Exploratory Psychology Program Overview
Modern-day psychological research takes many forms. Despite the variety, most such research tends to be data-driven rather than theoretical, centered around hypothesis testing rather than engineering, and focused on third-personal rather than introspective methods.
From 2012–2019, Leverage Research conducted a theoretically-informed, engineering-centric, introspective investigation of the mind. This research led us to develop a large number of hypotheses about the content, structure, and functioning of the mind. Now, we are disseminating our research methods, equipping others to conduct their own investigations and test our hypotheses.
About this Program
Dissemination of Research Methods
Having spent many years developing and testing hypotheses ourselves, we are now releasing our methods and tools so that external researchers may experiment with them independently. This ideally will lead to the application and improvement of our research tools and the confirmation or disconfirmation of our hypotheses.
Over the past year, we weighed different approaches to dissemination and concluded that the best approach is to follow the pattern we believe we have identified in the early history of electricity and the early history of magnetism. In both cases, it appears as though the respective field began when a researcher publicly released what was essentially an experimental starter kit, containing a new research implement, a set of simple experiments to run, the expected results of those experiments, and a theory that tried to explain those results. For magnetism, this was Peregrinus and the rounded lodestone; for electricity, it was Gilbert and the non-magnetic versorium (related: case study on Gilbert’s isolation of static electric attraction).
We judged this dissemination method — the release of an experimental kit to the public — to be faster than direct engagement with the academic literature. We currently believe that there will be public interest in the use of our research methods and instruments, and that it will be easier to create partnerships with academics both over and in response to public interest and experimentation. We then anticipate publications to follow, once there is a thriving research community.
Our efforts will now be directed at: (1) releasing a series of research tools, beginning with belief reporting, along with descriptions of simple experiments, the results we obtained from those experiments, and in some cases theories of relevant phenomena, (2) helping to manage and oversee experimentation by providing the relevant support and infrastructure, and (3) making sure that the interested public is adequately apprised of the risks and dangers of psychological experimentation.
Risks and Dangers
During our research we encountered a large number of risks and potentially deleterious effects from the use or misuse of psychological tools and methods, including our own. We believe that research should be conducted by people who are informed, as far as possible, with the potential risks and dangers of research, and the use of our tools and methods are no exception.
As such, when equipping others to engage in psychological experimentation themselves, we will endeavor to help people to make informed choices by describing the risks and dangers as we see them, and making recommendations about what we believe to be more or less safe approaches.
If you have experienced side effects from experimenting with various introspection tools please reach to us.
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History of our Exploratory Psychology Research, 2012-2019
Much of our previous exploratory psychology research centered around mapping out parts of the mind, both conscious and unconscious. But what is the mind? Is it capable of being “mapped”? Is there a fruitful and perspicuous distinction between “conscious” and “unconscious” mental contents? It is our hope that experimentation with the psychological tools and protocols we developed will lead to illuminating answers to these and related questions. And then, on the basis of those answers, we believe that there will be many further important and intriguing questions to explore.
Our psychological research went through three major phases:
2012 – 2014: Validating Methods
2015 – 2017: Mapping the Conscious Mind
2018 –2019: Mapping the Unconscious Mind
Below you will find a general summary of the course this research took.
2012 - 2014: Validating Methods
What we found
During the first few years, our psychology researchers focused primarily on developing, refining, and validating three research tools: belief reporting, charting, and connection theory.
Belief reporting is an introspective method that we believe makes it much easier to acquire reliable introspective reports.
Charting is a method for organizing introspective reports, especially reports about goals, into “charts” which display belief dynamics.
Connection theory, i.e., CT, s a theory that posits that there are particular patterns in human belief and action; it can be used to design interventions that the theory predicts will yield changes in a person’s beliefs and actions.
Together, a person can use belief reporting to acquire introspective reports, charting to organize those introspective reports into diagrams that represent belief and goal structures, and connection theory to design interventions on the basis of the charts to produce psychological changes in what appears to be a predictable way.
How we got there
We began in 2012 exploring a range of tools and systems. These included both charting and CT, which had been developed earlier by our founder and ED, as well as other frameworks and approaches, including Internal Family Systems and Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing. By 2013, we found that our research was hampered by the weaknesses in existing introspective methods. One of our lead researchers set out to develop a more versatile introspective research tool, and in early 2014 developed what came to be known as “belief reporting.”
Alongside belief reporting, and aided by it, our researchers worked to streamline and improve charting. By the end of 2014, another of our lead researchers became proficient enough with charting to do exhibitions, demonstrating the possibility of using belief reporting, charting, and CT to reliably cause desirable belief changes. After a few such demonstrations, the team reached agreement on the practical utility of these methods, which would then serve as the backbone of our research program going forward.
Transition to the next research phase
In early 2014, it was still quite open which direction our psychological research would go. After the development of belief reporting, our ED conjectured that training, that is, helping people to develop valuable skills and abilities, in our case especially aided by psychological methods, might be a good practical focus for our research program. After testing a few related hypotheses from late 2014 through early 2015, the team adopted the goal of training highly effective people. This practical endeavor — an example of our engineering-centric approach to research — provided a large number of imminent and accessible feedback mechanisms that facilitated the development of theories, hypotheses, and conjectures about the nature and function of the mind.
2015 - 2017: Mapping the Conscious Mind
What we found
Our next few years of research focused on identifying patterns and structures in people’s introspectively accessible mental content. Researchers used a variety of methods, and research was largely centered around the practical objective of helping people change their minds in desirable ways.
Among the hypotheses we developed:
There are a relatively small number of types of mental structures. The great variety in mental configurations are built out of these types of mental structure.
Despite a number of obstacles, it is both possible and practical to map out a large number of a person’s beliefs and goals, trace the causes of mental phenomena, and understand deeper and deeper sources of a person’s beliefs and behavior.
People have mental habits that transform incoming information in particular ways and determine how beliefs change in response to information; these habits differ from person to person, and are possible (though often not easy) to change.
A person’s intentions, which includes both their beliefs about what they will do and their immediate expectations about what will happen, help to determine their mental habits, the ontologies of their models, how they learn, and so forth.
Even with trained introspectors who are both motivated and skilled in a variety of introspective methods, some mental content is very hard to access introspectively.
How we got there
From 2015-to 2017, and even before, we had several distinct research programs led by different researchers. Each was permitted more or less full autonomy, and researchers were largely free to join whichever research program seemed most promising. This led to multiple distinct research agendas and a degree of friendly competition, as each research team sought to make advances that would attract and retain the interest of the other researchers. Despite competition and differences in approach, the overall endeavor was held together by a common language based around belief reporting, charting, and connection theory.
Transition to the next research phase
Beginning in 2016, but becoming more and more of a focus in 2017, our researchers began to encounter problems accessing certain types of mental content. In some cases, a researcher helping a person to introspect would encounter the person being suddenly unable to introspect, generating spurious mental content, changing the subject without noticing, becoming drowsy, or literally falling asleep — all in response to simple questions. After substantial effort attempting to work through these blocks, the solution came in an unexpected form in 2018.
2018 - 2019: Mapping the Unconscious Mind
What we found
The next year and a half of our exploratory psychology research, from early 2018 through mid-2019, focused on gaining access to mental content through non-verbal methods including bodywork and energy work and using the information gathered to explore parts of the mind we were previously unable to access.
The success of non-verbal methods was a substantial surprise to us. We had originally encountered energy work in 2015 and found it to be an interesting, though ultimately not very promising line of approach. More importantly, though, we did not have a plausible causal model of how such methods could work until 2017, and did not understand until 2018 how much information about the mind these methods might be able to yield.
Hypotheses we came to include:
In addition to explicit verbal communication, a large amount of information is also conveyed non-verbally. This can be communicated through touch (as in bodywork), or visual cues (as in energy work).
Rather than limited to a simple vocabulary, non-verbal communication can be at least nearly as expressive as verbal communication, and allows for the expression and communication of complex propositional content.
There is a very large amount of unconscious mental content which is very hard for a person to pay attention to, but which may be easier for others to pay attention to via mechanisms of non-verbal communication.
The patterns that appear in conscious mental content are similar in structure and form to those that appear in unconscious mental content.
Unconscious mental content is frequently suppressed for a reason. Many aggressive, harmful, and otherwise negative intentions and impulses are frequently not attended to as part of how people avoid conflict; paying attention to and surfacing such content can result in negative social dynamics and the breakdown of interpersonal relations.
How we got there
In 2017, we encounter bodyworkers with models and practices that fit better with our own. We were especially intrigued by the claim that it was possible for some people to track the pattern of another person’s attention through stationary physical contact. In 2017 and 2018, some of our researchers began to sensitize themselves to try to pick up on very subtle changes via touch in other people, and in early 2018 some began to report receiving propositional content.
This was very surprising, but the purported mental content researchers were “detecting” appeared to fit patterns we had identified over our previous years of research. This led to a number of researchers seeking to sensitize themselves further, which led them to make further interesting observations.
Termination of our psychology research
As our researchers sensitized themselves further, and accessed more and more of what seemed to be unconscious content, several negative effects occurred. Some of the psychological content was itself distressing, there appeared to be psychogenic effects, with individuals negatively affecting each other unintentionally through what appeared to be non-verbal communication, and conflict within the group escalated. After attempting to resolve the problems and making insufficient headway, we shut down the psychology research program and began the process of re-organizing the institute.
The next phase: research dissemination
After the re-organization in 2019-2020 and determining how to release our results in 2021, we are now beginning the process of distributing our research methods, equipping people to examine the safest and most accessible objects of study first.