Whether thought of as spiritual Darwinism, or a scientific Buddhism, empathy has been, from the beginning, a revolution.

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Empathy Model: An extension of this work into a template to benefit action research at the Wikiversity

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: At Wikipedia, the real action is often on the discussion page; here I try to answer some of the questions of the contributors to the empathy page
  2. A child's experience with empathy: Andrea is a friend from an online discussion group. She shares insights about raising her son that valuable for explaining empathy; and also she shares her Christian, yet liberal, thoughts on evolution
  3. Scientific proof of empathy: Mirror and spindle cells, with ideas from the scientists who understand their importance
  4. The meanings of empathy: Empathy is understood by everyone, but hard to reflect; this is because everyone's perspective is unique
  5. Compassion and personal health: Empathy, specifically compassion, is closely linked to health; good health comes from good feelings
  6. History of the understanding of empathy: Empathy has been known for a long time, but by different names; Darwin called it "natural affection," and from it, he said, all morality comes
  7. Higher and lower thinking; Neuroplasticity: Daniel Goleman helps simplify for us the workings of empathy in the brain
  8. Memes: How knowledge is communicated empathically, Cold and warm science: The meme is a component of empathy, it is how music, for example affects us so well; yet the meme's inventor coldly refuses to accept that there is empathy, or even emotion, among animals: he is a cold scientist
  9. Sadism in empathy animal experiments: Not all is well on the empathy front; much science is stupid and some is purely evil
  10. Wild animals and empathy; my observations of their empathy in nature: Empathy comes from nature, and many animals are as empathic as we are; you may be surprised
  11. Elephant society: These beautiful creatures have long been known to be similar to humans cerebrally; now they are suffering from the onslaught on their territories and they are trying to break free
  12. Monkey community: Monkeys are smart and social creatures; sometimes do better as a group than we as humans do
  13. Native American empathic experience: Since empathy is a connection to nature, Natives everywhere are highly empathic; but civilized people still today attempt to destroy their life's link through religious control and fealty
  14. Buddhism and it's empathy: A world religion that preserves the link to nature; there is no limit to the empathy of a devout Buddhist
  15. Buddhist Monk confers with a Native Shaman: Both from empathic cultures, one from a world religion and one hiding from colonial terror
  16. After word, experiences writing this material: This information wrote itself, the initial goal was a far simpler learning; many magic people started to speak through me, transforming me
  17. Reference Material and Citations: I developed a standard for citations from a citation for the initial inspiration for this paper, Charles Darwin -- like Dariwn, I became an explorer


At the core of empathy is communication, what Darwin called social affection. Empathy, in the form of compassion, also controls our health, as studies prove. Empathy is increasingly becoming the basis of therapy, and it is at the core of a neurological revolution.

Recently discovered and very important to empathy are mirror and spindle cells, neurons that help us communicate emotionally and help us develop deeper understanding.

The energy wave being generated by the social empathy phenomena is reminiscent of the early days of the Internet. It is only beginning to develop force. Empathic communication may become the real information revolution.

What is empathy? Empathy, as affection, is the basis of the responsibilities we have in interactions and in life.

What are the origins of empathy? Behind the concepts of nature and evolution is creation; the debate is not in if we are created but how we have been created. Given to us is a facility, empathy, that helps us build a relationship with the world around us: people, things, and the surrounding environment. What we have has developed over countless years.

In Nature we see the beginnings of morality as the actions of animals in relation to each other, usually as mothers raising their young. But also we see animals communicating and interacting in other ways with others of their species, and also with animals of other species, as has been found in elephant behavior, and also in other animals such as from the whale family.

In Society: From nature came humanity, and so did the human social ability for interaction that has enabled us to create our society. The types of societies closest to nature are tribally native. In the tribal Natives' closeness to nature is pureness in their morality; in the views of Darwin and Aristotle, as well as Native scholars, morality comes from nature. Often the traits that Natives have to help them survive in nature are the traits that our society now describes as ideal for any person.

"Native knowledge about the natural world tends to view all--or at least vast regions--of nature, often including the Earth itself, as inherently holy rather than profane, savage, wild, or wasteland." .. "Tribal culture can allow for a science that is negotiated in the same way that people negotiate social relations with one another." --David Suzuki

Biology of Empathy: Mirror and spindle cells are the physiological basis for empathy in humans, primates, and even some whales. Humans are not born with theses cells functioning, or they may not exist at birth at all. They start developing in a baby at four months, with nurturing for the baby, soon to be a child, being critical to the baby's growth. The pleasures of the parent-child relationship are the most crucial contributors to developing empathy for a baby.

Mirror cells give us the physiological basis for empathy as humanity knows it. Empathy happens on many different levels; the most important is the social level, empathy gives us our natural ability to be responsible to others.

Spindle cells are connecting cells, and with mirror cells they give us the physiological basis for empathy -- as humanity knows it. Empathy happens on many different levels. It happens on a personal level in our imaginations, in pairs or small groups as fellowship, and in society allowing us to be responsible to our world.

Empathy is not telepathy, though there have been times I have thought I have been reading other people's minds. That happens when the empathic mirror cells are over-working; they drive us crazy at times.

Effectively, empathy is not learned because it is naturally developed. Those who cannot feel their way to a good life through empathy, because they lack mirror and/or spindle cells, have to learn how to be altruistic. Here is some writing from someone who suffered from Aspergers Syndrome, but then developed mirror cell functionality later in life, becoming empathic:

"I can attest to the fact that empathy is an inborn, reflexive and instinctual ability and that I developed empathy late, at 30 years old. Since I remember being without empathy and now that I have developed some empathy, I am in unique position to tell you what it is. I did not know that other people experienced emotions until a few years ago, and this was not due to a lack or intelligence or opportunity to learn. But a predilection to use logic and systems in an inappropriate attempt to understand others combined with an inability to leave my own perspective and see another persons point of view. --DiamondDave, from Wikipedia

Empathy is social empathy; empathy brings us together in communication. The mirror cells allow the level of communication that sometimes seems telepathic; everything is communicated through eye contact, or through other senses. The mirror cells also allow us to absorb another's emotions through their subtle expressions, or "body English." Spindle cells tie all this together by creating high speed pathways between significantly different parts of the brain allowing for imagination, or what scientists call modeling. Einstein specifically mentioned the imagining process as part of his developing his theories.

Empathy is not only happy and beneficial communication. If someone is being mean to you, they are being toxic; through the mirror cells, they dump their toxicity into you, ruining your day. Issues for you become complicated as your spindle cells further enable your empathy so that you embrace the toxicity-- to understand it. Friends, of course, will sense this and may try to empathically steer you away from these thoughts by distracting you with happier thoughts. I personally feel that people who are well nurtured, and therefore more empathic, handle the stresses of life better. But because their empathy allows them to further embrace life, they may be more greatly affected by the most extreme form of stress: trauma.

To survive in the competitive world, you have to limit your empathy. For instance, if you start feeling sorry for the 10,000's of animals that have been butchered for your food, you may startle your family. But if you stop eating meat, you will likely live ten years longer. Being empathic in this case means being selfish. There is a world religion that protects people who are selfish in this empathic way; it is Buddhism. Truly devout Buddhists don't kill anything; they have empathy for everything -- there is no limit to their empathy.

Imaginative empathy: Azar Nafisi, an Iranian writer living in the West who writes in opposition to the controlled and war-like conditions in her native country, makes a most important contribution as shes for us how these combined forces within our minds can extend our empathy beyond our senses to transcend distance and social differences. She describes how the brain's most elegant constructs, empathic thought and imagination, naturally work together to create humanity's most noble reflections, and how necessary these reflections are.

"No amount of political correctness can make us empathize with 'a child left orphaned'" .. "Only curiosity about the fate of others, the ability to put ourselves in their shoes, and the will to enter their world through the magic of imagination, creates this shock of recognition. Without this empathy there can be no genuine dialogue, and we as individuals and nations will remain isolated and alien, segregated and fragmented." --Azar Nafisi

From our natural empathy we have formed our concepts of morality and our sense of normalcy. And from these come the stands by which we define our human society. De Wall, an important elephant researcher, uses the familiar Russian wooden doll as a metaphor to describe the development of morality with the smallest most inside doll as the "natural affection" (Darwin's term for empathy) of our most distant animal ancestors. There is a well-studied monkey group near Puerto Rico on Cayo Santiago that has a synergistic social order. Every monkey shares food and information about food with all the other monkeys of the group. Monkeys that don't share get kicked around by the other monkeys. This shows a very sophisticated example of empathy; but the odd thing is that mirror and spindle cells have not found in monkey brains so far. These brain cells may be more widespread than presently believed, or there may be other neurological constructs in animals that have the same empathic effect as the mirror and spindle cells.

Andrea introduces us to empathy through her empathic son

Scientific proof of empathy

The meanings of empathy

Compassion and personal health

History of the understanding of empathy

Higher and Lower thinking; Neuroplasticity

Memes: transportation for empathy, Cold and warm science

Sadism in empathy animal experiments

Wild animals and their empathy

Elephant society

Monkey communities

Native American empathic experience

Buddhism and its empathy

Buddhist Monk confers with a Native Shaman

Afterword, about writing this paper

Reference material and citations