Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TPJ and empathy

Already known:

  • The amount to which a person can understand others' intents and beliefs is correlated with how altruistic they are.
  • Activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) is correlated with the ability to understand others' perspectives.

The size and activation in the TPJ correlate with altruistic behavior.

If you ARE outraged, you're not paying enough attention

Have you seen this bumper sticker before?

Not only do they get it wrong, they get it completely and utterly wrong. Let's look at the definition of outrage:

Definition of OUTRAGE

: an act of violence or brutality
a : injury, insult  outrages on silly women or poor passengers — Shakespeare>b : an act that violates accepted standards of behavior or taste  outrage alike against decency and dignity — John Buchan>
: the anger and resentment aroused by injury or insult
Even assuming they mean definition 3, it's just plain wrong. Resentment? That's never a healthy emotion. There seems to be a popular sense that the only way to make a positive change is to have a fiercely negative emotion driving it.

I've written before about why that's just not true. Here I want to add that the assumption that it is true is probably the cause of many of the problems than the sticker is trying to get us to pay attention to.

Solutions that are arrived at from a place of resentment are inferior to those that come from a desire to improve the world. A true desire to improve the world, not the half-assed kind we kid ourselves into thinking we have when it suits us.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A crazy thought

When we unskillfully try to reduce our own suffering, we turn to entertainment, diversions, distractions. When we do it skillfully we seek our own liberation.

When we unskillfully try to manifest compassion -- to reduce the suffering of others -- we apply bandaids that solve the proximal causes of suffering. Hunger, pain, etc. When we do so skillfully, we try to point others toward their own liberation.

We do require diversions until we are "strong" (or lucid) enough. And helping others in conventional ways is a fantastic and important thing to do.

But perhaps, just perhaps, suffering and compassion are actually blessings in disguise, to help us restore ourselves to our true nature.

This really belongs on my other blog,, because of the pontificating. But I'm putting it here because (1) it's an (unconventional) answer to the question "why empathy?", and (2) trying to hide my crazy ideas is just another form of ego clinging. Might as well out myself while I have the courage to do so.

(And, of course, I think this is a useful post, which is the bar I use to decide whether or not to post on either blog.)