand how different times were back then in both actions and values.
  • Washington may have had a receipt for Spanish Fly among his letters – AJ comments that the Washington Monument may be an iconic tribute to that
  • Washington was 6’2″, never wore a wig, his personal credo was Deeds not Words and hated to shake hands
  • In Washington’s farewell speech he warned against mortgaging the future of our children and grand children… now I draw your attention to our current national debt (Trillions) and say thank you to the current administration – guessing that’s not the change your supporters signed up for  – question to AJ… still wondering if Obama will turn out like Washington?
  • AJ’s wife actually gave him permission to have an affair with the nanny – cause she knew it wasn’t ever going to happen
  • Ironically, when AJ was trying to find a mate for his nanny, someone responded with “When I was a child, I witnessed a clown jump to his death from a seven story building.  It was the only time a clown has made me laugh”  I think this may be the finest statement ever made!
  • I think one of the reason I enjoy reading AJ’s work so much is he’s uncannily similar in quarks and perceptions – read the Ideal Husband experiment and you’ll understand
  • Confucius defined a wife as one who submits to another…. hmmm he is considered a very wise man … hmmmmm I better stop before I get slapped
  • Like AJ I like to point out how lucky my wife is by comparing myself to more dysfunctional husbands
  • AJ actually quantified his love for his wife through the use of MRI
  • Voles are monogamous .. who would have thunk?
  • Oxytocin chemically accentuates trust and attachment … I need to go check the ingredients of Axe body spray
  • AJ defines a list of Cognitive Biases which are quite interesting – this has always been an interesting topic for me and always interested in learning more insights into it – I fell for the conjunction fallacy, apparently do not have name narcissism and I’ve benefited from the pygmalian effect,
  • AJ is probably the only author that I take the time to read the dedication section – this one didn’t disappoint – he actually kept a promise to dedicate this book to a guy who was able to acquire a Wii Fit for him
  • AJ is more concerned about his kids growing up to be good people than whether they turn to religion or not

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