Top Top Top

Unlimited Expansion of Empathy

Technology can make us better human beings

David Orban once told me that if he could possess a superpower, it would be 'an unlimited sense of empathy, controllable at will'. 

I have to admit I find it hard to imagine any power more valuable, empowering, and yet humbling at the same time.

How fascinating then to realise that technologies such as neural mapping, shared memories, and artificial emotional stimulation will provide us with just such a superpower in the coming decades. This is the natural co-evolution of society and braintech that will create a 'Meerkat for the Mind'.

We will share mindspace with thoughts born from a blending of multiple branches of cognition, the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And we can allow others to truly understand our emotions from within, if we dare to let down our walls, if we sidestep the alexithymic tendencies that we wrap up in the label of adulthood.

What will it be like to possess unlimited empathy? Perhaps substances like MDMA can provide a glimpse towards such an experience. MDMA provides incredible sense of energy to the psychonaut partaking of it, but unlike, say, amphetamine, it is rather born from a sense of one's limbs being suddenly weightless, as the emotional armor that shackles us in our tight little bodies disappears.

We have empathy for ourselves enough to no longer fear looking inside to the sarcophagus deep within, where lies the pain we dare not face. Through making peace with the darkness that dwells within, we no longer fear what may happen if others glimpse it. We stop fearing other people. We understand ourselves and our journey in life, and through radical acceptance of that journey, we accept that of others also.

Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.
— Spider Robinson

How will it feel to behold oneself through the adoring eyes of a lover? To enjoy the communion of lovemaking from the perspective of the other party as well as one's own. To feel the success of another as pleasure instead of envy, compersion in lieu of jealousy.

Will we still seek the feeling of supremacy over others when we also feel their pain and misery? What incentive remains when we can no longer escape the consequences of our unfair actions? Unlimited empathy may be a path towards a perfect karmic balance between what one sends out into this world, and what one receives.

Empathy may be described in the cognitive sense, as well as the affective. Affective empathy in fact can lead to negative consequences if it is reserved for an in-group, and is not universalized. Both means of modelling the experiences of others are essential for a healthy individual. Harnessed together they provide us with an objective analysis of a situation, along with the tools required to respond to a situation in a socially conducive manner (a blend of sharp insights alongside a soft delivery).

All moral development beyond the mere contractual requires empathy. To possess the right ruleset is not quite enough. The execution of the Golden Rule requires being able to imagine oneself in the position of another. Universalist morality is not achievable if one has not first mastered this capacity. The technological positivists of the coming years will choose to augment their empathy so that they can achieve power over themselves (mindfulness), and a consistent application of a more evolved spiritual morality.

This also raises questions - Is it just to force others to feel the emotions of others upon whom they have an influence? How can we best police wilful sociopaths who refuse empathic augmentations, or who simply cannot afford them? Must they be consigned to quarantine within an empathic society? What of someone who rightfully points out an uncomfortable truth that also causes distress and dissonance in others?

Even irrational minds respond to behavioural incentives. By seeding a technologically-driven expansion of empathy among the populace of Earth, we indeed have an opportunity to turn this world into a place of consideration and kindness within a generation.

Below, a TEDx talk I gave on this topic: