Empathy, the Arts, and the Brain By A. Rafael Johnson

#arafaeljohnson Oct 05, 2020

People often ask me about empathy, the arts, and the brain. Before I share my thinking, I need to make three caveats: one, I'm a novelist, not a brain scientist. I read a lot of neurology papers, but I don't have any formal training in neuroscience. Two, most of these studies indicate "activity" by determining which areas of the brain light up (using functional MRI scans) during specific activities. However, correlation is not the same as causation. A part of the brain could activate to control a process, or in reaction to something else we don't understand or can't detect yet. This branch of science is very new (10-15 years), so there are a lot of unknowns. Three--the brain seems to work in circuits and feedback loops. While some processes may be dominant in certain brain areas, scientists are finding more and more complex interactions within the brain. For example, metaphor comprehension resides in six parts of the brain. Think less 'center' and more 'network'.


A major...

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Art as an “Emotional Contagion” By A. Rafael Johnson

#arafaeljohnson #art Sep 22, 2020

You’ve probably experienced emotional contagion before: that thrill of excitement you feel in the stands just before a sporting event begins; the fear that courses through you as you wander with friends through a haunted house at the fair; or just knowing that if your best friend cries, you will too. 


So what is emotional contagion?

“Smile and the world smiles with you.” Emotional contagion is a physiological phenomenon, where emotion in one person transfers automatically to another without conscious intervention from either party.


How does emotional contagion work?

When I pick up a glass of water, my brain does several things automatically, including locating the glass in 3-dimensional space, as well as estimating weight, size, temperature, and other dimensions. Then the brain tells my body how to act: how to orient my hand, how far to reach out, how much pressure to exert so I can hold the glass without breaking it or dropping it, and how much...

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AEA365: Unpacking Work and Labor by A. Rafael Johnson

#arafaeljohnson #language Sep 08, 2020

A. Rafael Johnson talked about how the complicated history of the word "work" and why we need to consider its origins and current use. On AEA365

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Eval Cafe Episode 32: Evaluation Games With Friends

“What does evaluation offer and what does evaluation need in times of great uncertainty and injustice?” Nora Murphy Johnson and A. Rafael Johnson from Inspire to Change and Chris Corrigan from Harvest Moon Consulting talk about certainty and uncertainty, arts-based evaluation, transformation, and grant cycles. 


Eval Cafe Episode 32

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Inspire to Change: How we think about data and data use By A. Rafael Johnson

The conventional way of looking at data is very effective at keeping the complex and messy lives of people as far from power as possible. It says that the highly educated and wealthy define the problems, solutions, and measures of success. Everything that falls outside of these pre-definitions is unreliable, un-measurable, unverifiable, or untrustworthy. That way keeps wealth in the hands of philanthropy and industry, decisions in the mouths of policymakers, and knowledge in the academy. That way maintains the status quo.


But what if we don’t maintain the status quo? What if we challenge these ideas about data? What if, instead of using our methods to create and use reliable datasets so people can trust in our analyses and make data-driven decisions, what if we start with trust and see what happens? What if we start by trusting the people in the communities we work with, and then create the conditions that lets them trust us? What if they're the ones making decisions...

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Eval Cafe Episode 25: Makin’ It in Evaluation

A. Rafael Johnson talks about arts-based evaluation and bringing creativity into our evaluation practice. We learn about how Andy has brought poetry, theatre, kinetic sculpture and more into his evaluation methodology, how being a novelist helps him and his clients understand and work in complexity.

Eval Cafe Episode 25

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