{ The Potential of Virtual Reality to Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine } Chris Milk: VR Is A Machine That Makes Us More Human …*

“[Virtual Reality is] not a video game peripheral, it connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other. And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world. It’s a machine but through this machine, we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic and we become more connected. And ultimately, we become more human.” – Chris Milk

I’ve been getting very excited over the last few years witnessing the growing trend of filmmakers who are actively thinking about and engaging the potential of their chosen medium to foster and advance an empathy revolution. (Rethinked favorite, Tiffany Shlain, who has been pioneering a new form of collaborative filmmaking“Cloud Filmmaking,” just recently gave a TED talk on empathy.) The connection between storytelling and empathy is an ancient one but with advances in technology and neurobiology, we are getting a better understanding of how stories engage our emotions as well as being able to push the boundaries of how these stories are told. In this captivating TED talk, filmmaker and self-described ‘maker of stuff’, Chris Milk explores the potential of Virtual Reality to help us become more human and empathetic by transporting us more viscerally into the emotional worlds of others.

Film is an incredible medium but essentially it’s the same now as it was then. It’s a group of rectangles that are played in a sequence. And we’ve done incredible things with those rectangles. But I started thinking about, is there a way that I could use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways, and tell different kinds of stories that maybe I couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for a hundred years. So I started experimenting, and what I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine. 

But then I started thinking about frames, and what do they represent. And a frame is just a window. I mean, all the media that we watch–television, cinema–they’re these windows into these other worlds. And I thought, well great, I got you in a frame but I don’t want you in the frame, I don’t want you in the window. I want you through the window, I want you on the other side, in the world, inhabiting the world. So that leads me back to Virtual Reality. Let’s talk about Virtual Reality. […] It’s difficult to explain because it’s a very experiential medium–you feel your way inside of it, it’s a machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life, it feels like truth. And you feel present in the world that you’re inside of and you feel present with the people that you’re inside of it with.

Watch Milk’s TED talk below to see how he’s been harnessing the power of Virtual Reality to get his audience out of the frame and into the world of his subjects.

imagine, feel & rethink …*

Can Learning About the Science of Happiness Actually Make You Happier?

Can Learning About the Science of Happiness Actually Make You Happier? | rethinked.org

Six cartoon faces created by Pixar artist Matt Jones to convey fear, enthusiasm, anger, affection, sadness, and amusement – source: Greater Good Science Center

 

In an article published yesterday on Greater Good Science Center, Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner, co-instructors for a MOOC on the scientific principles and everyday behaviors that predict happiness, GG101x: The Science of Happiness, shared some preliminary findings into the effects that taking their ten-week course had on participants. They wanted to find out whether taking an online course about the science of happiness actually makes one happier. Turns out, it does.

Of course, happiness is a notoriously difficult concept to define, which makes the issue of measuring it and capturing its changes in quality and intensity over time a complex endeavor to say the least. For their purpose Simon-Thomas and Keltner set out the following definition of happiness :

There is no perfect consensus definition, though most people have an intuitive sense for how it feels, and research suggests that there are systematic qualities and characteristics of those who fit the description of “very happy people.” Key insights that arise from this work, taking multiple methods and perspectives into account, is that happiness hinges upon the strength and authenticity of a person’s social connections, their aptitude for human kindness, and their constructive role in meaningful community.

Based on this definition, Simon-Thomas and Keltner monitored various self-reported metrics related to happiness of the 5000 participants who completed the course, before, during and four months after they had completed the course. What they found makes a pretty compelling argument for learning about the science of happiness–the participants’ happiness levels went up over the ten weeks in which they were taking the course and was still up from their starting level four months after completing the course.

Every week, we checked in with our students to see how they were feeling. We showed them a sequence of six cartoon faces created by Pixar artist Matt Jones to convey fear, enthusiasm, anger, affection, sadness, and amusement. Under each, we asked them to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much each face matched how they’d been feeling lately.  Then we transformed their collective weekly ratings into a single score.

The result? For students who responded at least 8 out of 10 times—suggesting that they were fully participating in the course—positive feelings went up, and up, and up. They felt progressively less sadness, anger, and fear, while at the same time experiencing more and more amusement, enthusiasm, and affection.

We also invited students to fill out a brief battery of research-validated questionnaires that are regularly used to assess feelings like happiness, stress, flourishing, or satisfaction with life. They did this three times, just before, right after, and three to four months after completing the course. Again, we found evidence that participating in our Science of Happiness course improved people’s lives.

More specifically, the course’s participants found that:

1. Well-being went up and stayed up

During the course, subjective happiness, life satisfaction, and flourishing increased by about five percent—and this boost remained even four months after the course was completed, suggesting that the impact of GG101x is sustained.

2. Stress and loneliness went down, and stayed down

Students reported feeling significantly less stress and loneliness in their lives, both issues that present substantial barriers to health and happiness. This also continued to be true four months after the course ended.

3. A sense of common humanity went up, and stayed up

It turns out that GG101x helped people to think of themselves as having a stronger connection to the rest of humanity, no matter how similar or different. This more open-minded perspective may be a key to boosting happiness on wider, more collective levels.

Source: Can an Online Course Boost Happiness?

{ Drawing As A Fundamental Instrument For Understanding …* } “When children are prevented from drawing, their brains don’t develop fully.”

“For me, drawing has always been the most fundamental way of engaging the world. I’m convinced that it is only through drawing that I actually look at things carefully and the act of drawing makes me conscious of what I’m looking at. If I wasn’t drawing, I sense that I would not be seeing. ” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking for a mid-week pick me up, I highly recommend this short video of Milton Glaser drawing Shakespeare while reflecting on the role of drawing in his understanding of life and capacity to engage with the world around him.

“For me, drawing has always been an absolutely primary way of encountering reality. I’m astonished by drawing. I always think of every drawing as a kind of miraculous occurrence.”

MILTON GLASER DRAWS & LECTURES from TEAMVVORK on Vimeo.

draw, [re]think & understand …*

Hat Tip: Milton Glaser Draws Shakespeare & Explains Why Drawing is the Key to Understanding Life

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom …*

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

 

A few months ago, I quoted a poignant observation found in an article written by Joshua Freedman who was reflecting on his own mistakes, notably his failures of empathy, in dealing with his son’s constant procrastination when it came to doing his homework.

Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll remember to take that all-important pause and ask myself: I wonder what’s really going on for him right now? That moment of curiosity is the doorway to empathy, and it’s a game changer.

Freedman’s article was published on Start Empathy, which is the blog of an Ashoka initiative dedicated to building a future in which every child masters empathy. Empathy is a critical component of thriving relationships and in an increasingly volatile environment of accelerating change, it is especially urgent that we help our children understand and activate their capacity for empathy. One of the most impactful ways to help children understand empathy is to model it ourselves in our interactions with them. It starts with listening and a genuine curiosity and openness to understanding each child’s point of view and experience. Which is exactly what Colorado teacher Kyle Schwartz does in her third grade classroom. Schwartz has been asking her students to finish the phrase, “I wish my teacher knew….” and after recently joining Twitter, she has been posting photographs of her students responses. The hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew is now being used by teachers everywhere. Here is a wonderful example of how easy and accessible it is to model and infuse empathy in the classroom. Bravo, Ms. Schwartz!

Source: What Poor Students Wished Their Teachers Knew About Them 

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.

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Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!

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Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.

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A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).

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My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.

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A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{ Play Is Our Adaptive Wild Card } In Order to Adapt Successfully to a Changing World, We Need to Play …*

Bonobos, like humans, love to play throughout their entire lives. Play is not just child’s games. For us and them, play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience and it’s all about the generation of diversity —diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors and diversity of connections. And when you watch Bonobos play you’re seeing the very evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.” – Isabel Behncke Izquierdo

In this short and delightful TED talk, primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo highlights some of the ways in which the highly playful Bonobos can teach us about successfully naviating “a future where we need to adapt to an increasingly challenging world through greater creativity and greater cooperation. The secret is that play is the key to these capacities. In other words, play is our adaptive wild card. In order to adapt successfully to a changing world, we need to play.” As you kick off the weekend, remember , “Play is not frivolous. Play is essential.”

Rethinking How We Define Passion & Why We Should Cultivate A Craftsman’s Mindset …*

Rethinking How We Define Passion & Why We Should Cultivate A Craftsman’s Mindset ...* | rethinked.org

I am reading a fascinating book on the history of the color palette and one of the chapters I was just reading addresses the historical shift of the perception of painting as a “craft profession to an art one.” This shift was accelerated in the mid-seventeenth century with the nascent field of ‘colormen,’ professionals who mixed raw materials into paints, something artists had mostly done themselves until that point.

“For “craftspeople” the ability to manage one’s material was all important; for “artists” the dirty jobs of mixing and grinding were simply time consuming obstacles to the main business of creation.”

[ . . . ]

“What was the good of painting a masterpiece if its constituent elements would spend the next few years fighting together chemically on the canvas, and ultimately turn black? The early seventeenth-centuy painter Anthony Van Dyck knew how to employ varnish so that colors that would otherwise react with each other would be safe from ruin; Victorian artists, however, did not, and this was, Holman Hunt predicted, to be their downfall. Part of the issue was that he–and his teachers, and his teachers’ teachers–had rarely had to mix paint from basic materials. He had never had to grind a rock, or powder a root, or burn a twig, or crush a dried insect. Nor, more importantly, had he observed the chemical reactions involved in paint-making and seen how colors changed over the years.”

Source: Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

This reminded me of advice I read from Cal Newport about shifting from a ‘passion’ mindset, which has been a dominant cultural trope these past few decades–“what do I love to do and how do I do only that?”–to a “crafstman’s” mindset, a relentless focus on activating one’s unique potential by continually pushing to develop one’s skills and acquire new ones.

My advice is to abandon the passion mindset which asks “What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?” Shift from that mindset to Steve Martin’s mindset, which is “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better?“ Like a craftsman, you find satisfaction in the development of your skill and then you leverage that skill once you have it to take control of your working life and build something that’s more long-term and meaningful… When I talk about the habits of the craftsman mindset, it’s really the habits of deliberate practice. So someone who has the craftsman mindset is trying to systematically build up valuable skills because that’s going to be their leverage, their capital for taking control of their career and they share the same habits you would see with violin players or athletes or chess players.

The craftsmen out there are not the guys checking their social media feeds every five minutes. They’re not looking for the easy win or the flow-state. They’re the guys that are out there three hours, pushing the skill. “This is hard but I’m going to master this new piece of software. I’m going to master this new mathematical framework.” That’s the mindset, the habit of the craftsman.

Source: Cal Newport on how you can be an expert and why you should *not* follow your passion

I think there is something about the craftsman’s mindset that is particularly important in our age of instant gratification and seemingly constant technological innovation. The abundant research on flow states is just one potent reminder of the joys and rewards to be found in taking the long road when creating something, whether it is a painting, a life or a career. Working through challenges is not a guarantee for reaching a flow state, but without an appropriate degree of difficulty relative to one’s skill level, without stretching past what we know, flow is impossible.

We need a collective rethink in how we define passion. Passion is not easy nor instantaneously gratifying and it is certainly not always joyful. When we ignore the painful aspects of passion, we lose out on the chance to ferociously pursue the possibility of living meaningful and fulfilling lives where we have the potential to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. 

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.” – Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves 

learn, practice, create & rethink …* 

{ Wondrous Wednesdays } Using Painting to Keep Zoo Animals Happy & Healthy …*

{ Wondrous Wednesdays } Using Painting to Keep Zoo Animals Happy & Healthy ...* | rethinked.org

Artist: Jack, Western Lowland Gorilla | Source: BioParkSociety.org

The abstract masterpieces of such unlikely artists as Prehensile Tail Porcupines, goats, hissing cockroaches and vinegaroons (had to Google that one) are sure to infuse your Wednesday with a hefty dose of wonder and delight. This budding art collective is the result of an enrichment program from the ABQ BioPark Zoo. The therapeutic and enriching benefits of painting, it would seem, extend to animals. “Getting them to use their brains and to figure things out keeps them happier and healthier,” says zoo manager, Lynn Tupa.

The animals at the ABQ BioPark Zoo have learned to paint as an enrichment activity, purely for their own pleasure and mental stimulation. To ensure that painting remains enjoyable for the animals, the opportunity to paint is an occasional treat, not part of their daily routine.

From primate Picassos to buggy Botticellis, our stable of talented animal artists has increased this year to provide an even greater variety of original masterpieces that will thrill collectors and animal enthusiasts alike. Choose from a number of genres and styles that include (but not limited to) elephants, gorillas, parrots, marsupials, alligators, insects and more!

Head over to the Bio Park Society website to view (and perhaps purchase) the paintings (all done with non-toxic tempera paint) by this unlikely band of artists. All proceeds from the paintings directly support that animal’s program at the ABQ BioPark. You can also ‘meet’ some of the artists through their endearing online bios. From Shona the Warthog, who has found the activity “very therapeutic since her mate, Chip, recently passed away,” to Sarah the Orangutan who, “reserves her favorite colors, like silver, to paint her hands and feet and uses her least favorite colors on the canvas,” (a girl’s gotta have her favorite things), you’ll learn about the unique manner in which each artist approaches his or her craft and some intriguing facts about their species. Some of the animals, like Crocket the Raccoon, have instantly taken to the activity while others, like Tonka the Orangutan, are more reticent. “His appearance is very important to him. He will pick up his very long hair as he tries to avoid mud puddles. This is why we are still working on his painting. He goes to great lengths to avoid getting his hands dirty and will continuously wipe the paint off them.”

delight, wonder & rethink …* 

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Artist: Calloway – Banded Armadillo | Source: BioParkSociety.org

Listen to Understand Rather Than to Respond …*

Listen to Understand Rather Than to Respond ...* |rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

If you want to become a better listener, probably the single most important thing you can do or the best thing you can do is adopt this idea and that is to listen to understand as opposed to just listening merely to respond.” – Tom Yorton

Here’s a great short video featuring Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Works and co-author of the recently published Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City talk about the importance of practicing and improving one’s capacity for effective listening. Yorton shares a very helpful stance from which to frame our listening opportunities: listen to understand, not to respond. This reminded me of the beginning stance necessary for assertive inquiry –a powerful method of productive dialogue–“I have a view worth hearing, but I may be missing something.” The desire to understand one’s interlocutor is a critical ingredient for effective listening whether you’re practicing Integrative Thinking with your team members or empathizing with your loved ones.

practice, listen, understand . . . *

{ incandescent souls }, eulogy virtues, & character education…*

David Brooks wrote a beautiful Op-Ed piece for the New York Times this past weekend titled “The Moral Bucket List.” In it, he talks about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the skills we learn for career success and what our education system is largely designed to teach. Eulogy virtues, however, are the types of things discussed at your funeral (to be a bit morbid). They include attributes such as kindness, bravery, honesty, or love.  In the article, he talks about those people with impressive eulogy virtues, who radiate an inner light,

“They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.”

We all know these types of people. Perhaps some of you fit this description. Yet I think it is far too common today to focus on our resume virtues at the expense of our eulogy ones. As Brooks writes, “it is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity… Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

However, the good news is that an incandescent soul can be cultivated, and Brooks compiles what he calls a “moral bucket list” for those wishing to get closer to their desired selves.

teaching-kindness

the moral bucket list…*

According to Brooks, the moral bucket list includes 6 experiences:

1. the humility shift – a shift to honestly admitting your own weaknesses. This is followed by…

2. self-defeat – confronting these weaknesses and finding ways to counteract them. Next is…

3. the dependency leap – switching from an individualist/ highly autonomous perspective on life to one that allows for admitting when you need help or support and a life rooted in connections with others.

4. energizing love is the type of life-changing love for another that overcomes one’s innate self-centeredness.

5. the call within the call is an experience that turns a career into a passion.

6. the conscience leap is the moment when one makes a moral decision, no matter the stakes.

How can educators support eulogy virtues? …*

Soft Skills…*

The above moral bucket list experiences have a lot to do with those “soft skills” that we talk about these days in education such teamwork, emotional intelligence, empathy. They also involve metacognition – specifically self-awareness and reflection on one’s faults and how to remedy these. Always an advocate for soft skills, I suggest we continue to emphasize the importance of these for building both our resume AND eulogy virtues

Collectivism and connectedness…*

Brooks suggests that we need to take a less self-centered approach to education. While we often tell our graduates to “follow your passion” or “be true to yourself”, we should focus less on the self and more on the self as connected to the world. We should say “what is life asking of you?” or “how can you match your talents and skill sets with one of our society’s deep needs?”.

The philosophy for stumblers…*

Brooks ends by suggesting something that I love, because it has a lot to do with the value of failure (an idea that I am designing my doctoral work around). He talks about “a philosophy for stumblers” or the idea that incandescent souls stumble through life, always enmeshed in a struggle towards an ideal. They are not squeamish about their imperfect nature, but rather constantly transcending, growing, and learning. As Brooks states,

“The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be”

This so clearly aligns with my beloved philosophy around failure – the idea that failure is a good and natural part of learning and growing. Therefore, if we can bring students to view life with the philosophy of stumblers (or the design thinking mindset of “fail forward”), perhaps we can help mold more incandescent souls, stumbling through life and making the world a better place…*

 

 

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