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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Academic Empaths' LiveJournal:

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Monday, November 23rd, 2009
9:28 pm
Relevant PhD programs
Some of you may be interested in the list of PhD programs I'm applying to.

It's still under revision of course, but if you're interested in the same sorts of research I am, these are the people to look at.
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
8:41 am
I hope it's okay to post an introduction.

I was very excited to find this community (and even more excited that I could not honestly say "yes" to any of the questions listed in the profile!) I go by the name Lucid both here and often in real life as well. I'm an english major but minor in psychology and have a very firm foundation in it. Although my journal focuses a lot on "feelings" and the occult and things of the like I am very scientifically minded and often times skeptical to a fault.
If you have any questions please feel free to ask me and I look forward to joining in conversations in this community.


Current Mood: awake
Monday, February 9th, 2009
12:33 pm
Recently identified
This is an exciting group! My apologies for not going through the posts yet, but I just can't help but say "Hi!" to everyone. Has anyone here (an empath) directly been part of Empathy Research other than for autism and asperger's?? If this obvious question has already been answered in an earlier post then please don't flame me. I'm still just jumping around with this new find. :)

Current Mood: jubilant
Saturday, January 31st, 2009
11:21 am
Interesting in hearing opinions.
Though I am part of the "woo woo" family as you call it, I am aware of the distinct objective definition of empathy in the standard sense. My impression is that empathy is the ability to empathize with another person and their viewpoint, situation, emotions, etc.

I've started meeting people who are unskilled at this to different degrees, either due to one's life history or because they have something like Asperger's. It has got me wondering what the official clinical definition is, what is considered "standard" for the majority of people assuming there is a standard, and what label psychology likes using when it encounters someone without it (again, assuming there is a standard.) Obviously sociopaths lack empathy but there's more to that diagnosis than being without empathy so that doesn't work.

I'd love to read everyone's opinions and comments. :)
Monday, December 24th, 2007
8:53 pm
Energy Work, Psi, & Vampirism Research Study - Please Participate
Please consider taking a moment over the next few hours or days to sit down and complete the VEWRS and AVEWRS research surveys and submit them via e-mail.  These surveys cover a diversity of topics including but not limited to:  energy work and manipulation (whether by natural ability or raised during magickal ritual), psychic and sanguinarian vampirism, paranormal activities, psi-related experiences, magick, occult, spirituality, therianthropy, otherkin, and awakenings (you do NOT have to identify with modern vampirism to participate in this study).  Any information contained within the surveys that aren’t applicable to your particular situation feel free to choose “Not Applicable” or leave blank when this choice is not given.  The AVEWRS (Part 2) covers the topics outlined above in considerably more detail than the VEWRS (Part 1), therefore, if possible please complete both surveys (in order); submitting individually as they are completed.   If you have any questions (please read the FAQ first) we’re available to answer them via the e-mail address given below.  We thank you for your participation and support of this important research study!

Vampirism & Energy Work Research Study (VEWRS & AVEWRS)
A Detailed Sociological & Phenomenological Examination Of
The Energy Worker & Real Vampire Community
With Secondary Focus On Therianthropy, Otherkin,
& "Awakened" Individuals

VEWRS & AVEWRS Research Study Duration & Response Statistics:
VEWRS = 589+ Days  |  AVEWRS = 457+ Days  |  Combined Response Total: 950+

Background On Study:


This study is a mixed methodological study of specific subcultural social group(s) (or independents) linked by an association with specific reported phenomena and is directed towards both an online and offline audience via quantitative and qualitative dual anonymous surveys. For the detailed purpose, definition and precedent background, ethical and privacy procedures, and all other information regarding this privately funded study please refer to the surveys themselves or the web site listed above.

Focus Group:  Those who identify themselves as practitioners of modern psychic (psi) or sanguinarian (blood) vampi(y)rism with a joint focus on energy workers or practitioners (psions, energetic healers, or others who manipulate psi/pranic energy). Additionally those who identify with therianthropy, otherkin, and as being "awakened" individuals are sub-branched in the overall classification.

Format:  Two surveys (both structured to be independent or linked with one another, with first being an introductory examination and the second an advanced examination), anonymous participation requirement, embedded random+intentional response indicators, available in MSWord, HTML Text Format, or Printed Distributed Format.  VEWRS (Survey 1) = Questions 1 - 379 (11 Categories); AVEWRS (Survey 2) = Questions 380 - 988 (5 Categories)

Analysis:  SPSS w/Correlative Analysis, AMOS / Comparisons Of Qualitative Responses In Applicable Sections (Micro-Essays); Resulting Format = Book Publication(s) & Papers
Download VEWRS & AVEWRS Research Surveys:  http://www.suscitatio.com
E-Mail Completed Submissions To:  response@suscitatio.com

Statistical & Analysis Updates:  http://www.suscitatio.com
Correspondence Or Inquiry:  research@suscitatio.com

Recent Articles & Media Related To Study:

"Would The Real Vampires Please Stand Up?"
Blog Contributed By Michelle Belanger - September 2007

TAPS Magazine - October 2007 Special Ed. Issue
"Interview With A Vampire" - Merticus Of Suscitatio & AVA

"Vampires: Fact Or Fiction?" - Interview With Zero & Merticus
True-Ghost-Story.com - November 24, 2007

"Gathering Data with the Vampire: Analyzing Causes and Effects of an
Introspective Survey by the Vampire Community"

Annual Conference of American Academy of Religion, November 17, 2007
Joe Laycock, MTS Harvard Divinity School
Please assist this study by taking the time to complete at least the
VEWRS (Part 1) research study and submitting to response@suscitatio.com.

Please Distribute Information Regarding This Study To Other Persons, Sites, etc.
Thursday, December 6th, 2007
7:16 pm
New book on empathy
A social-psychological perspective on empathy:

Karsten R. Stueber - Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk Psychology, and the Human Sciences, MIT Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts), London, 2006


1 Empathy and Knowledge of Other Minds: A Historical Perspective
2 Arguing for Empathy Systematically
3 Brief Excursus: Empathy, Sympathy, and Social Psychology

1 Folk Psychology and Rational Agency
1.1 Eliminativism and the Allure of the Detached Conception of Folk Psychology
1.2 Humans as Rational Animals: Clearing Up a Confusion in the Rationality Debate

2 Charity and Rational Contextualism
2.1 In Defense of Global Charity
2.2 Rational Contextualism versus Bounded Rationality

3 The Theory of Mind Debate
3.1 The Theory-Theory Paradigm
3.2 The Simulation Paradigm

4 Basic Empathy and Reenactive Empathy
4.1 Mindreading, Folk-Psychological Concepts, and Mirror Neurons
4.2 The Essential Contextuality and Indexicality of Thoughts as Reasons

5 Folk Psychology and Normative Epistemology
5.1 Empathy, Folk-Psychological Predictions, and Explanations

6 The Limits of Empathy
6.1 Objections and Misconceptions in the Philosophy of Social Science
6.2 Empathy and the Prejudicial Nature of Understanding

Concluding Remarks
Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
4:58 pm
Research on neuroscience of empathy
[Originally posted 11/9/07; revised & updated 5/19/09]

I'm currently looking for places to do my PhD on the neuroscience of empathy, and background reading to do before then.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me with this search.

Please comment with links to / names of specific researchers or labs, anywhere in the world, who are doing actual hard research into the neuroscience of empathy or related topics, as well as books on the science thereof. (I.e. same quality as what's here.)

People & Labs:
Directly related
Tania Singer, U. Zurich, Germany - empathy, perspective taking, fairness, altruism, revenge, and reciprocity
Christian Keysers, U. Groningen, Netherlands - neurobio of empathy & mirror neurons
Marco Iacoboni, UCLA, CA, US - mirror neurons & empathy
Jean Decenty (pdfs), U.Chicago, US - antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, empathy and sympathy, imitation and mimicry, implicit moral reasoning
Jaime Pineda, UCSD, CA, US - brain computer interfaces, mirror neurons, mu rhythms, autism, motivation, attention, addiction, tinnitus
V.S. Ramachandran, UCSD, CA, US (Overview article) - consciousness, phantom limbs, synaesthesia, mirror neuron dysfunction in autism

Indirectly related
Uta Frith, Univ. Coll. London, UK - autism
Simon Baron-Cohen (WP), Cambridge, UK (was Frith's PhD student) - autism, theory of mind
Cecilia Heyes, Univ. Coll. London, UK - imitation, evolution of social cognition
Ralph Adolphs, Caltech, CA & U.Iowa, US - facial recognition, soc. cog. in autism, moral judgments, corpus collosum pathology, emotional/visual connectivity
Richard J. Davidson et al, U.Wisconsin-Madison, US - emotion regulation, aging, memory, developmental psychopathology, mood disorders, meditation
Kevin LaBar, Duke U., NC, US - emotion & cognition, vision, attention, memory, control
Martha Farah et al, U. Pennsylvania, US - neuroethics, mood regulation, neurogenetics
Abigail Marsh, Georgetown, DC, US - altruism, aggression, facial 'accents', recognition of fear & anger
C. Daniel Batson, U. Kansas, US - prosocial emotion, motivation, & behavior (social psych)
James Blair, NIMH, MD, US - neurobiology of anxiety disorder, psychopathy, social phobia, "acquired sociopathy", autism, conduct disorder
Robert Hare, U. British Colombia, Canada - psychopathy
Paul Frick, U. New Orleans, LA, US - childhood psychopathology, lack of empathy / guilt, conscience development

Novartis Foundation, Ralph Adolphs - Empathy and Fairness - BF575.E55 E452 2007
Jaime Pineda - Mirror Neuron Systems: The Role of Mirroring Processes in Social Cognition
Roberto Cabeza - Handbook of Functional Neuroimaging of Cognition, 2nd Edition - QP360.5 .H36 2006
Bob Uttl - Memory and Emotion: Interdisciplanary Perspectives - BF371 .M4478 2006
Richard J. Davidson - Handbook of Affective Sciences - BF511 .H35 2003
Paul Ekman - Emotions Revealed, Second Edition: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life - BF591 .E35 2007
Charles Darwin (ed. Paul Ekman) - The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals - QP401 .D3 1998
Daniel Reisberg - Memory and Emotion - BF378.A87 M46 2004
Marco Iacoboni - Mirroring People - QP363 .I23 2008
Eric Eich et al. - Cognition and Emotion (Counterpoints), Oxford University Press, 2000 - BF311 .C5477 2000
Richard D. Lane, Lynn Nadel, Geoffrey Ahern (editors) - Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion, Oxford University Press, 2000 - BF531 .C55 2000
Evan Thompson - Between Ourselves : Second-Person Issues in the Study of Consciousness - BF311 .B484 2001
Karsten R. Stueber - Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk Psychology, and the Human Sciences, MIT Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts), London, 2006 - BF64 .S78 2006
James Blair, Derek Mitchell, & Karina Blair - The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain - RC555 .B56 2005
Jean Decety & William Ickes - The Social Neuroscience of Empathy, The MIT Press (April 30, 2009)
Maksim I. Stamenov, Vittorio Gallese - Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and Language, John Benjamins Publishing Co (December 2002) - QP363.3 .M57 2002
Oliver G. Cameron et al. - Visceral Sensory Neuroscience: Interoception, Oxford University Press, USA (December 15, 2001) - RC343 .C36 2002

Conferences & Workshops:
8th Int'l Conf. on Neuroesthetics - Reflections on mirror neurons
Interdisciplines - What do mirror neurons mean?
Contribution of Mirroring Processes to Human Mindreading

One-off papers:
Khalil, Elias (2007): The Mirror-Neuron Paradox: How Far is Sympathy from Compassion, Indulgence, and Adulation?
Caggiano, Vittorio et al (2009) Mirror Neurons Differentially Encode the Peripersonal and Extrapersonal Space of Monkeys Science, Volume 324, Issue 5925, pp. 403-
Dinstein et al - A mirror up to nature Current Biology, 18:R13-18, 2008
Dinstein et al - Brain areas selective for both observed and executed movements Journal of Neurophysiology, 98:1415-1427, 2007
Dinstein et al - Executed and Observed Movements Have Different Distributed Representations in Human aIPS

Other articles:
Leonie Welberg - Mirror neurons: Towards a clearer image Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 888-889 (December 2008)
Olivier Morin - No evidence of Human Mirror Neurons
Vaughan Bell - All smoke and mirror neurons?
Vaughan Bell - Reflected glory
Anne Corwin - Much Ado About Mirror Neurons - Empathy, Autism, and Bias
Scientific American w/ Marco Iacoboni - The Mirror Neuron Revolution: Explaining What Makes Humans Social
Russell Foltz-Smith Mirror Neurons – a fictionalized interview
Antonio Damasio1 & Kaspar Meyer Behind the looking-glass Nature 454, 167-168 (10 July 2008)
Friday, August 10th, 2007
11:30 am
New book on empathy
Empathy and Fairness is the proceedings of a symposium on empathy, held in London in 2005.


  1. Chris Frith - Introduction
  2. Vittorio Gallese - Embodied simulation: from mirror neuron systems to interpersonal relations
  3. Tania Singer - The neuronal basis of empathy and fairness
  4. Marc Hauser - What's fair? The unconscious calculus of our moral faculty
  5. Josep Call and Keith Jensen - Chimpanzees may recognize motives and goals, but may not reckon on them
  6. Nancy Eisenberg - Empathy-related responding and prosocial behaviour
  7. General discussion
  8. Paul A. M. Van Lange, Marcello Gallucci, Johan C. Karremans, Anthon Klapwijk and Chris Reinders Folmer - A social interaction analysis of empathy and fairness
  9. Raymond A. Mar and C. Neil Macrae - Triggering the intentional stance
  10. R. James, R. Blair - Dissociable systems for empathy
  11. Ralph Adolphs - Looking at other people: mechanisms for social perception revealed in subjects with focal amygdala damage
  12. Jonathan Wolff - Models of distributive justice
  13. Frédérique de Vignemont - When do we empathize?
  14. Robert Frank - Cooperation through moral commitment
  15. Final discussion
Thursday, July 19th, 2007
1:32 pm
(Reposted for introduction)

I read the userinfo. This forum is a much better location for me, as I used to be rather empathic and still am to some degree. Logically, I distinguished between my own emotions and those from my surroundings -- I recognize, acknowledge, and understand the differences.

I think of empathy as being an interpretation of part of the 2 billion (if I remember correctly) pieces of data input we get per second. As such, I can understand some people being overwhelmed -- their filters aren't adjusted correctly (meaning that they are paying attention to too much or too little of the massive amount of data we take in per second and need to adjust themselves accordingly).

My current personal studies tend toward psychology, social dynamics, social psychology and sociology. I have also studied energy (chi/ki/qi) - with a mild understanding of accupressure; but, a dislike of needles to actually go through with learning accupuncture.

Correlations can be made between the number of pirates decreasing and global warming! That's right, we need more pirates if we are to truly resolve global warming! The causality, however, shows that neither have anything to do with each other.
12:37 am
Policy change
As of today, academic_empath is open membership; please join at will. However, please stay on topic - woo belongs in empaths, and empiricism in academic_empath.
Wednesday, March 15th, 2006
2:14 pm
Welcome to an introduction/lurk post.

Because I like to be known. Mostly I intend to read these posts, but there may be a time in the future when I intend to make posts of my own. Probably when I get into the Sociology/Psychology/Criminology courses I want in University next fall. Assuming I manage to get into them.

That said, on with an introduction of sorts, because we all always want to know just who that new person is doing here.

I'm Amie, you can call me as such because I don't like my username here would be something I named a horse. And horses are not people. There's a joke I'm sure I can make there but just by putting my fingers in motion I loose credibility, like all people. Objects appear smarter at a distance. And that applies to me as well.

I try very hard not to talk about things that I don't know about with any kind of certainty. My views and beliefs will often be stamped with a grade of approval and set out for the world to see.

Monday, December 5th, 2005
9:20 am
Empathy: direct understanding through mirror neurons
Note: if you want explanations of anything that's unclear (I've tried to use the "my nongeek friends could understand this" standard, but I may have missed some jargon), ask. Ditto if you want copies of any of the articles cited; many of them are available freely online in html or pdf format - use google scholar - and most of the rest are available freely if you have a connection via a major university (I do, whee). And in any case, you could always go to the library and ILL the actual original article in (gasp) print form.

Empathy:xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /

Direct understanding through mirror neurons



Psych 120B / CogSci 100

December 5, 2005



The experience of direct empathy is a result of sensory input being processed through the mirror neuron system. This is similar to a low-grade version of the experience had by the target of the empathy – that is, whatever they feel, the empathizer feels also in a very literal (albeit subconscious) sense. Sensory input may be from any number of things, such as visual face recognition, voice, “body language”, smell, etc., but here I only discuss the recognition – and corresponding empathic experience – of facial displays of emotion.
Read more...Collapse )

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005
11:20 pm
Research critique of two empathy studies
Here's a research critique I just wrote for my cogneuro class on two studies that support the theory that empathy is (at least partially) rooted in the mirror-neuron system. I'd recommend reading both articles. The EEG one is a really simple one-page thing; the TMS study is somewhat more complex and contains plenty of jargon, but it's easily understandable by neurosci laymen also - just mentally translate unknown things (e.g. MEP response) to "thingy 1" etc. and it works. (E.g. "when you show this stimulation, thingy happens. When you show these other two, it doesn't." That's really all you need to know; the methods are somewhat superfluous to getting the point.)

Note that these are talking about small-e empathy; they in no way address any big vs small E issues. Still relevant, though.

Also - I'll probably (if I get approval) be doing my term paper for my other cogsci class on the same topic, except organized so as to prove a point rather than critique the studies' research methods (which was ostensibly the goal of this paper); I'll post that when it's done, probably in a month or so.

If I end up doing an honors thesis next semseter, there's a very high likelihood that it will be about some aspect of empathy - if at all possible, about big-vs-small -E issues. Who knows, I might even manage to snag some fMRI time if I can get one of the key-holding profs interested enough. :-P

Read more...Collapse )

1. Shenk, Hubbard, McCleery, Ramachandran, & Pineda – EEG evidence for  motor neuron dysfunction in autism - http://psy.ucsd.edu/~lshenk/cnsfinal.pdf (print publication unknown)
2. Avenanti, Bueti, Galati &  Aglioti - Transcranial magnetic stimulation highlights the sensorimotor side of empathy for pain; Nature Neuroscience  8, 955 - 960 (2005) - http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v8/n7/full/nn1481.html
Saturday, October 29th, 2005
12:36 pm
Heat & exocrine stimulation as empathic medium
In reading The Hidden Dimension lately, I was reminded of two potential avenues for empathy: smell and heat.

I can't think, offhand, of an experimental setup by which you could remove those though and still have an "in-person" experience; of course, that may be entirely the point. Distance, perhaps? E.g. being across the room?

Anyway, how well do they match up with symptoms?

* sensation of "feeling" energy tactile-ly, when within range
* working better at close range (at least for me)
* heat & exocrine patterns do vary with emotion
("exocrine" contrasts with "endocrine" - i.e. external chemicals [like smells] that affect organisms)
* heat & exocrine receptors known to exist in the skin
* might account for tactile / smell / taste experience of empathy (smell = 90% of taste, etcetc)
* might account for a lingering "feel" to a place (heat stays a little bit, smells can stay around for a long time indeed in small amounts)
* does result in an "aura" like effect around a person, with trails when they move

* don't know that exocrines can vary that quickly; air saturation and all that would imply that they have delay directly (cubically?) proportional to distance
* AFAIK, the senses are not able to pick these up farther than a few feet range - and people report empathy at much greater distances (or even non-line-of-sight)
* does not account for the qualia of empathy; only gives a possible transmission route
* don't know that heat / chemical 'auras' would be as finely detailed as some people perceive them
* does not account for meridians or tusbo/chakras (AFAIK of anatomy & physiology...)
* don't know of mundane mechanism for conscious regulation of these; ought to be purely autonomic (any ANS specialists?) - how could one "channel energy" etc?
* does not account for synaesthetic perceptions (e.g. visually "seeing" auras)

This is to a certain extent testable, I'm sure, but only (as far as I can think up) on a correlation basis. Unless you can introduce some sort of med that induces particular exocrine releases? (That would be rather interesting...)

Also on a correlation basis in that it doesn't rule out "energy"; after all, the heat or exocrine-release or whatever could merely be a side effect of some hypothesized, more basic force (said "energy"). You'd have to be able to suppress the heat etc while still getting some sort of effect to test this.

So you could say whether empath perception of someone correlates to, e.g., a heat-camera or computer-nose (they have those now, mainly for bombs and etc) image.

So... suggestions? Comments? Pro/con points I've left out? Experiments that could weed these out while minimally disrupting baseline, or that could show causality?
Wednesday, October 19th, 2005
10:39 am
fMRI study 1st draft
Group 1 (normals) and Group 2 (self-described empaths) are put in an fMRI and exposed to one of three kinds of stimuli. They're asked to do some sort of irrelevant, non-distracting task. Compare the three (four with control) scans, averaged, between groups.

[insert something clever]

1. Video of people watching a video that causes very strong emotions - with only their face in screen.
2. Actual person watchinig the same video (i.e. in the room, within sight of subject). Same restriction. (If sound is immportant for either, have them both wear headphones.)
3. Ditto, but with person near but not within sight of subject.
4. Nil (other than distractor).
5. (?) Subject watches same video.

It's obvious what I'm trying to get at, but this seems to be a fairly confounded design as stated. E.g. 1-2 vs 3-4, you drop visual stimulus - perhaps replace with some sort of neutral video? (I.e. visual stimulus would be the same between 3-4, but the person nearby would [maybe?] make a difference.)

If possible, would be good to have the person watching the video be someone close to the subject - or maybe have that only for the empaths, to give them an 'edge'.

Another confound is inter-task interference. Since every subject would have to be exposed to all four situations, and they'd have to be all the same emotional content (unless you wanted to do a two-variable study, and include e.g. one squick-provoking [yay medical/war videos], one warmth-provoking [puppies!], one .... (?), and one neutral [random documentary? art?]). And so you could have overlap, esp. since you'd probably have to do them at the same sitting. Randomization might help with this - perhaps have multiple trials e.g. 123423413412 if you have time.

Lastly, potential additional control needed - as mentioned in the previous list - of having them watch something neutral also. 4 would be 1 with neutral, but 2&3 would both need neutral video watching also.

Saturday, October 15th, 2005
5:35 pm
Saizai requested that I repost this. It comprises the second part of my application to join, past the list of screening questions.

My perspective on empathy is probably a bit reductionist, and that's probably whay I've sought out this community - to enhance my understanding with other perspectives. In the "empaths" LJ, you ask "What is empathy from a non-empath point of view?" My answer to that would probably be to describe it terms of the Theory of Mind, on a sort of continuum, left to right.
Autistic children don't seem to have an understanding of Theory of Mind.
'Normals' understand it as far as comprehending, easily, that other people possess different sets of knowledge from oneself.
Some autistics, however, claim they can 'leapfrog' past normals and develop a superior version of Theory of Mind, one that includes a profound comprehension that other people don't just possess seperate knowledge, but that they have a profoundly different way of thinking. Autistics who develop this understanding are accutely aware of both components (where the second component might require effort or volition on the part of a 'normal' - and of course when I say normal, I mean it not in a value-judgement sense, but the statistical sense). This would include individuals like Temple Grandin, who has to be one of the most stultifyingly brilliant people on earth. If you're familiar with her work, you can see her profound capacity for what we call empathy - but you would also note it extends primarily to animals, with whom she feels most comfortable interacting. Despite developing what I would consider to be an above average Theory of Mind, autistics still desrcibe interactions with other people as stressful, even distressing.
Empaths would fall into the fourth range of this continuum of a development of Theory of Mind. They both understand that other people possess knowledge sets seperate from themselves, and that others have different ways of thinking. In addition to those two components, empaths understand the cycle between how emotion can effect our perception of an object, and that the object can evoke emotions in us that effect our perception. Additionally, empaths would seem to be aware of other things that impact how another person percieves and experiences things, and adding that to the equation (such as imagining what it's like to be a certain age, or of a certain profession, or being well travelled). So, in processing all this, empaths do so by feeling what they extrapolate the other person is feeling, and feel it for themselves.
I would probably also include a comment that our understanding of a person is not a collection/list of disjointed facts, but an impression. How an empath develops that 'impression' and how a 'normal' or Autistic does so is profoundly different, as I understand it. An empath's impression would include a great deal of information (different? more? less?) that would not be found in an impression/assessment of a non-empath.
Remember, this is how I would answer the question "What is empathy?" to a non-empath, and the answer derives from things I learned in classes, to my own phenomenological observasions, to articles on Wikipedia. I would want to answer in a way that dispells any misunderstanding that there is some supernatural/fantasy component to 'empathy' as I experience it.
How would I describe it to an empath? To myself? I don't know. That's largely why I'm here. To learn.

As for the [Gallese] article, I'll have to think about it some more before I comment at length. I found lymme a bean's response to it intriguing and insightful. My inclination is to support reductionist understanding of phenomena - but lymme a bean's response is valid in many ways. I can see I have alot of reading on this topic ahead of me.
Saturday, October 8th, 2005
12:00 pm
Chinese room: Reducible complexity & empathy limitation
[Reposted from my LJ.

This is a midterm paper for my Philosophy of Mind class (taught by John Searle). I think the issue of consciousness is pretty much directly tied to empathy; if anything, it is the only thing - that is, the way in which we view the world, and perhaps the potential for being aware of others' conscious states or even the state of the multiple-people meta-organism itself - that differentiates us from perfectly normal people experiencing sympathy.

I also think that the last point I make - that our understanding of others, and ability to perceive them as conscious (or, say, intelligent) is directly tied to how much we empathize with them. And that a good multi-level-description materialist worldview is perfectly compatible with empathy, with even a perfectly mundane underlying process to "explain" it. Namely, the combination of perception of behavior, belief/knowledge of structure, and personal experience. The closer our experience has come to someone else's, the easier it is to empathize. E.g., ain't many people who've been a tree, so that's hard.

If any of the references are confusing, ask. If you don't understand the Chinese Room argument from my very brief synopsis, Google-Scholar the reference at the bottom; it's an interesting paper.]

[Note for non-neuropsych people - "prosopagnosia" is a deficit caused by lesions (particularly on both sides) to a region of the brain called the "Fusiform Face Area"; people with it have a specific impairment to their ability to recognize faces (both familiar and unfamiliar), though their general visual skills, object recognition, voice recognition, etc., remains more-or-less intact.]

Sai Phil 132 – Philosophy of Mind GSI: Aaron Lambert
Paper 1, Topic 3b/f (Chinese room per Systems / Impossibility replies)

John Searle proposed his “Chinese Room Argument” about 25 years ago (Searle 1980), as an attempt to argue against the “Strong AI” belief that artificial intelligences – or in general, systems other than humans – could be (at least in theory) conscious, sentient, or “intelligent”. It invokes a story of a room which to all outside tests is able to pass the Turing test, by carrying on perfectly intelligent conversation, in Chinese writing. On the inside is a man with no knowledge of Chinese, interpreting the symbols he is given by looking them up in a tome reference tables and – following its instructions – constructs a return message of equally-meaningless (to him) symbols.

This scenario invokes some obviously impossible features, the most obvious of which is the magic “book of Chinese”. This book would, obviously, need to be written by someone who knows Chinese, and indeed could be construed as nothing but a set of instructions for describing how they would reply to any given statement – including, e.g., any that would refer to their emotions, experiences of the world, preferences, etc. Thus, the room becomes equivalent to having an intermediary between the outside world and the true Chinese speaker – one that functions in a marvelously complex manner. However, while this does counter the argument, it does not support Strong AI either, as it still relies on having an authentic (human) Chinese speaker to work.

By another reply, the worker in the room is merely a component in a larger system – which, taken as a whole, does know Chinese. The immediate reply is to obviate the room itself, by having the worker simply memorize the entire book, and then claim that this also implies that there is no longer a part vs. system relationship going on. (ibid., p. 419)

However, internalization doesn’t work as described. For one, as mentioned above, the book would need to be the equivalent of an entire speaker’s knowledge-base, etc. This would mean an extremely (infinitely?) large “book” – hardly plausible for any other human to memorize. For two, this maneuver still doesn’t obviate the system – it just hides it.

The Chinese system in this internalized “Chinese room” is not “simply a part of the English subsystem” (419), but the opposite – it is the superset. The English system (as envisioned) is the part of the operator that only knows English and follows certain rules; the “part” that speaks Chinese is the totality. In fact, one could say that the operator himself is not conscious of knowing Chinese – he doesn’t, no more than his hippocampus “knows” English. As Searle says (lecture), this is a question of levels of description.

I would like to take that point one step further than Searle does, however, and claim that it applies to consciousness as well. As with neurons that are not “conscious” in the same sense that we are – though they (and the limbic system, etc) make up the totality of our structure – still manage to create consciousness as a higher-level phenomenon, so too could be described the room – internalized or not – as being made up of lower-level consciousness (the operator, his tools, and the book), to constitute a higher-level one (the room). Obviously, the operator will not be aware of this any more than the neuron.

This argument can be extended, of course. In fact, in many ways it is similar to the counterargument against the “irreducible complexity” of Creationists. Their claim – and Searle’s – is that some property arises spontaneously, whole, and special to “us” – whether that be humans or mammals in general. However, it can be broken down, and all the steps leading up to it still can be comprehended as types of consciousness – though the farther you go from the integrated whole that is ours, the stranger it seems to call it the same thing. (A direct analogy is the evolution of humans’ “camera” eyes. [Coyne, part V].)

As Block (1997) points out, there is more than one component to “consciousness” as we conventionally think of it – and these components can be experienced (if the word applies) by themselves or together. Likewise, these components too have sub-systems, such as all the varied apparatus that goes into creating a cohesive visual percept. Lesion patients (such as prospoagnostics) give us examples of people who are, in some sense, not “conscious” to the same full extent that normal people are.

These do, indeed, combine to justify Searle’s remark – “… now the mind is everywhere. What we wanted to know is what distinguishes the mind from thermostats and livers…” (420). I will agree with the first part of this; it does entail a sort of universal mentalism.

The latter part, however, is misguided – in the same way as it is misguided to ask, “What essential property distinguishes us from chimps? Dogs? Mollusks?”, and expect them to be utterly disjoint in their makeup. As I have said, the system is conscious; it’s just a somewhat different sort of consciousness than the operator’s; likewise his stomach is a different sort, and likewise his cat. They are related by a sort of ‘genetics’ of similarity – as Searle says in dozens of places, by both behavior and structure we begin to believe other entities to be conscious. Entities more distant from us in behavior and/or structure are necessarily “conscious” in more and more distance ways – from the prosopagnostic who demonstrably has a different experience of normal life, to the cat who has markedly different physiology and senses, to a mollusk that lacks most of the complicated apparatus that enables us to process complex thoughts.

Thus, I would suggest that the “other minds” problem is best accepted as inherent, and turned on its head – that we not to try to grant or deny membership into the League of Sentients, but rather to acknowledge that it is our very ability to understand that guides our intuition in this. Empathy – both by saying “this entity is similar to me” and “this entity reacts in a similar way to me” – leads us to conclude that that other entity’s experience is like ours; this is inescapable.

It provides the limit to what we are capable of making meaningful assertions about, when it comes to others’ experiences – be it that of being a cat or a bat, or anything else. Insofar as we are similar to machines, we will be able to say that their consciousness is or isn’t similar to ours; if we create something that mimics our brain and behavior neuron for neuron, we will then be forced, chauvinism aside, to give it the same “polite convention” as we give ourselves.

(Note: While I am siding with the “standard” Systems / Impossibility replies, I’m also trying to make two [to my knowledge] novel points, which are similar to that of Systems but significantly different. Call them the “Empathy Limitation” and “Reducible Complexity” replies; relatively briefly dealt with here, due to space limitations.)

Jerry Coyne - “The case against intelligent design: The faith that dare not speak its name”, Edge online. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne05/coyne05_index.html, accessed 9/25/05.
John Searle – “Minds, brains, and programs”, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1980) 3, pp. 417-457.
Ned Block – “On a confusion about a function of consciousness”, The Nature of Consciousness (1997), ed. Block, Flanagan, & Güzeldere, MIT Press, London.
Friday, October 7th, 2005
10:26 pm
Hi everyone! Nice to meet you! So, who am I, you ask?

First off, I’m something of a geek, though you’d never be able to tell from my bio. I have an academic background in... a lot, including coursework in neuroscience and cognitive science. Career-wise, I’m between things right now (read my bio), but I’m very much an adult. I’ve never been under “psychic attack,” at least, nothing has ever happened to me that I’d think of as such. I also have no experience with “Guardian Spirits” of any sort. I do not follow any discipline like magick. In truth, I’m a recovering reductionist.

I’ve been an empath my entire life, and began writing about communication between minds when I first learned to write, as a small child. I’m here because I’m deeply searching for meaning in my unusual sensitivities, and for a way to live in balance with myself and others. I usually approach empathy from a holistic, even Eastern, perspective, but this does not mean I do not have respect for and great familiarity with other paradigms, such as science. It also does not mean that I believe interpersonal energy is the same stuff as electromagnetic energy (don’t get me started). I like to approach my empathic experience from multiple perspectives and paradigms, depending on my audience, or on convenience; I believe there are many “correct” ways to describe the same thing.

Below is my full response to the Gallese article. Enjoy!

ResponseCollapse )
Monday, August 1st, 2005
5:47 pm
Physical data?
I was about to add this as a comment to the previous post, then thought I'd make it a general post instead.

I was thinking about my university training, which included a lot of experimental science. We were taught things like working out what was statistically valid, but also about things like designing your recording metric to give you usable data at the end, and *also* (key point) about choosing, designing and building (where necessary) the equipment that would measure what you were looking for. We got taught this partly by osmosis, but it was an essential component of the idea that we were likely to be asking research questions that answers weren't readily available to given current technology. After all, the current technology was based on what we *already* knew.

So I was thinking about the statistical stuff from the post before, and the need for objectively recorded data, and wondering if you tried to measure *physical* data (as opposed to recording people's descriptions of their perceptions), what would you want to measure? Brainwaves? Brain activity? Circulation? Hormone flow? I'm just wondering what thoughts people have on this, to start to work out if it would be possible to design a wearable data collector of some sort that could record objective physical data 24/7. There'd also be issues of how you calibrated it and what you were looking for, too.
Friday, July 29th, 2005
1:40 am
Empathy proof?

So the question: how would you design something to prove conclusively that empathy exists - or at least, that you can do something unexplainable by more Ockhamish means - that would meet those (fairly simple) standards?

Personally, I find it a bit perplexing, given that this is a) mainly an issue of experience on the receiver's part; b) hard to rigorously sample (one could use double-blind emotional self-assessment reports, perhaps?); and c) not easily discernable from (if actually different from in the first place) observation of physical emotional affect. PLUS the fact that, at least for me, there are a pretty diverse set of factors going in to how 'empathic' I rate myself to be for a given interaction - it isn't exactly something one can do on demand in a constant manner.

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