Against Empathy, Entangled Minds, and music

 

Curated by Wayne Dodge. In the Zeitgeist series, Wayne wades through a world of publications, theories, music, poems and more, sharing his thoughts, discoveries and passions with particular reference to topics that touch The Haven.

In this post: Against Empathy by Paul Bloom; Entangled Minds by Dean Radin; poetry by Rashani Réa; The Tobolowsky Files; and, You Gotta Believe, a video by Nina Paley with music by The Pointer Sisters.

 

"Stay with the contradiction. If you stay, you will see that there is always something more than two opposing truths. The whole truth always includes a third part, which is the reconciliation." ~ Jacob Needleman, from I Am Not I

 

Books

Against Empathy: the case for Rational Compassion
Paul Bloom, HarperCollins 2016.

The provocative title of this book doesn’t really hold up in the reading of it. First, Bloom is narrowly defining empathy as, the act of coming to experience the world as you think someone else does. And he does not say that empathy is necessarily a bad thing. He appears mostly to be in reaction to a modern conceit that what the world needs in order to be better is just more empathy. This he rejects, since empathy is a response with many limitations – which he explores in detail throughout the book. In brief, since much of his focus is on the policy level, he quotes Stalin, "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic."; empathy is a too short range reaction to address policy questions with either clarity or fairness. He also makes the point that even in intimate relationships, the reliance on empathy is more likely to result in burnout rather than desired outcomes.

What he stresses then are responses more along the lines of cognitive empathy or compassion, rather than empathy itself - with a great deal of emphasis on the cognitive part.

I appreciated this book as I believe it does echo Haven models in which feelings are closely attended to, but are not intrinsically more important than thoughts, perceptions, intentions and, of course, actions. And, I too have found recent pronouncements on the importance of empathy similar to earlier pronouncements about the importance of self-esteem – simplistic, solution-focused panaceas.

Regretfully, I think this book could have been limited to a New Yorker length article and have done just as well with its argument. And as I write this I can tap into my empathy with Paul Bloom should he ever read this statement – feelings associated with interpretations of being misunderstood and that his effort has not been valued – and rapidly switch in to my compassion with him – that regardless, my opinion has its own weight and value – and, although I care, I do not want to limit my expression because of his possible reaction.

Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality
Dean Radin, Paraview Pocket Books 2006.

Dean Radin is a former concert violinist who switched fields to engineering – and has an excellent background in scientific – as well as systems – thinking. He currently serves as Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

This book is an attempt to review the published literature up to publication (2006) of psi research – with the premise that there is a consistent, non-random, effect that can be detected across the psi research arena.

Needless to say, this book has also been negatively reviewed in many scientific publications – over technical questions of appropriate use of meta-analysis etc.

What I found compelling in this book was Radin’s appeal to the skeptics to not dismiss the findings out of hand simply because there is no current explanatory models for psi phenomenon (quantum entanglement anyone?). Although I remain a solid skeptic – reading this book has called me to question if my skepticism is an honest questioning – or an attempt to keep my world view safe. For enthusiasts, a useful read.

 

Poetry

The Unbroken

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctified into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

Rashani Réa

Rashani Réa is a remarkable woman with a remarkably full and productive life. Well worth some of your time.

 

Podcasts

The Tobolowsky Files

Stephen Tolbolowsky is a character actor. The tag line for these podcasts is Stories of Life, Love and the Entertainment Industry. However they are so much more. Tobo, as he is known, is a deeply thoughtful and feeling person who relates meaningful and moving stories from his own life with great heart. When listening, I’m always taken, and often teary, with a turn of phrase, a quote, an illumination. I’m obviously a fan.

Invisabilia

The Invisabilia podcast, available on npr.org, explores the invisible forces that shape human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. They weave human stories with fascinating new psychological and brain science, in the hopes that the listener will come to see new possibilities for how to think, behave and live.

 

Music

OMG!!! – First – this is right out of my disco days – and the flashbacks just keep getting better. Secondly – it’s the Pointer Sisters – and who can’t dance to them? Thirdly – it’s now been put to a fabulous video by Nina Paley.

So, unless you have a visceral aversion to disco (and if you do, I have a lovely workshop for you to attend), consider this as part of your playlist.

You Gotta Believe
Nina Paley - The Pointer Sisters

[Intro]
Doodle wop a-rat-a-tat boom
I'll make the sound of a jet plane zoom
Doodle wop a-rat-a-tat boom
I'll make the sound of a fire

[Hook]
You got to believe in somethin'
Why not believe in me?
You got to believe in somethin'
Why not believe in me?

[Verse One]
What have I, I done to you
To make you mean
And treat me the way you do?
Go on and wave your flag, brother
Start your revolution
I'm willin' to let you do your thing
Tell me why are you plannin' a compromise?

[Hook]
Take the chain off your brain
Take the chain off your brain
Stop, take a look at yourself
Stop ridiculin' everybody else.