Universality of Empathy

HazyIt is easy to assume that, because everyone’s life is different, everyone’s motivations and goals are different. But that is just not the case, we all want the same things out of life, and we all do what we think is reasonable to get there. We react to our environments as best we can given our perspective in the moment.

Imagine that you are with your significant other you have had a long day, you are hungry and tired and would like to decompress a bit. your significant other is likewise stressed because they just found out that they are making budget cuts is their department and might not have a job for much longer. so when they get home and you have not made dinner, even though is was your turn to do so and now you will have to order something, your spouse or girlfriend makes a slightly sarcastic remark like “And I suppose I’ll be paying for that?” not especially mean but you don’t appreciate her tone and it sets you off a bit, enough for you to want to retaliate. You respond by saying, “at least I have enough money to cover it” which is in part a reference to last time you order out and she couldn’t cover it, which was actually funny in that moment, but now it’s fighting words, and you just declared war. The conversation quickly escalates and while neither of you much cares if you order out for dinner, you are both now thoroughly invested in winning the argument. As the food arrives you are both still very heated and you being the one you has to pay for the food, go to the door and grab the food away from the delivery guy, slap a twenty in his hand which barely covers the cost and slam the door in his face. You don’t have time to figure in tip and your mind is still formulating the next blow you will strike in an effort to win the fight. As the delivery guys walks away he does the mental calculations and decides you are a prick and a cheapskate. As you both started to eat your mood improves and you begin to see how stupid the argument really was. Your spouse explains the situation at work and you realize that your comment about money might have struck a nerve. You both apologize make up and settling for a nice night eating delicious food and watching your favorite shows.

None of the behavior that I have described was unreasonable of hard to imagine, but take any thirty seconds of the situation and make it the core of someone impression of you and they might think you are, a bitch, an asshole, a cheapskate, a shallow person, an inconsiderate douche, an over sensitive jack ass, or any of a dozen alternatives you might think of. But the truth of the matter was you were having a moment and in the moment you were behaving just like anyone else would, you are not a monster, or some unfeeling jerk, you are a person with a life story and a reason for acting like you do. Just like everyone else.

There are no monsters in the world, just people, people trying to make their way through life as best they can. We are all the protagonist in our own life story. None of us are out to make the world suffer because we are heartless. But some of us are in a tough spot and feel like they are out of options, some of us have been taught that violence is an acceptable solution. Some people do believe that there are evil people in the world, and that peace comes at the sacrifice of those people. Even the worst of humanity acts in accordance with their own moral compass, their own ideas about what is right and wrong. The closest thing to an evil person we know of is a psychopath who has no or a lowered sense of empathy. And in most cases psychopaths don’t go on killing sprees that just go through life faking empathy, and the worst most of them do is manipulate the emotions of others, which is nothing that a normal person wouldn’t do given the opportunity. So in the end the best thing that you can do is use a different mental shorthand, instead of thinking that this person is just an asshole and going about your day, maybe you should assume that this person is just having a bad day and go about your day. The different in a specific instead is practically non-existent, you still get through the day and don’t waste an excess about of energy worried about some stranger being rude, but the net effect is much greater, you will being to see everyone in a better light and feel a greater sense of optimism about you fellow man, and in the end you will all the happier for it.

And that’s my take on the universality of empathy.

Here today painting. Sorry about missing yesterdays post.

Empathy And Google

FalconSorry about not posting yesterday, I’m still sick, and just wasn’t up to posting. I am feeling much better today so I’m going to try and get some extra stuff up to day to make up for it. Now for today’s written post.

If you are here for today’s Painting follow the link.

When Google was first hitting it big my dad became very annoyed. He was annoyed because he had read up on how the search algorithm worked. See, he knew that the algorithm looked at what everyone else was clicking and moved those links to the top, a bit of knowledge which has since lead to untold amounts of abuse. What he would say was “just because it more popular doesn’t make it better.” No as a logical statement this is perfectly sound. just because a thing is popular, does not make it better. But there are two things that my father had failed to realize. The first is that all of those people you had started to use Google back then had access to all of the other search engines that he has access to, including his favorite, Dogpile. Dogpile is actually  a meta search engine, which is to say that it searches other search engines. This is actually a great idea in principle, but in practice leaves something to be desired, since in the results are mostly not what you want, and since it searches Google anyways you usually end up clicking on its link, not always but still.

The second thing, and this is the one that made me want to talk about the subject this morning, is that in many cases something being popular does mean it’s better. Let me elaborate. There are two scientific principles that are essential to this line of thinking, the first is the regression to the mean, which states that the more test samples you have the less extreme the average will be over the course of time. the second principle is the law of large numbers which says that the larger the sample pool is the more precise the average will become. These two closely related principles combined with a fairly new theory called Crowd Wisdom, reveal the true power of Google.

Crowd Wisdom works like this, if you have a large number of level headed individuals, from a diverse set of backgrounds and have them all just guess, their average will be incredibly accurate. The Ideas is the all of the outliers, the high guesses and low guesses will nullify each other leaving only the most accurate guesses. The same principle is in action with the Google search algorithm, they bank on the majority of inquiries will be satisfied by the best available link. It also makes an assumption that is more and more at the heart social values today, that we are all essentially the same. It assumes that if I am interested in a certain website when I make my specific search, that you will be interested in it too.

This level of assumed empathy is incredible, and I think that it is an indication of this to come. I think that the world is really finally coming around the idea that in essence we are all equal, that are values, as far as what really important are the same. People are being to see that there are no bad guys, there are no good guys we are all just people trying to do what we think is right.

And that’s my take on Google and empathy.

And for

Aristotle’s Internet

SocialAnimalIn Book 1 of Aristotle’s Politics he begins with a statement that I find to have rather interesting consequences. Aristotle says that “…the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who, by nature and not by mere accident, is without a state, either a bad man or above humanity…” A number of things are concluded in that statement. The first is that the state and by extraction society is a natural development of human nature. The second conclusion is that Human nature is of a political orientation, and that we are unavoidably social creatures. The third is that this social aspect of our humanity is what defines us from the animals and whatever deities might exist.

One interesting consequence of this statement is an explanation of our creation of the Internet. The Internet is simply a massive number of computers all linked together and sharing the common spaces of web servers. A server is a hard drive (usually many hard drives) that is connected to the network and is open to all users. These web servers are where websites exist. The domain names are simply the file names of these sites and are used to direct your computer to the right server.

The only reason it costs any money to have a website at all is that all of the servers are owned by someone, so they charge “rent”, so to speak, for the space the your files take up. And somewhere along the way someone had the clever albeit exploitative idea to create every possible file name (domain name) so that when someone wanted to make a file of the same name, the second party would have to pay the first party for the right to name their web site such-and-such. These “first parties” were the “dot commer” millionaires that you heard about in the early 80’s when the internet first started to take off.

Already we have seen that in many ways the internet is analogous to many villages or states. Even the language that can be applied, “renting” server space, or sharing the common space, has a direct link to the way we structure our cities and towns. And now that we’ve gone over the more technical aspect of how the Internet works, let’s take a look at how we have come to use the Internet, and how it relates to this idea of the Political Animal; Man.

The mere fact that we have taken a device that was simply invented as a shortcut for making complicated calculations and elevated it to become a platform for communication is a testament to our social nature. An interesting example of this is an exercise that is common to almost every programming lesson plan called the ‘hello world’ lesson. this is an exercise  meant to be a simple way to get the student(s) to see a line of code in work. You simply write a command telling the computer, in the coding language of choice, to show the words “Hello, World!”. That’s all, just two words, but the words could be any words, you could have the computer say “This message is written in Java” or “Computer Code”, but instead the chosen words to which a huge number of classrooms have gravitated are words of salutation; a greeting; a social cue.

We turned what could have served a perfectly useful role as a number crushing machine into a means of sending messages to our fellow man, which speaks volumes. And we didn’t just stop at chatrooms and email, no that what not intimate enough; not social enough. We had to take it even further, we now have sites devoted to sharing you daily events, your minute- to -minute thoughts, there are even servers setup so that you can live stream you life via webcam and with the invention of devices like the iPhone and Android Phones, it is possible to share your whole life with everyone that cares to tune in, Twenty-four-Seven.

We can now share and communicate with each other via text, photographs, audio, video, and every combination you can think of over the internet. We can share our thoughts and feelings, tell stories and share news with each other. We share our interests and hobbies, our experience and lessons we’ve learned. The world is a now a wide web of interconnected lives. It is easier now more than ever to not just know and take pity on those in the world that are suffering, but to understand and share in their struggle, making the struggle all the easier for everyone.

Aristotle was right all those years ago, when he dubbed the human race a “political animal”. At every moment in our history when we could have taken a step away from each other and distanced ourselves from our fellow men, we have take the path which connects us not just with a few close friends that we happen to share a common space with, but the path that connects us the the greatest number of our peers as possible.

And that’s my take on Aristotle’s internet.