Friday, 30 April 2010

Empathy : a biological imperative.

Empathy : Standard Definitions

The English word is derived from the Greek word ἐμπάθεια (empatheia), "physical affection, passion, partiality" which comes from ἐν (en), "in, at" + πάθος (pathos), "passion" or "suffering".

The term was adapted by Rudolf Lotz to create the German word Einfühlung ("feeling into") from which the English term is then more directly derived

Wynn Schwartz defines it thus: We recognize others as empathic when we feel that they have accurately acted on or somehow acknowledged in stated or unstated fashion our values or motivations, our knowledge, and our skills or competence, but especially as they appear to recognize the significance of our actions in a manner that we can tolerate their being recognized.

Most definitions express empathy in Anthropomorphic terms, limiting the word to a given cultural assumption.

I intend to extend those definitions to define empathy as a core biological function that enables a level of precision that for most of us is almost unimaginable.
 



Biological Communication and Precision

Firstly we must to look at how cells communicate. The biology of intra-cellular and inter cellular communication operates from the atomic and ionic level upwards; that is to say at the frequency wavelength of any given atom with a variation of one electron, plus or minus.

It is clear from current scientific observation that all cells communicate; that all cells examine their immediate and distal habitats, gathering information and then acting on that information.

It is also clear that all cellular movement creates an electromagnetic pulse that is strongest closest to the cell, yet extends indefinitely as does a radio signal, getting weaker as it travels. The particular signal appears weaker as other signals, including any background ‘noise’ crowd it out.

Arrays of cells can detect what appear to us to be extremely tiny variations within the electromagnetic spectrum, by a process of averaging the combined signals from each cell, and by stochastic resonance, can use the background ‘noise’ to amplify the minute signal they are looking for.

And example is the sensitivity of the arrays of cells that run the length of a sharks side, that detect electrical energy.

If one took a 1.5 volt battery and place one terminal at the East coast of the Atlantic, and another at the West coast of the Atlantic, the shark would be capable of detecting that signal!

Bacteria exhibit a similar capability, which is extended as they gather in larger and larger self organising groups.

There are many, many examples of this level of precision in nature. In fact, given that natural living processes are built from the ‘grass-roots’, that is to say that minute bacteria are the fundamental building and metabolising agents of all living processes, we can begin to comprehend somewhat the amazing hidden universe of the communications and responses of the myriad of living organisms in any one habitat such as a forest or river or ocean; and even within one larger physical body, such as a grass plant, a tree, an animal of any kind which is a essentially collection of self organised organs all of which work together.
 



The Human Being : a self organised bag of bacteria

For the human being, we understand now that our bodies are composed of approximately 1 trillion human cells. There are a further 90 trillion bacterial cells that co-habit within and around the human being. These cells are absolutely vital to the functionality and health of the human being. They are of course invisible to the eye. It is possible to state with some certainty that while the framework might appear human, the organism is bacterial.

Thus Empathy as a biological imperative means for me that I can to certain degree comprehend the fundamental dynamics of natural living processes that increase fecundity and generate abundance for all life – it is the innate and intrinsic ability to ‘feel into’ the habitat and all that dwell there to elicit information that is pertinent to the living processes themselves in terms of how they thrive, how they maintain a dynamic equilibrium within a constantly changing environment.

With regard to the human being, research clearly shows that there are two main poles or modes of human society – the egalitarian and the hierarchical, and that the egalitarian has been the predominant mode for most of our existence on Earth.

This makes sense to me, in that there is no proven, discernible hierarchy in the natural world.

Self organisation is the primary mode, involving co-operation from minute to macro habitats. So it is with our bodies. The western concept of ‘mind’ does not operate the body. We call it ‘automatic’ a mechanistic attribution. From what I have written above, it is clear that it is far from being ‘automatic’, rather it is the result of trillions of cells engaged in exploration, communication, and responsive action.

Furthermore the collective conscious intelligence of the bag of bacteria can be sensed by an individual if she or he choses to ‘lose his or her mind’, to set aside that acculturated sense of identity and to experience that range of sensings that emerge into awareness as a result.

Now I would like to look at empathy as a human attribute within the human societal context.
 



The Empathetic Human Being : The Natural Child

A child gestates for 9 months, living inside his or her mother, as part of her, and is directly linked into her entire being – and lives in absolute empathy with the mother. Twins display an a profound level of empathy, and that emerges from their ‘living together’ in the womb. How could it be otherwise. Their cells are entraining, growing together at the same time.

We know from biochemistry that any chemicals the mother is exposed to are amplified by 100 times when they reach the developing child. This effect was discovered primarily through research into the effects of toxic chemicals such as DDT etc. which are now found in breast milk and in the foetus of most people on Earth, certainly ALL of those born to ‘civilisation’.

We know that the brain development of the baby within the womb is intense, that the growth and organisation of the brain is extraordinarily rapid and complex, and that learning occurs, that is to say that experience within the womb is written into the developing neural structures,

On birth, the baby moves from this deeply connected state, to one of disconnection, of separation.

It is crucial to understand that the new born baby has twice as many neurons in his or her brain as an adult, and that the learning process that writes neural pathways already underway in the womb, is geared for a rapid increase immediately on birth, and that this learning is experiential.

The first learning’s are to do with developing appropriate empathetic neural pathways for life outside the womb.
 



Egalitarian Biology

In egalitarian societies the mother-child bond is retained as a primary focus from birth onwards, and extends throughout childhood, albeit modulating as the child grows and becomes independent. Thus the child is not separated from the mother, breast feeding is extended, skin to skin contact is maintained. The smells, sounds, movements, sights, tastes and other sensing’s all contribute to the development of appropriate neural pathways. A secure and happy child-mother bond results in hormonal cascades originating from the heart that increase the ability to make connections, to write neural pathways, in effect to learn.

Any stress the child experiences releases cortisol, the fight or flight hormone, which damages the neurons and inhibits the development of the appropriate neural pathways the child requires to complete his or her empathetic learning. Damage or Trauma caused at this stage is relatively difficult to address later on. However there are plenty of examples of children with neural damage in one area of their brain transferring the functions normally assigned to that area, language for example, to another area. This demonstrates the plasticity of the brain and of the child’s learning process, given the appropriate nurturing and environment. Recovery is possible.
 



The Dominant Culture : a product of damaged empathetic neurology

In the current dominant culture, the child-mother bond is broken in many, many ways, and we see a profound lack of empathy distributed across all sectors of society, from the individual to the collective. Teachers who ‘need’ to ‘control’ a classroom; politicians who demonise an ‘enemy’ and orchestrate wars in which innocent people die and are maimed; religions that proscribe certain behaviours; marketing that resolves around stereotype; racism, sexism, ageism, scientific reductionism, vivisection all require a profound lack of empathy. The money system that coerces us all to work for money to buy food produced for profit so as to enrich a tiny percentage of the people above and beyond all others; the hubris of the elites, the discrimination learned in school and amongst the divided poor all depend upon a lack of empathy that is practically hard-wired.

Colonisation is the process of extirpating the natural societies from any given land base, and replacing that lived experience with ‘progress’ … and is an expression of lack of empathy at it’s core; a lack of empathy for the people and for the land itself, from which those people emerge.

The current ‘crisis’ of the Church, that paragon of Virtue, demonstrates such a profound loss of empathy, that even with the evidence in the clear daylight, those who identify with it, both lay and clerical even still seek to assign blame to anything other than the Church itself, and characterise those who are bringing the sordid evidence to light as their ‘enemies’. And so it goes.

As I pointed out above, empathy is the ability to sense or feel into the world within which one is embedded, and is a skill-set that is intrinsic to all cells and all groupings of cells. It is absolutely a bio-logical imperative of all living beings, and extends across species. It is the basis for appropriate behaviours which enable all life to thrive, to sustain life beyond mere ‘survival’.
 



The Natural Child : Natural Society

For a natural human being empathy is a core quality, one that enables an accurate ‘reading’ of the habitat, and indeed of other human beings within one’s community. This ‘reading’ is essential to egalitarian ways of living.

The ability to sense what any action one might think upon might have in terms of repercussions of those subject to that action, in terms of feeling that within oneself, is a far greater driver of healthy behaviour that any set of rules or morals. Indeed, rules and morals emerge from a community that lacks empathy. The anthropological research shows this time and time again.

The ability to include rather than exclude information, to gather the widest possible data-set for any experience though sharing perceptions, observations and other sensing’s as well as stored memories is a crucial to the well being of nature based community.

There are many examples of this behaviour that emerge from groups of living beings working together, from bacteria to ants, bees swarming, flocks of birds in flight, shoals of fish and more. It is likely that this level of empathy, of natural precision inheres in all living processes.

It goes a long way to explain the precision and diversity of nature, without recourse to mechanistic explanations which are both crude and inadequate to the task to describing what transpires in living processes, and are most often the result of projections of a certain mindset onto natural processes.



The Heart as a cognitive, sentient organ of perception


Empathy as described above involves the full range of somata-sensory abilities inherent to the human body, and the primary organ in this regards is the heart, amongst other centers such as the 'gut' and various parts of the body, including the standard sensory organs.

The heart is linked directly to the seat of the brain, the region called the amygdala, and the hippocampus and other areas... by 80,000 single neurons (that is there are no breaks or
synapses between the heart and the brain) and signals from the heart reach the brain for processing before even visual signals - thus much is 'felt' even before it is registered.... This has been 'measured' scientifically and is now proven beyond any doubt.

The heart is an electromagnetic transmitter and receiver, emitting an electromagnetic field that is 5000 times stronger than the brains magnetic field, and that encompasses the entire body and nearby surroundings, with an ever extending range, peaking from the skin to about 8 feet, then trailing off into infinity. The heart receives inputs from that immediate area, and can also focus onto and amplify weaker electromagnetic signals.

The heart regulates the brain and all other parts of the body by releasing hormones known as DHEAs and others. This regulation is crucial to the well being of the physical body, and is undermined by focussing on the brain/mind as the seat of consciousness, which forces the body to entrain to the brain and the concept of mind, which is usually the product of  acculturation, and overlays the natural stasis. The old usage of the heart as in 'heart-felt', 'hearty', 'heart broken'  etc etc suggests that in times past there was an awareness of the locus of consciousness in the heart.



While most of us born into the dominant culture would find it quite difficult be truly precise in noticing and determining incoming signals to the heart from the environment,and from other co-habitants, human and non-human, it is absolutely possible to retrain ourselves to do so, though this does indeed take some time, possibly decades. Nonetheless it is a worthwhile path of self exploration and learning. 


To start this process, one needs only to breath gently into one's heart,  and allow the 'mind' to silence, and to sense the entrainment of the body to the heart. If one is looking for information, one needs only to ask "what or how does this feel?" and to allow all the insights, images, senses that follow just to be, noticing them. The feel of being heart centered is deeply pleasant, and grows with practice. It is extremely beneficial for one's physical health.


For further exploration of heart awareness I suggest the Heart Math Institute and the book "The Secret Teaching of Plants : The intelligence of the Heart in the direct perception of nature" BY Steve Harrod Buhner and googling the term 'heart coherence' and 'HRV + Heart'.  A research paper on Intuition and the role of the heart in processing intuition.







and here's a song to go with this piece, it's called the heartsong.





Kindest regards 

Corneilius 

 Do what you love, it's your gift to universe








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2 comments:

Corneilius said...

Empathy as described above involves the full range of somata-sensory abilities inherent to the human body, and the primary organ in this regards is the heart.

The heart is linked directly to the seat of the brain, the region called the amygdala, and the hippocampus and other areas... by 80,000 single neurons (that is there are no breaks or synapses between the heart and the brain) and signals from the heart reach the brain for processing before even visual signals - thus much is 'felt' even before it is registered....

The heart is an electromagnetic transmitter and receiver, with an ever extended range, peaking from skin to about 8 feet, then trailing off into infinity.

The heart regulates the brain and all other parts of the body by releasing hormones known as DHEAs. This regulation is undermined by focussing on the brain/mind as the seat of consciousness.

edwinrutsch said...

My I suggest a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

Let's Find 1 Million People Who Want to Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion
http://Causes.com/Empathy

Also, we invite you to post a link to your article about empathy to our Empathy Center Facebook page.
http://Facebook.com/EmpathyCenter