Oh and one more thing that just occurred to me. When it comes to this empathy business, I think that there have been a small group of people who have exhibited extraordinary amounts of it down through the centuries. This extra helping of empathy might have fueled their great compassion and even dare I say unconditional love. (Whatever that word love means. I know, that was covered somewhere else!) These people were worshipped as avatars of the ever mysterious "something more" and venerated as saints. It stands to reason that if there are cold fishes such as myself and socio/psychopaths and malignant narcissists and what not then surely there must be a kind of opposite group, the saintly, deeply compassionate types, the ones that give love a good name. But those people would, like those of us on the colder end of the personality spectrum, have to be in the minority wouldn't they? It is the great middle that seems to be more naïve about just how empathetic they actually are. Perhaps these saints and "avatars" have given the middle an ideal that they cannot possibly hope to live up to. If brain irregularities lead to something like my less emotional brain, why couldn't other brain abnormalities lead to an excess of empathy and compassion? And if both sides of the spectrum have neurological roots, then no amount of preaching, teaching and living by example by the saints can ever actually make the less then empathetic middle more empathetic.
Or am I wrong?
Hmmm... actually, I've also asked myself this question before(for many reasons, I tried to rationalize, predict or even sense out the reasons, the emotions, etc. to the answer and failed.):
why can humans allow a certain measure of suffering to take place and how do they measure it?
So yeah, I think it is a self-defense mechanism: since people can't feel more than a certain amount of pain/
As for measuring suffering, hmmm... I would suspect that most people would simply deny that you can't measure it. But we do, oh yes. How else do you think we come up with linguistic terms(in English at least) for describing types of suffering that have/have not surpassed certain limits? Sheer agony, indescrible pain, grieving, intense sorrow, ouch!, irritating, pi_s_sed off, annoying, etc., etc. In a way, we don't want to face it but we do want some release from these feelings, too.
And release we do need it, there are those who are unable to block out anything that go pass a certain "limit". These people become nothing but shadows of themselves and should they become unable to recover, they become empty shells. Just machines, that go through the process of life.
"Limit" would be defined as: hmmm... I guess it's the amount of chemical input the brain can handle. But why are the limits there? Dunno, guess it's to keep the brain functioning. Ugh... my science is all out of date.
About the Haitian earthquake? I don't know. At times, I'm mixed with regret, sorrow, sympathy and sadness for the victims and the people who struggle to save themselves and/or others. At other times, I'm blank and just reading the reports and accounts out of curiosity and interest. And at yet other times, I go through the reasons how and why the earthquake took place and how they could have minimized the impacts of this incident. Why am I blank? I don't know. Am I trying to block out the suffering and other feelings? Who knows, eh.
Erm, actually people don't just "feel" or "connect" by just feelings or empathy alone. There are those who experience everything in sounds(pitches, modulation, intensity, etc.), colors(words and certain numbers have different types and intensity of colors), tastes(certain words taste sweet, sour, bitter, like metal, like salt water, like chocolate, like strawberry), numbers(every word, every incident, etc. has an assigned number and certain things share certain numbers and are special 'cos of that), etc. And they use all these stuff to connect with others, which might be mixed with feelings then. The world is far more complex than just "feelings" and empathy. LOL.
Empathy, to me, is just one way of measuring everything. To me, everything has consequences, both minor and major and one human's sense of empathy may not be the way of another. And everyone has their own reasons and motivations for doing everything in life.
And shaping empathy? Interesting... hmmm. Wow, this is kinda deep. I have no idea, really. I mean: I do believe that if it wasn't for the amount of suffering I went through, I wouldn't be able to empathise with others. However, what if my brain already was wired in a certain way and the set conditions were simply met?
As for the terms "human/inhuman", sometimes, I just think that it's a way of distancing ourselves from "the others" and convincing ourselves that we're incapable of doing this and that. But I'd rather establish various forms of reasoning to convince myself why I shouldn't do this and that, than try to beat myself senseless into accepting something. That way, I have less chances of breaking down and of doing things that would hurt others.
To be honest, I have to act a bit when people discuss the Haiti thing. People can shoot me down if they like, I'm just not moved by people who are struck by natural disasters. Same goes for car/plane etc accidents. Maybe I'm desensitized, but I honestly don't remember ever being moved. And that picture of the war victim that Dr R posted somewhere didn't move me either.
But show me a child or old person being bullied or abused by someone bigger, stronger, more powerful in some way, and I feel that I can easily kill the b*stard.
Funny hey, talking about "humans and empathy (and monsters)", many pedophiles empathise with their victims when they're abusing them.
I'll read your post again and get back later with an opinion :) Excellent topic btw
Oh and I forgot:
there are those who surpass a certain limit but who don't become empty. Instead, they snap and grow deranged: frightening, man. I'd rather deal with a predictable criminal than someone who suddenly snaps. And then moments later, he/she's bound to grab a knife or gun and murder everyone in that room. Or if they plan it out, it's even worse.
It's for this reason why I think that weapon control is really important: screw free speech! In the absence of common sense and logic, you might as well forget about principles and negotiation. Compassion might not work out so well, either. And oh yes, I think it's super super important to teach people to regulate their emotions and to manifest them in healthy manners.
Well I would actually think that a conscience ( or lack of) and the way it functions colours your entire experience of existence.
Im completely confused as to what youre referring to when youre speaking of an empty ploy for sympathy? Cant remember you did that or me addressing it?
The instances I felt intensely connected to someone ( emphasizing or whatever) are indeed the moments Ive felt most alive but sometimes feeling connected to overpowering nature also has that effect on me so Im confusing myself now.
I wanna ask you something. Conscience or no conscience human or not, do you ever feel like you suffer from any existential vacuum or dilemma. Rational or not?
Btw youre such a snob DB:-)
Thanks for the responses everyone!
After thinking about it a little more, I have come to appreciate just how layered my question is. I suppose I could say that the fact that we can ask what it means to be human is itself a manifestation of that humanity, isn’t it? I could argue that emotion (love, compassion, altruism, anger, fear, contempt, etc) is not what makes humans unique since it appears that other animal species experience something analogous to emotion. Perhaps it is the human mind itself, or more precisely, our ability to abstract, that makes our species so unique. This abstractive capacity would naturally include the precision of our reason, our ability to remember, our capacity to communicate what we think via complex language and so on. Just food for thought.
I liked what you said about normals with perhaps an average range of empathy, using all manner of means to manage those feelings when they become inconvenient or downright painful. It is true that no single person, no matter how compassionate they are, can save the world. If any would be savior allowed him/herself to feel the totality of the world’s pain, the totality of all that suffering might kill him/her. Oh wait, that sounds suspiciously like the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. He was said to carry the weight of all of mankind’s sins on his shoulders the day he died on the cross, hence the salvific nature of his crucifixion. Mythology aside, I do not fault normals for having to shut down somewhat just to make it through the day. It does make sense. The unreflective self righteousness is what annoys me. I think my “problem” has been that I have been surrounded by provincial thinkers most of my life. So many people in my offline have been and are even today very simplistic in their outlook. I have reacted adversely against that. I think that is one of the reasons I come to forums like this one. It has given me a chance to work out some of my thoughts with obviously intelligent and self aware folk like you.
It has never occurred to me to consider measuring suffering. I think in a few senses, we can measure it, but only with great approximation. We would also have to define what we mean by suffering.
Also, I have never heard of the idea of empathy as a kind of measurement either. What do you mean by that?
Finally, you mentioned weapon control. I do not have a strong opinion about that. As you can guess, I am anti-ideological. It is one of my pet peeves about both liberals and conservatives. They believe in their political doctrine so strongly that they blind themselves and become unpragmatic, destructive and downright stupid. I will say this though. Those who really want to get a gun will get a gun, regardless of what the law says.
Your honesty is most refreshing. It is great to hear someone besides a guy like me point blank state that they are not moved by the suffering of strangers who have been victims of natural disasters, wars or accidents. It is probably truer to say that even within the realm of average consciences and empathetic feelings, variation exists. We are all different aren’t we? Then again, to put it more cynically, we are our own unique little snowflake, just like everybody else.
Isn't it true "freedom of choice" (inborn), that makes us human? Thanks Daniel, I hardly have time to sit down for a minute this weekend. I'm normally more vocal ;)
If the essence of being human is free will then no one is human because as far as I can see, free will as it is popularly understood is a fiction.
Hmm, perhaps I should have said the ability to entertain the illusion of free-will?
Anyway, I'm not sure thats everyone's popular theory, though it seems to be here.
Honestly, I like to think there is a middle path. Obviously genetic, cultural, environmental and possibly other predeterminants limit or direct one's choices and progress in life. And I believe that to a large extent the development of moral pathways isn't free will. And I'm aware of what brain scans show, but I do believe that self-awareness and the controlling of ones own response to ones motivations can significantly vary outcomes. Chicken or egg first?
Empathy, IMO, like conscience is developed depending on genetics or environment, but not necessary to being a "human".
Could you explain your funny way of writing/style? What or where does it originate from?
I have read all of your posts on this forum. Are you kidding us with that strange lingo, or is this really the way you talk?
Besides your funny way of writing which I believe must be a joke of some kind, your point of view is terribly judgmental and self righteous. And I hear a nastiness behind it. I suggest you read Doctor Robert's reply to the man who constantly found himself surrounded by sin.
Gah really sorry for the late reply.
Here's what happened: my pc shut down and I lost all your replies that I was writing. I should use MS Word from now on. Ugh! And it’s 6++ a.m. right now, I haven’t slept and so, forgive me if my grammar and punctuation are off.
Also, forgot about this: