DEAF04 - Affective Turbulance

V2_: DEAF04 - Affective Turbulance


Affective Systems - Céline Pourveur

17 Nov 2004 , report

Emotion, feeling or affect?

Gerd Ruebenstrunk started the seminar by stating that there was no agreed definition on what affect means. It is often equated with emotion, mood, feeling. Affect has been defined as the conscious subjective aspect of feeling/emotion, as the external observable manifestation, as emotion, feeling. Emotion has been described as any strong feeling, subjective, a psychological feeling. We see that by referring to one another, it doesn't become clear what the distinctions between emotion, feeling and affect are. 
    Ruebenstrunk gave a short introduction into emotion theories that have been developed in psychology. Four approaches can be distinguished. The darwinian perspective claims that emotions are universal, at any time and place comparable. Emotion has a survival function for human beings. The jamesian perspective claims that emotions are always accompanied by bodily changes and that these bodily changes come first. The cognitive perspective says that emotions are an intellectual property and that thought precedes the detection of an emotion. Finally, the social constructivist perspective states that emotions are a product of culture and are socially constructed phenomena.
    Beside these approaches, there is the groundbreaking work of Aaron Sloman, who claims that we fundamentally need to rethink how we view emotions. We have to redefine emotions in relation to the information-processing systems in our brain, which is the process of acquiring, storing, manipulating, transforming and applying information. The emotion 'occurs' when there is an interruption in the processing of information. Sloman's approach is quite interesting because this research can reveal how emotions function in the overall architecture of human thinking. In an interview for the Open Japanese University, he was asked how he thought research in emotion reveals important/interesting aspects of the human mind. He gave the following answer:
There are many disputes among philosophers, psychologists, social scientists, and others regarding what emotions are, and large numbers of different incompatible definitions have been proposed. I believe that this confusion can be explained and removed by investigating the kind of information processing architecture required to explain how human minds work and the studying the kinds of states and processes which can be generated in such an architecture.

We may then find that there are large numbers of interesting but *different* sorts of states which have been called "emotions" by people with different interests. So none of them are right and none of them are wrong in their definitions: they are merely referring to different phenomena.
Researches in emotion do not *in themselves* necessarily reveal very important/interesting aspects of the human mind, because so much research is confused and shallow. However if research on emotions is combined with research on a wide range of aspects of mind, and related to attempts to design explanatory architectures, we can hope to acquire a far deeper understanding of what we are, how we evolved, how we differ from other animals, how individual humans can vary, and how things can go wrong.

(cited from:
More info: Sloman's architecture based concepts of the mind.

Although, throughout the 20th century, many scientists and theorists have developed models and taxonomies for the rich spectrum of human emotions, a well-defined description and understanding of what an affective system is, remains unanswered. In this series of lectures an attempt is made, through scientific and artistic experiments, to look for approaches to understand better the workings of human emotions.

Interpretation is the key to emotions

Phoebe Sengers starts her lecture with a clear definition of affective systems. They are computational systems that help users to be aware of, reason about and express emotion. Sengers investigates not so much the possibilities of designing emotional machines, but of building devices which enable the users to reflect on their proper emotions: "We strive to make the user critically aware of what indicators are available for interpretation, how these indicators are interpreted, and the resulting effects of this interpretation." (Sengers in Kemperman etc, 2004, p.35). The general question in her research is: how can we design technical systems that respect the complexity of human behavior? What should be investigated, is how we can 'sense' emotion without reducing it to pure physiology. For Sengers the key lies in what she calls a 'co-interpretive loop'. The machine interprets the feelings of the user, who himself will reflect on the findings of the machine. Sengers did research in the experience of hikers who travel in desolated places. She examined what role fear and reflection played in wilderness acts. A group of hikers were equipped with a device that sensed different degrees of fear during an excursion. Afterwards the hikers had to reflect on the observations of the device. What interests Sengers is how the user interprets/constructs meaning about the workings of complex technical systems (p.35). Affect for Sengers is therefore all about interpretation and she is looking for ways to know more about the ways the interpretation process functions during and after experiencing emotions in a certain situation.

Are you still with me... are you still in me?

The theatre performers Angelika Oei & Rene Verouden are currently investigating the possibilities to build a 'Kurort for the mind', a mental Spa environment as they put it. It will be a place of rest, of dreaming, with a lot of relaxing visual input. Oei & Verouden named their environment Lizzy: the environment is the mental space of a female character in which you as a visitor wander around. It is a somewhat comforting idea that one should come to rest in a female environment. Lizzy senses your presence and tries to make contact with you. She translates your actions into a monologue (or is it a dialogue?) that evokes emotions on the part of the spectator; for example she can ask you to dance to the music. Lizzy's words are produced by a scenario generating system. Lizzy is able to express her feelings by little signs: for example, when no one is responding to her questions, she is sad and the music is turned off. She is also able to express interest or disinterest in a person.

Interesting is how the artists used terminology from theatre to create an impression of their project. They talked about the catharsis effect they want to evoke. Catharsis is a term used in ancient Greek theatre to describe the experience that should be evoked in the spectators. The audience should feel terror and pity when confronted with the bad luck of the main character. A strong identification with the main character purifies the mind of the spectator (catharsis) so that he can return, 'healed', to daily life and problems.
    Oei & Verouden see the narrative as the medium that leads to catharsis. The Kurort experience is produced by a narrative space, not by a certain relaxing atmosphere. What is attractive about their project is that these artists are combining theatre with interactive techniques and it is remarkable that they, unlike most artists in the field of interactive installations, see narrativity as the main goal of the installation.

Kurort is being co-developed by the V2 Lab:

Do Androids dream of feelings?

Holland is a scientist who wants to build a conscious, emotional machine.
For him, consciousness goes hand in hand with affectiveness: there is no consciousness without feeling. The main goal in his research is to identify the conditions in which consciousness arises, copy these conditions and hope this state of consciousness arises again.
    Critics say that this research program is useless because the only thing that is accomplished is that we acquire a copy of something we already have: conscious agents. Holland argues that the attempt to recreate the conditions in which consciousness occurs will give us a better understanding of how the process of consciousness works:
'Consciousness is perhaps the last remaining mystery in understanding what it is to be human. By attempting to build physical systems which can produce a form of artificial consciousness, we hope to learn more about the nature of consciousness.'
(source: &ACTION= D&SESSION=&RCN=EN_RCN_ID:20782)
Holland continued by defining some of the problems he is confronted with. Conscious acts occur, Holland says, when an embodied agent tries to achieve a task in a complex, hostile, occasionally novel, and dynamic world. A first difficult question is how to model a world that should include fundamentally unpredictable elements (analogue to our own environment). Another question is, when simulating a mechanism (the embodied agent trying to perform a task), what necessary elements should be simulated? At least these aspects of the body/world must be simulated which are necessary to achieve the predetermined task.

Important in our daily 'conscious' experience is not only that we are able to represent the world we experience, but also that we are able to include a representation of ourselves interacting in that world (the internal agent).

A very interesting point that Holland makes in connection to this, is that the conscious agent is not the person, but the internal (mental) agent.

Holland's research team will in the futur concentrate on examining the robot's behavior and the internal processes as it learns to cope with its mission and his environment.
For more info on Holland's project.

A transatlantic dinner party: Can you pass the salt to the Canadian side of the table?

Lifeform: Telekinetics is a project created by Michelle Teran & Jeff Mann. The concept of LF:TK is to create connected social spaces where people, who are not physically in the same place, can interact in a more intimate and meaningful way then communication devices nowadays have to offer. Mann claims in his introduction that he sees no evolution in interface design for the past decades towards devices that would fit more naturally in our daily bodily experiences. Therefore the two artists came with the innovating idea to make the physical, social environment into a communication interface. Mann & Teran started by doing research in what kind of social places there are and what kind of (familiar) objects one can find in these everyday spaces. Then they started experimenting with making the everyday objects into communication devices. They did an experimental performance in 2002: Experiment#1:Dinner Table. The conversations between the table guests in Amsterdam & Toronto were mediated by streaming media and networked kinetic objects (Kemperman, E., Lichtenegger, B., Nigten, A, Plohman, A. & Van de Ven, A., 2004, p.44). So, for example a clinking spoon in Amsterdam could produce a slamming door in Toronto. This created a lot of fun and animosity at both dinner tables.

Interesting about LF:TK is that a new sort of social space is created, not entirely physical, not entirely virtual. There is also a kind of seductive poetic dimension to the project: rethinking how communication can take place between two physically separated persons without the use of mentally orientated (speech, text) media, but through physical objects. Mann & Teran also encourage people to reinvent the idea of what a social space can be. At the same time they are making an ironic comment on the limiting virtual character of chat rooms and virtual platforms on the Internet by reintroducing playful physical sensations. For more info on their project:

Ruebenstrunk concluded the seminar by saying that different models of emotions had been discussed. All these different approaches produced different kinds of devices. We can distinguish two approaches to design technological systems. The first way sees the machine as a means for humans to deal with their own emotions: to reflect on emotions (Phoebe Sengers), to generate emotions (Oei & Verouden), to communicate emotions (Mann & Teran), The second approach, more experimental and in a way more radical, tries to build a machine that is itself able to produce emotions (Holland). Although all speakers come from different disciplines, the collection of ideas and questions that were generated during the seminar gave a good idea of how contemporary professional practices deal with the concepts of affect and emotion.


Cordis news: Scientists aim to develop conscious robot. (2003)

Kemperman, E., Lichtenegger, B., Nigten, A, Plohman, A. & Van de Ven, A. (2004). Affective Turbulence: Wearable turbulence. The Art of Immersive Spaces. Affective Systems. (Reader). Rotterdam: V2_Publicatie.

Sloman, A. (1999). Interview for the Japanese Open University.

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Affective Systems

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