Leverage Research
Exploring the mind and society

Learning to Introspect



Over the last several years, a bunch of us have been experimenting with introspection. We reviewed the academic literature, tried many existing introspection techniques, built tons of models and tried lots of things. In this series of posts, we present our results.

Ways to Learn About Your Mind

In this post, we discuss nine different ways to learn about your mind. The most effective approach probably involves some combination of these nine. But which?

Examples of Introspection

In this post, we give you some firsthand experience with introspection by walking you through some examples. Think of this as a micro course in basic introspection.

Making Introspection More Reliable

in this post, we talk about how to make introspection more reliable. Identifying potential problems with introspection and trying to solve them is part of the process of learning how to introspect more reliably. We discuss what experimental psychology says about introspection. We then give several basic tips to increase the reliability of your introspective practice.

Introspecting on Your Beliefs

In this post, we discuss two of the best techniques for introspecting on beliefs that we've found. One technique, called Focusing, was developed by Eugene Gendlin. The other, called Belief Reporting, was developed in-house.

Further Vistas in Introspection

in this post, we describe ways forward. We introduce Mark's book, Folding, which takes the reader much deeper into the land of introspection, and also introduces one of the best belief change techniques we've found. We also describe what further avenues of investigation we're following.

Rewards and cautions

At this point we've collectively spent thousands of hours testing out introspective techniques of all stripes. If it looks like it could give you insight into your mind, is legal, and is less costly than an fMRI, we've probably tried it.

Overall, we think it's been great. Jasen, Anja, Miya, Geoff, Lippmann and the rest of us are now very heavily in favor of introspection. Each of us will have different things to say, but overall we're really, really, positive.

It is important, however, to clearly flag the crazy things that can happen to you if you dig into your mind. Among the things we've experienced: crying, shaking, extreme suffering, mood swings, sleepiness, loss of feeling in parts of the body, depersonalization, feelings of unpleasant weirdness, persistent non-hallucinatory visual imaginations, unexpected belief changes, demotivation, uncomfortable changes in proprioception, and much more. These have ranged from the very mild to the very extreme, and have lasted moments, hours, or days. All with healthy, waking adults, and all without drugs.

If you're thinking "there's no way that happens," then talk to some friends who actually have experience with this stuff. If you're thinking "that sort of thing won't happen to me," that must be because you're planning to not get very far into looking into your mind.

Speaking with perfect seriousness, if you do look into introspection, please take adequate precautions. Understand that you are exploring voluntarily, at your own risk, and that weird, unpleasant, and sometimes extremely painful effects like the ones listed above simply will happen if you keep digging. Also, though we really, really wish we could help everyone directly, for now we simply do not have the capacity for this. This means that you should make sure that you have your own independent support network, people who will help you if your mood or motivation collapses or something like that happens.

This is not meant to overshadow the benefits. As we said, we're all heavily in favor of introspection. In addition to the weird, negative effects listed above, we've also seen tons of positive effects, including reduction in suffering, stabilization of mood, increased wakefulness, greater awareness of the body, greater feelings of connection, the abatement of persistent non-hallucinatory visual imaginations, desirable belief changes, re-motivation, and more.

We're just saying: go into this with your eyes open.

Leverage Staff

Compilation piece, written or inspired by several researchers. Opinions expressed represent common views inside Leverage, not necessarily unanimity.

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