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empathy & spiritual healing, and their interaction with creative technology

My research has been focused primarily on empathy, spiritual healing, and their relationship with creative technology. My ultimate goal is to understand the interaction between these mechanisms and find ways to enhance peoples’ ability to empathize with others. 


Starting in 2010, I have interviewed over 600 spiritual healers in both South Korea and the United States and collected data regarding their empathic abilities through sensory input. I then mapped this data according to their age, education level, and meditation techniques. Later in 2016, I began my master’s studies at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) where I was given opportunities to create more projects while using this data. 


During my time as an ITP student, I focused my research on cutting-edge technologies for personalized health interventions and cognitive enhancement. I was enthralled at the possibilities of combining Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) with Mixed Reality (MR) to navigate the virtual world with our brain activity that would make users more empathetic to others.


During my first year at NYU ITP, I organized a talk titled “Future Intersection Between Technology and Spirituality,” which was on the subject of spirituality and virtual technologies. I invited a well-known spiritual healer from South Korea along with a clinical psychologist and VR expert from NYU to participate as panelists. Together, we discussed how we can simulate the spiritual healer’s special ability with current technology, especially Mixed Reality (MR) and Brain-Computer Interface (BCI).  Under the guidance of NYU ITP’s faculty, I was able to create a conceptual wearable device named “HoloWAVE'' and a therapy system called "Emp(A)th(I)c" which was aimed to help mental health therapists to better understand and empathize with their clients. The device is a type of performative media art, where users can experience how effective therapy sessions are in real time. 


I also had the honor of becoming a Dalai Lama Fellow while still completing my degree at NYU. This fellowship granted me opportunities to network with world-renowned meditation scholars, neuroscientists, and psychologists. These individuals, especially those working at the University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center and Mind and Life Institute inspired me to cultivate a strong sense of well-being through a scientific understanding of the mind. I was able to maximize my fellowship experience by gaining access to invaluable advice from mentors and peers which enabled me to create my own experimental mindfulness prototype devices. In 2019, I presented these qualitative findings to the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS), a university-based research group that focuses on the relationship between the mind and brain, and phenomena that affect it. 


Among the many influential individuals I had the opportunity to work with, Dr. Hyun Kyung Chung, associate professor of Ecumenical Studies at Union Theological Seminary and Chang W Lee, NYTimes photographer are the ones who have witnessed my growth and achievements the most throughout the years. In the future, I plan to research deeper into the mechanisms of empathy and find ways to enhance peoples’ ability to empathize with others with creative technology and the additional resources and guidance provided by MIT’s Media Lab.


Meditation as an Olympic Event 


During my attempts to find a way to measure the quality of meditation, I felt the desire to explore the possibility of meditation becoming a future Olympic event. 


Some may argue “But shouldn’t meditation be the opposite of competition?” To this question, my answer would be: “No”  because I believe competition is actually a part of meditation. If we are trying to be productive with our time, we are moving in the same direction towards meditation.  The history of meditation is very long, and has been practiced by many for over 1000 years. While it may seem like a very simple breathing activity to some, in reality it is a very complex and deep practice. There are countless meditation techniques to choose from. 


For instance, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is a popular mixed martial arts (MMA) with various techniques such as boxing, taekwondo, and wrestling. In UFC’s early stages of development, there were not many rules or regulations implemented. As it gained popularity in society, its rules developed and eventually it became one of the most well-known MMA categories. I believe with time and work, meditation has the potential to be considered what we could call a “mental MMA.” 


If we generalize this practice, we will be able to utilize sensors to measure the quality of this activity. For example, I created “Rat Race,” an interactive meditation-powered robot race. I used Neurosky's Mindwave, a headset that measures users’ electroencephalography (EEG). I am certain that there are many ways to measure our bio feedback such as electromyogram (EMG) and electrooculogram (EOG) which directly reflects the state of our mind. With the use of sensors that can measure biofeedback, I believe meditation could become a part of or a variation of electronic sports or “E-Sports.” Eventually, this idea can continue to evolve and result in meditation becoming a mainstream athletic event.

At MIT Media Lab, I would like to explore the possibilities of these sensors and further, how they can measure the overall quality of meditation and develop a creative platform to engage in competitive meditation. 

© Copyright SEAN KIM 2010-2023

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