Feb 6Liked by Nat Eliason

Richard Hamming had a good bit on this in The Art of Doing Science and Engineering:

"Of the things you can choose to measure some are hard, firm measurements, such as height and weight, while some are soft, such as social attitudes. There is always a tendency to grab the hard, firm measurement, though it may be quite irrelevant as compared to the soft one, which in the long run may be much more relevant to your goals. Accuracy of measurement tends to get confused with relevance of measurement, much more than most people believe. That a measurement is accurate, reproducible, and easy to make does not mean it should be done; instead, a much poorer one which is more closely related to your goals may be much preferable. For example, in school it is easy to measure training and hard to measure education, and hence you tend to see on final exams an emphasis on the training part and a great neglect of the education part."

The idea of a poorer measurement nonetheless being the better one is so compelling and I feel like it applies here -- like "happiness" is much harder to measure than sleep but it might be the better metric anyway.

Expand full comment

I recently purchased a “smart watch” mainly for running really as my old one broke.

But this one gives me a whole new level of stats. I now know my blood oxygen concentration at any point in the last two weeks. Great but I don’t have a clue what it means or whether I’m about to die.

The other thing it gives you is a sleep score. Last night I felt like I had a great sleep. 7 hrs 30 mins and didn’t wake up at all. But I only got a score of 75. Urghhh. Not enough REM sleep apparently.

So yeah, I get you point. Great article. Thanks.

Expand full comment

IMO - tracking your sleep is a great way to lose it.

Expand full comment

Key quote (already conveniently bolded): "why would we assume the best solution to a problem is the one we can most easily measure."

The answer, I think, is that we are uncomfortable with uncertainty. We'd rather act on the basis of a potentially meaningless but easily measurable metric (and tell ourselves a good story about why it *is* meaningful) than act on the basis of some fuzzier information or "sense" (in which I include "intuition", etc.). We are also *very* good at telling ourselves stories that explain our decisions in rational terms when they are very often not *based* in conscious, deliberate, measurable rationality. And sometimes (even often) that ability actually serves us in good stead. It takes effort to notice it and try to understand what may be a healthy self-story (even if not a "true" one) vs. an unhealthy one (i.e. one that ultimately makes us less happy, healthy, etc.).

Expand full comment

Hi Nat. Can you further explain the filtered water? How do you do it? What is the best way? Thanks

Expand full comment

Great piece Nat. Totally agree, especially with this part: "Why would we assume the best solution to a problem is the one we can most easily measure?"

The LDL to coronary artery disease is a perfect example. Just because you have high LDL doesn't necessarily mean you are going to die of coronary artery disease. It just means LDL is what scientists can measure, and with that data, they were able to draw conclusions based on the subjects they pulled the data from! Where's the context?!

Expand full comment

“someone who can run marathons and deadlift 3x their body weight and has a glass of wine a few times a week is going to die sooner than someone who is skinny, lonely, and sober”.

That’s CRAZY: I am exactly the second type of person. I love sports, i prioritise stuff like sleep and eating healthy. However, I don’t join friends when they gather past 9pm, or if their proposed plan clashes with my schedule.

Damn. I am really losing on relationships here. Makes me think of what I read on “A nihilist guide to meaning” on Melting Asphalt: the meaning of life depends on how many arrows you draw from yourself towards others. I have very few arrows at the moment.

Some self reflection is urgently needed here. Thanks for highlighting this problem to me!

Expand full comment

Excellent and much needed piece!

Expand full comment