Learn by Doing, Then by Thinking

Note: There’s a bit of thinking here. But it’s thinking after doing.

The late Seth Roberts once wrote about his graduate school days, and how he got into self-experimentation. It was by way of the idea that, “The best way to learn is to do:”

And then I was in the library and I came across an article about teaching mathematics and the article began, “The best way to learn is to do.” And I thought “Huh well that makes a lot of sense.” And I realized you know that it was a funny thing that that’s what I wasn’t doing: I was thinking. And I also thought to myself well I want to learn how to do experiments. And if the best way to learn is to do then I should just do as many experiments as possible as opposed to trying to think of which ones to do. And that was really a vast breakthrough in my graduate training and everything changed after that.

Quoted from a 10 minute presentation by Seth Roberts (link long since lost to github, apparently)

Roberts practiced “learning by doing” throughout his life, always carrying out various experiments to see what he could discover.

It’s a simple, intriguing idea: you can learn more by doing first than you can by thinking first.

Why might this be the case?

Standing can improve sleep?

Stumbled on a strange idea just weird enough to warrant self-experimentation: standing to improve sleep. I found it thanks to a shared Google reader item from Patri Friedman. It was part of some notes taken from a meetup meeting:

Change in breakfast caused early awakening to get worse. This was the first thing that had made a difference. Led to discovery that any breakfast hurts; supported by rat research. Later found that standing a lot improved sleep. Had to stand at least 8 hr to get effect; no effect of 6 hr of standing. Great sleep when stood 10 hr but really hard to do. More recently discovered that standing on one leg to exhaustion helps. Do twice in one day. Same effect …

Told you it was a bit different. I’m working on hacking sleep a bit, and am immensely curious as to if this experiment would prove out for me. I sit at a desk and start at three computer screens all day, so the one-legged standing to exhaustion will be the method I try.

Stay tuned.

Sidenote: I already skip breakfast most days, preferring to wait until lunch before I break my nighttime fast.

Update: Seth kindly responded to my request for additional information on what he means by standing to exhaustion:

Justin, what I mean by “standing on one leg to exhaustion” has nothing to do with balance ? I usually touch something to make it easy to balance. I mean I stand on one leg until it becomes difficult due to muscles getting tired. I never actually endure pain or even discomfort but I go right up to the point where I would start to if I continued. In the beginning I could only do this for 2-3 minutes; now it’s up to about 11 minutes. At the moment the “whole regimen” is what you call one set: standing on each leg to exhaustion once. In other words, left leg once, right leg once.

Got it – and so the experiment can start!

Update 2: Finally got around to trying this out this evening. I still had some standing stamina at 10 minutes, so I just stopped there (per leg). We’ll see how the sleep goes tonight.