Does the Practise of Imagining Create more Empathetic People or Conversely does Practising Non Face-to-Face Communication Make One Less Empathetic?

By Mariyon Slany.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Is it simply a matter of the mirror neurons in our brain switching on during empathy because
we have learnt to maximise biological survival this way? As Jonah Lehrer says ‘sympathy is one of
humanity’s most basic instincts, which is why evolution lavished so much attention on mirror neurons,
the fusiform face area, and those other brain regions that help theorize about other minds.’ So what
happens when we basically ‘mirror each other’ on a remote gadget without having regular face to
face interactions? My questioning then follows on to ask how limited is our capacity to ‘grow' empathy
capacity if one supposes that reading fiction has contributed to this process. This article explores the
notion of practising your empathy gene by getting into the imagined worlds in novels. Looking at how
to excavate that imaginative learning from, for example, Peter Hoeg’s ‘The Quiet Girl’ as he compels
us to imagine the world of the lead character Kaspar’s ‘heard’ silences. If we can only practise by
‘doing empathy’ and if we are losing opportunities to do this, how do we then create other virtual experiences?
Online? But we keep getting distracted with the pictures, or clicking onto another (temporarily)
fascinating site. The book/story keeps us focused on trying to imagine a character and their
world, thus developing that ability to ‘think in someone else’s shoes’. I also point towards the basis
of a conundrum between science/technology and humanities: how is it possible to incorporate an understanding
of a human experience on technology and learn from it, both the positive and the negative
experiences that get translated into our everyday experiential world.
Keywords: Empathy, Imaginative Processes, Processing Text, Technology, Loss and Gains, Mirror

Keywords: Empathy, Imaginative Processes, Processing Text, Technology, Loss and Gains, Mirror Neurons

International Journal of the Book, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.69-76. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.193MB).

Mariyon Slany

Executive Director, Publishing, Perth, WA, Australia

Mariyon Slany has a range of experiences in various fields including publishing, governance for not for profits, journalism and marketing. Her work experience was gained in countries such as Austria, Hungary, the USA and Australia. Mariyon originally comes from a performance arts background, has an Honours degree in Literature, a Graduate qualification in Dispute Resolution, and is a LEADR trained mediator. She is currently also practising her ‘empathy gene’ whilst delivering management training to teenagers!


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