Primals Initiative

From our founding statement…


We seek to identify primals humans hold, understand how they affect us, and, apply research findings in ways that increase human flourishing.  

Purpose & Guiding Research Questions
3 Purposes 3 Questions         10 Empirical  Sub-questions
Identify Across history, geography, & cultures, how have humans answered the question, “What sort of world is this?”
  • Who holds primals (what cultures, eras, etc.)?
  • What primals do people hold?
  • How are they held (implicitly/explicitly, etc.)?
Understand How do our primals influence our lives?
  • Can primals be tied to life outcomes?
  • What is the causal relationship between primals and life outcomes?
  • Which primals are most conducive to wellbeing in which contexts?
  • Where do primals come from?
Apply Can we change our answers, and thus change our lives?
  • Can/do primals change?
  • Can we develop ethical interventions?
  • Can interventions be administered at scale?
Critical Activities

In order to advance these purposes, we have prioritized six activities:

  • Identify ~12 primals for immediate research in specific American and Chinese contexts (priority).
  • Explore humanity’s primals cross-culturally (secondary).
  • Create a classification of salient, widespread primals (need not be exhaustive).
  • In addition to other measures, build a comprehensive user-friendly assessment that, for the first time in history, would make explicit one’s inner implicit world (for research and indiv. use)
  • Facilitate the development of research via leadership, funding, promoting collaborations, and convening conferences.
  • Design scalable, ethical interventions.

Ok.  So what’s happening now?  How can I help?

To be clear, the official title of our grant is actually Phase Zero: Design, so this is totally the beginning.  Our work right now falls into three main buckets: exploring what primals are out there, reviewing the primals-related work that has been done in psychology, philosophy, and other disciplines, and preparing logistically for future research phases.

What I find super cool is that a team has developed and people are volunteering in various ways to work on many different projects.  We’ve listed ten below.  If anyone would like to pitch in on any of these projects, please reach out to Jess at jesmil[at]  She’s the Primals Initiative research coordinator.  New ideas are welcome!

Primals Archive

What: A collection of explicit real-world primal world beliefs. As of October, we have 400 entries ranging from Friedrich Nietzsche to Forrest Gump. In addition to ad hoc primals collecting, staff are conducting systematic word searches for “world,” “universe,” “everything,” “nothing,” and “life” in the most influential novels, religious texts, political speeches, films, and philosophy texts.

Why: To empirically explore the conceptual options for world-description and inform classification creation.

(We could use help on this one!  You can send examples of primals you see in your everyday life to Jess at jesmil[at]  We can also use official volunteers or interns.)

Qualitative research

What: 18 focus groups among Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Democrats, and Republicans (3 each).

Why: To confirm and expand the current primals classification and explore how primals may interact with more traditional manifestations of worldview.

Tsinghua collaboration  

What: Guang Zeng, a PhD student at Qsinghua University in China under Taiping Peng, is exploring Chinese primals.

Why: To inform classification creation via primals collection and research in another major world culture.

(If interested, we can put you in touch with Guang.)

Philosophical analysis of adjectives 

What: Using the 840 most used adjectives in American English, philosophers are building competing classifications of primals a priori. 

Why: To capture what primals humans may have without being confined to what primals humans have stated in the past.

(We are looking for philosophers interested in helping us classify primals.)

Open-source collection  

What: Steps are being taken to develop a few short videos and create a website early in the next grant cycle that will allow open-source contributions to the Archive

Why: Many people are interested in primals and thousands across the world might contribute to the Archive and thus strengthen the classification if given the opportunity.

(We could use help on this one.  Please send primals you see in your daily life to Jess at jesmil[at]

Interdisciplinary literature reviews 

What: Six reviews of primals-related literature have been commissioned. Jer is reviewing philosophy and psychology; outside experts are reviewing anthropology, political science, art history, and comparative religion.

Why: To glean a wealth of information and ideas from multiple disciplines that have already examined primals-related constructs.

(If you are an expert in a different discipline than the ones listed above, please write.)

Scale development

What: A preliminary assessment to measure ~12 key primals.

Why: To pilot a more comprehensive primal world belief assessment and provide evidence that newly-articulated primals can be assessed.


What: A short manuscript will include literature review summaries, a full review of psychological literature, discuss ethical concerns related to primals research, identify medium and long-range goals of primals research, provide a draft classification, and suggest hypotheses to explore.

Why: To ground future research on primals.

Planning retreat

While many experts will be consulted, 10 Senior Advisors met with Initiative leadership during the 2014 Primals Planning Retreat in October to discuss theoretical and strategic questions pertaining to primals research.

Grant writing

A grant proposal will be written to fund Phase 1 – Discovery.

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