I for one thought Dr. Robert did a fine job answering the kid’s question. I especially liked the phrase “premature cognitive commitment”. I don’t think I’ve ever run across it before. If you think about it, isn’t that source of almost all adult neuroses?
The good doctor was right to point out that if you can actually remember what empathy feels like then chances are good that you are closer to the average range of personality characteristics than not. I would however point out a possible distinction that is often missed when it comes to understanding empathy and the presence or absence of conscience. I am able to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes. I can do so vividly sometimes. That’s one of the things I realized the first time I took an acting class some years ago. It was a lot of fun. I could make myself feel emotions that I normally don’t. Once the acting exercise was over, so were the emotions. The character I was playing and the feelings I was able to generate within the context of a dramatic scene had no bearing on my normal emotional range. Being able to imagine myself in someone else’s predicament has no effect on the rest of my inner experience and certainly doesn't leave anything resembling a conscience in its wake. Consequently, there is no effect on my behavior either. Unless, of course, I choose to alter my actions for my own purposes. Otherwise, someone else’s suffering has no automatic or instinctive impact on me. I literally feel nothing when I look at pictures of war victims for example. Now, if it were a play I was in and I was supposed to play a war victim, I could imagine what that might feel like and “play the verb”, so to speak, with great affect. Beyond that, I don’t give a d~mn. And unlike the 18 year old, I can’t remember a time when I did.