How to Make the Best of your Empathy

Guest post by Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Science Director for Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. 

We often think of empathy as a virtue—it’s sometimes used synonymously with terms like “compassion” and “understanding.”

But in reflecting on the scenarios, ideas, and possibilities in FeelThat, we see that empathy is more complicated. Sometimes there’s that feel-good, tender variety that helps us connect deeply with and nurture others, like how the FeelThat sweethearts tuned into each other. But then there’s also the I feel exactly what you are feeling variety that weighs us down with feelings of unsolvable pain—like the sensations that drop the boyfriend to the ground when Izzy is killed.

The fact of the matter is that, according to scientists, empathy alone is not a moral emotion, or heroic behavior. It’s simply the ability either to a) sense someone else’s emotional state, whether it’s a “positive” state like amusement or a “negative” one like sorrow, or b) put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. Studies have revealed that these two facets of empathy each rely on their own distinct pathways in the brain, and neither systematically predicts lending support or cooperating.

Our bodies are built to empathize, to feel physically moved and understand other’s points of view; these biological tools help us learn from and communicate with each other. While empathic strength can motivate heroism, it can also, however, increase personal distress or compel us to ‘check out’, e.g. “Not my problem.” Especially strong, or chronic empathy for others’ suffering can paralyze us from helping or motivate efforts to escape, either physically or existentially.

What turns empathy awry? Research points to two key risks: 1) fully absorbing others’ negative emotions and reacting as if their distress or despair were our own and 2) failing to regulate, cope with, seek support, or otherwise address the inner and outer circumstances associated with our own life difficulties. To channel our empathy for others towards moral behavior, the quintessential flight attendant’s advice to “place your own oxygen mask before trying to assist others” holds true. This does not mean limiting how readily or broadly we “try to assist others”; it just means that empathy requires a foundation of stability and balance within our own emotional lives, and a clear understanding of who’s feelings belongs to who. This is perhaps more important for people whose livelihoods involve frequent and repeated contact with others’ suffering, like social workers or nurses or doctors.

So if you’re aspiring towards a more empathic you, keep the following in mind:
1) Notice how your own body reacts to others’ feelings, and gently usher those inner feelings towards the actions your inner hero wants to take,
2) Explore your habitual thoughts and interpretations about yourself and other people, and replace the suspicious, hostile, judge-y ones with trusting, self-confident and tenacious ambitions.

The objective of empathy is not to take-on others emotions, but to attune to and internalize the felt experience of perceiving others’ emotions in a manner than preserves and enhances your own sense of safety and bolsters the strength of your own inner hero. If FeelThat can supplement, deepen or provide a more granular incoming signal about others emotional states, it’s still up to us to handle that signal in the most constructive, strengthening way!

Empathy is a Universal Necessity

Guest post by a student at Magnificat High School

I am really enjoying this game, and the opportunity it provides for me to learn about others’ opinions of a future with FeelThat.

This network could break language barriers, and may allow for communication even with intelligent extraterrestrial life, as 17walterk says:

Positive Imagination: The language barrier would be easier to break. If aliens were discovered, this would be a way to communicate with them. #bsi

I thought that this insight was particularly interesting, as this user recognized that empathy is a universal necessity. Not only should we be prepared to understand those we are presently familiar with; it is also important to sustain the core value of empathy as we encounter new, unfamiliar situations and people (and possibly, otherworldly beings!).

LilyRudofsky, however, argues that this may not be advantageous. Many other people on the site take similar standpoints, in saying that the increasing connection may only create more judgment, falsehood, and ultimately decrease our understanding of one another.

Investigate: Couldn't this leave us vulnerable? People don't often say what they feel and the aliens could take our feelings the wrong way. #bsi

Originally, I only thought of the expanse of possibilities brought along with a network such as this. Many of the users of FacetheFuture.org have expanded on the many possibilities I originally imagined, as well as provided foresight on the dangers such a connection could bring about. It is interesting to view both the pros and cons of FeelThat, as it is now clear to me that the network could prove to promote human connection or further complicate it. I believe it is our attitude about an opportunity such as this that impacts how we treat one another.

Buying and selling feels: a new market for emotions

If feelings start to get consumed like media, we might start to treat them like media, too. For starters, we might start buying, selling, and trading bootleg copies of them, as player Emily speculates:

Shadow imagination card reads: People could make rip off FeelThat products and sell them. #OHSSpeaks

Would we start to trade knock-off feelings, or design a whole bunch of different feeling devices for better experiences?

If feels were like music, or movies, or other media, we’d probably also be on the lookout for super rare feels…if you really had the talent, could you get a pine tree to share its feels with you? Would we start to discover the existence of “feeling whisperers,” people who could coax a feeling out of anything – even a piece of pizza?! Or would we see a new group of “feeling explorers,” who would travel to the ends of the earth to capture the strangest and wildest emotions?

If feels became media, we might also start seeing people turn to this as a new source of income, a new set of skills to develop, or a potential career pathPlayer Pablo Barber thinks so:

Positive imagination card reads: Like actors or voice actors, there could be feel actors; people that record feelings for movies and video games #prepaibero

We might start practicing our emoting skills at a young age so we could produce a really, really pure joy, a unique confusion, or a balanced bittersweet sadness – and fetch a higher price for it.

Or maybe, in a darker direction, AI and automation would change the kinds of work that humans do – and emotions would become one of our last remaining advantages over software. Player Maria Eugenia takes us there:

Shadow imagination card reads: @sarahashields @lmsmiddle #FeelThatShadow is an era of commodification of feelings. AI steal your job you sell your feelings.

Finally, we can’t talk about media without talking about advertising! Advertisers are already diving deep into the new science of emotions, in order to bypass our rational thoughts and appeal to our impulses more directly. Neuromarketing is a field that has been around for only a few decades. It promises to integrate new understandings of emotions from neuroscience, with things like facial coding that tracks the microexpressions on your face, and fold them into advertising.  Player Julia forecasts – and I agree – that advertisements could be juiced up by incorporating feelings into them.

Shadow imagination: Advertisements, which plague our everyday life, could benefit from FT by projecting the desired emotions among people to reel them in.

Maybe this would lead to the rise of “feel blocking” software, modeled after ad blockers!

On Juries and Justice

Guest post by Jon Makransky, Research Assistant for Evaluation at Facing History and Ourselves

The FeelThat network will enable entirely novel modes of communication and sharing on a personal level, but also has the potential to transform institutions that affect the lives of everyone in our democracy. The justice system is among the most important of these institutions, ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity for a fair trial, due process, legal representation, the opportunity to address grievances, and many other essential aspects of our constitutional rights. How could the ability to feel others change the way that judges, juries, officers of the law, and citizens interact and seek justice together?

Emilysjacobs presents an argument that the FeelThat technology could improve the fairness of jury trials, ensuring impartiality on the part of jurors:

Would this change the jury system by helping the lawyers see how the jurors are feeling when presenting a case? #hiesglobal

Isabel Berner writes, “Lawyers would have an easier time quantifying emotional damages and agreeing on fair settlements for victims.” Again, the theme of fairness and impartiality arises; the ability to truly feel victims’ pain could lead to fairer outcomes for them as lawyers modify their arguments and goals.

Not all of the potentialities for the justice system are completely positive, however. Tomas Sagartz writes:

Interrogation would be a lot easier because they can feel the convicts feelings.

While this application of FeelThat could be beneficial for law enforcement, it could also represent a severe overreach and a violation of the civil rights of the accused. Should suspects’ thoughts and feelings be their own, safe from probing for the purposes of interrogation?

Mr.Hebert raises another potential concern about rights infringement:

Minority Report-style crime prediction leads to infringing on the rights of others because they are "likely" to do something bad. #smem16

Implicit bias against certain racial or socioeconomic groups could lead to biased use of FeelThat in turn, perpetuating injustice against these groups and further reinforcing stereotypes.

As we can see, FeelThat holds a great deal of potential for impact on the justice system, both positive and negative. In your view, what beneficial impacts could it have on the prospects for justice in our democracy? What potentially concerning impacts do you see?

When scientific discovery can’t be replicated? Call in the robots

Today, we struggle to reproduce discoveries. In the future, scientists will have networks of artificially-intelligent robots to aid them and will be fueled with rich data from FeelThat. What will this world look like, and how will it aid discovery?

Player María Eugenia suggests “Feel that will bring more ethics to science field. Scientists will be able to feel what people feel with their invention and discoveries.”

In May 2016, Nature rocked the scientific community with news that more than 70% of efforts to reproduce another researcher’s experiment fail — what’s more, more than half of researchers aren’t able to reproduce their own experiments! (http://www.nature.com/news/1-500-scientists-lift-the-lid-on-reproducibility-1.19970)

Reproducibility – the ability of an experiment or study to be replicated – is a key principle of the scientific method.

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Think about it – doing the same thing over and over again should yield the same results. That’s how we know to trust anything, whether a friend, your math homework, or what should happen when you take an Advil. But when researchers perform the same methods, under the same conditions… they’re getting different results. That represents a big problem for research, and big problem for all of us that benefit from science. Lack of reproducibility is enough to drive any of us insane!

How can we help solve this big problem? One solution comes from the world of technology, in the form of automation and its friendly counterpart, machine learning.

You’ve probably heard about automation before, maybe you’ve even heard something like “Robots Will Take All Our Jobs!” While more and more manufacturing jobs are being replaced by robotic, automated systems, there is a huge upside in research that sometimes gets left out of the conversation.

Because robotic systems track data much more rigorously and quickly than humans, they’re well equipped to move us into a world where automated labs around the globe attempt more and more experiments and get the same results.

Signal: The “Robot Scientist”

Eve is an artificially-intelligent robot scientist developed by researchers at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge. Eve was designed to speed up the drug design process and make it more economical. Manual screening of compounds for drug discovery can be slow and laborious, but Eve can screen up to 10,000 compounds per day. Eve can automatically cross reference results with existing research to suggest drug designs that may perform better. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot_Scientist)

So we can already see how robot scientists can speed up innovation and rigorously collect and analyze data.

Ready to #FaceTheFuture? Let’s take this a step further and imagine what things could look like in 2026, when FeelThat can help us feel what others feel:

Our forecast from IFTF’s bio:made map explores the role of the future scientist in a future, automated world.

In this forecast, we imagine scientists as managers and designers, who allow automated robots to conduct experiments and replicate results. Can you see a role for yourself in this future? One #FaceTheFuture player shares “People can communicate much easier overseas. It can help great scientists work together in different places.” 

Forecast: Automated Cloud Labs

Top scientists will manage networks of automated lab robots in a setting far from the physical workflow of today’s labs, bringing unprecedented speed, precision, and accessibility to experimentation.

  • Signal: Remote AI Experiments—Startup Emerald Therapeutics and its Emerald Cloud Lab use automated labs to run entire experiments remotely for scientists. Emerald Therapeutics teaches its scientists computer programming, crafting a language of science that promises reproducibility never seen before.
  • Signal: Automated Labs in Worldwide NetworkScience Exchange already connects research labs worldwide to researchers outsourcing their work. Soon, we may see bridges linking scientists to automated labs, amplifying their capabilities by orders of magnitude.

What’s beyond this world, when FeelThat gets added to scientific research? Ready to push things a bit further?

Empathy filled research

What if scientists from around the world were able to include empathy in their work?

In Leaders Make the Future, IFTF Distinguished Fellow, Bob Johansen describes the future leadership skill called Bio-empathy. It is the ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand it, respect it, and learn from its patterns. (A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which the food comes.)

Taking this concept further, Bio-empathy can be a skill for scientists of the future, for them to see things from the perspectives of nature, patients, and each other. A network of FeelThat users who choose to share their data for research will add layers of insight and data to existing and ongoing research. Empathy can reveal new connections and understandings. #FaceTheFuture players imagine just a few of these. What would you add?

Isabel Berner: “Scientists discover evidence of gender or race differences in emotional responses that are used to justify exclusionary hiring practices.”

jackson11F+J: It has the potential to help scientists understand the moments prior to death, however the trauma exposure would probably be too much. #ZIS”

junfre181: Scientists could feel the temperature of animals in depths unknown of the ocean. #BL08FrTh #Mentalhealth”

Isabel R: This could create new professions within psychology or other social sciences to help people”

Sydney Jackson: This could increase scientific knowledge of humans as well as if animals and other organisms have thoughts they wish to share #hiesglobal”

Crossing the Animal Semiosphere

Humans aren’t the only beings that will connect through global empathy networks. Soon, we will understand the way pets and other animals feel as we interact with them through our daily lives.

There are already experiments underway to translate animal thoughts to human-recognizable statements. The Wild Dolphin Project aims to study visual and auditory signals from dolphins to understand their thoughts and social patterns, moving toward a two-way animal to human communication link for simple objects and needs. No More Woof is bringing this capacity to the consumer pet market, creating a neural activity-reading headset for dogs. Even without advanced technology, people are sharing their pet interactions together to crowdsource insights about play, as Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab has done.

IFTF’s Age of Networked Matter map explores human-animal communications within the context of Internet of Things devices. The map describes a process of “crossing the semiosphere”, whereby multiple species develop a common language between them mediated by digital technology. This could allow an entire inter-species Internet, sharing experiences and emotions in real-time.

Animals2

A pet could share its excitement at the sight of its owner’s return with members of its species and beyond. Or, it could allow an owner to feel when their attention is needed, nudging them to return home and provide care.

Animals5

http://www.facethefuture.org/card_plays/47509

We may come to understand not just animal needs, but also animal curiosity and desire. This could lend itself to an entire new economy of animal entertainment services and media.

Animals4

http://www.facethefuture.org/card_plays/45601

Activists could sense animal suffering and direct their efforts to combat abuse where they are most needed.

Animals1

It may even change animals to exhibit human tendencies themselves.

Animals3

http://www.facethefuture.org/card_plays/48413

Social networks may emerge for sharing memorable moments between connected beings, even tying emotions to point-of-view footage from an animal’s perspective.

Perhaps we will even see a forecasting game like Face the Future open to all species!

 

Over time, these shifts will help us come closer to fundamentally understanding what it means to exist and thrive as a life form on this planet, human or otherwise.

Ready for Round 3?

You did it once again! Filled our database to the brim. So it’s time to start off with a clean slate…round 3 of cardplay has officially commenced.

Here’s an update on our record-breaking stats:

62,672 micro-forecast cards played by 8,118 players. That’s over 3x the players and over 2x the cards of previous games!

Keep up the good work, budding futurists! 7.5 hours to go!

 

Where there are shadows there will be light.

Guest post by Dylan Wray, co-founder and executive director of Shikaya, a non-profit civil society organization that recognizes the crucial role that teachers can play in deepening and strengthening South Africa’s democracy. Since 2003, Dylan has been the project coordinator of Facing the Past – Transforming our Future, a partnership with Facing History and Ourselves that holds educator workshops and seminars throughout South Africa, and provides resources and support to teachers and curriculum advisers across the country.

Playing Face the Future today has made us think about the world in the not too distant future. It has created the space for us to imagine the hope and possibility but also the shadows, warnings and fears.

But reading how people young and old, close and far away, feel about this future, had made me think more deeply about us today. And, perhaps, it is in the Shadow Imagination where I have been most drawn to thinking about today.

Nico, for instance, wonders about the addiction to the validation of others that the technology might bring:

Shadow Imagination: Technology becomes a fix like a drug. A place where you couldn't cope without others "liking"/"Favouriting you"

What should this make us feel today? How do we withdraw from the fixes we currently find ourselves drawn to – the Emoji smiles and frowns and thumbs up or down. Is it becoming harder for us today to notice facial expressions, tones of voice and touch – those parts of us that can tell others some of how we feel?

For Angelique, in the shadows of a technology that allows us to feel the emotions of others, lies the threat of us growing up too quickly:

Shadow Imagination: Would the youth, children and young adults, have to grow up quicker because they would be exposed to certain emotions a lot sooner?
What does social media and our exposure to what hundreds and even thousands of people in our networks are feeling and thinking do to us? Even if we can’t today feel what others are feeling, what impact is it having that we can know what so many people tell us they are feeling? Are we having to already grow up quickly because we are being exposed to so much more?

Many players, like Hammond, have raised the issue of privacy:

Shadow Imagination: At what point does FeelThat become invasion of privacy. #Redhill

We are already sharing so much information with, well … we aren’t always so sure with whom. Sure, no one can feel our emotions and feelings, but going through the data from our Snapchats, Facebook timelines and Whatsapp chats, and a glimpse into our emotions and actions is possible for whoever is looking.

And yet there is hope…

As Annus Mirabillis sees:

Positive Imagination: Allowing Someone to "read" your innermost emotions could be considered the ultimate expression of trust and/or love and/or honesty.

Perhaps today, we could do with a little more technology that allows us to connect more intimately, more deeply and in ways that allow us to show more of our true selves. That surely, can’t be such a bad thing. That’s a good thing to imagine.

Round 2! More futures. More fun.

As we mentioned before, you are smashing records left and right. We’ve had over 20,000 more cards played than any game we’ve ever hosted on this platform in the past. Ends up all that enthusiasm filled the platform to the brim. In order to get the site back up and running we’ve backed up our first round of cards (all 39,396 of them!) and cleared the site for the next round of game play.

Let’s make round two even deeper and more vivid than the last. Push your thinking to the next level. Remember, this is the year 2026 and you can feel what other people around you feel. How would this impact how you go about your day? How you learn? Who you consider a part of your universe of obligation? The companies and products you interact with? The range of emotions you feel? The art you create? The hobbies you pursue?

Can’t wait to see your next round of ideas!

FeelThat Changes Medical Care: patient’s own words no longer needed

The FeelThat network allows people, as player Jemma Jordan Smith expressed concisely, to “communicate without the complications of words.” This assessment that the FeelThat network opens direct channels between people has sparked players’ imaginations around how medical care could be practiced.

Jemma

Sylvia1233 suggests, “Doctors may use the FeelThat network to see if their patient has depression or some other emotional disorder.”sylvia1233
And June217 anticipates that emergency responders would “be able to feel what unconscious emergency patients are feeling and be able to help the problem more quickly and effectively.” Sabrina Kornblu concurs, envisioning that “we would know if [emergency victims were] in pain.”

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 10.06.35 AM

That same affordance, however, the ability to ‘communicate without the complications of words, elicits concern from others. In health care, words have power.  How people choose to describe their health can offer helpful clues to the medical professionals with whom they share the information. By having control over what we share about our health—the words we use—makes us the authority on the story of our health. But, if we confer what we might think of as our narrative authority to those in our FeelThat network, the explanations we offer about how we’re feeling may get trumped by the data streaming from the wearable sensors. By engaging in a network like FeelThat, will we give up control of the interpretation of our emotional health?   You feel well but the “advanced biological and neurological sensors” are interpreting your emotions as unwell. What is your recourse? How do you override the network’s data-driven conclusions?

Sure, you could drop out of the network, but what if you didn’t have a choice in participating? What if your parents only let you hang out on your own or with your friends if you wore your FeelThat hardware? What if health insurance were tied to full participation in the network? There is vulnerability in not being able to present your emotional state in the way you want to. As 9th Grade Team wonders, will we “get made fun of for having a certain emotion or feeling?”

9th grade

In other words, although words certainly do complicate communication, they also keep control staunchly in the hands…or the minds….of the person experiencing the emotion.