On Empathy - Part I

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

Empathy can, thus, be re-defined as a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as "objects" to whichrepparttar communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is wrong to limit empathy torepparttar 126190 communication of emotion. It isrepparttar 126191 intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only withrepparttar 126192 empathee's emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).

This leads torepparttar 126193 important (and perhaps intractable) psychophysical question.

Intersubjectivity relates to external objects butrepparttar 126194 subjects communicate and reach an agreement regardingrepparttar 126195 way THEY have been affected byrepparttar 126196 objects.

Empathy relates to external objects (the Others) butrepparttar 126197 subjects communicate and reach an agreement regardingrepparttar 126198 way THEY would have felt had they BEENrepparttar 126199 object.

This is no minor difference, if it, indeed, exists. But does it really exist?

What is it that we feel in empathy? Is it OUR emotions/sensations merely provoked by an external trigger (classic intersubjectivity) or is it a TRANSFER ofrepparttar 126200 object's feelings/sensations to us?

Such a transfer being physically impossible (as far as we know) - we are forced to adoptrepparttar 126201 former model. Empathy isrepparttar 126202 set of reactions - emotional and cognitive - to triggering by an external object (the other). It isrepparttar 126203 equivalent of resonance inrepparttar 126204 physical sciences. But we have NO WAY to ascertainrepparttar 126205 "wavelength" of such resonance is identical in both subjects. In other words, we have no way to verify thatrepparttar 126206 feelings or sensation invoked inrepparttar 126207 two (or more) subjects are one andrepparttar 126208 same. What I call "sadness" may not be what you call "sadness". Colours have unique, uniform, independently measurable properties (like energy). Still, no one can prove that what I see as "red" is what another calls "red" (as isrepparttar 126209 case with Daltonists). If this is true where "objective", measurable, phenomena are concerned - it is infinitely true inrepparttar 126210 case of emotions or feelings.

We are, therefore, forced to refine our definition:

Empathy is a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as "objects" to whichrepparttar 126211 communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It isrepparttar 126212 intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only withrepparttar 126213 empathee's emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).


The meaning attributed torepparttar 126214 words used byrepparttar 126215 parties torepparttar 126216 intersubjective agreement known as empathy is totally dependent upon each party. The same words are used,repparttar 126217 same denotates - but it cannot be proven thatrepparttar 126218 same connotates,repparttar 126219 same experiences, emotions and sensations are being discussed or communicated.

Language (and, by extension, art and culture) serve to introduce us to other points of view ("what is it like to be someone else" to paraphrase Thomas Nagle). By providing a bridge betweenrepparttar 126220 subjective (inner experience) andrepparttar 126221 objective (words, images, sounds) -language facilitates social exchange and interaction. It is a dictionary which translates one's subjective private language torepparttar 126222 coin ofrepparttar 126223 public medium. Knowledge and language are, thus,repparttar 126224 ultimate social glue, though both are based on approximations and guesses (see George Steiner's "After Babel").

But, whereasrepparttar 126225 intersubjective agreement regarding measurements and observations concerning external objects IS verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools (e.g., lab experiments) -repparttar 126226 intersubjective agreement which concerns itself withrepparttar 126227 emotions, sensations and experiences of subjects as communicated by them IS NOT verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools. The interpretation of this second kind of agreement is dependent upon introspection and an assumption that identical words used by different subjects still possess identical meaning. This assumption is not falsifiable (or verifiable). It is neither true nor false. It is a probabilistic statement with no probabilities attached. It is, in short, a meaningless statement. As a result, empathy itself is meaningless.

In human-speak, if you say that you are said and I empathize with you it means that we have an agreement. I regard you as my object. You communicate to me a property of yours ("sadness"). This triggers in me a recollection of "what is sadness" or "what is to be sad". I say that I know what you mean, I have been sad before, I know what it is like to be sad. I empathize with you. We agree about being sad. We have an intersubjective agreement.


Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com

Schindler's List: A Fecal Matter

Written by Robert Levin

Continued from page 1

And then there’s mass murder.

Blowing away a lot of people is an especially effective death-dread remedy. When guilt and ambivalence are removed fromrepparttar act—whenrepparttar 126189 act can be rationalized as serving a righteous or noble cause, like, say,repparttar 126190 extirpation of an inferior or evil race that’s corrupting a divine plan—it’s even better than especially effective. Mussolini’s son, returning to Italy in a state of euphoria after bombingrepparttar 126191 Ethiopians, and, in an infamous remark, describingrepparttar 126192 carnage he’d wrought as “beautiful,” was only being honest, candidly acknowledgingrepparttar 126193 ultimate high that murder can afford.

“High,” meaning of course, ABOVErepparttar 126194 body.

When we devote ourselves torepparttar 126195 preservation of a rain forest, we are performing a service for nature that might, come Judgment Day, earn us a special dispensation. When we bulldoze a rainforest we are getting nature out of our face. But when we are killing, when we are exercising destructive force of a supreme magnitude, and manifesting a blunt indifference torepparttar 126196 notion ofrepparttar 126197 sanctity of life, torepparttar 126198 unfinished business of our victims, and torepparttar 126199 grief of those who loved them, we become what it truly is to be “one” with nature. Andrepparttar 126200 reward is extraordinary. Claiming nature’s power and authority for ourselves, merging withrepparttar 126201 source of death, we stop feeling vulnerable to nature, we achieve a sense of immunity to its victimization of us, a sense of immunity that, in turn, relieves us ofrepparttar 126202 burdenrepparttar 126203 fragility of our bodies inflicts on us. Inrepparttar 126204 period of killing we get what we most need and want, we get to experience ourselves as indestructible.

Murder kills death.

I’ve conceded that it would have been off Spielberg’s spectrum to make even an oblique or passing reference to a reality so repugnant. But I can still wish he’d been capable of taking his opportunity to toss a wrench intorepparttar 126205 mindless reflex of hand-wringing astonishment and incredulity that is our rote response to atrocities. The truth ofrepparttar 126206 matter isn’t elusive. We make it so because it sits in shit. A certain percentage of humanity, unable to avail itself ofrepparttar 126207 less malignant death-denial techniques, or finding them insufficient, or seeing through them, will always be willing to become what Elie Wiesel termed “not human”; will, in fact, have no recourse but to violaterepparttar 126208 social contract and enter madness in order to achieve respite fromrepparttar 126209 inhuman reality of living under a death sentence.

If anything should astonish us it's that this percentage isn't much higher.

Former contributor to the Village Voice and Rolling Stone. Coauthor and coeditor, respectively, of two collections of essays about rock and jazz in the '60s: "Music & Politics" and "Giants of Black Music."

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