life experiments

Tonight, I learned some interesting things from the experimental man, author, and Esquire magazine editor at large: A.J. Jacobs.   He came to the university to talk about what he has learned from the series of “life experiments” in which he has immersed himself.   He is famous for these experiments because he commits himself to the project, for better or worse, then writes about what he learned.

Some of the experiments he has undertaken, and the books or articles that resulted, include:

  • The book The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (2004)  —   He spent an entire year reading all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • The Esquire article “My Outsourced Life” (2005)  —  For 30 days, he out-sourced his life to two personal assistants in India and who did everything for him from answering his e-mails, to reading his children good-night stories, to arguing with his wife.
  • The Esquire article “I Think You’re Fat” (2007)   —  He, for 30 days, practiced radical honesty, which required that, among other things, he verbally express whatever thought that came to his mind at the moment that it came to his mind.
  • The book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007)  —  He lived for one year according to a strict and literal interpretation of all the instructions that the Bible provides for how people should live their lives.   This included, as examples, that one should stone adulterers, blow a shofar at the beginning of every month, and refrain from trimming the corners of his facial hair (which, he followed by not trimming his facial hair at all, because he didn’t know what the corners of his facial or head hair were).

 

The takeaway

So what was did I take away from his speech and talking with him afterwards.  First, that he is a nice guy who has a very loving/patient wife, but also that we can learn so much about ourselves, and each other, as very social and political animals, when we put ourselves in these extreme lifestyle experiments.   Most importantly, the experimenter learns a great deal about their own personal moral code.   Jacobs, for example, shared with us that he learned a great deal about how he feels about religion and how he came to the conclusion that he wants raise his children to be exposed to at least some form, from his Living Biblically experiment.  There are other lessons, but the important take away is that if you want to learn about yourself, conduct an experiment, with you at it’s center.

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