Pre-Conversation on the 'Conversation: Empathy, Technology and the Emergence of Collective Intelligence
16 September 2016

The following is an unedited discussion on a Slack channel between Katri Saarikivi, Valteri Wikström and Petri Ruikka from festival programme team on early Friday evening on 2nd of September. This is meant as a possible starting point for the un-seminar discussion on Friday evening: Conversation: Empathy, Technology and the Emergence of Collective Intelligence. Katri, Valtteri and Petri are also facilitating the evening talks.

The discussion was also an experiment of remote synchronization for online discussion. The soundtracks that we were listening, and that also proved to be usefulin the synchronisation process were:

1. CAUSA SUI "Euporie Tide" Octavo álbum, 2013

On Spotify: spotify:album:68PRq4zj7YXMwiUq6FNGvR​


"vatte" is Valtteri Wikström from NEMO research group and from the festival programme team
"katri* is Katri Saarikivi from NEMO research group and from the festival programme team
"petri" is the festival Co-Director

Here it is:

vatte [4:34 PM]
We have set our challenge to the participants to be about how empathy can help solve wicked problems, such as climate change. How do we bring our theoretical background into a form that is helpful within these boundaries?

katri [4:35 PM]
I suggest we try to explain what we think empathy is

petri [4:36 PM]
Hm.. I'm also thinking that the discussion doesn't need to be 100% directly linked to the seminar topic, or that at least we allow ourselves the freedom to go into other directions as well

katri [4:37]
Hey one quick question

are you guys listening to something? music?

petri [4:37 PM]
I have my work list playing on random in spotify

katri [4:38 PM]
could we listen to the same thing?

petri [4:38 PM]

vatte [4:42 PM]
what about this
CAUSA SUI "Euporie Tide"

petri [4:43 PM]
let's start with that

vatte [4:43 PM]
should we sync?

katri [4:44 PM]

katri [4:44 PM]





petri [4:49 PM]
Empathy, and the digital realm. That's your area of expertise and research.
Empathy can be defined in such myriad ways. What's the most relevant one for you practical work, when you research the emotional responses and interaction in the digital realm?

katri [4:53 PM]
I make most use of the neuroscientific framework for empathy

Purporting that empathy is a set of cognitive skills that can be divided into three dimensions: cognitive empathy, affective empathy and empathic concern/motivation. The three dimensions rely on partly different brain functions. And can therefore be selectively impaired.
When studying emotions in the digital realm we are especially interested in the mechanisms that give rise to affective empathy
Such as emotion contagion and other mirroring functions
We also suspect that inter-brain synchronization of rhythmic neural activity is related to empathy.

petri [4:56 PM]
How much is this contagion related familiarity?

vatte [4:56 PM]
I've never been interested in arguing about definitions, which is quite common in the whole affective science field. I prefer the simpler definitions: Empathy is the ability to understand others feelings by experiencing them yourself. As Katri said, our own research is most interested in affective empathy, and the more "automatic" subliminal processes that make it possible. (edited)

katri [4:56 PM]
and therefore investigate the emergence of this phenomenon online

Previous studies have shown that the emotions of friends, and persons you consider fair are more contagious

I like @vatte ’s viewpoint

and also personally more enjoy experimenting and looking at outcomes

petri [4:58 PM]
I do too

So maybe we stick to looking at experiments and outcomes... I'm thinking about the familiarity issue online since, and how much we build our concept of familiarity based on physical proximity and lived environment?

vatte [5:00 PM]
Familiarity definitely matters, and at least understanding of others (for example in textual chats such as this) has been shown to be better when the interlocutors are familiar IRL

katri [5:00 PM]
This may be explained by the functioning of the mentalizing network. It allows, sorry, cognitive empathy, by supporting the ability to imagine what another person is thinking. When we interact with strangers online we don’t have any information about their way of interacting, meaning very little to feed to the mentalizing network. But if we are interacting online with a familiar person, we have memories of how they behave and are more able to imagine what they are actually trying to communicate, their tone, the true meaning

For example, we know each other.

Are you at the moment hearing my voice in your heads

as you read these lines?

petri [5:03 PM]

Maybe I am at least creating your voice at the same time

But I'm also creating the whole person

And the way we have interacted before irl

katri [5:04 PM]
you are simulating me

petri [5:05 PM]

vatte [5:05 PM]
So, in some way if we could have a very impressive (as in, makes a strong impression) and realistic presentation of Katri that someone new could experience, they might be able to join this chat and understand the discussion better.

petri [5:06 PM]
To continue to the previous, I'm just wondering further, that am I somehow simulating myself into the conversation as well

katri [5:06 PM]
or at least a presentation of the aspects of interaction that matter the most in terms of understanding

vatte [5:07 PM]
Petri, I guess you don't have to simulate yourself, because you have the real deal there?

petri [5:07 PM]
haha. indeed

I think that to answer vatte, I believe that it's of course better to understand somebody if there is a realistic representation of them available

katri [5:08 PM]
but what are the most crucial information sources about another’s conduct in interaction? For true understanding?

petri [5:09 PM]
But I'm also thinking that real-life encounter is such complex set of perceptual and cognitive processes, that it's very difficult to replicate

online I mean

katri [5:10 PM]
making computer-mediated encounters more empathetic is perhaps not about replicating f2f

vatte [5:10 PM]
some things are related to the character, that help with simulating the other person: their sense of humour and the rhythm of speech, the temperament

vatte [5:11 PM]
But other things are more immediate and related to current feelings

we have at least two distinct problems here: One is being able to discuss with previously unfamiliar people – it can be difficult to judge their intentions correctly from for example text.

The second is the problem that digital presence is not giving us a real and meaningful experience of the feelings of the other. This is I think even more relevant to our challenge topic, and probably interesting to our panelists as well, because I think it leads to a lack of caring

petri [5:13 PM]

katri [5:13 PM]
lack of experiencing another’s feelings is simulating psychopathy?

what other structures than the Internet do this to people?

vatte [5:14 PM]
right :flushed: but psychopaths are typically good at reading the feelings anyway, aren't they?

katri [5:14 PM]
but they are not touched by them

I don’t know whether the psychopath-topic is that relevant here after all. But, there are neuroimaging studies showing that if a person with a lot of psychopathic traits views e.g. pictures of another person in pain, the pain areas in their brain do not light up.

Even though they are well able to name the emotional experience of the other person

This is what is meant by emotion contagion - that you yourself experience the emotion -
not only recognize it

petri [5:16 PM]
Well it might be relevant here, because aren't we sort of seeing that in many digital interactions

katri [5:17 PM]
Also any competition-based system does this to people. shuts down empathy. on the level of feelings

petri [5:17 PM]
That you might understand the feelings, but you have now transference

Competition in some situations, but there are of course also the positive element of competition in some forms play

katri [5:19 PM]
yeah if it’s play then there’s a common goal: fun

petri [5:20 PM]
Yes, even some competition can lead to mutual respect if the form of play is supporting that

And the emotional context

vatte [5:20 PM]
it's probably too far to say that internet is turning people into psychopaths, but some form of cynicism and nihilism is rampant in online discussions

Thinking of the topic for our conversants, the competitive structure is related to propaganda and information overflow, which then leads to this kind of cynicism

when you're bombarded with two types of information, the easiest solution is "not to take a stand"

katri [5:22 PM]
Competition does not aim at creating more information or better understanding, it aims at having a winner and a loser

I’m just scared that political decision-making systems that are based on competition are not producing the quality of problem-solving we need atm

petri [5:24 PM]
To continue what Vatte was saying, I agree that the competitive structure is related to information overflow. It's difficult see how that overflow is going to develop in the future. People are already consciously doing the digital dieting

And to comment on the political decision-making system and competition. It's true that on many levels this just leads to bad solutions and poorer quality of platforms that should support interaction

katri [5:27 PM]
I think one problem with collaboration in these chat-types of settings is written language. When you try to have a conversation and create new knowledge with some people having unfinished thoughts “in black and white” may make them seem more set in stone than they were intended to be

petri [5:27 PM]

I think this topic has been studied quite broadly within the social studies discourse for better part of the existence of the internet

Which by the way, at least in terms of the internet as we perceive it now, is only 25 years old. A drastic change in very short time

vatte [5:30 PM]
Maybe our problem should be related to how we can actually make people *care* in this kind of environment.

And not just care, but to receive correct information. Having the ability to deliver strong messages to people can also be used for naughty things

petri [5:32 PM]
Indeed, the whole emotional response and communication leads very quickly to the question of propaganda

katri [5:32 PM]
I think that’s the third dimension of empathy you are talking about -empathic motivation / prosocial concern

but does it not necessitate availability of information needed for emotional/cognitive understanding?

vatte [5:33 PM]

katri [5:33 PM]
haha, how could we get politicians to be more emotional?

petri [5:33 PM]
I think politicians are emotional!

katri [5:34 PM]
but sincerely

or maybe they are

so maybe the needed information is there but as vatte said, caring is lacking

petri [5:34 PM]
yes, well that's another thing. They use their emotionality to deliver the message they promote

vatte [5:34 PM]
they are also good at controlling their emotions

if we would have an *insincerity-meter* attached to every elected official, we might live in a quite different world

petri [5:35 PM]
Contemporary politics is very much about stirring emotions

katri [5:35 PM]
I think if politicians just made an attempt at treating each other better

petri [5:35 PM]
But wait, that has been the whole history of politics

katri [5:35 PM]
the quality of interaction would improve

petri how so

petri [5:37 PM]
Well, I'm just generalizing here a bit , but politics have always been about the creating the right combination of reasonable ...
Side note, the music was getting a bit hectic just a  moment ago

katri [5:38 PM]
you wanna share yours?

petri [5:38 PM]  
reasonable enough logic, and emotionally charged narrative

katri [5:38 PM]
also, could take a short break

petri [5:38 PM]
and play on the fear of the “other”


katri [5:38 PM]
reasonable enough logic does not cut it anymore

because the problems we are facing as humankind are too big

petri [5:39 PM]
Of course!!! I agree, but if you look at the current political discourse...

<Break here>

I was thinking about the whole idea of the keinutuoli korner that we're bringing to the festival

And how the synchronisation of movement is apparently inducing more empathy

And I'm thinking about the whole physical body and movement and how they could be related to empathy

vatte [5:59 PM]
This is one important topic to us, how can we take these kinds of findings, for example about rhythmic activity increasing cooperation skills, and take them to actual, practical use

petri [5:59 PM]
Which made think about the whole competition aspect as well. For example I know from personal experience if playing for example tennis with a friend, and even competing for points, you can still have this sort of similar synchronicity

Well not the same type, but that still that you share a sort of similar space of activity, while it might be competitive

vatte [6:00 PM]
Also, how can we create an optimal activity for increasing this type of synchronization. That's also where artists and all sorts of expression come to play

petri [6:00 PM]
you can still appreciate and cherish the skill of your "opponent"

katri [6:01 PM]
In tennis you need to be synchronized so that the game is possible

So you both are cooperating to create the game

petri [6:01 PM]

katri [6:02 PM]
There are findings that inducing synchrony of body movements leads to more emotion contagion, feelings of affiliation and better performance in joint tasks

So perhaps tennis is a joint task

petri [6:02 PM]
but once we remove the shared physical game like environment it can become toxic instead of productive

katri [6:02 PM]
there are suggestions that the reason why music exists is because it improved collaboration through synchronizing individuals

yeah this question about competition is tricky

vatte [6:03 PM]
would be interesting to hear from professional sportsmen, whether they see the competitiveness hindering this synchrony in comparison to sparring

with a coach or friend, a match that is not about your career

petri [6:04 PM]

and also think about the differences between sports

katri [6:04 PM]
maybe some even use the automatic synchronization that happens between people

petri [6:04 PM]
figure skating solo compared to tennis for example

katri [6:04 PM]
to get an opponent to do something, go in a desired direction

for manipulation

petri [6:04 PM]
solo performances with invisible judges

katri [6:04 PM]
This is certainly possible with others types of empathic awareness too

petri [6:06 PM]
Yeah, if you think about synchronicity between a team, say football or basketball... within the team... but also the opposing is in sync, as team, because of the common "playground" and clear set of rules

vatte [6:08 PM]
but coming back to using this kind of synchronizing activity as a tool – things we need to become better at is first of all measuring synchrony. Then we need to find out to what extent we can induce this synchrony in non-f2f situations, and what are the requirements. But there's a lot of creative work involved in this, and that's why we are so excited when we get to work with artists :slightly_smiling_face:

katri [6:09 PM]
And we also need more understanding about what the actual effects of syncing are.


Is it just me or are we less in sync in this discussion right now?

petri [6:09 PM]
I think we are

katri [6:09 PM]
and the music has stopped

petri [6:11 PM]
Let's try another album


just a sec


vatte [6:18 PM]

katri [6:18 PM]





petri [6:23 PM]
We were talking about synchronicity and movement and the keinutuoli korner

katri [6:23 PM]

The idea behind this is to see whether we could increase empathy

petri [6:23 PM]

katri [6:23 PM]
through rhythmic joint action

on the rocking chairs

and to make it more interesting, outfit the rocking chairs with e.g. instruments so that there is more feedback about movement

petri [6:24 PM]
Exactly! thus making the chair an instrument

katri [6:25 PM]
a perhaps creating a game-like setting for the rocking action

petri [6:25 PM]
thus maybe making the korner a collaborative play environment

same thought

katri [6:25 PM]
same thoughts there :slightly_smiling_face:



petri [6:25 PM]

vatte [6:25 PM]
synchrony overflow

petri [6:25 PM]
over sync



katri [6:25 PM]
it works!

petri [6:25 PM]
it does!!!

katri [6:25 PM]

petri [6:31]
Maybe some concluding thoughts about the synchronicity and movement. I'm just thinking about the movement being experienced, well as movement, and that experiences that have in digital realms are often immobile.

katri [6:32 PM]
that’s why VR is interesting

petri [6:32 PM]

katri [6:32 PM]
and welcome

but cumbersome

petri [6:33 PM]
But it's also interesting to see how we will start perceive movement in VR space

And especially how we see our own movement

when we are at the same time immobile and moving

vatte [6:34 PM]
I have personally found it really uncomfortable to move around in VR without physically moving

as a side note

katri [6:34 PM]
I also like the ones most where you can actually move in the VR space

petri [6:34 PM]
of course those VR arenas where you move with the VR world are being built in many places at the moment

katri [6:34 PM]
But Vatte you had something else on this?

vatte [6:35 PM]
perceiving movement and the sense of presence are so strong, that any kind of mirroring effects are likely to be stronger than on a screen

katri [6:35 PM]

should study!

and will :slightly_smiling_face:

petri [6:36 PM]
It could be interesting to create the same situation that we will have in the Keinutuoli Korner, with just one rocking chair per person, but in remote locations..

vatte [6:36 PM]
konnekted keinutuoli's

petri [6:41]
to conclude (or trying to) one strand of discussion, if by our thinking "the perceiving movement and the sense of presence are so strong" in a sense we should think about the whole body as the site of creation of empathy... And that this could be one of the challenges of the digital realm. How we approach this. You are looking into this same question, at least from my perspective, with tunnehiha.

katri [6:42 PM]
I think that all cognitive functions emerge from brain matter

or emerges in the interaction of brain matters

but obviously the body, its movement and the sensory information from the periphery

are important for creating knowledge about the environment and others in it

just to say that there is no extra awareness or cognition in the body

vatte [6:45 PM]
Of course the sensation of having a body and what that body is doing is one of our strongest conscious feelings. So the argument whether there is "awareness" or "cognition" *in* the body is an argument of definitions once again

katri [6:45 PM]

petri [6:46 PM]
Maybe my argument isn't really whether the body has awareness, but that the brain matter itself isn't independent

of the body

katri [6:46 PM]
of course

vatte [6:46 PM]
creating an environment where the body does not move, but creates equally strong sensations as where it moves is really difficult, and maybe not in any way necessary

but as we have learned from the mirroring type mechanisms, sometimes it's enough for us to be convinced that another body is moving

or another stimulus that activates those mechanisms

petri [6:48 PM]

vatte [6:48 PM]
sorry this thought was somehow difficult to explain

katri [6:49 PM]
like as when rhythm activates our motor cortex

meaning just hearing a rhythm

like right now, listening to this music we have somewhat simultaneous activation of our motor cortices

like if we were moving together

vatte [6:50 PM]
right! this is an interesting experiment itself

we should do this more, listening to the same music remotely

The music stopped!

vatte [7:04 PM]
mine started from the beginning :open_mouth:

petri [7:04 PM]
that happened to me before

with the previous album

katri [7:04 PM]
Hey let’s use the fantastic beginning of this record to find some sort of conclusion

petri [7:04 PM]
sure thing

you want to do the countdown again

you're an expert on it now

katri [7:05 PM]





so we have been talking about the definition of empathy, the lack of it online and possible reasons for this

and a little about the body

petri [7:08 PM]
yes, and we've concluded that empathy transference is such a multifaceted and complicated process, that setting the right questions is important to narrow the research parameters. Such is the case with any research question of course

katri [7:09 PM]
and for creating testable solutions / interventions

petri [7:09 PM]
But that it's paramount that we keep on working on those questions

and on the testable solutions

katri [7:09 PM]
because if not, we’re fucked


petri [7:09 PM]

We prefer a world that is not completely fucked

katri [7:10 PM]
vatte please say something eloquent :smile:

petri [7:10 PM]
so we try do our best

katri [7:10 PM]
like with this festival

petri [7:10 PM]
Indeed....And we hope for an eloquent finishing comment from Vatte :slightly_smiling_face:

vatte [7:11 PM]
this pressure...

petri [7:11 PM]
Something to leave the reader satisfied, but, ah, wanting so much more

katri [7:14 PM]
I think the most empathetic ending to this conversation would be to address the reader

what would you like to say to them?

Dear reader,

vatte [7:16 PM]
empathy can be a tool to make people *have strong, positive experiences* of togetherness and meaningfulness, and if implemented correctly *care for the right things*. We need to keep imagining the best solutions for the first one, but at the same time we have to be conscious of the second while we create them.

katri [7:18 PM]
empathy is an innate characteristic, something we are built for. We wonder whether nurturing this quality and creating more space for it to emerge in all kinds of interaction settings would help take humankind forwards towards a brighter future. We hope that the space we have created with the festival is one such context and invite you to create them too, everyday, in the encounters you have with others.

petri [7:22 PM]
Can empathy be the link from awareness to conscious action?  How can we create spaces and situations to foster the transference of empathy? This festival is not about searching answers for this, something to “only” think about; this festival is about creating a situation where we can redefine the questions, search for new ones. I seems that we need a new paradigm if we are to avoid fucking everything up completely.