Neuroscience and Empathy

The official directives needn't be explicit to be well understood: Do not let too much empathy move in unauthorized directions. - Norman Solomon

"The way we are educated and entertained keep us from knowing about or understanding the pain of others . . ." - Robert Jensen

The nonprofit Edge Foundation recently asked some of the world's most eminent scientists, "What Are You Optimistic About? Why?" In response, the prominent neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, cites the proliferating experimental work into the neural mechanisms that reveal how humans are "wired for empathy."

Iacoboni's optimism is grounded in his belief that as these recent findings in experimental cognitive science seep into public awareness, ". . . this explicit level of understanding our empathic nature will at some point dissolve the massive belief systems that dominate our societies and that threaten to destroy us." (Iacoboni, 2007)

Only five years earlier, Preston and de Waal predicted that science is on the verge of "an ultimate level description that addresses the evolution and function of empathy." (Preston, 2002)

While there are reasons to remain circumspect (see below) about the progressive political implications flowing from this work, a body of impressive empirical evidence reveals that the roots of prosocial behavior, including moral sentiments like empathy, precede the evolution of culture. This work sustains Noam Chomsky's visionary assertion that while the principles of our moral nature have been poorly understood, "we can hardly doubt their existence or their central role in our intellectual and moral lives." (Chomsky, 1971, 1988; 2005)
ZNet - Neuroscience and Empathy

mind, brain