Seung Chan Lim

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Creativity, Innovation, and Change are Side Effects of Empathizing (Please read the description before replying)

There's a story that goes behind this question, so please watch the following video to understand what I mean by the idea. It will save us a lot of time sorting through the misunderstandings: http://vimeo.com/36629796

Also, here's an operational definition of "empathy" I'd like to use for this particular conversation:

"A capacity to viscerally imagine the current physical (or sometimes mental) state of an other, and as an extension their future actions. Who or what this other is depends solely on your own personal limits of empathy. It could be a person, an animal, a plant, an object, or a piece of script, or even your own body. An other is simply anything and everything we do not fully understand. So even ourselves are a subject of empathy as we often have to try and understand ourselves."

It is explained more in this video: http://vimeo.com/36629754

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    Feb 28 2012: "Creativity, innovation, and transformation--these are all side-effects of our abilities and desire to empathize"

    That is what the guy said in the video, if I remember correctly. It's a statement that I agree with, with the caveat that the aforementioned processes are not only byproducts of our desire to empathize with others, but also of our need to be empathized with by others. Splitting hairs maybe, but I think it's important to note that. By expressing ourselves in works of art that contain our crystallized feelings and attitudes, we are revealings parts of ourselves to the public in the hope that others will identify with them (empathize); by visiting an art museum, we are effectively providing that service for others.

    It's a little bit harder to link innovation to empathy, because innovation is something that can be done in the absence of any empathic impulse. For instance, a man on a deserted island with a paucity of supplies may be forced by necessity to find new ways to use old things, which would be a form of innovation. However, no one could claim that he did this in order to connect with others. Still, some instances of innovation (like the invention of social media, for example) definitely have empathic dimensions to them.

    Change is the most capacious concept of all that you're suggesting is linked to empathy, but like innovation, there are definitely types of change that are connected with it. So I agree with the idea generally, although I think you have to allow for nuance and say that not all instances of change and innovation are merely side effects of empathizing.
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    Feb 25 2012: I have ethnic artists and your common run of the mill artists in my family and from what i can gather during their creative periods it's the ethnic artists that project themselves deep into their creations more so as it's culturally inspired but contemporary and with my culture we assign spirit to all our creations.

    I'm with linda on this,empathy is the ability to look through anothers eyes and look back at yourself but not through yourself,it's usually easier to have a strong instinct for it or a strong interest for it,well that's how i define the word,my experiences with social workers,caregivers,nurses have a high quotient for it, social workers tend to be overwhelmed by the full force of what they have to deal with on a day to day basis and it can affect them more.
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      Feb 25 2012: Hi Ken! Did you watch the video? http://vimeo.com/36629796

      The only way I've been able to explain what I am trying to say is with a story, and the video tells that story.

      I don't disagree with anything you're saying, yet you make it sound as if you're disagreeing, so all I'm trying to do is resolve the discrepancies.
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        Feb 26 2012: We pay for our bandwith so i've been waiting for it to download and i've only just watched it now."Click" excellent video work and your story mirrored mine when i was very young and had to deal with a similar situation,for me i was trying to fix the problem which is inherent with all us males,i think it's DNA.

        I've always associated empathy with living beings and i thought you "wanted?" to "add?" or widen it's definition to include the inanimate.I'm still alittle confused but i put that down to not having the experience that you have with the creative and r&d industries,i take it you saw or felt that "missing something" or blackhole within those areas to feel strongly enough to try and find what it is.

        Please don't take this the wrong way as i could never put together any sort of video work like what you did,it shows your level of experience but it felt like i was watching an american advert,i think it was the piano,i had to keep flicking back to the last part a good five times and i know i'm going to watch it again.

        If you could could you give some examples of where we can see this "missing something" in play?I realise this could be impossible but i thought i would ask just in case.

        I've just read your last post and it all "Clicked" so ignore what i've just wrote above.
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          Feb 26 2012: Ah, I didn't realize you had to be sensitive to your bandwidth usage. Sorry about that, I was being insensitive.

          Your critique of the piano track is spot on. I realized that after I had posted the video. Live and learn, I guess. :) All subsequent videos I've made that explains the idea in more detail used much more subtle sound track.
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    Feb 25 2012: Well many people like to create or make things to entertain themselves, not necessarily to impress others. We make things to please and feed our curiosity and discover how things work so then we can use it to our benefit. But yeah i agree with you, a lot of things that we make could be to empathize with others, but not all.
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      Feb 25 2012: Hi Jessica,

      I have a feeling that everyone is replying to the conversation right after reading the title, and not reading the rest. :)

      Perhaps your definition of empathizing is a bit different from mine. I could be wrong, so please correct me if that is indeed the case.

      In my definition, the act of empathizing is something that can be done with an other whom you have yet to empathize with, who we don't yet fully understand. That other can be a fellow human being, a piece of wood, an imaginary character in a play, or even your own body. Even ourselves are those we have to empathize with, because we don't fully understand who we are.

      Did you watch the video? I go more in depth with what I mean there: https://vimeo.com/36629796

      Let me know if I am making my thoughts clearer. I have much to learn from everyone such that I can do that.
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        Feb 28 2012: I didn't know at first that the person in the video was you =p for some reason, I just did not make that connection until now lol.

        But yeah! I suggest that you include *your* definition of 'empathy' in your introductory post, or else you will have to keep making this same reply to every post =/ Even after watching the video that you recommended in your OP, it was not clear that you were using a different definition of the word empathy than the standard one that most repliers (including myself) had in mind.
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    Feb 24 2012: Um no. Creativity and making are solitary journeys. They are journeys of your own soul.

    Empathy is a journey you take with another soul.

    I say this from experience. In my work, part of what I do involves empathy. Every day. I work to understand the experience of others, based on my previous experience of understanding others in similar situations. I am very good at this and can do it quickly. It can exhaust a soul. (And to make it more complex, I learned to empathize with those who cannot speak. Try that sometime.)

    So to energize an exhausted soul, I create. I go by myself to create and make and renew. I have to do this by myself because others will detract from what I am trying to accomplish. To create from a place where there are no words, where there is no time. To make is to ESCAPE empathy.
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      Feb 24 2012: Hi Linda,

      I sense a similar train of thought in your response as I have with David's.

      Perhaps your definition of empathizing is a bit different from mine. I could be wrong, so please correct me if that is indeed the case.

      In my definition, the act of empathizing is something that can be done with an other who you have yet to empathize with, who we don't yet fully understand. That other can be a fellow human being, a piece of wood, an imaginary character in a play, or even your own body. Even ourselves our those we have to empathize with, because we don't fully understand who we are.

      Did you watch the video? I go more in depth with what I mean. https://vimeo.com/36629796

      Let me know if I am making my thoughts clearer. I have much to learn from everyone such that I can do that.
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        Feb 25 2012: Mr Lim
        I think the problem may be that part of the English definition of empathy is that it is shared feelings between you and another being. It cannot be shared feelings between a block of wood or a blank paper because wood and paper have not feelings. You cannot empathize with yourself because you experience your own feelings.
        Key to empathy is sharing feelings between two beings capable of feeling.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy
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          Feb 25 2012: Yes, now were' having a conversation! :)

          Our general study of human being's capacity to empathize has only recently (60s) become a subject of interest for many scientists. And only very recently (90s) become a subject of neurological testing, etc..

          My thesis is that we are capable of empathizing with just about anything we choose to. Some are easier to empathize than others because there's a lot of attributes shared. (people whom we share values with, people who look like us, people who like things we like, etc... ) Some are harder to empathize because there needs to be a lot of layers of translation. (people who we don't share values with, people who look different from us, people who don't like things we like, etc..)

          But if my own experience is of any testament (i.e. having moved across disciplines from music to science to business to design to art) it's a matter of how much we care to empathize, not a lack of potential.

          And now here's where it gets really interesting...

          The subject of our ability to empathize goes way beyond other human beings.

          What many artists do is they empathize with raw materials like wood, metal, paint, clay, etc... I know this can sound bizarre at first, but that's because you think of empathizing as feeling the feelings of another person. That's not rigorous enough of a definition.

          When I use the word empathy, I'm really talking about an ability to viscerally imagine an other's current state of being as well as their future actions by conjuring up and synthesizing one's own embodied knowledge through a heightened awareness of the present. It has a lot to do with your own ability to imagine. And this other is anything and anyone whom we have yet to empathize with. Including even ourselves.
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          Feb 25 2012: So if we disagree on the definition of empathy, that's fine. We can move on to another conversation.

          But if you want to have a conversation about the idea I am proposing, _just_ for the sake of this particular conversation, I would love it if you could use the definition I propose and explore what we can both learn from the conversation.

          The point of a conversation I am proposing is not whether we can agree or disagree, but rather what can we learn about each other through the conversation. Having a conversation just so we find out if we agree or disagree in this particular context is the least interesting use of my time.

          I talk more about the definition of empathy I propose here: http://vimeo.com/36629754
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        Feb 25 2012: Still not feeling it (sorry could not resist the pun). The way I understand it, if you have empathy with another being, you are sharing feeling. Like I said, two souls.

        If you are assigning feeling to an inanimate object, that is called projection.

        I understand, however, what you are trying to describe because I also enjoy art. And in the media I work in, sometimes it tells me what it wants to become. I don't know what to call that but I get what you are describing. I do not think the word empathy applies. If you use the word empathy in this context, it weakens the definition.

        Part of the reason there has not been a history of empathy is that the word itself is relatively new. Perhaps there is a word in a different language that describes that connection between human and inanimate. It would help describe so much, including a child's attachment to a comfort toy or item to how we treasure items as what Native Americans would call medicine. Interesting idea.
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          Feb 25 2012: :) ha ha!

          This is fantastic. We are having an empathic conversation right now. We're trying to empathize with what the disconnect is that makes the two perspectives seem different.

          I am not claiming anything about the object having feelings, I'm only talking about how you feel in relation to others, regardless of whether they are animate or inanimate.

          Things get very fuzzy when we start talking about what a soul is. Could you extend your definition of empathy to other animals like cats, dogs, horses? An insect? How about living plants like trees? Are trees animate or inanimate? Is an imaginary character? What does it mean for something to have a soul? Why is it that some people feel a sense of deep resonance in front of a piece of abstract painting? At what point do you start to say that something is alive/dead or has a soul or doesn't have a soul? Can we really completely eliminate our tendency to project?

          The English word for empathy may be new, but in East Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea the word has been around since the dawn of time. The emphasis on the relationship between people, people and matter, people and everything is at the heart of what it means to be a human being. The very Chinese word for human being when translated literally is "The space between people" or "The relationship between people" It is never about a singular entity.

          Though, I would like to steer us away from empathy and toward the conscious act of empathizing. These are two different things. Reflexive use of empathy requires little imagination. We yawn when someone else yawns. That's a reflexive use of empathy. What I'm interested in is a _conscious_ use of empathy. The _act_ of empathizing as I describe in the video about my interaction with my bipolar friend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E15sYx-cpso

          If we are consciously trying to empathize with everything we come across, this can actually bring about not only a sustainable way of living, but also world peace.
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          Feb 25 2012: Also, what you said about the material telling you what to do is something that can only happen when you have empathy.

          The way we make sense of the world is through the memory of our past experiences mediated through our body. Some scientists are now starting to hypothesize that even mathematics may have its roots in the physical experience mediated through the body ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_Mathematics_Comes_From ).

          So at the end of the day, the only way we understand something is through what we generically call our feelings, although I prefer the word embodied knowledge, though.
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        Feb 26 2012: Absolutely! people can have empathy with animals and plants. Because they have a form of feeling. That is key that whatever you have empathy with also has feeling.

        Nothing can match the joy that my dog has when I get home from work.

        Some people will argue that about plants, but plants get stressed if I do not water them when it is time. If the area I live in has drought, people also feel the stress that the wildlife is feeling. Just ask anyone. They want to help relive the stress.

        I know and understand the connection between humans and objects. I just do not think the word is empathy.

        They are alive and mortal.
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          Feb 26 2012: Yes, that's great that you can have empathy for plants when other people think they cannot.

          That's my point. People have different capacity to empathize. Some people can empathize with objects. :)

          When I am programming the computer I feel one with the computer, I can see everything from their perspective. The thing is I couldn't always do this, I trained to do it because I kept practicing programming. And after a decade or so of practice it becomes quite natural to do it.

          I may have mislead you, but I don't mean this to be an intellectual exercise in defining the word empathy, but rather it's all about how we feel in relationship to others.
  • Feb 23 2012: I think what you're describing is the experience of the audience. They are the ones who empathize with the artist. I believe that the act of creation is, paradoxically, an act of selfish generosity; a ruthless baring of the individual soul in the service of a larger community. The creative process is an act of self-discovery and insofar as an audience is considered at all, it is a consideration of how best to help the audience understand the viewpoint of the artist in order to transform the audience rather than to prop up their existing perceptions. Creation is deeply personal and deeply introspective. It becomes art when the purely personal resonates on a universal level. Unless, of course, you're saying that it is the artist who is challenging the audience to empathize, and then I completely agree.
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      Feb 24 2012: Hi David!

      Perhaps your definition of empathizing is a bit different from mine. I could be wrong, so please correct me if that is indeed the case.

      In my definition, the act of empathizing is something that can be done with an other who have yet to empathize with, who we don't yet fully understand. That other can be a fellow human being, a piece of wood, an imaginary character in a play, or even your own body. Even ourselves our those we have to empathize with, because we don't fully understand who we are.

      Did you watch the video? I go more in depth with what I mean. https://vimeo.com/36629796

      Let me know if I am making my thoughts clearer. I have much to learn from everyone such that I can do that.