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Episode 147— Empathy

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The Professor Blastoff gang starts off with some light-hearted stories this week about meditation, Ben Kingsley, and weird sex pills. Then, guest Leslie Span joins to discuss how empathy can affect daily life and normal interactions for extremely empathetic people. They go down a darker path that weaves through death, forgiveness, resentment, David and Goliath, old age, and whether it's weird to eat alone in a restaurant.

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Great stuff as usual. A few things I've learned about empathy over the years that I don't think were addressed:

 

Like every other human trait, there is a wide spectrum of ability to feel empathy. Some people, like Leslie Span, have a very strong ability to feel empathy. Sociopaths and psychopaths are on the other side of the spectrum. They have little or no human empathy; in fact, that's a main trait that classifies a person as sociopath/psychopath according to psychologists.

 

Autistic people also have little empathy. But unlike autistic people, sociopaths can often fake empathy extremely well. So well, in fact, that they can be very charming and terrific con men. So if you ever meet someone who you find charming, that person is a psychopath who is about to murder you and wear your skin. (Joke. Ha.) Sociopathy/psychopathy is a whole fascinating ball of worms that has probably been addressed by this podcast in the past (sorry, haven't heard them all yet).

 

Also, someone on the podcast wondered why human beings have this ability for empathy to begin with: Many scientists see it as the main survival technique that helped us thrive as a species. Human brains are incredibly large, way out of proportion with their bodies, at least compared to every other animal in the world. For the longest time (male) scientists thought that big brain evolved so men could hunt over large areas. But other animals can do that with much smaller brains.

 

Now most scientists think the human brain got big by developing extremely sophisticated social ability -- not only the capacity for empathy, but also the ability to communicate through complex language and often even more complex gestures and body language. This helped human beings survive by tying people together very closely within tribes. This then gives each person a better chance of surviving than if we were a more solitary species.

 

If a brain doesn't have much social ability, that frees up a ton of mental real estate. Autistic savants can use that real estate for memory tricks or other Rain Man-type stuff. Sociopaths often use it to figure out, in a sort of mechanical way, how to behave around people so they can manipulate them into getting what they want.

 

Anyway, just had to get that out, thus attempting to connect socially and fulfill my biological predisposition. Please have empathy and don't say anything mean about me.

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Wow, edykhuizen! Those are fascinating insights delivered in a succinct and clever manner. You are obviously an intelligent, humorous individual who is fun to be with and not at all boring at parties. Might we start a correspondence?

 

Signed,

Someone Else

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Best story about empathy ever.

 

This one kid and his sister had weird milky skin, were poor, terrible clothes, smelled weird and I was standing pretty far behind him in line because I didn’t want to be seen near him. He said people hate him, but I still didn’t want to be his friend.

 

Empathy.

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"I was on TV ages ago, here's what I think about this."

 

I think this was the best episode in quite a while. Good guest, thoughtful and reasonably focused discussion, but still with room for goofing around.

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