Fascination with the Unknown

The Other

Workshops, Performances and Symposium

27 to 29 October 2016 | Leipzig


Saturday, Oct 29th 2016, die naTO

The scientific section of the symposium opens the discussion to the public. Psychologists and neuroscientists will describe the routes to how we understand and empathize with others, e.g. how children learn to infer what others think or believe, and show how differently empathizing and mentalizing can work across cultures. Philosophers will talk about the importance of pre-rational responses to others in ethical behaviour, and postcolonial researchers will address how literary representations of other ethnicities have tended to turn others into exotic representatives of hybridity or pre-modernity.


Mental Files Theory of Mind
Josef Perner

Mental files have been used under different guises in linguistics as discourse referents to explain discourse coherence, and object files in psychology to explain how adults and infants track individual objects. Philosophers used coreferential files to address Frege’s problems with identity. We capitalize on this function to explain why children understand identity statements as they become able to understand false beliefs.

In my talk I provide a cognitive analysis of how we represent belief using mental files. For each relevant object a regular file represents one’s own view and a coreferential vicarious file another person’s beliefs about the object. This analysis enables to predict and explain several developmental phenomena. Around 4 years children pass the false belief test as they start to understand identity statements and alternative labelling of objects. However, it takes another 2 years for children to master the intensionality or aspectuality of knowledge and belief, i.e., that it matters under which description a believer is acquainted with an object, e.g., that she knows the die/eraser as a die but not as an eraser. This understanding is achieved as children become able to comprehend second-order embedded states, e.g., she thinks she knows. The theoretical analysis of these achievements is illustrated and supported by empirical results.

Josef Perner is Professor of Psychology at the University of Salzburg, Austria. His work lay the foundations for research on “Theory of Mind”, that is the ability to perceive others as intentional agents with specific thoughts and emotions. He not only characterized how this capability develops ontogenetically, but also stimulated very productive debate bringing together philosophical questions and current empirical work.

Among other honors, he is a member of the Leopoldina, National Academy of Sciences of Germany.




The Dark Sides of Empathy
Fritz Breithaupt

Department of Germanic Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

Empathy is usually characterized as the basis of moral behavior and therefore as good. However, the ability to put oneself into the shoes of someone else is also the condition of possibility for various forms of cruelty, degradation, and sadism. And even well-intended pity

or compassion can have unintended consequences. When we ask about the fascination of the other, we also need to understand how empathy can lead to the suppression of the other and to self-loss. The talk will provide an overview of these dark sides of empathy and focus on the dynamic of side taking that is often connected to empathy. We will investigate to which degree empathy is part of a dynamic that leads to a “black and white painting” of moral behavior that radicalizes moral evaluations and thereby undermines social cohesion.

Fritz Breithaupt is Professor of Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature and Cognitive Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His current research focuses on the question how narrative thinking shapes human behavior and moral reasoning. He has proposed a three-person-model of empathy.

Among his recent publications in German are: Der Ich-Effekt des Geldes (Fischer 2008), Kulturen der Empathie (Suhrkamp 2009) and Kultur der Ausrede (Suhrkamp 2012). He runs an experimental humanities lab and contributes regularly to Die Zeit.




The potential of others
Daniel Haun

Director Leipzig Research Center for Early Child Development, University of Leipzig

Humans are experts at exploiting the potential provided by others. We learn from others, cooperate with others, enjoy others. At the same time, humans bind themselves to others. We are for example willing to conform to others - sometimes even while demoting our own opinions and preferences. This orientation towards others is championed as a necessary condition for human sociality. Aiming to specify the features and functions of human sociality, scientists themselves tap into the potential of others - other cultures and other species. The cross-cultural variation in abilities to read others or in strategies when learning from others can help identify the universal bedrock as well as the variably adjustable features of human sociality. Variation across species in preferences to cooperate with others or in tendencies to empathize with others help identify the evolutionary foundation as well as the uniquely human features of human sociality. So in some ways, when considering human sociality, others are question, method and answer.

Daniel Haun studied experimental psychology in Germany, the United States and England he completed his PhD in 2007 at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. After a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology he accepted a position as lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Portsmouth. From 2008 until 2013 he directed the Max Planck Research Group for Comparative Cognitive Anthropology and was a Professor for Developmental Psychology at Jena University from 2014-2015. Since 2015, he is a Professor for Early Child Development and Culture at Leipzig University and the Director of the Leipzig Research Center for Early Child Development.



Empathy and intergroup relations in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Simone Shamay-Tsoory

Department of Psychology, University of Haifa

Understanding the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying empathy biases in the context of intergroup conflict is a fundamental scientific question with important social significance. We have previously showed that empathy for the pain of out-group members is largely diminished by "in-group empathy bias" and that this bias is stronger in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also show that it is possible to decrease this bias with various manipulations including intranasal administration of oxytocin. Finally, we examine how the empathy of the observer may alleviate the distress of a target in a paradigm of consoling touch. We show that during consolation, empathy related activations in the observer predict diminished pain in the target.

Investigating the mechanism underlying empathy in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides a natural experiment that allows us to test the universality of neural and behavioral models of intergroup conflict. Our studies use multiple methodologies—experiments and neuroscientific techniques to address what is arguably one of the most important questions in social neuroscience, namely, how do intergroup conflicts affect social behaviour and how empathy is relevant to conflict resolution and to distress regulation.

Simone Shamay-Tsoory is Professor of Psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel. Her work seeks to understand the neural mechanisms underlying social behaviour and in particularly empathy. To address these issues she works with various populations of patients as well as with healthy individuals and uses neuroscience tools including neuroimaging, neurostimulation and psycho- pharmacological techniques.





The social brain – disentangling affective and cognitive routes to understanding others
Philipp Kanske
Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig

Most social interaction provide us with a wealth of information about the states of other people, be it their sensations, feelings, thoughts or convictions. How we represent these states has been a major question in social neuroscience, leading to the identification of two routes to understanding others: an affective route that enables the direct sharing of others’ emotions (empathy) and a cognitive route that allows representing and reasoning about others’ states (mentalizing or Theory of Mind). The talk will discuss how empathy and Theory of Mind can be separated on a conceptual and empirical level. For instance, the brain circuits underlying empathy and Theory of Mind are largely separate and the propensity or ability to engage these networks are independent – an empathizer is not necessarily a mentalizer. This distinction bears relevance for our understanding of impairments in social interaction in a number mental disorders, but also for current research endeavors aiming at fostering interpersonal cooperation by exploring the malleability of affective and cognitive understanding of others.

Philipp Kanske is a psychologist, neuroscientist and psychotherapist, currently heading the Research Group “Psychopathology of the Social Brain” at the Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig. His work centers on emotion, how we regulate emotions and understand the emotions of others. He uses neuroscience tools to investigate alterations of these processes in patients with mental disorders and to elucidate plasticity through trainings. His work on emotion-cognition interactions was awarded the Otto Hahn Medal of the Max Planck Society.




Emotional states as a precondition to recognize one as anOther
Eva Maria Engelen

Department of Philosophy, University of Konstanz

When Alan Turing wanted to answer the question whether machines can think he invented the so-called Turing-Test. It is designed as an imitation game and is meant to be a test for artificial intelligence. An interrogator has to find out which of two sources for answers in a room next door is a machine and which one a human being. Until now, no machine was able to deceive the interrogator under the determining factors that Turing has set. The fact that communication and recognition are crucial concepts for the test situation of an imitation game is important for my deliberations. According to my thesis there are emotional preconditions for successful communication and even more so for recognizing or accepting the other as another being, – preconditions that have to be fulfilled if the other is not just to be regarded as an alien but as anOther.

In modification of a phrase by John Searle one can say that one important precondition in order to have a successful communication and to recognize the other as anOther like yourself is, that one must consequently suppose, that the other has a similar awareness of you as a sensitive being as you have of him/her, and that these awarenesses coalesce into a sense of us as possible or actual “mutually feeling creatures”. After having discussed all this, we might be able to see why Turing lost the most important imitation game for his life, namely the interrogation with Detective Sergeant Patrick Ross.

Eva-Maria Engelen is Professor for Philosophy at the University of Konstanz and Research Director of the Kurt-Gödel-Research-Centre at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jägerstraße 22/23, 10117 Berlin, Germany. Her areas of teaching and research are within theory of mind, philosophy of language and the history of philosophy.

What is more, her current research project is on Kurt Gödel's philosophy. Among her latest monographs are: Vom Leben zur Bedeutung. Philosophische Studien zum Verhältnis von Gefühl, Bewusstsein und Sprache, Berlin/Boston (Walter de Gruyter) 2014 (Ideen & Argumente); as well as Gefühle, Stuttgart (Reclam) 2007, 2012. She has also published several articles on these subjects.



Self and Others
Kristina Musholt

Department of Philosophy, University of Leipzig

Human beings possess self-consciousness, that is the ability to think 'I'-thoughts. This enables us to think about our past and future actions, ask questions of moral significance and to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. The ability to think 'I'-thoughts, in turn, depends on the ability to contrast one's own mental states with those of others; self-consciousness and intersubjectivity are two sides of the same coin. I will propose that this ability develops gradually, such that we can distinguish different levels of self-other-differentiation.

Kristina Musholt is Professor of Cognitive Anthropology in the Department of Philosophy and the Leipzig Research Center for Early Childhood Development at Leipzig University. Her research interests are in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with a focus on self-consciousness and social cognition.

Her publications include "Thinking about Oneself: From nonconceptual content to the concept of a self", MIT Press (2015).





Thinking the Other, thinking otherwise – Levinas’ conception of responsibility
Eva Buddeberg

Department of Political Science, University of Frankfurt

Emmanuel Levinas is considered to be one of the most influential 20th century philosophers of the phenomenological tradition. Central to his work is the concept of responsibility that he interprets as a preconscious commitment to respond to the other, constitutive for subjectivity. This radical reinterpretation of the concept is the result of his critique of the occidental tradition of thought. Occidental reasoning, to Levinas, due to its totalising, conceptually all-embracing access to the world, bears a danger. It is prone to lose sight of the fact that human beings always stand in relation with each other, which he sees as essential for bestowing their being-in-the world and their actions with ethical meaning. The lecture is addressed towards the general public. Firstly, Levinas’ central philosophical propositions will be outlined and explained by placing them in their theoretical context. Secondly, possible points of connection with contemporary theories will be addressed, particularly with a view to the foundation for moral action.

Eva Buddeberg is lecturer (Akademische Rätin a. Z.) in the Department of Political Theory and Philosophy at Goethe-University Frankfurt. Her research focuses of questions of social and political philosophy, French philosophy and phenomenology and normative ethics / moral philosophy (in particular theories of responsibility).

Recent publications include: Pierre Bayle, Toleranz. Philosophischer Kommentar, (translation from French; Edition and introduction together with R. Forst) Suhrkamp Verlag, forthcoming; Moral und Sanktion, (Edition and introduction together with A. Vesper) Campus Verlag Frankfurt 2013; Verantwortung im Diskurs, De Gruyter Verlag Berlin 2011.



From Development to Difference: Postcolonial Literatures and the Spectacle of Otherness
Jens Elze

Graduate School of Humanities, University of Göttingen

Indubitably, a significant part of postcolonial literature’s global success story resides in its propensity to negotiate otherness and difference. This otherness was at times projected to be overcome through temporalites of development that purge the other of its social ‘deficiencies’ or that result in the extension of social and semiotic systems to accommodate that otherness culturally. With the postmodernist demise of developmental thinking, especially in the economic realm, the relation to postcolonial otherness has shifted dramatically and turned it into a spectacle of exotic difference and poverty to be mourned in a humanitarian perspective of distant suffering or to be embraced in a celebratory apotheosis of impurity, anti-essentialism, and hybridity. These perspectives bear the risk of culturalizing poverty as difference and of severing the specularity and spectacularity of suffering and otherness from the causalities of globalization and the temporalities of struggle. At best suffering can be imagined as mitigated by humanitarianism and aid, while larger political projects are seen to unduly homogenize a culturally complex situation that cannot be easily understood in isotropy to Western modernisation. This paper will discuss how postcolonial literatures have exposed and exploited these different ontologies and ethics of otherness that all, in their different ways, have proven detrimental and will analyse how they relate them to the expectations and complicities of a global cosmopolitan readership.

Jens Elze is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Early Career Research Group “Multiple Modernities” at the University of Göttingen. He has pursued his PhD at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Free University, the University of Cambridge and the University of Cape Town. His doctoral thesis has won the Ernst Reuter Prize of the Free University of Berlin and is the basis of his upcoming book: Literatures of Precarity: Cosmological Capitalism, Postcolonial Modernism, and the Picaresque Novel. His research interests include: the history and theory of the novel, early modern literature, and postcolonial literatures and theories. His current research project is entitled: Immanence and/as Modernity: Shakespeare between Tragedy and Romance.