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What is empathy? What does empathy mean?

Empathy is what we experience when we feel other people’s pain or joyit is our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and understand and share what they are feeling.

Historically, some scientists have tried to answer the question ‘what is empathy?’ by arguing that empathy is an ability that humans evolved in order to be able to predict other people’s actions, so that we would come out ‘ahead’ in social situationsin other words they argued it was essentially a selfish trait.

Recently though, new science has emerged which suggests that empathy is a remnant of our extremely sensitive, instinctive self that still exists within us from a time when our distant ancestors lived in a genuinely cooperative, selfless, loving state. This empathetic, all loving, instinctive self is what we know as our ‘soul’.

What is empathy? What does empathy mean?

However, this cooperative past, and the empathetic, all loving orientation that became instinctive in us because of it, is a truth we couldn’t afford to admit until we found the clarifying, biological explanation for our current competitive, selfish and aggressive statea state that is at odds with an empathetic awareness.

According to biologist Jeremy Griffith:

“In short, before we could acknowledge the truth about our soul we had to explain the human conditionexplain why the human race became corrupted, ‘fell from grace’, left the fabled ‘Garden of Eden’ of our original innocent state, or however else we like to describe the emergence of our present seemingly-highly-imperfect, soul-devastated condition.”

Most wonderfully, biology is now able to provide the full explanation of our angry and selfish behaviour, and with it the real answer to ‘what is empathy’. This comprehensive explanation of the origin of humanity’s upset state, namely the human condition, is available in this Introductory Video Series and Part 3 of Freedom: Expanded Book 1, by Jeremy Griffith.

With the explanation of our condition now available, we are able to see that we are suffering from an upset state, characterised by angry, alienated and egocentric behaviour that is the result of a two million year old, unavoidable clash between our gene-based instincts and our emerging nerve-based consciousness.

Now, after some two million years, this upset state has all but buried our true capacity for empathy, although it still exists in us to some degree. Finally, now that we have the real defence for our divisive behaviour, our upset can at last subside, and our empathy will be allowed to flower again.

Professor Harry Prosen, is a former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and has spent a career researching empathy, commends Griffith's explanation, saying, ‘I have no doubt this biological explanation of Jeremy Griffith’s of the human condition is the holy grail of insight we have sought for the psychological rehabilitation of the human race.’

This Blog Post was written by Damon on February 12, 2013

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  • Veronica on February 27, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Do you really think people feel for anyone else anymore? I think you’d be hard pressed to see any empathy shown by anyone-genuinely. Could we really have a ‘cooperative past’? I’ve just looked up ‘Professor Harry Prosen’ – admittedly he has a much greater understanding/history/experience in the world of empathy than me and he certainly acknowledges its existence and certainly speaks with much support for your theory to suggest it does… perhaps a bit more reading is needed before I take a rant about our lack of empathy… perhaps I’m feeling/showing empathy now. Oh dear!

  • Jo on March 2, 2013 at 11:06 am

    When you say “Finally, now that we have the real defence for our divisive behaviour, our upset can at last subside, and our empathy will be allowed to flower again” it sounds beautiful and I so hope you are right.

  • Jonathon on June 15, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I’m writing an essay on empathy for my Psychology course and my google searches have led me here. Most of the answers given by the lecturer’s to any question relating to psychology seem to be based on genes and the medicinal cures for psychological problems but what you’re suggesting is a soulful origin and answer. Coming across this has created more questions than answers…

  • haleema on September 6, 2013 at 11:07 am

    i like the way you think.

  • Gaitrie on October 9, 2013 at 11:07 am

    doing a class liturgy on EMPATHY.
    One of the best site
    i came across.

  • paul on February 17, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Empathy is a matter of choice just as violence is a matter choice it’s simply up to us as humans which to pick. We’ve created our standard of living.

    • Shanta Harris on July 21, 2016 at 8:12 am

      I agree with you….very well stated.

  • Sam Rivera on November 11, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Indeed, I agree that empathy is a product of our instinctive, co-operative and loving past. However, I get the sense that the development of empathy has something to do with the fact that we are self-aware as well as the fact that we can manipulate ourselves based on prior experience (which is the basis of consciousness as Jeremy Griffith explains).

    Thus, I believe that everyone has as much an ability to empathise as the next person but the amount that we use it is dependent on how pre-occupied with the ‘battle’ or our ego-centricity. One of the things I found after understanding the central thesis in ‘A Species in Denial’ was that my sense of empathy for others increased greatly. I put this down to the lack of needing to prove oneself after the understanding.

    By no means, am I undersigned or even close to that status to be able to comment on these issues with complete honesty like Jeremy has. I do however, know how much of the human condition I can confront, and this is part of it.

  • vanshita chawla on November 16, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Empathy is very important in today’s generation because today’s generation lost there feelings towards other people

    • me on June 30, 2016 at 4:16 am

      that would be “their”, not “there”…….so there!……..lol

  • Howard Lofland on May 23, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Empathy, I had trauma a few years ago and I’ve had 3 surgeries and a stimulator in my head for headaches. I’ve been down on my self and I ask, why me? Then I went to my dr appointment and saw a young women in a wheel chair since birth. Made me think, I really don’t have it so bad after all!

  • Walter on June 6, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Darwin

  • Walter on June 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Empathy is overpowered by survival instincts

  • JOSIAH on July 11, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    i am glad for that definition i have really understood what empathy really is …..Thank you….

  • Ishaya on October 16, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Empathy is a action motion, which Carrie’s on by human movement. And still well acknowledged its movement in two ways: 👍👎, it goes up and down due to defrences of our heart.
    Just like putting your ideas or image in needy or confusing person.