Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Advantage vs Empathy

Scientists claim that the Theory of Mind separates humans from animals. The Theory of Mind is the ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of others. Recent research by Michael Tomasello showed that 3 different species of apes understand false beliefs and thus come quite close to humans (eg, Science). Apart from primates, birds and dogs also show some ToM.

My Needs, Wants & Beliefs concept argues that all life forms are in the Needs stage (eg, food, sex, water). Life forms using tools are in the Wants stage (eg, apes, birds). Only humans are in the Beliefs stage and follow the 7 Belief systemsLove, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth. Humans need these Belief systems to simplify the complexity of reality that threatens to overload our human thinking.

The word “humans” is sometimes misleading. There are at least 4 types of humans: homo erectus (ca. 1.9 mya), archaic humans (ca. 500,000 years ago), anatomically modern humans (ca. 200,000 years ago), and the behaviorally modern humans (ie, us) who suddenly emerged some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, perhaps “through cognitive, genetic changes”.

Empathy and the Theory of Mind are closely related concepts. This supports my view that helping other humans is our fundamental purpose (meaning) in life. The ToM can, however, also be used to gain advantage from understanding other people’s feelings and thoughts. Gaining advantage in life over others, has become a fundamental driver of human behaviour (eg, greed).

The pursuit of advantage in life over others has also created a belief of being better than others and ultimately in a Philosophical belief of Superiority and/or Supremacy (eg, ageist, racist, religist, sexist). The flip side of this coin is the human belief in a victim role – winners vs losers. This makes me wonder about the (absolute) moral values in humans.

The main accomplishment of Religion is that they codified moral values based on Love (ie, deity, others, self). Unfortunately, human beings – whether atheist, agnostic or religious –  easily forget these moral values in certain circumstances (eg, terrorism, war). Hence, I do not think, feel or believe that humans were born with (absolute) moral values.

Empathy is still around us on a small scale (eg, neighbours helping out someone in need), and on a large scale (eg, country aid following natural disasters). Empathy is, however, being eroded by the human belief that some people do not deserve our aid (eg, ageist, racist, religist, sexist). Continued urbanization and increasing individualism will erase our sense of tribalism and erode our sense of empathy.

Empathy is not necessarily a moral value as empathy may never be entirely selfless. Empathy could still be rooted in achieving (delayed/future) advantage (egYou Owe Me / I Owe You). Our relentless efforts in gaining advantage (eg, Knowledge, Power), might be what really separates humans from anything else on this planet. This might be my most pessimistic blog ever.

Better Man (2014) by Paolo Nutini – artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

She makes me smile

She thinks the way I think

That girl makes me wanna be better


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