Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rambling on a hot night in the Mojave

Exploiting potentiality with imagination to nurture empathy.

I view all life infused, if you will, with potential, much of the inorganic too is infused with potential, potential in that elements can and will combine to create compounds, in physics we postulate that fundamental matter particles (quarks) combine to create protons, neutrons and hadrons. This 'potential' seems to be the given in the cosmos, we don't see a Big Bang exploding with a bunch of 'somethings' that forever remain separate 'somethings', but we do see a bunch of 'somethings' interacting, combining, mutating, structuring, building upon one another to create new 'somethings' that never existed before (or so we think). Darwinian Evolution is all about potential. When you awake in the morning, once you open your eyes the world bursts forth into potential. We even speak of 'latent potential' to refer to that which does not presently exist. So, 'exploiting potentiality' means mindfully being aware of your own state of potential. And what about imagination? Is it really so uniquely human? I think so. To imagine what does not exist as if it did exist and further to exploit your potential to make that imagination a reality. Who else can claim that? Yes, chimps and dogs can be clever, but don't mistake cleverness for imagination -- big imagination. And finally empathy. We can read, if you will, another's feelings and emotional state and physical situation, and somehow transferring their state of being to oneself, it becomes the proverbial walking two moons in your neighbor's moccasins before passing judgment.


Lucy said...

My dog can do the empathy bit.

Bro. Bartleby said...

I would think empathy first presupposes self recognition, in that if the creature does not recognize itself as distinct and apart from others, then what may appear to be empathy may be something else, such as learned response to certain situations. I've been getting some feedback from Bro. Clarence, who is much more versed in science than I am. He explained what he calls the "mirror experiment" in which a mirror is placed before an animal and all animals below the great apes (Chimpanzees and Orangutans) see the image in the mirror as another, not oneself. Whereas an ape will at first think the ape in the mirror is another, but will learn to recognize it as itself. One experiment was to put a chimp to sleep and then draw a red mark above the brow. Upon awakening, and when the chimp peers into the mirror, it will not touch the mirror, but will reach up and touch the red mark above the brow. It is recognizing that the image in the mirror is in fact itself -- it is self-conscious, at least in the most basic way. A monkey, on the other hand, will never reach up to the red mark above the brow. The monkey in the mirror is not recognized as itself. So too for dogs and other critters.

Etymology: Greek empatheia, literally, passion, from empathEs emotional, from em- + pathos feelings, emotion—more at PATHOS
1 : the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2 : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this

Lucy said...

Yes of course, it's not a conscious, reasoned response she has, but a shared distress with distress, joy with joy, I know it's not what you're talking about really, but it's not indifference!