Ethics – Empathy – Mechanisms

by pre., Friday, February 19th, 2010.

We have seen that your ability to empathize, to feel what others are feeling automatically, instinctively, just from the look on their face, the words they utter, the tone in their voice, the simple knowledge of their plight, or any combination of these, has evolved because it’s actually genuinely helpful. To you. Not because it’s helpful to the person you’re empathizing with, not because it’s helpful to society as a whole, not because of some cosmic force of love in the universe. Because it’s actually, positively, at least for a person living in human society, a benefit to you. Personally.

It helps you to vicariously understand the world in which you live, helps you to win friends, helps you to build connections with others, helps you to gather around you all the things which you need to be successful in life.

How does it work?

Not like on Star Trek. There are no empathic rays shining out from a person’s aura. There’s no such thing as an Empathon particle. It’s not magic. It just works through the normal every-day physical processes that govern your perceptions, and your mind.

You literally use your brain in the same way that they’re using theirs. You mentally put yourself in their position.

We talk a lot about the differences between us, because they are what makes each of us unique, but the number of things we have in common vastly outnumber the differences. You have much less in common with a rock, or a star, or a snake, or a banana than you do with even the most different human being on the planet. The number of things you are utterly different to in the universe is almost infinitely more than the 7 billion or so people who are, by comparison, just exactly the same. Our brains all work, essentially, the same way. Our faces are wired to our emotional systems in the same way. Our limbs and our voice control all work the same way. We all have similar emotional responses to similar things and those emotional responses effect the way we move, think, speak, the look in our eyes, in more or less the same way.

This is what makes empathy possible.


Just as your brain doesn’t tell you how frightened you are by inching up a dial on a Head Up Display over your vision, or by a flashing red light indicating “Angry” up over your blind-spot, so it is with the empathic response you have to others.

There is no blinking warning reading “This person is angry!” or “Ahha! He’s getting turned on”. You only become aware of this empathic response by the way it makes you feel. If someone you are talking to is angry, you’ll know this mostly because that will make you angry. If they are sad, it will make you sad.

This is the key to taking the most advantage from the empathic super-power that humans are blessed with: The understanding that the emotions you feel are not all your own. Learning to lower your walls to let yourself feel the way others are feeling, and also to teach yourself to separate them out, to tease out the thread of the way they are feeling from the way you are feeling.

In this way, you can become more aware, more conscious of the difference, be better able to properly attribute your emotional responses. Better able to lead people towards the emotional space they want to be in.


Understanding of the pathways which the information wave spreads from one person to another will help you do this.

Imagine yourself in conversation with another person. Something you’ve said, or something they’ve said, or something happening around you, affects them in some way. This is happening all the time, but noticing the most obvious occasions and paying attention to them will help you to learn how to do it more effectively all the time, constantly, even during the more subtle moments.

This event is processed by their brain. Unless it’s a very unusual event, this won’t be deliberately, it won’t be consciously, the person you are talking with will not even be aware it’s happening. Yet their brain will be set ticking.

After a few milliseconds of processing, their brain will have changed the underlying understated way that they feel. The indescribable multi-dimensional emotional state which all of us have will have altered.

This, in turn, changes the way their muscle control neurons respond, all over the body. It minutely stretches or flexes muscles in the face, the eyes especially. It changes the tightness of their vocal chords, affecting the pitch of their voice. It alters the diameter of their pupils. Makes tiny changes to their posture, to the way their hairs stand up from their body.

You do not notice these things consciously. You will likely never notice these things consciously, and doing so would be such a burden on your consciousness that it’d just be distracting. But they do not remain unnoticed by your subconscious.

Your mind, meanwhile, deep under the surface of your attention, responds to these signals. The mirror neurons deep in it’s structure fire as though these subtle and consciously invisible actions were performed by you yourself.

This, in turn, makes similar tiny inaudible changes to the way your own emotional state feels. Remember, at least part of your brain is reacting in the same way that their brain is reacting. It’s experiencing those same slight shifts in posture, in tone, in timbre, in understanding itself.

Those shifts, those changes, are now in both of your brains. And the more you converse, the more they actually affect your body, they will filter back again to the person who first performed them.

Your mind has filters, it’s mirror neurons aren’t as strong as the actual movement neurons. You can turn those filters down. You can allow yourself to feel your conversational partner’s emotions more, or less. Learning to turn those filters down will help you to empathize better. To feel more strongly connected.

Your mind also has discrimination. If you learn to concentrate on the source of your emotional reactions, you can learn to better discriminate their cause.

How can you improve it?

Next week we’ll present a guided meditation, a guided lucid dream, in which you’ll spend ten minutes dreaming to improve your empathic skills, and set up the right suggestions and associations which will ensure you also improve them while awake.

Ethics – Empathy – The Meditation

by pre., Friday, February 26th, 2010.

This month we present our final guided lucid dream, this time designed to help you dream your way to increased empathy.

We’ve seen how empathy is a skill which evolved though the fact that it offers a personal advantage, to you as an individual, and roughly how these processes work. We intend, then, to introduce a method which attempts to have you focus on that skill, to practice it in your sleep, to fill you with suggestions that you are indeed improving, and so to increase your empathic skills while it’s important, in the real waking world.

As usual this guided lucid dream is intended as an alarm clock, to be started at low volume 10 minutes before you have to get out of bed. It should ideally penetrate your dreams, suggest a new pattern, help you to improve your Empathy as you sleep.

The dream will have you conjure up a conversation, to dream that you are talking to somebody and then encourage you to put yourself in their place. In the dream world it should be literally possible to swap bodies with the person you’re talking to. To use the cues from their body and face and language to imagine yourself in their position. You’ll spend the dream doing this.

You’ll be encouraged to feel your filters lowering, to allow their own emotional state to encroach upon your own, to feel the way they are feeling. To pay attention to your emotional state, to feel it.

In the second third of the dream you will continue to do this, but also learn to discriminate better which of the emotions are your own, and which are the empathic feeling from the person you are talking with. You’ll be encouraged to take note of which is which, to better understand the source of your feelings.

The final third of the ten minute dream will have you try to better influence the person you’re talking to, to have them empathise with you more fully. To exaggerate and encourage the signals in your own body language, facial expressions and speech so as to encourage the infectious spreading of your own emotion into others.

This week marks the last of our guided lucid dreams, the third lap around the spiral. Next week we’ll begin a summing up of this third lap, investigating sleep and dreams and surveying your progress this lap. In April we’ll then begin the final lap, attempting to integrate all the skills we have learned into one transcendent whole.

Guided Meditation File 25 – Ethics – Empathy
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Ethics – Integration – Love

by pre., Friday, November 5th, 2010.

Way back towards the end of the first loop around the Transcendence Spiral, we talked about love, in all the many meanings of the frustratingly imprecise word.

Our meditation back then was designed to let you conjure up the feeling of love, of agapē in particular, and let it spread throughout your body, and then from there explode out into the universe.

Of course we don’t actually believe in love-rays that can beam out your emotions, but showing those images to your brain pushes it towards exploring and experiencing those feelings, those states of mind, and that in turn affects your behaviour, how others see you, how they see the society they are in and so increase the general level of love in your world.

We take it for granted that spreading love is a good thing, that love is indeed an end in itself, but in what ways does increased levels of love in your life, and your society, affect the other skills in the Transcendence Spiral? In what ways does it depend upon them in turn?

People who are in love talk about the world looking brighter, more vibrant. This is not just colourful metaphor, a loving state of mind really does appear to colour and brighten the very perceptions of the lovers. The states of mind at and around those we call ‘love’ are more outgoing, more care-free, more alert and aware of the world that they are living in. A loving state of mind actually, it seems, increases awareness.

Why should this be? It should in principle be possible to have a mind which was as aware in one emotional state as in another. Yet when psychologists examine the connections between mind-state and perception they consistently find a link between the two. Perhaps, as basic emotional systems evolved, a creature feeling more loved and doing more loving indicated a relative security, and a secure nervous system can afford to spend more resources on exploring it’s external world than a threatened one. Whether this just-so story is true, or some other evolutionary pressure caused a link between emotional state and perception, we do find that this link has evolved.

Likewise loving people describe themselves as feeling more relaxed, their whole body losing tension, and certainly a lover’s touch can bring thrills and awareness of your body through their fingers. Hormonal changes associated with loving states of mind reduce stress, enabling the immune and digestive systems to operate more efficiently.

Loving also makes you more relaxed, more confident and happy and these things reflect in the way you move, the way you stand, the way your pheromones smell. All these things are social cues, and so improving them improves your social skills.

Love isn’t something that you get from the universe, its not a scarce resource to be hoarded or locked away. We will never use up all our love. So using basic bio-programming techniques like meditation, visualisation and hypnosis you can excercise your brain’s ability to move into that state.

Love is, in fact, a state of mind. A type of consciousness in itself. And as we’ve seen, a type which is typified by more awareness, less stress, in general a pretty desirable state of consciousness to be in. Improving your own experience of living in your body, and improving the society in which you live.

A loving state of mind is one of the surest foundations for behaving ethically, for people wish to protect that which they love, so loving more will lead you towards treating others well. Spreading the values and attitudes for treating people well improves the entire welfare of your society, it’s aggregate karma.

The states of mind which we refer to with the myriad of different meanings of the word love are both an end in themselves and a step in the ladder to transcendence. These mind-states support and buttress all the other spiral skills, giving them a boost which means they can then support each other better. Learning to love is tremendously important for mental development in general.

Ethics – Integration – Karma

by pre., Friday, November 12th, 2010.

At the end of the second lap around the spiral, we discussed kama, and built a theory of “non magical karma” which is based not on some mystic fairy who ensures balance in the world, or a universe that is designed to do good things for good people and bad to for bad people. Instead, our “karma” has a grounding in the evolution of social cooperation, game theory, the results of competitions playing an iterated prisoners dilemma, and the fact that the environment in which we each make our way in the world is built primary out of other people. Karma as a measure of how ‘nice’ your whole society is rather than some individual karma-bank for each person in it.

Our meditation focused on concentrating on and exaggerating the emotions provoked by doing good or bad things, the emotions and conscience which evolution gave you to keep up the karma of the society in which you live. By concentrating on them, reliving the moments, you doubly reinforced the growth and plain enjoyment of your ethical behaviours.

An understanding of how these emotions evolved, how they operate and how you can get the best from them helps you to feel the happiness and optimism which a good ethical system should engender, while also helping your community, and encouraging people to feel gratitude towards you. But how do these karmic emotions depend on the other skills in the spiral? Does it boost them in return?

It’s pretty obvious that without awareness of your perception, of the world, of your place in it, the world will be unable to evolve a karmic social system. As we mentioned, the study of game-theory suggests that each individual must be able to identify others, to know their past experience with them, indeed to remember their interactions together. The karmic emotional systems would not have evolved without memory, and awareness.

They depend, likewise, on being able to use the social signalling skills and to read social signalling clues from other people. On being able to communicate, in some form, and predict the behaviour of others.

The social skills are also built partly from the Karmic emotions, from being able to derive pleasure and happiness from another person’s happiness, on being able enjoy helping others. Improving those karmic emotions improves one’s social skills just as improving social skills feeds those emotions.

Building a good reputation with your peers, being generous and kind, builds up a credit of gratitude which is useful in influencing others, for your opinions and needs are worth more to those who feel that gratitude towards you.

Their help will also encourage your to build up your ability to program your own mind, your bio-programming skill, is enhanced by observing others, by allowing them to influence you, by learning how to behave and win by watching others do just that.

We’ll say this again, because it’s an important point. Since you spend your life around people, mostly the same people over and over again, you will need their help, support and kindness often. This is more likely to come if they feel gratitude towards you and your reputation is that of someone likely to not only repay favours but give away favours for nothing. All of the transcendence skills are reinforced and helped by watching and learning from those around you. They’re built this way in the first place, as you grew up, during your never-ending formative years. Having a good social reputation, in a society full of good karma, is essential to all of the transcendence skills. So train your ethical emotions, your karmic responses, and feed yourself with charitable acts and good will constantly. You will be happier, better adjusted, and have more and more valuable friends. These things are as important steps in the path to transcendence as self image, consciousness and attention. Pay attention to how good helping others makes you feel, and let that reinforcement encourage you.

Ethics – Integration – Empathy

by pre., Friday, November 19th, 2010.

Our last guided lucid dream helped you to increase your empathy skills. To learn how to better understand another’s point of view and actually mentally put yourself in their position, to feel what they feel.

You learned how empathy actually works, that it’s not some strange psychic communication between souls, but a neural system built into brains designed to interpret another’s actions, body language and words then push your brain closely towards being in the same state as theirs.

You should also by now understand why the empathic skills are useful, to you personally and to the society in which you live, how feeling another’s pain or joy helps to bond you socially to your fellow man, helping guide your ethical system which in turns increases your social credit, the opinion others have of you, their likelihood of helping you in turn.

You empathy abilities are built from all the other skills in the spiral, and it helps build them in turn.

You must of course have some awareness in order to be aware that there are other beings in the room, let alone begin to approximate their mental states. However your empathic skills also help to increase your awareness. Every time your empathy leads you to being in a new state, to being aware of a new internal state or emotion, you are pushing your awareness into new areas. Observing others being aware leads to your own awareness increasing.

Your memory is also essential to build empathic skills. Much of the process relies on recalling past events when you were yourself in situations similar to those whose emotions you are emulating. Recalling that when you were crying and sullen you felt sad at the time. Your memories of those past events pull along emotional states with them.

Your very consciousness is affected by your empathic abilities. Some states of mind only exist because they are brought about through social convention and conditioning. Meditation not only affects the mind of the meditator, but also the minds of those who empathise with her. Self awareness, self confidence, sapience, even sentience are improved by learning to wield our emotions consciously.

Connected with this, the placebo effect comes in great part through the abilities of the practitioner to empathically project their emptions into the mind of their patients. Our very body is affected by empathy. Indeed, physical changes in hormonal and endocrine systems are associated with empathically experiencing someone else’s emotions.

None of this would work without cognition. The whole mechanism under which empathy works is a mental process, a thinking process. Understanding the body language and other cues given, understanding a person’s situation and imagining yourself there with them. Practising these skills though the actual use of them makes them stronger. Empathising requires thought, so doing it practices those types of thought and being better practised makes you a better empathise too.

The social-skill of empathy can help you when bio-programming yourself, and others. If you’re trying to learn to be happier, you can spend more time empathising with happy people. You can take deliberate control of your mind state by selecting the people you spend time with, since the empathic systems in each of your minds will ensure that as you spend more time together, you become more alike.

In a deeply social species like ours, a mind’s growth depends deeply on being able to stretch and experience things which the others in it’s community experience. Our meditation presented next week will help you to practice and improve your empathic powers because doing so is important to being better at every single one of the spiral skills.

Ethics – Integration – The Meditation

by pre., Friday, November 26th, 2010.

This week we present our final walking meditation, a short guided walk in which you’ll direct your thoughts towards improving your ability to empathise with others, to better interpret their signals to enable you to feel what they are feeling, and understand what they are thinking.

As usual this lap, you should listen to it while strolling around your neighbourhood, whether in the journey to work or a short constitutional stroll after dinner. The important thing is to have the meditation playing in your ears, a relaxed smile and gait, and allow your mind to be directed by the voice over as you listen and roam.

In doing this meditation you will stretch your neural structures, encouraging them to grow new pathways, form new connections, to improve your basic gut instinct understanding of how people are minded, what they think and how they will behave. Not just in an book-reading intellectual way, but in a visceral and vivid way, almost a new sense added to your perceptions.

The Meditation

After the usual minute or so of introduction and relaxation, you’ll look around to see if there are any people nearby. If so you’ll concentrate on them for a moment, and if not then you’ll just remember some meeting recently and concentrate on that.

You’ll try to imagine their mannerisms, their gait, and imagine yourself copying it. Maybe even actually changing your stride or posture to match theirs, trying to see yourself literally in their position.

You’ll imagine their voice, concentrate on it, hear it running through your head as though you were saying it, doing an internal impression of them, forcing your mind to take the same kinds of paths their mind does.

Likewise with their thoughts, the actual words they use, you’ll imagine them in your mouth, as your own words, straining to see the world from their point of view, to become them as much as you can, to think as they think, feel the emotions that they feel.

After a few minutes of this you’ll try to see your own individual identity alongside you, as you play at being this other person. You’ll learn to pay attention to either, to be either, to experience your life as yourself, and simultaneously as this other.

You’ll pay close attention to the feelings and emotions this brings up, how it feels to empathise, what a sense of empathy feels like, stretching your perception, gaining new skills.

Of course the whole meditation is, as usual, loaded with suggestions that you’re improving, that you’ll practice these skills more often both listening to the meditation and in general life while actually interacting with others.

Next Week

This meditation marks the end of our third lap around the spiral. Next week we’ll return to Transcendence in general, the centre of the spiral, the crux of the journey.

Guided Meditation File 33 – Ethics – Empathy
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