Sofia Teixeira and Ela Crain
Ela Crain 00:00
Welcome to the Nonconventional, where we interview unconventional people or people with unconventional careers, lives, or creations.
Today we have Sofia Teixeira with us. Sofia is the Assistant Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of Lisbon. She has over 30 publications and a Ph.D. in Information Systems and Computer Engineering. She studied collective dynamics and she also has a website about music, literature, and promoting emerging artists. Sofia, I would like to start with collective dynamics. What are collective dynamics?
Sofia Teixeira 00:40
First of all, thank you so much for having me and regarding collective dynamics, it's just like this very broadhead to study how entities interact with each other, and how individual behaviour can lead to collective phenomena. I started, for example, with populations of bacteria, and how diversity can emerge without, for example, a selection phenomenon. So, this is very nerdy stuff. But the same principles can also apply, for example, for social interactions in which we observe how people adapt their relationships with each other and then from these balanced structures in society, and how, for example, allies and enemies’ cluster together. So, I'm very interested in studying how these individual behaviours can also form collective...
Ela Crain 01:32
And in bacteria or in humans or both?
Sofia Teixeira 01:34
Actually, I think I like it all. A very broad emphasis, and I have been studying, even, for example, how fairness in societies in terms of sharing resources can emerge depending on who has the power to make proposals of sharing these resources, and so on. So, I think that I really like this idea that we can observe how these collective behaviours can have impact not only on the evolution of these bacteria, and how they impact human life, but also how humans tend to behave when we are faced with certain circumstances and how that can affect actually everyone's life and not just individual life.
Ela Crain 02:25
When you said fairness in society that just made me think of universal income. I don't know if you touch that area but is there any takeaway that you can share with us that's interesting from your research?
Sofia Teixeira 02:36
So, we did this recent study with the ultimatum game. The game is very simple. So, you have a resource, you give it to someone, and for that someone to retain part of that resource, they should share that resource with someone else. So, for example, then you give me 100 bucks and for me to retain part of these 100 bucks, I should share part of it with someone else. So, the rational choice should be for me to offer the least possible so I can return the maximum possible. But we also observe in real life that people tend to reject unfair proposals. So, how this dynamic evolves and how people then also feel like they need to offer more so someone accepts it and then the resource is shared. We observed that if you give the resource to people that are less connected in these kinds of social networks, they offer fairer proposals than if you give the resource to this helps, these very powerful people, we do simulations in agents so let's just observe.
So, you have a social network, and you have someone that is really well connected, has hundreds of friends. But now you look to someone that only has a couple of friends. So, how do people then offer or how our agents in our simulations offer are very different. Usually these less connected nodes, for example, tend to offer more than these highly connected nodes in these networks. In terms of inequality what we observe is that then it's like the people that have more power, the agents that have more power lead to less fair scenarios than the people that are less connected. I remember that at some point, we were joking, saying, power to the people, they are fairer than others. So, that is the closest that we came to inequality in terms of income and so on. So, we did some comparisons with the Gini coefficient that are also used in economics and so on and so it's a nice thing. I don't want to be really giddy about it but yeah.
Ela Crain 04:51
I have a question there. So, do these powerful people, do they offer less being powerful or do they become powerful as a result of offering less? Do you see what I mean?
Sofia Teixeira 05:04
Yeah, so we are still trying to study that a little bit more, because of the framework that we use to simulate the scenarios that are a little bit complex, it is actually inspired in evolutionary biology, so we call this evolutionary game theory. We are just measuring how successful in terms of the amount, so we call it frequency, the amount of resources that they get, like how these successful strategies are copied in the network. But what are the motivations we still are not aware of it?
Ela Crain 05:35
Sofia Teixeira 05:36
So, it's just like this first study about how this group scenarios can lead them to some fair scenarios or not so unfair scenarios.
Ela Crain 05:44
Yeah, so we keep our mysterious side as humans anyway.
Sofia Teixeira 05:48
Ela Crain 05:50
And another thing that you studied that is very interesting to me is you wrote a paper on suicide notes. Could you please share your first of all, inspiration to study such a topic? Suicide is the S letter that we don't want to talk about in this society, but it is there, and a lot of people are suffering from depression, and a lot of relatives or friends and families of those people are wanting to help. Sometimes we don't know what to do and we have no one to speak to. So, I'm really curious what lead you first of all, to kind of dive into such a topic, and then also, I'm curious about the results of your study.
Sofia Teixeira 06:32
Yeah, for sure. Thank you so much. Actually, the way that I got in touch with the suicide notes was in this workshop in complex systems that I attended. I have this colleague that had this dataset of suicide notes. We wanted to do something with it and at the time, actually, the intention was to try to develop, again, the machine learning algorithm to try to find a way of predicting suicidal ideation. But then the idea evolved a little bit, so we wanted to give a step back and try to understand what was behind these suicide notes.
Ela Crain 07:10
Could you find anything like that in AI that could hint, okay, this person has a tendency in his writing towards suicide or is it we are not there yet?
Sofia Teixeira 07:21
So, there are already some works that tried to approach that. I believe that what is in risk here is them because any kind of AI machine learning tool needs a lot of data to train the models and then when you give new data it will then give an output that will try to tell something about it. In this case, is it in the presence of suicidal ideation or not. I think that it's real difficult to compare written letters with, for example, online discourse, and so on. So, I think that we still need a lot of data to also support any kind of prediction that these models may provide. That's why we were like, okay, maybe because we were in the step that we wanted to compare our results with, for example, online blogs, personal texts, and so on. But even the online discourse is really different from our own discourse while writing a letter and even the mindset and so on it's different. So, we started posing questions. Okay, if we are not sure that we can say something really sure about this can we now view what was behind the mindset? Because the letters that we have are from people that really committed suicide. So, it's that final moment before pulling the trigger...
Ela Crain 08:50
Sofia Teixeira 08:51
In the sense.
Ela Crain 08:52
And I think at that level you wouldn't be writing blog posts, etc., which makes it harder to collect data.
Sofia Teixeira 08:58
Yeah, and even because, for example, one type of text that people usually talk about is like, when you break up with someone, and you are so sad, and you have all these feelings, but it's not the same.
Ela Crain 09:12
Sofia Teixeira 09:12
So, it's really difficult and it's really sensitive because we don't want to also misuse this kind of tool, because we all know that, depending on who is using it, it can go to a good end or not a good end. I think it would be dangerous too, for example, running these types of algorithms in Facebook posts or Twitter posts and so on and out of nowhere, saying, oh, this person may be is with suicidal tendencies. I think that we should be careful about it. I think it would be awesome if it can support any kind of signalling, and so on, even in therapy, but yeah, I still...
Ela Crain 09:56
It shouldn't be a diagnosis that's for sure. Diagnosis by AI. Are we getting there I wonder? Because we already have text written by AI systems that are indistinguishable from the human text and I think it's the same with even artwork. There's a website, I was looking at it earlier today. There's a website called “The Painting Fool” that it's like it's a computer programme that creates artwork, and it has its own website to promote its own artwork. I'm like, okay, we're getting there. We have IBM or someone working at IBM who developed Watson, I think we're matching a complex flavour that even a Michelin star chef would need years to learn or kind of match. So, there are a lot of advancements in the AI field. What's your kind of perception of this field? Are we headed towards a future where we have to fight AI for our survival? Is it a dark future or do you think we will learn how to use this technology to our benefit or maybe both?
Sofia Teixeira 11:09
Yeah, so I really like to face AI in a collaborative way, in the sense that I believe that we can use these tools to kind of help us to enhance whatever we want to do. So, for example, in the creative industries, I think that we also have a lot of tools that maybe can help us to even go further because one thing that even people talk about AI nowadays is that it still doesn't have a conscience, an intention, and that distinguishes AI from human creativity, for example. So, we use also AI in our suicide notes study in which we use, for example, natural language processing to help us then predict, for example, our word networks, our co-occurrence network.
So, AI can really be a tool that will help you to further develop what you are already doing. So, I think that AI will always have this bright and dark side in our imagination and perception in the sense that if we go further, in more complex AI models, one of the things that people are most afraid of is the self-learning process and when can I, for example, overcome humanity and so on? I don't think we are still there. I don't know, AI is like this very fluid field that sometimes evolves tonnes in a very short amount of time. But I think that the human input, it's still crucial to the AI tools that we have, and I think that even for creativity, and for even the painting, for example, is paint that is generated by an AI, something creative or not.
Ela Crain 12:53
Sofia Teixeira 12:54
There is a lot of discussions and of course, these models, have data as input, so they have to see a lot of paint before that, and so on. So, I think that humans are still very, very needed in this type of tools to kind of find them creative.
Ela Crain 13:12
Especially if the AI is processing something like suicide notes.
Sofia Teixeira 13:16
Ela Crain 13:16
I think humans are absolutely needed to make sense of what was happening there.
Sofia Teixeira 13:22
Yeah, for sure, and even because, for example, some of our conclusions, and maybe I can go very quickly over them. For example, our first step was just to see how the words were associated with each other, in terms of sentiments. So, the balance towards positive, negative, neutral words, how they are connected. Do we find this? Because when you think about suicide, of course, the sentiment is negative, so we feel this heaviness in ourselves and so on. But actually, what we found is that positive concepts actually tend to cluster together and negative words not so much they are really scattered.
Ela Crain 14:00
Sofia Teixeira 14:01
So, we were really impressed, and actually, there are some series also in psychology and so on that tell that this could be like a coping mechanism too.
Ela Crain 14:11
Sofia Teixeira 14:12
Because they are about to commit suicide. So, even this coping mechanism could be something like that. They want to express some kind of meaningful purpose to their lives before committing suicide. But in the next step, we analysed, for example, the self. So, we wanted to study how the I concept, like the self was positioned in these narratives. For example, even though words there are not so clustered together, the self was connected with very negative words. So, broadly, we find these positive words clustered together, but then when we turn to the self, we found that the self is connected with negative sentiments, and I think that we closed the study with a very nice touch. We wanted to see how some prominent concepts like life and love were in terms of other neighbourhoods.
So, we call this the semantic frames` and we found that, for example, life was completely devoid of emotion and for example, life in normal language is something that we face as positive also. For example, love that in normal language also has some positive emotions and even trust in the suicide note was mainly connected to sadness. So, we found this narrative, and of course, this was also recurring to AI tools as natural language processing. But I think that all of these tools allow us to now be aware of something else, even if we don't read the letters, because we did this without reading at all the letters. So, okay, we took the words, we have information about if they are positive, if they are negative, so we have these dictionaries, that we know about the sentiments that they are associated based on previous studies, and so on. Now, what can we tell about the cognitive mindset?
Ela Crain 16:17
But why didn't you read the letters?
Sofia Teixeira 16:19
We read a part of the letters, so the reading part is not embedded in the study...
Ela Crain 16:25
Sofia Teixeira 16:26
...so, it's not necessary for the study.
Ela Crain 16:28
Is it to avoid your own interpretations of the letters or?
Sofia Teixeira 16:33
In part, and the other part is that they are really heavy. Part of these letters sometimes are just goodbye letters and saying goodbye to loved ones. Others, they really involve a lot of justification and it's like you almost feel them.
Ela Crain 16:57
Sofia Teixeira 16:57
And after reading a couple of them we need to breathe deeply. I think that we also wanted to more or less confirm our findings but without going back to the methods, I think that what AI here has a role, it’s helping us also without being biased by human perception. Because of course each one of us and our perceptions will be different, mine from yours, and so on and I think that this is a really beautiful study. Of course, not because we did it, but I think it's a really nice first step to also understand better suicidal ideation.
Ela Crain 17:44
Exactly, and you said that negative words weren't clustered as much as these positive words. What is your make of that? What does that mean anyway?
Sofia Teixeira 17:56
Yeah. So, I believe that we can go in line with the idea that we tend to make our narratives, our life as meaningful as possible, in a way that they make sense, and have some value. So, I think that the fact that the suicide notes don't have so many negative clustering together words is that they are really trying to bring up again the meaningfulness of their lives. So, this storytelling, that we tried to just make sense...
Ela Crain 18:31
Sofia Teixeira 18:32
...that our life was worth something and there are some psychology theories and so on that supports this idea.
Ela Crain 18:43
And what was it like for you personally to do this study? Because like you said, it's a heavy topic and you had to read these letters to some degree and have this in mind for a while. I don't know how long you worked on this. But what was that like?
Sofia Teixeira 18:58
Yeah. It was for a couple of years. It's a very personal topic for me that's why I also wanted to study it better. At some point maybe we get in touch, or we got in touch with someone that committed suicide and they leave us with a lot of questions that we don't quite understand. I think that one of my main motivations was because I had a lot of questions...
Ela Crain 19:25
Sofia Teixeira 19:26
...and I wanted to try to understand a little bit what was going on because actually, this study was stopped for a while, almost a year, and then I was the one like, okay, let's then try and do this.
Ela Crain 19:40
So, you started and stopped for a year and started again?
Sofia Teixeira 19:43
Yeah. yeah, because we were in that workshop and then each one of us went to their own country and...
Ela Crain 19:50
Where was the workshop?
Sofia Teixeira 19:51
It was like the winter workshop in complex systems in Poland, in Zakopane, a beautiful place. But yeah, we lost touch, and then a year after that, I got in touch with one of my colleagues and then we brought up the project again, and now it's actually published in one of the network journals. So, it's a very good publication. But yeah, it was a really personal journey for me too...
Ela Crain 20:15
Yeah, I can imagine.
Sofia Teixeira 20:16
...and I hope that people that somehow are familiar, or unfortunately had someone that also committed suicide they can read and try to understand them a little bit better.
Ela Crain 20:28
Yeah, and I really hope that this topic can be a bit more speak-able, accessible for everyone, also, with the friends and the families of people who maybe are left without making much sense of what has happened and then they can have some answers.
Sofia Teixeira 20:49
Also, because I really want to believe that this kind of pinpoints that we did in the study, and actually there is more to come next even about last words and so on that we are trying to even figure also that out, that can be used for prevention. So, if we start to notice someone, even if the discourse starts to change the emotional setting itself will start to change. If we are aware of these factors, if then we are able to also, as you said beautifully, we need to talk more about it and maybe if we talk about more about it, and we understand it better, maybe we can avoid some of these situations.
Ela Crain 21:34
Sofia Teixeira 21:36
So, I really hope this will be useful.
Ela Crain 21:39
Do you think one day we will have maybe AI computer in psychiatrist clinics that scans our speech and delivers a report saying, okay, no risk, medium risk?
Sofia Teixeira 21:51
Yeah, I don't know. I know that one of the first AI systems actually even interacting systems was a therapist, or at least trying to be a therapist. Actually, I showed this to my students in a course that I'm teaching this semester and I'm not sure if there is already a system there besides interacting with the person who is also reasoning to make conclusions on this. I don't know of any system yet. Maybe others, but I don't have any knowledge about it. If we look nowadays, we have Siri, we have a lot of assistance in our phones, and so on. The way that I'm just thinking about this could be also useful is in a way that if you are interacting with the system, for example, you are alone, at home, and sometimes it probably happens in some movies, when you interact with the system...
Ela Crain 22:45
Sofia Teixeira 22:46
...it could be that the systems could have embedded something that will tell you about how it is perceiving your humour or something like that. How this information could be shared, it's a whole other problem but...
Ela Crain 23:00
Exactly, because it's a very kind of also personal private information that I don't know how people would feel about sharing such information with a system in the end.
Sofia Teixeira 23:13
There is also the issue of ethics...
Ela Crain 23:17
Sofia Teixeira 23:18
...and how this could be used or not. So, I think it's good that we are approaching this. I also think we need to be careful in the ways that we use these systems.
Ela Crain 23:28
Sofia Teixeira 23:30
But I'm hopeful that you will have a positive outlook.
Ela Crain 23:33
Thanks to people like you Sofia, yeah with the right intentions researching and yeah. We are switching between AI and suicide notes which is a funny combination. I never thought that there was something in common. But going back to AI, in this sense you said that of course, AI is not a conscious entity. But what is consciousness from a scientific perspective in that? How do you clearly define the border?
Sofia Teixeira 24:05
I’m not sure that there is a specific answer for that yet. So, consciousness is a whole field of research that researchers are still trying to figure out and to define. Part of the cognitive science is to try to understand how this process of thinking and of the mind really works. But I think that there is not yet a specific definition for that yet so I'm not sure.
Ela Crain 24:37
And how would you define it just for your research as a guideline for yourself?
Sofia Teixeira 24:42
Yeah. So, I think that one of the things that really still marks a line between humans and AI, it's this ability of having an intention of doing something. In AI you need to specify the rules and of course, you can have some reinforcement learning process in which you are updating your behaviour depending on the performance of your behaviour. But I think that you still don't have that spontaneous way of just being on purpose for something. So, I think that we still have this ability of awareness and of multiple dimensions at the same time that AI probably will try to get there with all these deep learning methods and so on that are being developed nowadays. But I'm very human side in this conversation.
Ela Crain 25:44
Sofia Teixeira 25:45
But I think that this ability, again, of awareness and even love. I think love is such a fundamental component, a sentiment that we humans have even though sometimes we cannot explain it. I'm not sure if machines will ever be able to develop them by themselves. So, I always recall, let me tell just a very geeky episode here. But I always recall, there is this TV series called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in which at some point he tried to build an AI that is supposed to be the shield for the agents and so on. What happens is that at some point, this agent starts self-improving and self-learning, and one thing that she realises is that she's not able to feel and so she wants to feel something. So, she wants to understand why people sacrifice for each other and so on. At some point, well, she manages to do it. At some point, she doesn't have any kind of tools to deal with the feelings. So, she starts feeling all these things, but she didn't grow up feeling them and adapting and learning and reacting, and so on. So, I think that is a very good example of how this system would not be prepared even to go there. So, I'm not sure if it's possible to go there.
Ela Crain 27:14
But it's an interesting one because what would happen if AI developed emotions, but not like ours? We say, oh, AI cannot feel love but what if they develop something that we cannot or do not feel?
Sofia Teixeira 27:29
Ela Crain 27:30
Or what if we started to share some common emotions? What if we had a depressed AI or a suicidal AI? What would the world look like then? Would we have AI psychiatrists looking after depressed algorithms?
Sofia Teixeira 27:47
Yeah, I think that again, any AI system really needs well, most AI systems really need data, and those that don't need data have these rules to self-reinforce their learning. So, a step there would be to check those rules or to check the data that you are feeding your AI because we all know that even for some systems, for example, to identify faces, or to identify any kind of object the system could be trained with biased data. So, you only show, for example, white people, or you only show one type of car and what happens is that if you now use these AI systems, they will only be able to also identify that type of object or person. So, hopefully, if we detect that the AI is becoming a little bit weird, we could try to check all the data, all the rules with which it was developed hopefully.
Ela Crain 28:45
Yeah, exactly and that happens now with Microsoft's Tay, I think. It was learning from human tweets and within 24 hours, it started to tweet racist comments, etc., and I think they had to shut down the account. Then Microsoft replaced it with, I think it was called Zo, another algorism and now Zo is not allowed to talk about any topic that is sensitive. It could be religion or the Middle East or something, any words it just does not answer. I don't know, how do you feel about that, that we kind of draw limits in this way? We can talk about these things. The data comes from us. So, if the AI turns racist, well, where is that coming from? Then we kind of draw the border for the AI saying, okay, here you cannot comment but we still maintain commenting. So, how do you feel about that?
Sofia Teixeira 29:40
I think it can be a great way of creating awareness of how humanity is expressing because maybe it's not really clear if the discourse is being racist and so on. But these AI systems, the more data you give, the more they become more perfect doing this stuff.
Ela Crain 30:01
Sofia Teixeira 30:01
So, these AI systems, when they are learning from our discourse, will be reproducing our discourse over and over, and if there are markers of our discourse that are strong, then the AI will become even stronger expressing those marks. So, I think that limiting AI in the sense could be trying to prevent that this discourse will even be more spread in the social networks. But also, as you're saying then it's not expressing exactly the data that it's been feeling. So, the field of ethical AI is trying to approach this. So how can we define what is an ethical AI? Because we don't want, again, AI harming us or contributing to some uncomfortable situations. So, I think that we are still trying to have our fingers around this topic.
Ela Crain 30:59
Yeah. Do you always feed AI with data from humans or is there a network or data from AI that you can feed to other AI? Do AI learn from other AI?
Sofia Teixeira 31:11
Yeah, in this moment, both types are possible. So, because we have, as you were saying, a moment ago, we have already systems reproducing, for example, music or discourse, and so on. Usually, when we are building a model from the beginning for something, we try to put human data. There should be a specific reason or analysis or story that you want to feed data from another AI.
Ela Crain 31:39
Sofia Teixeira 31:40
So, it really depends then on what is the goal of the research or what is the goal of the tool that you want to develop? But yeah, of course, nowadays AI, some tools are so flexible in the type of data that they receive that, who is behind the AI tool will be in a way responsible for creating this pipeline, even though sometimes it's not responsible for the output of course.
Ela Crain 32:09
Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting to think of AI this way, because you said, like, what if the algorithm becomes depressed? And you said, oh, you should check the data and I wonder if in the future, we will have AI like a type of pet and then our AI systems get depressed or start misbehaving, and we kind of treat it like a part of the family, this technology.
Sofia Teixeira 32:40
It could be. It could be because I think that AI is becoming so embedded in our lives, in our phones, everything. So, at some point, maybe say, oh, my computer broke, maybe my AI system also. I don't know, something happened, it could be…
Ela Crain 32:58
Because right now we share the same systems, whatever computer you buy it's a shared system. But how individual would this be due to AI in the future? I'm just curious if I could create personally enough data to feed an AI system that will represent whatever I'm feeding it and then be very different than your personal AI system.
Sofia Teixeira 33:21
I'm not sure if that already exists in the sense that, even, for example, our phones, Siri, whatever. So, they listen, but they're also learning but from time to time they get updated so there is a network behind this. But I'm curious also about that, I have no idea.
Ela Crain 33:40
That would be an interesting form of attachment, if there was this AI, even if it's just a computer, and I have the vision of a Commodore 64 In my head, for some reason, I don't know why, and it's just fed by my life and input and writings or creations and then there will be, I think, an inevitable connection between the computer and me. It's very different than that connection with that computer, and you, for example, because this is like something that is a part of me now. It like an extension of my creation or my being or my life in a way which is very...
Sofia Teixeira 34:22
Yeah, that is very beautifully put, I think it will become more like a collaborator.
Ela Crain 34:26
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Sofia Teixeira 34:28
But I also think that most people are not prepared or even don't accept so well, the idea of having an AI consciously being part of their lives. So, of course, we use GPS. We use Google Maps; we use a lot of AIs every day. But the idea of having an entity.
Ela Crain 34:50
Sofia Teixeira 34:51
We did some intelligence interacting with you. I think that most people are not yet in that place.
Ela Crain 34:59
Yeah, you may end up with [35:00 inaudible]. It's interesting. So, here's another topic, we're going to jump towards, spirituality. So, you're a scientist, and you're you are all about data and artificial intelligence and informatics, and you have beautiful blog posts written about yoga and chakras and meditation. How do you maintain this? How do you keep the balance?
Sofia Teixeira 35:28
Yeah. So, I think that as individuals, we have also a lot of dimensions.
Ela Crain 35:32
Sofia Teixeira 35:34
And so, we have our physical dimension, the emotional dimension. We have, well, a lot of things going on and although I'm a scientist, I'm also a person on myself with my feelings with everything going on. I think that spirituality and even the practice of yoga, meditation, and so on, actually balance me a lot because as a scientist, of course, my rational side is always like, rules, rules, this, that, this happens. There are laws, these laws of physics. There are a lot of things that are strict, but I think that when we look inward, when we think about ourselves in all these layers, we also need to take care of our emotional being, our body, our mind, but all these energies that we also express outside, but that we also have inside. So, I find this part of my life, actually what keeps me together, what helps me to find balance. For example, in the morning, even before breakfast, I'm doing my 10/15 minutes yoga session and it really helps me centre and be myself and have this intention for my day and that doesn't interfere at all then with my scientific side because well, why should it? I think that...
Ela Crain 37:10
But some people see it as a contradicting thing like a dichotomy that, oh, there's this spirituality and there's science. They're separate or opposing even.
Sofia Teixeira 37:19
Well, it really depends on how hard you define both of them. because I think there is a lot of fluidity here and I think that would not be for myself, at least, or just because I'm a scientist now I cannot even look to spirituality, or I cannot even find this way of getting out of this really boxed space and feel a bit of freedom within myself. So, I think that actually, I am for sure that I'm not the only scientist that also gets in touch with the spiritual side. But of course, I respect those that close that border, like you're saying.
Ela Crain 38:07
Sofia Teixeira 38:08
But yeah, I don't think it's incompatible at all.
Ela Crain 38:12
Yeah. Did you always have this interest in spirituality or is it something you developed later in life?
Sofia Teixeira 38:17
Actually, since a child, I'm very curious about religion, for example. I am not going to say that I'm a religious person, I think I'm a spiritual person. But since early days, I am very curious about it, and I studied a lot of religion and so I think that it’s a path. Sometimes we discover this interest later in our life for some reason. But for me, I actually started studying mythology and paganism, and so on. So, it has been a long walk here and I think that we should be open because the way that we perceive life is different from each other and so there is space for everyone, and we find our space.
Ela Crain 39:03
What would you say if a colleague of yours said what do you get out of spirituality? Why do you even bother? What would you say are the benefits or what you personally get out of it?
Sofia Teixeira 39:13
I think it's like guidelines to respect myself and also be aware that I'm this human being and I have the right to be here, I have the right to also speak my truth. For me, spirituality is a way of aligning all these different aspects as human beings. So, I think that it’s really something that just helps me to go out through all the stuff because each day everything is happening all the time.
Ela Crain 39:49
Sofia Teixeira 39:51
We can be just okay, I'm going through this and that, just move forward, just go. But sometimes we also need space to okay, let me process, let me check whatever is going on. What am I feeling? How can I deal with this? And I think that for me, spirituality is a lot of just this framework that I have to then come back and be with myself.
Ela Crain 40:17
Yeah. I read somewhere that each of us is like a house with four rooms, mental, physical, social, and spiritual and you have to visit each room every day and check the state. Is there a leakage? Does it need to be aired? How am I doing physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually? I feel there's a lot of emphasis in the west about physical and mental wellbeing, watch out for your diet, exercise, and so on. On social, yes, we kind of talk positively about people who have good social skills, it's encouraged. But spiritual is this grey area like, oh, not sure and some people feel a tendency, and some people are afraid to even open the door to that room to see what's in there if there's anything. So, it's an interesting concept to think about it, like a house that you have to visit each room every day.
Sofia Teixeira 41:21
Yeah, I absolutely agree. I think that sometimes even the word spirituality is already, or this must be some woo-woo stuff going in that direction. But actually, sometimes it could be whatever you feel nurtures you. So, I think that we also need to deconstruct the idea that we have of spirituality and actually, people could even call it other things if they're more comfortable with it. I think that in the end, this should be a source of wellbeing as a whole, not only as physical and mental, as you're saying, but actually be aware of what is really going on. Even there is this part that is called, this shadow work that is for you to look even to your darkest place because you can only improve yourself if you also know your darkest place and we all have a bright and dark side.
Ela Crain 42:23
Absolutely. We were talking pre-recording a bit about my previous podcast, Peaceful Ease, and there, I exposed a lot of dark sides that I discovered in some works. I must say, the more darkness you discover and come to terms with them, the more you shine on the other side. So, it's very interesting to see that balance there that we want to be nice, kind, beautiful, happy, smiley and I think a lot of people have good intentions. But unless you go to the dark side, those sides that we don't want to see, the sides that we sweep under the carpet. It's very limited this side, and then you kind of say, okay, I'm going to face some of the fears, some of the things, the traumas that I actually don't want to see. But just to clear out that room, in the previous analogy, somehow everything becomes brighter, and you carry less weight overall.
Sofia Teixeira 43:20
No, for sure, and as you actually use just said something that I think it's really important that is even related with trauma. Sometimes we just want to forget that we went through stuff and as time goes by, actually at some point, we will be faced with that again, because it will express in some way. You are in a place, and you feel triggered or something and if you don't have the tools, you feel surprised, and you will not be able to deal with the situation. So, actually, this even goes again in circles with different mental health. So, for me, actually, I connect both of them because I tried to find these routines and even these rituals with myself that I allow myself to face these things to try to understand them and also to like not to be afraid then because I think it really helps us as you're saying. So, we face the dark side so then we can shine even more...
Ela Crain 44:24
Yeah. Exactly, yeah.
Sofia Teixeira 44:26
...and evolve in a very warm way and it helps us to feel more confident and so on and not being afraid of being in our own skin. I think it's very important.
Ela Crain 44:38
Exactly, and raising skin and trauma talking about it. One of the best and most helpful books I ever read on the topic was "The Body Keeps the Score." Have you heard of it?
Sofia Teixeira 44:49
Yeah. I didn't read it, but I heard about it.
Ela Crain 44:51
Yeah, it's a very difficult book to read because there are a lot of examples of people who suffered from severe trauma so reading the book itself is hard work. But if anyone wants to do any work on trauma and feeling ready for it, I recommend that book because it's like a palette of options. It talks about yoga; it talks about meditation. It's written by a medical doctor, and it talks about therapy, different therapy techniques, it talks about also EMDR. Then reading that book gives you the entire palette we have today to deal with trauma, and whatever you have a tendency towards, whatever speaks to you because it's very individual.
Sofia Teixeira 45:41
Ela Crain 45:41
There's no one pill that we can all take.
Sofia Teixeira 45:44
Ela Crain 45:46
Yeah, that's a beautiful book that I wanted to mention. Yeah.
Sofia Teixeira 45:49
Yeah, and actually, I have been reading some books that also go towards those topics, and even in some of them, they actually advise you to have a therapist with you in the case that while you are reading the book, you feel triggered, or you are facing new emotions that you were not conscious about them. So, I think that besides the books that are really useful, what I think that we also need to talk more about is like going to therapy is not a bad thing actually. I do therapy and I think it was the best decision of my life. Actually, as we face these things, and if we marry all these tools together, I think that we are just improving as human beings, and most of all, we are providing some self-care that is so important for our wellbeing.
Ela Crain 46:44
I’m actually pleased to see so many alternative words coming up to therapy and alternative branches like life coaching or motivation coaching or whatever, it doesn't matter. It normalises what we think therapy is, that if somebody is going to therapy, they have serious issues, and they need to be avoided kind of thing. I wish we could also make it and we are making it more accessible and normalising it more by speaking about it. So, thank you for writing those blog posts. I really appreciate that. One question about the spirituality I have is like, do you think as westerners we are kind of tuned to think in a certain way? We are taking spirituality and turning it into some kind of westernised tie-ins, even yoga and meditation. Do it this many hours this much and you will see these effects. It's like a prescription now. Do you see a pattern or a danger there or is it better than none?
Sofia Teixeira 47:50
So, I think that if a person that never practised anything, starts, I think that even the person will search for some kind of structured routine. So, I think that I look to myself in the beginning when I started, and I was like, okay, there is this calendar with these classes that have this duration. I need to build a routine. So, I will stick to this, but I also believe that as your practice, evolve, and you start knowing yourself better, you actually loosen these kinds of specific routines and so on. For example, I was saying, okay, every morning, I do 10 to 15 minutes. The time that I feel that I need to go to a mind space in which I'm ready to face the day. It's not because it should be 10 or 15.
Ela Crain 48:41
Sofia Teixeira 48:42
There are people that say, oh, we should do like an hour in the morning, and I want to believe that as you know yourself better, you can also create your own rules...
Ela Crain 48:53
Sofia Teixeira 48:54
...in the sense that maybe, for example, in the origins of yoga, they also had probably their rules and their routines. Personally, I don't like the idea that we are westernising things, I think that we need to show respect and as we turn the practice as our own, then actually, in the end, we should do whatever makes us feel good and not be stuck to a schedule or something just because someone said it. Of course, depending on that someone you could try to follow more strictly or not. So, maybe it's just the way that I feel and perceive but I think that we turn everything as a practice to ourselves so we can also provide better to the others and so we should try to feel as comfortable as possible with the practice.
Ela Crain 49:49
I like how scientific you are, your thinking is towards even meditation and yoga, like let's test it. This many minutes, is it better for me? How do I feel? But it's combining the rationality was a feeling, like, okay, I need 15 minutes but somebody else may need an hour or five minutes, but this is what I need and that's beautiful in a way.
Sofia Teixeira 50:13
And because for example, sometimes on the weekend, I give myself the luxury of not even tracking the time.
Ela Crain 50:21
Sofia Teixeira 50:22
Because I feel like I can, but for example, during the week, and because we are pressured about the timeline, I need to go to the faculty, or I need to go there, and so on. I think that I just manage to find this interval in which, okay, this is doable for me, and I can still do this before my day starts. For example, while I was living in the West, for example, and maybe because I was there, well, longer than I am here, I needed more time and I think that as you're saying, you adapt to where you are. For example, now I say 10 to 15 minutes, it's okay for me, maybe a few times it won't be enough, or something like that. But maybe it's my scientific side also measuring the other side for sure.
Ela Crain 51:08
Sofia Teixeira 51:09
Measuring everything together.
Ela Crain 51:13
Yeah. What would you say to someone who's interested in spirituality with a scientific mind like yours but who doesn't know where to start? There are so many yoga techniques, there are so many meditation techniques? How would you go on about that in a scientific way?
Sofia Teixeira 51:29
Yeah. Even before where to go, I would say to not be afraid and be open, because it's not necessary for you to be a scientific person to be resistant to this idea. Sometimes I talk with friends, and they're like, oh, yoga, or meditation, I'm not into that stuff. But if you really want to try, I think that actually, you will not get it right in the first or the second attempt. So, you should try. For example, nowadays, YouTube is a huge source of free yoga. You have a lot of good teachers there and I know that I tried, and at some point, I found, okay, when I feel like this picture, it's the one with the classes that I want when I feel like that because there are a lot of types of yoga. I think that for me, for example, they connect with my emotional states. Sometimes I really need to calm down, so I go to yin yoga. Sometimes I need to move the energy to unstick from someplace, or maybe I go to vinyasa style. But I think that it's a beautiful path of learning about the different styles and connect them with your own personality and your needs.
So, you don't need to stick with one type of yoga. Well, I'm sorry if I'm... But in my opinion, you don't need to stick with a type of yoga or a type of practice. I think that maybe it could be a nice place to start in the sense that there are very good teachers there. I started there, for example, and reading is also really nice. So, even if you don't have the money to buy books, for example, it's not affordable for all. There are really nice resources also online. I also tried to share them in my blog, but I think that fortunately, what technology brought to us is this accessibility to nice content. So yeah, first not to be afraid, be open, and then YouTube is a nice resource for that.
Ela Crain 53:37
Yeah. You said you try different things, and then you have a feeling for a particular practice or a teacher you mix and match. Where do you think that feeling is coming from or what is that feeling that you're describing that says, okay, this is the one for me. How do you explain that from a scientific perspective?
Sofia Teixeira 53:58
That is very interesting for sure. I think that because also the teachers have a personality and almost an energy, it's like, I feel that now I'm matching best one of those. So, it's not only about the practice, actually, but also about the teacher and even the energy that the teacher transmits. It's a very intuitive process but I think that again, you need to know yourself a little bit better to be able to do this shift and really acknowledge what you need. But yeah, I don't have a recipe. It's just this feeling and this connection because even if it's online, and you are not really meeting the teacher, you still connect with the practice and what the practice makes you feel...
Ela Crain 54:48
Sofia Teixeira 54:49
...and so, I think it's that connection.
Ela Crain 54:51
Yeah. So, Sofia, you're also the General Secretary of the Women in Network Science Society. What is this society about and what exactly your role is in there?
Sofia Teixeira 55:02
Yeah. So, there is the Network Science Society that groups researchers in the network science field and the Women in Network Science Society, actually, they are born from this necessity of representing underrepresented genders, actually. So, even though it has women in the title of the society, we really want to highlight and give focus to underrepresented genders in the community. In my role, in this case, as General Secretary, I've been helping, because it's the first year that we have almost an executive committee, so we are still a very young society. So, we are, for example, even structuring our bylaws and everything. So, since I've been previously in the Complex Systems Society, I have some experience in being part of scientific societies. I have been helping, defining all these structured things that the society needs to be represented in online. But it's a very beautiful place. We had this workshop in the biggest network science conference this summer in which a lot of women also presented their works there and we are working to create new opportunities and finding funds and so on to give even more opportunities to these young researchers. Well, even if you are not too young, you can still be part of this.
Ela Crain 56:31
Yeah. Is there more pressure on women or underrepresented genders in the science world as well?
Sofia Teixeira 56:37
Yeah, I believe so because I think that even scientific careers are very different for men and women, and we should not forget that. For example, women and probably underrepresented genders are much more caregivers than men, for example. So, of course, I don't want to be generalising too much, because we all know there are also men participating, and so on. But in fact, even for example, during pregnancy, and so on women can be under very different circumstances in the same amount of time as a man and that can have really different consequences in their careers. Because, for example, even when you apply to a faculty position, they say, okay, you need to present your research on the last five years, in spite of your gender. But if you are a woman, and you've had a kid, or even two, of course, your research was impacted. So, I think there is a lot of room to improve these kinds of situations and to adapt. For example, I just saw an application form yesterday in France, that actually they were saying, okay, for women that were pregnant in these years, you have a broader spectrum of time to present. So, you have a lot of factors here and I think that we also want to bring attention to it and bring awareness to try to have fairer conditions between our genders.
Ela Crain 58:01
What would it look like, fairer kind of work environment in science for all genders basically? What do we need to change to start with?
Sofia Teixeira 58:11
Yeah, I think that we really need to work altogether. Being a woman and even in the hard sciences and engineering and so on can be very challenging and I don't want to turn this conversation into a dark conversation, but we need to face some realities. We have a lot of misogyny, we have a lot of harassment and, of course, as women and even underrepresented genders it's sometimes difficult to move or even express ourselves in an environment that can be very well oiled to a man society. For example, there is this book, I'm not now remembering the name, but it actually says that even when you are analysing some data that supposedly was not collected by men, just from urban cities or something like that.
When you analyse the data, you are still able to find wires that favour men instead of women, even, for example, bus trajectories. A lot of not everyday stuff that is more fit to men than women and I think that there is a conversation that must happen in every school in all kinds of industries and so on so we can start dialoguing and kind of putting this out. I think we are going there. I see that we have a lot more conversations about this, even in these societies for example. Even at the last conference, we had a panel about this. So, I know there are men and people wanting to create awareness about this. But I also think that is a long way to go.
Ela Crain 1:00:02
So, the first step is actually sitting down together and talking.
Sofia Teixeira 1:00:06
Ela Crain 1:00:07
What needs to be done and what's missing?
Sofia Teixeira 1:00:09
Yeah, and admit there is a problem.
Ela Crain 1:00:11
Sofia Teixeira 1:00:12
Because I think that sometimes things don't evolve because people don't realise there is a problem.
Ela Crain 1:00:18
Sofia Teixeira 1:00:19
And I think that for change to happen, we all must acknowledge that we have a problem.
Ela Crain 1:00:26
Yeah. And not try to quickly patch the problem, but really, really analyse the problem and see what kind of solution would be of benefit to all parties. Everyone.
Sofia Teixeira 1:00:35
Yeah, because sometimes it's not just the department or something like that being in university or in industry. It's structural and so even the people that are empowered, need to sit down, they need to listen...
Ela Crain 1:00:50
Sofia Teixeira 1:00:51
...and then I think that we will be ready to move forward.
Ela Crain 1:00:54
Yeah. How do you feel about for example, as these discussions happen around gender? People are talking about hiring women, for example, we need to hire more women and it sounds light years positive and negative? Positive, yes, please hire more women, but negative, not because they're women because they are experts in what they do because they have the right knowledge and the skillset, etc. So, how did you overcome this dilemma here that even though these conversations are happening, or even though some people are taking action, it still sounds a bit, not the right approach?
Sofia Teixeira 1:01:29
Yeah, again, I think that a lot goes through conversation. I think that we are trying to go from a place where women and underrepresented genders are discriminated and not hired, even if they have the same abilities and skills than men to the other side, and it's difficult. So, it's a conversation that it's difficult to have, because we can say, okay, we want to impose like a minimum percentage of women and then represent the genders. But then again, okay, but if I have this person? Because I think that it's important. Maybe this sounds too idealistic, but we should talk about people beyond gender?
Ela Crain 1:02:13
Sofia Teixeira 1:02:14
So, I need a set of skills. I don't care what is the gender. Of course, for some specific things, maybe we cannot be blind to this because even the heterogeneity of having different genders, making the decisions, and so on, it's not just about the skills, but it's also about perceptions and opinions. Because if we are talking about public policies, even if I have a group of people from the same gender, that is really good, I still need to have my society represented in these groups. So, I think that we need to approach this situation by situation, being that we also need to treat people as people and not whatever gender you have. But I think that even I need to learn much more about it so, vocabulary, awareness knowledge. I still think that I really need to learn much more about it to be able to approach it with the correct language with respect to everyone. And I think that, for example, as an educator it’s actually also our duty to be receptive and even open to all of this so yeah, it's complex…
Ela Crain 1:03:37
Sofia Teixeira 1:03:37
…but something that we need to tackle with no future.
Ela Crain 1:03:41
Yeah. Exactly. But it's very hard to overcome the language because even if you have good intentions, and say, we need to hire more women, it still creates the separation. We need to hire women versus men. I was reading recently in Switzerland, a gentleman I don't remember his name, but he was hiking through the Alps, the total ascent higher than the Everest in his hike, to kind of promote equal rights for men. I'm like, okay, where did this come from now. It's perhaps understandable because as we discuss equality and equal rights or opportunities for women, well some men feel excluded and it's understandable. There are a lot of events happening now to empower women, there are societies, etc. But it's very hard to talk about that without creating a separation. How can we overcome the problem that we are not trying to exclude anyone, or no one is trying to exclude anyone, we're just talking about equality, but we are stuck with words?
Sofia Teixeira 1:04:46
Yeah. Yeah. First, I think that we are in this stage of history that we need to be patient and tolerant with each other because we cannot forget that historically, we cannot even compare men rights with women rights while we don't move forward, because I'm not even talking only about income inequality, I'm talking even as I was saying, in these daily life decisions, even in planning and so on, that mindset is still in default towards men even if it's not conscious. So, I can understand if, in some specific circumstances, men may think like that, but it really gets a hard time for me for these men to not understand that for women we are still trying to get basic rights…
Ela Crain 1:05:46
Sofia Teixeira 1:05:46
…that for men, maybe was never a problem. So, while we don't have at least a bit of balance between all genders, in opportunities, in quality of life, and so on, it's almost impossible to do these comparisons that, honestly, sometimes don't make so much sense yet. Maybe this is just a very personal opinion, but I think that historically, we are still very behind. We are fighting our way and of course, sometimes we do these women-focused events and so on. I know that, for example, in the US, now this is becoming a problem precisely because then we are discriminating men.
Ela Crain 1:06:34
Sofia Teixeira 1:06:35
But I think we still need to find a place in which we are all comfortable to talk about what is not right across genders.
Ela Crain 1:06:44
Do you think one day we can go beyond this distinction and treat people as people beyond their physical looks or how they feel that also doesn't match? Do you think one day we will manage it and get there?
Sofia Teixeira 1:06:56
Yeah. So, I think that are two ways for this answer in the sense that in an idealistic way, we want to then treat people as people.
Ela Crain 1:07:06
Sofia Teixeira 1:07:07
But obviously, as individuals, and given our biology and so on, we also have differences. So, I think that respect, tolerance, and just being open to each other, must be key, while we don't have this equality across genders, because we will always be different from each other. So, when I say, well, we should treat people as people, I also don't want to just put everyone in the same box, because we have a right to our individuality. So, it's very sensitive, it's like steppingstones, very carefully. But I think that once you respect yourself and you're able to respect other things should be fine because I believe that sometimes it's a lack of respect and awareness that causes a lot of trouble, anyway.
Ela Crain 1:08:02
I mean, it's very hard, because also, as women, we are conditioned in some ways to think in certain ways that put us in a certain situation. For example, the easiest example I can give is like I find myself thinking about when I was living in Berlin, I was looking for a cleaning lady, and I called up an agency, and they were interviewing me, would you need this or that? Then they said, would it be okay to send a man for the role? And my immediate reaction was like, no, I'm looking for a cleaning lady. But then I thought, well, it's a cleaning lady. Why is it even the name, this gender-oriented thing? But my immediate reaction was also this prejudice, also that distinction we are trying to overcome. Since then, I've been thinking how could I make myself think beyond gender? What would the world be like if we could think beyond gender?
Sofia Teixeira 1:09:06
Yeah, I think it will take time. We are lucky to be in a generation in which we already have a lot of rights compared to our ancestors. But as you're saying, we cannot forget that this is really imprinted also in our reaction. So, this became also imprinted in our genetics and how we face things. So, for example, your reaction to saying no to the man and I want a cleaning lady. It's because you think you will feel safer with a woman instead of a man. Of course, this is natural when we look to our past and the role of women for so many years, and how we were subjugated, and so on.
So, I think it will take a lot of collaboration, empathy, patience with each other, because we as women, of course, have a role to now also deconstruct all this prejudice that we already have imprinted but also men and so on need to be aware again that there was a problem and that women need time to heal and it could be generations until we are able to not be reactive to a man walking behind you on the streets. It's as simple as that. So, there are a lot of things that I think we need to work together but women also have the right to have their space to heal and move forward.
Ela Crain 1:10:35
And the final question, how do we draw the line between these prejudices or imprinted, learned ways of thinking, and the natural difference that we have different biological needs or cycles? Where do we draw a clear line and how can we do that? What will be the first step?
Sofia Teixeira 1:10:54
I think that to kind of blur that line, or at least...
Ela Crain 1:10:59
Okay, that's interesting. That's interesting. Yeah.
Sofia Teixeira 1:11:01
...it has to do with again, being aware of our own rhythms and our own ways of perceiving and interacting with each other. Of course, for example, when you have a trauma, and sometimes a way to overcome the trauma could be, for example, reliving some situations without the danger, without the trauma. So, you face whatever similar circumstances you have and so you can become aware that it can be safe, so it's not triggering all the time. I think that for us who have, we need to leave, we need to experience more, and we need to then have this kind of repetition in which these differences become okay, and it's safe and we can all interact and respect each other knowing the boundaries that we all have the right to have in ourselves and towards others.
Ela Crain 1:12:07
Yeah, beautiful. Thank you so much, Sofia. I really appreciate your time and if anyone is interested in Sofia Teixeira's work, scientific papers are out there, and also please check out branmorrighan.com, her website promoting young artists, emerging artists, and it's all about music and literature. Thank you so much.