Brady F. Anderson

How to Make Personal Rules in Accordance with Scientific Methodology

Rules form habits you don’t stray from because you don’t have to decide whether to follow your rule. To question your rules defeats the whole purpose of them. They eliminate decisions, that’s why they’re so useful. 

But we are faced with the initial decision of which rules to follow. There are two main ways I see people making rules.

  1. Through mistakes and successes. The experiments we run in our own life inform the rules we form. Bad outcomes inspire habits designed to make life better. Good results validate responsible behaviors. 
  2. Learning from other people’s wisdom and failures. There are a host of failures I won’t make because I’ve learned from others. I don’t need to go to jail to understand that it’s somewhere I don’t want to end up. 

Yet, even in science, experiments and learning from others are not sufficient for forming correct principles. You need a methodology to bridge the gap between experimental hints and general rules. There are a few ways to do this.  

A situation is or can be arranged to be so simple that you can predict what will happen and check the rule. If you drop an apple, the earth’s gravity will draw it downwards at a specific rate. If you don’t put on deodorant, you’re gonna be stinky. If you treat people poorly, they will not want to spend time with you. These are experiments you can run countless times and link causes to the same outcome.

If you can prove a less specific rule that follows from the initial rule, the initial rule is likely correct. If all numbers that end in 0 are divisible by 10, then we can also prove every number that ends in 0 is also divisible by 2 and 5. This approach doesn’t work as well for life rules because it’s difficult to prove general relationships from principles that are already broad such as don’t steal or always treat people with kindness. This is ok. You want general rules so your habits can take care of most situations. 

If you can approximate what will happen next, even though you don’t understand why everything happens the way it does, then you have a functional rule. Scientists can still predict experimental results even though they don’t precisely understand what is going on. An uneducated viewer doesn’t understand any American football rules but can interpret that the offense will attempt to move the ball down the field each play. Many people successfully and unsuccessfully experiment with drugs. The outcomes are variable for different people, but you could still likely predict the imprecise upshot of what using drugs would be like for you based on your preferences, family history, relationships, lifestyle, and more. 

These methods rely on the varying degrees of how accurately you can perceive cause and effect relationships. It’s easy to form rules about simple, predictable consequences. If you can still anticipate results, even though you don’t comprehend what’s going on, you can form excellent rules. 

Rules fail when you cannot discern what will happen next when you follow that rule. If you can’t establish a relationship between cause and effect your rule folds under scrutiny. The best measure to determine the validity of general rules, whether natural law or personal mandate, is to test its predictive power. Personal rules only become useful when they help you reach your goals. Rules with ambiguous outcomes are about as useful as this guy:

My inspirations for this piece:

Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher

Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World