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Emotion and feeling have only in the last decade become analytic concepts in the humanities, reflected in what some have called an “affective turn” in the academy at large. The study of emotion has also found a place in science studies and the history and philosophy of science, accompanied by the recognition that even the history of objectivity depends in a dialectical fashion on a history of subjectivity (Daston and Galison 2010, esp. chap. 4). This topical issue is a contribution to this larger trend across the humanities and the history of science, and yet is circumscribed by attention to a particular kind of emotion or condition for feeling: one centered not in an individual body, but in the interstices between bodies and things, between selves and others – what we call empathy.
The new English term “empathy” was translated from the German Einfühlung in the first decade of the twentieth century by the psychologists James Ward at the University of Cambridge and Edward B. Titchener at Cornell. At Titchener's American laboratory, “empathy” was not a matter of understanding other minds, but rather a projection of imagined bodily movements and accompanying feelings into an object, a meaning that drew from its rich nineteenth-century aesthetic heritage. This rendering of “empathy” borrowed kinaesthetic meanings from German sources, but extended beyond a contemplation of the beautiful to include a variety of experimental stimuli and everyday objects in the laboratory. According to Titchener's structural psychology, all higher thought could be reduced to more elemental aspects of mind, and experimental introspection showed empathy to be constituted of kinaesthetic images. The existence of kinaesthetic images, Titchener argued, formed an incisive critique of the view that thought could take place without images, held by one of Titchener's major psychological rivals, the school of thought-psychologists in Würzburg, Germany. The new term “empathy” in early American academic psychology therefore delineated a kinaesthetic imaginative projection that took place on the basis of ontological difference between minds and things.
This essay considers the metaphors of projection in Hugo Münsterberg's theory of cinema spectatorship. Münsterberg (1863–1916), a German born and educated professor of psychology at Harvard University, turned his attention to cinema only a few years before his untimely death at the age of fifty-three. But he brought to the new medium certain lasting preoccupations. This account begins with the contention that Münsterberg's intervention in the cinema discussion pursued his well-established strategy of pitting a laboratory model against a clinical one, in this case the “master-trope” of early cinema a spectatorship drawn from hysteria, hypnosis, and related phenomena like double-consciousness. Münsterberg's laboratory-oriented account also flowed from his account of cinema technology as an outgrowth of the apparatus of his own discipline of experimental psycho-physiology, which entailed a model of cinema spectatorship continuous with the epistemological setting of laboratory relations. I argue that in The Photoplay and related writings projection functioned in three registers: material, psychological, and philosophical. Münsterberg's primary concern was with psychological projection, where he drew upon his own work in experimental aesthetics to articulate an account of how the basic automatisms of cinema produce a state of oscillation between immersion and distraction. I show how Münsterberg's experimental aesthetics drew upon German doctrines of aesthetic empathy, or Einfühlung, which Münsterberg sought to modify in accordance with the dynamic and temporal characteristics of psycho-physiological experiment. Finally, I argue that Münsterberg's cinema theory was enfolded in his action or double-standpoint theory, in which the transcendental self posits the material, objective conditions of laboratory experience as a means to know itself. This philosophical projection explained cinema's uncanny ability to suspend ordinary perceptions of space, time, and causality. It also made cinema uniquely suited for the philosophical emancipation of a popular mass audience.
A number of theorists have proposed simulation theories of empathy. A review of these theories shows that, despite the fact that one version of the simulation theory can avoid a number of problems associated with such approaches, there are further reasons to doubt whether simulation actually explains empathy. A high-level simulation account of empathy, distinguished from the simulation theory of mindreading, can avoid problems associated with low-level (neural) simulationist accounts; but it fails to adequately address two other problems: the diversity problem and the starting problem. It is argued that a narrative approach to empathy obviates all these problems and offers a more parsimonious account.
This paper builds on a neglected philosophical idea, Evidenz. Max Weber used it in his discussion of Verstehen, as the goal of understanding either action or such things as logic. It was formulated differently by Franz Brentano, but with a novel twist: that anyone who understood something would see the thing to be understood as self-evident, not something dependent on inference, argument, or reasoning. The only way one could take something as evident in this sense is by being able to treat other people as having the same responses – by empathy with them, in the weak sense of following their thought. Brentano's philosophical claim is that without some stopping point at what is self-evident, justifications fall into infinite regress. This is radically opposed to much of conventional philosophy. The usual solutions to the regress problem rely on problematic claims about the supposed hidden transcendental structure behind reasoning. In contrast, empathy is a genuine natural phenomenon and a better explanation for the actual phenomenon of making sense of the reasoning of others. What is evident to all who are capable of understanding is an empirically-defined subset of this class.
Neuroscience research has created multiple versions of the human brain. The “social brain” is one version and it is the subject of this paper. Most image-based research in the field of social neuroscience is task-driven: the brain is asked to respond to a cognitive (perceptual) stimulus. The tasks are derived from theories, operational models, and back-stories now circulating in social neuroscience. The social brain comes with a distinctive back-story, an evolutionary history organized around three, interconnected themes: mind-reading, empathy, and the emergence of self-consciousness. This paper focuses on how empathy has been incorporated into the social brain and redefined via parallel research streams, employing a shared, imaging technology. The concluding section describes how these developments can be understood as signaling the emergence of a new version of human nature and the unconscious. My argument is not that empathy in the social brain is a myth, but rather that it is served by a myth consonant with the canons of science.
Despite the fact that “empathy” is often simply used as a translation of Einfühlung, the two terms have distinct meanings and distinct disciplinary affiliations. This text considers the manner in which the moving image (whether within a film, video, or art installation) invites spatial forms of engagement akin to those described both by historical accounts of Einfühlung, a form of engagement that pertains not only to the activities of humans represented within images, but also to the aesthetic qualities of images in a more abstract sense and to the forms to be found there.
This essay offers a reading of Gertrude Stein's lecture “Plays” (1934) alongside the work of several thinkers on emotion, William James, Silvan Tomkins, and Wilfred Bion. The problem of what Stein calls “emotional syncopation” at the theater is understood in the context of James’ theory of emotion. The essay proceeds to unfold Stein's emphasis on varieties of excitement by way of Silvan Tomkins’ writing. It then turns to Wilfred Bion's theory of thinking to argue that the main problem with theater, for Stein, is the difficulty it poses to learning or arriving at genuinely new knowledge. The essay concludes with the suggestion that Stein's plays address the further difficulties of analyzing group dynamics or numbers of individuals, especially in the context of modernist mass media.