Lectures for a New Year: We are Empathic Monkeys

In this RSA Animate presentation, economist Jeremy Rifkin discusses emerging research on empathy. It's a fast-paced, smart talk -- and it deals with the core question what is empathy? More than wondering what it is, Rifkin discusses how we observe it arise in each human (anyone who has been around kids has observed this progression), research on animals that demonstrates the neurological basis of empathy, and the philosophical implications of empathy for our world. Why does empathy matter? Ultimately because we're all gonna die -- and we might as well make the world a nice place to share.

Topics: monkeys in Parma who want nuts, mirror neurons, the first drive: to belong, what empathy is, child development as an existential trip, empathy as the opposite of utopia, how consciousness changes over history, and the Y-Chromosome "Adam."

For: everyone, especially parents.

Further Reading

Rifkin is pretty controversial, and frankly I haven't read any of his work. He did write a book on this topic (just one of dozens of books over the past 40-ish years), called The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. There's a surprisingly extensive Wikipedia entry on the book. Any readers out there have experience with this book?


There's a dotSUB transcript available. The full RSA talk (see below) is also transcribed, in the "speech text" link from the RSA.

Bonus Points

Here's the entire fifty-minute talk by Rifkin, from which the animation above was taken:

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists

Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]


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