Chapter 10: Empathy and Theory of Mind Sensations
One of the traditional arguments against the variety of theory which is presented here, is that it does not address apparent examples of “selfless acts.” If personal relevance is completely based upon personal sensations, and thus we are fundamentally “selfish” in this respect, then why are apparent sacrifices for others commonly observed? I often attribute such behavior to our “empathy.” Furthermore sensations commonly associated with “theory of mind” will be addressed here, and they may conform with or oppose any apparent “non-selfishness.” Each of these instruments are theorized to be sensation based, however, so they actually conform with my theory. But to begin with “empathy,” I suspect that this emerged out of the need for evolution to facilitate more effective parenting in relatively advanced forms of conscious life. Thus the parenting dynamic in general shall be the first topic here.
For perfectly instinctive subjects there is no potential for the parenting of young to conflict with personal interests, and this is mandated since there are no personal interests here. “Robot parents,” if you like, will operate to the specifications of their mental/mechanical dynamics, without any potential for punishing/rewarding sensations to occur.
Once “conscious parents” are considered, however, there does exist the potential for productive parenting functions to conflict with personal interests. A parent such as this might be hungry, for example, and thus have this incentive to feed itself instead of its young. In fact, here there should even be reason for offspring to simply be eaten. So how might evolution deal with the conflicts which should naturally arise when there is the need for conscious life to oversee and promote the development of offspring, given the potential for conflicting personal interests to exist?
One method must be to rely upon “instinct,” and thus sentient life may in this way be compelled to preform parenting functions. Here offspring might be given protection, nourishment, education, and so on, through a mechanism that the parent has no conscious control over.
Beyond “instinct,” another such mechanism must be to make certain standard parenting activities “feel good,” and/or not doing them “feel bad.” This would create a personal incentive to perform specific types of parenting functions. For example, if maintaining offspring hygiene generally helps promote genetic welfare, then this could evolve to become an enjoyable activity for an associated parent — here there would be reason to consciously devise effective ways to promote the hygiene of offspring. With this tool an assortment of standard parenting activities might be addressed — perhaps regarding offspring nutrition, safety, education, and so on.
But observe that the parent’s conscious mind here should still not be used to devise and implement ways to promote offspring welfare in a general sense, given that offspring should still essentially be irrelevant to it. The theme might be something like “I enjoy cleaning you, feeding you, protecting you, and so on, but nothing more. If you suffer, for example, my understanding of this will not harm me, and this is because I’m actually indifferent to you.”
The way that evolution seems to have invoked the tool of conscious thought for the promotion of offspring welfare in a general sense, was to create “empathy” — or a dynamic by which perceptions of offspring sensations, cause somewhat corresponding parental sensations. Here perceptions that offspring is in pain, or in danger, or healthy, will tend to invoke somewhat conforming parental sensations — and thus give a parent this incentive to consciously plan and implement ways to promote offspring welfare in a general sense. So perhaps empathy emerged in order for “thought” to generally be used for parenting purposes — and I presume, long before the existence of anything similar to “the human.”
To specifically address human empathy, however, this seems to have become a very prominent element of what we are — and perhaps given our highly social nature. Thus we do not simply observe empathetic sensitivity for parent to child, but also for child to parent, family member to family member, friend to friend, and so on. In fact, apparently perceptions of sensations in perfectly anonymous people, animals, and even plants and machines, have the potential to incite strong personal empathetic sensations as well.
Consider for example how much less entertaining movies and television programs would often be, if the sensations which anonymous actors portray did not also invoke personal sensations for viewers to experience. Without providing information which is otherwise significant to us, the various circumstances which actors portray might thus seem quite irrelevant. But given our general empathy, situations which depict the sensations of others do commonly seem to be personally significant, and presumably because our perceptions of the sensations of others generally cause us somewhat conforming empathetic sensations.
((This paragraph observes that “empathy” can only be based upon perceived sensations, not actual sensations.))
Since actors often just “act,” this profession demonstrates that it’s not the sensations of others that directly cause conforming sensations for observers to experience, but rather just an observer’s perception of those sensations. Observe that if you have no information about your child’s present circumstances, for example, then the sensations which he or she experiences will not directly cause an empathy effect in you, and quite regardless of the magnitude of your child’s actual sensations. This seems to explain why it can be effective for those who fight animal cruelty, for example, to display graphic examples of mistreated animals. Because such sensations do not directly impart negative sensations for others to experience (and these animals may certainly be caged up well out of public view) it may also be helpful to illustrate this suffering in order to gain support by means of observer empathy.
To now move beyond empathy, there also seems to be a dynamic which can function in the opposite manner, or such that positive sensations may be experienced through perceptions of negative sensations in others, as well as negative sensations through perceptions of positive sensations in others. I do not refer to this as “anti-empathy,” however, since it seems to often emerge through standard “theory of mind” dynamics. Furthermore this also seems to function such that it does correspond with empathy. The “theory of mind” term will be used here, as it commonly is, to represent perceptions that one conscious entity has about what another conscious entity happens to be thinking.
Apparently accurate theory about the thoughts of others (which is to say, accurate theory of mind) can be useful in a general sense. If I had a better understanding of your specific thoughts, I would presumably be able to devise better arguments from which to convince you of my beliefs, for example, or even have an advantage if we were to play a game of Poker. But once there is theory about the thoughts of others, how might perceptions of positive/negative views of us personally be dealt with? Here it seems that the non-conscious mind takes these perceptions as evidence of personal health. With signs that we are being judged in positive/negative ways, our non-conscious minds seem to create corresponding positive/negative sensations for our conscious minds to deal with. Furthermore, apparently this also occurs when we make such judgments of ourselves. Observe that we enjoy being proud, while sensations of shame can feel very negative. (Though a “theory of mind” title may not technically be appropriate for personal assessments, I nevertheless classify this here as well.)
There are many ways in which positive/negative judgments of others and ourselves can be made. One might be perceived as smart, or the opposite, beautiful, or the opposite, thin, or the opposite, strong, or the opposite, friendly, or the opposite, honest, or the opposite, fragrant, or the opposite, charitable, or the opposite, humorous, or the opposite, and so on. With evidence that such positive/negative assessments are being made about us, our non-conscious minds seem to create associated sensations for our conscious minds to deal with.
For example, if I perceive that others consider me to be “an idiot,” or if I happen to make such assessments of myself, this should generally cause me associated negative sensations. Here my non-conscious mind is theorized to inflict a lesson of punishment to consciously experience, given this “evidence of my weakness.” Thus I generally strive to behave in ways which suggest, both to myself and to others, that I’m not indeed an idiot. In practice these positive/negative sensations set up a dynamic where there is competition to be viewed against others in favorable ways. Thus there may be reason for one person to insult another person, essentially in order to benefit from theory of mind sensations to the theme of “I am better than you.”
Consider the progression of a child that begins life in a supportive and happy family. Observe that even here the child should experience sensations of “disrespect” from time to time as various family rules are enforced. Some situations may thus cause anger and shouting from the child, while others may bring crying from sadness, or perhaps shame. During these situations, theoretically the child’s non-conscious mind is inflicting lessons of punishment to consciously experience through associated theory of mind penalties. Then later in a “school yard environment,” where there will presumably be far less “law,” the child may quickly learn that friendships and alliances can be very important to help promote theory of mind interests. Here a given alliance may find reason to generally display disrespect for various rivals, essentially in order to reap associated theory of mind rewards. And though maturity does often seem to at least bring greater civility, this should simply mask the underlying dynamics of our nature. Whether in a corporate office, a specific family, among strangers, or even in perfectly isolation, theory of mind rewards and penalties do often seem to be a significant source of sensations. Here there is general reason to “gain respect,” both from others and ourselves.
I do not mean to imply, however, that “a winner” inherently requires there to be “a loser” in this regard. Apparently it is quite possible for there to be “mutual respect between subjects” such that positive theory of mind sensations flow back and forth. Here subjects may essentially “build from the strengths of each other.” Notice that certain families are very supportive in this regard, and thus reap these benefits in a general sense, while others remain quite mired in negative theory of mind strife.
Also consider two men that are very good friends. What might happen if one of them were to marry a woman that they each perceive to be, in all regards, extremely attractive? I do not see “jealousy” to be an inherent theory of mind issue, given that this sensation might occur regardless of the man’s perceptions of what his married friend thinks. Notice that there need not even be another man here — simple interactions with this woman could bring a yearning desire for her, and even if she is indeed available. Perhaps here we could call it jealousy of her, though it might just as well be jealousy of a home, a car, a job, or anything else that one might desire.
To nevertheless consider the “theory of mind” elements to this situation, however, the married man has this reason to “feel superior” to his friend, and thus his non-conscious mind should reward him with positive sensations somewhat in this regard. Conversely the friend should feel associated sensations of “inferiority.” If this friend also has “general insecurities,” perhaps he will try to suggest that he isn’t actually bothered in the attempt reduce this effect. If he is “quite secure,” however, he might openly state “Damn it man… your hot wife is killing me!”
Apparently our standard empathetic tendencies, which naturally help align personal interests with the interests of others, have significant potential to be overcome by opposing theory of mind sensations. Thus a person might, for example, attack his or her spouse. These attacks may often be signs that empathy has been overcome by the desire to halt negative theory of mind sensations like shame, embarrassment, disrespect, and so on.
Also note that there seems be significant potential for signs of animosity from others, to ironically be interpreted by the non-conscious mind as signs of positive personal health — which should in turn cause positive personal sensations. Not only might a business owner or the dictator of a country enjoy dominating various subjects of control, for example, but a sports fan might find satisfaction through a bitter rivalry with fans from competing clubs. Apparently associated animosity is taken as “respect,” and thus the non-conscious mind imparts positive sensations when various “disadvantaged competitors” express their animosity. This dynamic should also tend to make “the disadvantaged” feel somewhat worse.
Returning once again to “empathy,” however, apparently we aren’t just tied to others through our understanding of their sensations, but we also desire perceptions that others have empathy for us — apparently we both love others, as well as desire the love of others.
Consider a child that is spanked by a parent for disobedience. This should bring both pain as well as a theory of mind demonstration of weakness. For a third such penalty, however, this situation may also show that the parent both “understands and condones” the child’s negative sensations. Such demonstrations that a parent’s empathy is weaker than presumed, I think, can incite very negative sensations as well.
Children might essentially be viewed as “weak humans.” Crying, which seems incited by negative sensations, might be thought of as an instinctive mechanism from which to invoke the empathy of those that are more dominant. But when there is evidence that no such empathy exists, this seems to also incite negative sensations, and theoretically because empathy is something that we naturally desire others to have for us. Perhaps this is often understood, as illustrated when a parent plainly shows his or her child how difficult it is to inflict punishments. To the extent that the child believes that the parent will also be harmed here, there should at least be this comfort. Though the punishment may still occur, this child should be somewhat protected through a greater perception of parental love.
Also consider both the empathy and theory of mind implications associated with insults. A girl that is generally perceived to be quite unattractive may learn to accept her associated inferior status, and in this manner not perpetually feel so negative about this circumstance. But when an associated malicious taunt is directed at her, and possibly by someone that she respects and/or loves, there should be something more than just new evidence of a problem that she may already be quite aware of. A “lack of empathy” effect should play an additional role in the negative sensations which she experiences, and with increased effect when greater levels of relieved upon empathy become more questionable. Beyond the expected general theory of mind effect that a perfectly unknown attacker should impart, perhaps an apparent lack of empathy effect does commonly occur as well.
So a question that I leave you with here is… does the human display a sufficiently selfishness nature from which to validate the perfectly selfish presented ideology, at least given my inclusion of both empathy and theory of mind sensations?
((This five paragraph discussion notes the potential for “human studies” to be compromised by “human biases,” given that we have no “nonhuman theorists” that might thus be more objective observers of us than ourselves.
One issue that “mental/behavioral” sciences will always need to battle, I think, is that because we are human, it can inherently be difficult for us to consider human reality from relatively objective positions. Apparently our beliefs become “tinted” by both empathy and theory of mind based sensations, as well as sensations in general. Thus a scientist’s ability to develop useful models of human reality, should also depend somewhat upon his or her ability to objectively acknowledge and account for various personal sensations.
I enjoy watching nature shows, for example, though my respect for a given program will diminish when I perceive various standard human biases. Observe that these programs commonly seem to “justify” the cruelties which exist in the natural world. When a mother bird permits a weak chick to be killed by its siblings, for example, this demonstrates a very callous event from a standard human perspective. But these programs commonly attempt to “explain” such behavior, I presume, in order to encourage us to not hate the offenders. A more objective assessment might instead observe that a given subject may indeed be quite horrible to another, and as these birds suggest, well beyond the human.
Also observe that these programs commonly attempt to “shame us” into preserving the Earth’s ecosystem from the many changes that modern humanity is making. Because we are progressively displacing various species of life (which does presumably include future humanity), and because “nature” is also widely presumed to be “good,” these shows are an excellent way to convey this “humanly biased message.”
Apparently the scientist, who is no less human than the nature show host, must develop theory from which to understand exactly how his or her views are “naturally tinted” in order to help account for such potentially distorting influences. Once there is accepted theory which describes the biological nature of “good,” (and I presume dynamics like “empathy” and “theory of mind” sensations), it should be more possible for “mental/behavioral” scientists to remove their proverbial “human tinted glasses,” and thus gain somewhat more accurate perceptions of reality.
To also inject some self-reflection here, I am quite aware that my own work is mainly driven by “theory of mind based sensations.” Observe that to the extent which my ideas are able to gain prominence, the standing of certain traditional scientists and philosophers should diminish — and so I would reap various theory of mind rewards at their expense. Thus my associated sensations of “hope” have also made my work quite enjoyable. But have these sensations also influenced me to overstate the potential importance of my ideas? Therefore I must at attempt to be as objective as possible in this regard, given my various biases.