This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

18Oct/10

The art of self-quantification

What with our increasing reliance on data collection and user statistics, it is perhaps only natural that these practices will transition from the realm of learning about other people to learning about ourselves.

Well, maybe that is happening faster than we originally thought.  Here is an interesting article from the New York Times in which Gary Wolf (one of the first writers at Wired Magazine) describes his own efforts at learning more about himself as well as a growing movement of auto-quants that is represented by the website The Quantified Self.

Being a researcher, I feel like I have an unnatural attraction to lots of data points, so the prospect of being able to collect them about myself is strangely appealing.  However, I think that the benefit of Self-Quantification extends beyond our own individual meta-analyses.  As a movement, the Quantified Self is interesting not only because of the knowledge that we might uncover about ourselves, but also because taking a quantified approach to knowledge in general represents a very different perspective on life than many are accustomed to.

One of the first things that you learn when you work with lots of data is that you will often see underlying patterns that you'd never have guessed were there in the first place.  While gut instinct and common sense may help us in many ways, they are often quite insufficient when it comes to understanding really complex issues like global climate, the financial system, and ourselves.

I suspect that as more people begin to look at the numbers behind their own activities, they'll be able to see an entirely novel picture of themselves that isn't colored by the usual elements of human psyche like bias, prior-beliefs, and rationalization.  Hopefully, this will begin to increase our population's appreciation for objective information and careful analysis.

Or maybe we'll just realize that we spend far too much time on Facebook...

via The New York Times

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  1. Is “auto-quant” another word for “narcissist”…?


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