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Thread: Empathy = caring about people ?

  1. #1 Empathy = caring about people ? 
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    Empathy = caring about people ?

    Only an insensitive ninny would ask such a question, eh? But here I'm asking if caring about people is just one aspect of empathy. If empathy is really broader, and perhaps deeper, than our normal usage of the word.


    Does a snake charmer employ empathy to hypnotize a snake?

    Does a dolphin employ empathy to swim circles around a shark?

    Does a zebra employ empathy to be "too far" from a sleepy lion?

    Does a psychopath employ empathy to trick strangers into the car?

    Does a computer gamer employ empathy to ambush a band of elven archers?



    The above examples all depend on intuitive insight into another mind. Is there a better term for that than "empathy"?


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    Empathy is the ability to understand and share another being's feelings
    To the extend that your examples fit the definition in one way or another, yes.

    IMO, empathy is result of our mirror neural network. As the name implies, most humans seem to be able to mirror emotional and even physical responses merely by watching someone else getting hurt or rewarded. We can identify with and vicariously experience human emotions just by watching. Porn is a perfect example. But also watching someone hit themselves with a hammer elicits a cringe from the observer.

    OTOH, autistic persons seem to have impaired neural mirror nework and therefore have trouble relating and responding in a customary manner.

    I also believe that people with very keen neural mirror networks can use this "knowing" to great advantage. Mass mirror responses have been used for good and evil by many great "communicators" with great "presence".

    When one finds one's "soulmate" one has found a very close or complimentary match in mirror neural networks which allows you to share the experiences similarly and establish greater bonds of intimacy.


    Last edited by Write4U; February 22nd, 2013 at 07:34 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    Empathy = caring about people ?
    No, that is incorrect. Empathy (or to empathize) is merely the ability to recognize and perhaps experience another creature's emotional state. Caring on the other hand is an (in)action to either actively or passively do or (do not) the things that one thinks or feels is in the interest of the other party.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    But here I'm asking if caring about people is just one aspect of empathy.
    It can be, but not a necessity.
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    One can have empathy without acting upon it.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    One can have empathy without acting upon it.
    I think you're right. But it's difficult to show examples of that.


    Does a snake charmer employ empathy to hypnotize a snake?

    Does a dolphin employ empathy to swim circles around a shark?

    Does a zebra employ empathy to be "too far" from a sleepy lion?

    Does a psychopath employ empathy to trick strangers into the car?

    Does a computer gamer employ empathy to ambush a band of elven archers?
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    Empathy is just the ability to recognize the emotional state of another based upon shared experience. I would say a snake charmer cannot empathize with the snake unless he has been lured out of a wicker basket with movements that incur his prey-drive.

    However, to your last strange example, I have experienced empathy in PvP situations where I have killed someone making the same mistakes I once made. I felt bad about it because I knew they'd be upset, but I killed them for the stats/loots/giggles anyways.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    One can have empathy without acting upon it.
    I think you're right. But it's difficult to show examples of that.


    Does a snake charmer employ empathy to hypnotize a snake?
    Like a dog or horse whisperer, a snake charmer can mirror the response behaviors of snakes and uses that (mirror) knowledge to confuse/charm the snake into indecision.
    Does a dolphin employ empathy to swim circles around a shark?
    Dolphins have great knowledge of shark behavior information stored in the mirror neural network and know that sharks cannot turn very tight circles.
    Does a zebra employ empathy to be "too far" from a sleepy lion?
    Young zebras learn very early on from their elders to keep your distance from lions.
    Does a psychopath employ empathy to trick strangers into the car?
    Oh yes, by playing hurt or disabled and playing on the victim's empathy (MNN) to lure them into a vulnerable position. The movie "Silence of the Lambs" has an exellent example of a psychopath using a victim's empathy by pretending to have trouble loading a piece of furniture into the back of a van and getting her to help him.
    Does a computer gamer employ empathy to ambush a band of elven archers?
    Not likely, due to the anonymity of the players it would be difficult to devise a play on the opponent's "known" weaknesses. However if the program itself assigns behavioral weaknesses in certain characters, our mirror neural network may pick up on that and use that behavior against the player. However, in a "live" game of Poker, the players look for "tells" in the opponenent to find patterns which can be used to advantage.

    I believe that the MNN so far has been given credit for empathic responses under certain circumstaces, but IMO the MNN is much more basic and responsible for individual social behaviors even in the most basic societal structures. It allows slime mold to exhibit intelligence. In the end it may not be anything more than a predictable chemical interaction in even the most basic brain structures.
    It allows us to insult a person, by demeaning that person's "self-image" or "place" in the hierarchy of the herd. The fable Snow White uses a variation; "mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all".

    From Wiki,

    ENGRAMS,
    Engrams are a hypothetical means by which memory traces are stored as biophysical or biochemical changes in the brain (and other neural tissue) in response to external stimuli.

    They are also sometimes thought of as a neural network or fragment of memory, sometimes using a hologram analogy to describe its action in light of results showing that memory appears not to be localized in the brain. The existence of engrams is posited by some scientific theories to explain the persistence of memory and how memories are stored in the brain. The existence of neurologically defined engrams is not significantly disputed, though their exact mechanism and location has been a focus of persistent research for many decades.
    Last edited by Write4U; February 22nd, 2013 at 05:39 PM.
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    Cool, food for thought in every reply.

    For this investigation, I want to keep a distinction between empathy and sympathy. I may keenly empathize with a blind person's perspective, but I can't sympathize with it. Better examine empathy where the picture is not complicated by shared experience.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    Cool, food for thought in every reply.

    For this investigation, I want to keep a distinction between empathy and sympathy. I may keenly empathize with a blind person's perspective, but I can't sympathize with it. Better examine empathy where the picture is not complicated by shared experience.
    I believe that is incorrect. A seeing person can have sympathy for a blind man, but you can only have empathy when you are blind yourself.
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    Is this an example of emparthy? If true this clearly shows a communication between a sender and a recipient who "understands:" the language, in this case electrical charges. Is this why bees and flowers have such a symbiotic relationship?

    Flowers and bees have electrifying discussions - Science
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  12. #11  
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    After checking a few pages on the difference between sympathy and empathy, I find no consensus. I get the sense authors are working it out as they type. Google hit #2 admits the mass confusion before tackling it: Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy: Grammar Guide . Notice that most discussions of empathy/sympathy gravitate to intensely emotionally examples, and further lose focus by including morality and care, in a human social context only. The link I give begins well, but ultimately confuses sympathy and empathy as different quantities of the same quality.

    My original definition of sympathy was informed by sym, so I reckoned sympathy should mean having the same pathos as another. By that definition humans can have sympathy for a broken-winged bird's overall pain (and we can care), but we can't sympathize with the anguish of being flightless. I reckoned that empathy, in contrast, is projective, so one could empathize with loss-of-flight by extending oneself into the bird's shoes so to speak. In my opening post, I mean empathy in that sense. Thus my example of the snake charmer who obviously can't be like-minded with a snake but intuitively grasps the snake's mind nonetheless.

    I'm trying to get a better understanding of (what I call) empathy, by examining it apart from the usual caring-for-people digression.
    Last edited by Pong; February 22nd, 2013 at 08:52 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Write4U View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    Cool, food for thought in every reply.

    For this investigation, I want to keep a distinction between empathy and sympathy. I may keenly empathize with a blind person's perspective, but I can't sympathize with it. Better examine empathy where the picture is not complicated by shared experience.
    I believe that is incorrect. A seeing person can have sympathy for a blind man, but you can only have empathy when you are blind yourself.
    I disagree with that definition.

    One can be sympothetic for the plight of a blind man, because you realize he's never be able to work, make a good wage and perhaps never hold a personal relationship with a loved one all at a higher abstract level. Empathy would be more like emotionally sharing his frustration as he's stopped and patted down going through a security line to get on an aircraft. You can feel empathy without making any of the long term connections.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Write4U View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    Cool, food for thought in every reply.

    For this investigation, I want to keep a distinction between empathy and sympathy. I may keenly empathize with a blind person's perspective, but I can't sympathize with it. Better examine empathy where the picture is not complicated by shared experience.
    I believe that is incorrect. A seeing person can have sympathy for a blind man, but you can only have empathy when you are blind yourself.
    I disagree with that definition.

    One can be sympathetic for the plight of a blind man, because you realize he's never be able to work, make a good wage and perhaps never hold a personal relationship with a loved one all at a higher abstract level. Empathy would be more like emotionally sharing his frustration as he's stopped and patted down going through a security line to get on an aircraft. You can feel empathy without making any of the long term connections.
    IMO, sympathy is a more general term indicating a compassion or sensitivity to someone else's plight, while empathy is the ability to experience the specific emotional and physical responses

    From WiseGeek.org:
    Sympathy and empathy are separate terms with some very important distinctions. Sympathy and empathy are both acts of feeling, but with sympathy you feel for the person; you’re sorry for them or pity them, but you don’t specifically understand what they’re feeling. Sometimes we’re left with little choice but to feel sympathetic because we really can’t understand the plight or predicament of someone else. It takes imagination, work, or possibly a similar experience to get to empathy.

    Empathy can best be described as feeling with the person. Notice the distinction between for and with. To an extent you are placing yourself in that person’s place, have a good sense of what they feel, and understand their feelings to a degree. It may be impossible to be fully empathetic because each individual's reactions, thoughts and feelings to tragedy are going to be unique. Yet the idea of empathy implies a much more active process. Instead of feeling sorry for, you’re sorry with and have clothed yourself in the mantle of someone else’s emotional reactions.
    What is the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy?
    and from wiki,
    Emotional and cognitive empathy

    Empathy can be divided into two major components:
    Emotional empathy, also called affective empathy: the drive to respond with an appropriate emotion to another's mental states.[31] Our ability to empathize emotionally is supposed to be based on emotional contagion:[32] being affected by another’s emotional or arousal state.[33]
    Cognitive empathy: the drive to identify another's mental states.[24][31] The term cognitive empathy and theory of mind are often used synonymously.[34]

    Although science has not yet agreed upon a precise definition of these constructs, there is consensus about this distinction.[35] There is a difference in disturbance of affective versus cognitive empathy in different psychiatric disorders. Psychopathy, schizophrenia, depersonalization and narcissism are characterized by impairments in emotional empathy but not in cognitive empathy, whereas autism, bipolar disorder and borderline traits are associated with deficits in cognitive empathy but not in emotional empathy.[35] Also in people without mental disorders, the balance between emotional and cognitive empathy varies.[35] A meta-analysis of recent fMRI studies of empathy confirmed that different brain areas are activated during affective–perceptual empathy and cognitive–evaluative empathy.[36] Also a study with patients with different types of brain damage confirmed the distinction between emotional and cognitive empathy.[32] Specifically, the inferior frontal gyrus appears to be responsible for emotional empathy, and the ventromedial prefrontal gyrus seems to mediate cognitive empathy.[32]

    Emotional empathy can be subdivided into:
    Personal distress: the inclination to experience self-centered feelings of discomfort and anxiety in response to another’s suffering.[37][38]
    Empathic concern: the inclination to experience of sympathy and compassion towards others in response to their suffering.
    Empathy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Summation: Empathy = common mirror ability to experience the same emotional and physical experiences in others. Physically reactive.
    Sympathy = individual ability to be concerned about emotional and physical experiences in others. Mentally reactive.
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    Here's another good way to think of the difference between sympathy and empathy with examples from nursing.

    Empathy:
    Understanding what someone else is feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes. Acknowledging a person's emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.

    Sympathy: Acknowledging a person's emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.


    Empathy vs Sympathy - Difference and Comparison | Diffen

    One can be sympathetic towards someone without sharing their emotional state.
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    Perhaps this is why we use analogies and parables in situational dialogue, when it becomes apparent that the other person has trouble understanding the feeling you are trying to express, because they cannot fully experience the circumstances.

    That is why we sometimes translate with a "known" analogy, "let's look at it this way, etc, etc, ...............now do you understand (recognize the situation)?

    When a person is limited in experiences and has trouble explaining an subtle emotional point, they often use the little insert, "It's like ............ you know, and then ..........you know ", allowing the listener to pick his own interpretation from past experience. This method obviously is not always successful as actually very little real useful information is being shared by both parties.

    Being an import myself I frequently use the dictionary to find the correct word for emphasizing a specific aspect of the statement. I found that the oldest words in the dictionary have the largest interpretational values.

    Food: the application of this word goes well beyond the normal interpretation of "edible substance", i.e. "food for thought".
    Home: the application of this word goes well beyond "living space", i.e. "home is where the heart is"

    These words have acquired an "avatar", a personality of their own. This is why some gods are associated with these words (Bacchus, Gaia)

    Sympathy comes from "the brain"
    Empathy comes from "the heart"

    Scientifically incorrect, but you know what I mean............
    Last edited by Write4U; February 23rd, 2013 at 07:19 PM.
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  17. #16  
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    So nurses define sympathy as caring. And empathy is sympathy + sharing an emotional state.

    Wiki defines that above sharing of an emotional state as just one kind of empathy: emotional empathy.

    Meanwhile cognitive empathy appears to cover my weird examples in the OP, like snake charming. Since it's said to be synonymous with "theory of mind", I should use this latter term not "empathy".


    Okay, I'm really interested in how theory of mind operates between species (i.e. predator/prey) and even across mediums like computer games. Anecdotes and speculations welcome.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    So nurses define sympathy as caring. And empathy is sympathy + sharing an emotional state.
    It is considered unprofessional for a nurse to become too emotionally involved (empathy) with a patient

    Wiki defines that above sharing of an emotional state as just one kind of empathy: emotional empathy.

    Meanwhile cognitive empathy appears to cover my weird examples in the OP, like snake charming. Since it's said to be synonymous with "theory of mind", I should use this latter term not "empathy".
    IMO, empathy is a mirror response which functions at many levels, in humans as well as many animals.
    The reptilian brain, according to a classic theory of brain science, has corresponding structures in the brains of mammals, including humans. According to the “triune brain” theory, the reptilian brain, concerned with instinct and survival, developed first in evolutionary history. Creatures such as mammals developed more complicated brain structures on the foundation of the reptilian brain, allowing for thought, emotion and self-awareness. Brain studies have since shown that the triune brain theory is oversimplified at best; however, it remains popular with the media and the general public.. What Is the Reptilian Brain?
    Keeping in mind that there is no such thing as irreducible complexity, it is reasonable to assume that all brains share certain basic structures and functions, on which each succeeding generation builds refinements. But that does not alter the original function, such as awareness of environment and ever more sophisticated self-preservation (survival) techniques.

    Okay, I'm really interested in how theory of mind operates between species (i.e. predator/prey) and even across mediums like computer games. Anecdotes and speculations welcome.
    from wiki,
    Theory of mind appears to be an innate potential ability in humans, but one requiring social and other experience over many years to bring to fruition. Different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind. Empathy is a related concept, meaning experientially recognizing and understanding the states of mind, including beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others, often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes". Recent neuro ethological studies of animal behaviour suggest that even rodents may exhibit ethical or empathic abilities.[9] Theory of mind - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Now, insects have a whole different brain structure, geared to serve the hive. Insects have no self-preservation functions other than to protect the hive with their lives, even in view of certain death.

    A graphic presentation is found in the movie "The Hellstrom Chronicle". This movie will leave you in absolute awe of the unquestioning behavior of insects, in effect achieving a immortal hive organism, where each generation is just a continuation of the previous generation. After billions of years of evolution it appears that insects have reached a state of perfection in insuring the survival of the species. The simplicity of function may lend itself to AI functions.

    The Hellstrom Chronicle - Part 1 - YouTube
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    [QUOTE=Write4U;397408]from wiki,
    Theory of mind appears to be an innate potential ability in humans, but one requiring social and other experience over many years to bring to fruition. Different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind.
    This may give the impression that because humans develop it slowly, other mammals may not develop it at all. But we should note humans take about a year to develop crude walking skills. I also think we're biased to test for theory of mind in social interactions, that few species are interested in. A more general test might be my example #3, where a prey animal must determine safe distance from a predator's apparent interest and energy level.


    I doubt insects have theory of mind or mirror neurons, but speculate they may have resonant or harmonic neurons tuned to the frequencies of other insect's vibrations. So for example a particular wingbeat frequency of honeybees would directly excite some neurons in other bees, making them "like minded".
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    [QUOTE=Pong;397443]
    Quote Originally Posted by Write4U View Post
    from wiki,
    Theory of mind appears to be an innate potential ability in humans, but one requiring social and other experience over many years to bring to fruition. Different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind.
    This may give the impression that because humans develop it slowly, other mammals may not develop it at all. But we should note humans take about a year to develop crude walking skills. I also think we're biased to test for theory of mind in social interactions, that few species are interested in. A more general test might be my example #3, where a prey animal must determine safe distance from a predator's apparent interest and energy level.


    I doubt insects have theory of mind or mirror neurons, but speculate they may have resonant or harmonic neurons tuned to the frequencies of other insect's vibrations. So for example a particular wingbeat frequency of honeybees would directly excite some neurons in other bees, making them "like minded".
    I agree, along with common usage of pheromonones, insects also have great sensitivity to atmospheric pressures and a wide range of the color spectrum such as ultraviolet and infrared. Snakes hunt with infrared radiation sensors; sharks are extremely sensitive to minute electrical charges, whales communicate in stacked chords, bats and dolphins use sonar. Octopi have independent sensory processors in each arm, which connect to a central processing center, creating a semi independent compound neural network. It is just amazing the variety of sensors nature has come up with to allow a keener sense of one's immediate environment as well as long distance communication.
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    IMO, "theory of mind" could well be the same thing as a "mirror neural network and response system", which keeps growing along with experience and which enables both sympathy (in general) and empathy (in particular).
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    empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another individual.
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    Quote Originally Posted by sciencematters28 View Post
    empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another individual.
    Think it's actually to experience them, not JUST recognize them. It's more an emotional connection than cognitive.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sciencematters28 View Post
    empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another individual.
    Think it's actually to experience them, not JUST recognize them. It's more an emotional connection than cognitive.
    IMO, that is why it is called "mirror response", the mirror image in our brain mimics the observed image and responds in the same way, either from hardwired neural networks or acquired memories of similar situations. Watch a person hit is hand with a hammer, our brain may not feel the actual pain, but the chemical response processes are the same as the person suffering. This is why we cringe and yell "ouch" when seeing someone else hurt themselves, because we "know" the experience that is associated with hitting your hand with a hammer (or anything that hurts). This is why we laugh when observing a funny situation, because we can "see" ourselves in that predicament and "know" the embarrassment.

    Perhaps grief is a hardwired mirror response in many high order species. Perhaps this is why there are rituals attached to certain ceremonies such a burials, to allow all to express a "commonly shared feeling of loss".
    Interestingly, we experience Art in many ways, thus the term "eye of the beholder" (his mirror response) to the 'content" of the painting, not to the skill or techinque of the painter.

    LF, I believe your description is more definitive of the word "sympathy". To recognize a situation is a little different than "vicariously experiencing" that situation. IMO.

    edit: LF , reading again, I agree with your description...
    Last edited by Write4U; February 27th, 2013 at 02:50 AM.
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    I can give an example you might like to think on. Friends of mine referred to one woman within the group as empathetic - she was kind to people in trouble of any kind, generous with her time, all those admirable qualities. I disagreed. I didn't dispute on the point of empathy/ sympathy at that time though it occurs to me now.

    My view was that she had very little insight into people's emotional state. She never picked up on anything was wasn't stated aloud or evidenced by obvious emotional distress. But she was responsive to people once it was plain to her (and to the rest of the world), burst into tears and she really came into her own. She was a genuinely lovely person. Just not an empathetic one.
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