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  #1  
Old 12-28-2005, 01:24 AM
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Default Tossing this question up

Why do humans feel sympathy for the pain and suffering of other life forms?

put another way

What is the meaning of this cause for sympathy (why does it exist)?
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  #2  
Old 12-28-2005, 02:01 AM
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

Humans have an amazing capacity for looking at an animal and seeing their own face projected back.
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  #3  
Old 12-28-2005, 02:02 AM
imported_luckyme imported_luckyme is offline
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

[ QUOTE ]
Why do humans feel sympathy for the pain and suffering of other life forms?

[/ QUOTE ]

Are you referring to before we chop off their head, or drop them alive into boiling water, or hot wire their genitals or strap them in the electric chair or .. ?

I recently read they found the related empathy module in chimps. It serves lots of evolutionary purposes, the easiest to understand is that we evolved in complex social groups and one of the major skills it takes to be successful is understanding what the other person is feeling. A module that puts you somewhat inside their head is +EV.

That's not all, but that alone is enough for it to evolve.

luckyme
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Old 12-28-2005, 02:15 AM
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

To expand a little on luckyme's post:

What do you think is one of the praimaty characteristics of a phycopath? It's an inability to feel sympathy for the suffering of others. Now, try to imagine how effective an entire society of psychopaths would be.

It should be obvious to anyone whay sypmpathy for others is a useful trait for any remotely social being.
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  #5  
Old 12-28-2005, 02:24 AM
Bork Bork is offline
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

A society of psychopaths could do quite well.
Take for example, ants, bees, and termites.
Perhaps they could do better with sympathy for each other, but I doubt it.

For creatures like humans with unique familial and tribal organization its pretty plain why sympathy is useful.
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Old 12-28-2005, 02:42 AM
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

[ QUOTE ]
A society of psychopaths could do quite well.
Take for example, ants, bees, and termites.
Perhaps they could do better with sympathy for each other, but I doubt it.

[/ QUOTE ]
Since individual ants, bees, and termites all are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their colony I think it goes without saying that they are not psychopaths even if they don't feel sympathy for each other. Of course the reason they're not psychopaths despite their lack of sympathy is the fact that they have no emotional capacity whatsoever (i.e. they can't be selfish either).

I don't think it's our "unique familial and tribal organization" that is key, it's the presence of higher brain funtion. If we're going to be social creatures and have higher brain function, we can't be psychopaths.
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  #7  
Old 12-28-2005, 03:15 AM
atrifix atrifix is offline
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

[ QUOTE ]
Why do humans feel sympathy for the pain and suffering of other life forms?

[/ QUOTE ]

Do you feel sympathy for ants? What about ferns? Sponges? Paramecia? We kill bacteria by the billions, but no one seems to care much for them.
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  #8  
Old 12-28-2005, 03:26 AM
OtisTheMarsupial OtisTheMarsupial is offline
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

Why do you need a meaning? Just enjoy it.

and

It's not universal. Many people are cruel bastards.
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  #9  
Old 12-28-2005, 03:29 AM
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

Maybe sympathy is an indication that humans recognize (or at least, believe they recognize) their power over other, weaker life forms? For example, if Al sees a cat being hurt in some way by Greg, then Al will feel bad for the cat because Al thinks:

-The cat is helpless (or at least, can't sufficiently prevent Greg from hurting it, and thus probably doesn't want to be hurt)
-The cat didn't knowingly do anything wrong (the cat might have eaten a plant that it shouldn't have, but only because the cat thought the plant was tasty, not because the cat knew it would anger Greg)
-So, the cat is not at fault and doesn't deserve to be hurt.
-If I (Al) were ever in a situation where I wasn't at fault and didn't deserve to be hurt, but was being hurt anyway, I would hate the injustice.
-Thus, I feel sympathy for the cat's pain, because I think there is an injustice being commited.

My opinion after a bit of thought. (Man, this forum is awesome!)
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  #10  
Old 12-28-2005, 03:56 AM
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Default Re: Tossing this question up

Maybe my basic position would be more clear if I put things this way:

1) We evolved a "sympathy module" in order to make it possible to operate in social groups effectively.

2) This module is fairly flexible. It isn't limited to just me and my offspring, for example.

3) This module is flexible enough to include any life form I can identify with.

4) How easily I can identify with life form X is directly related to how much sympathy I can feel for life form X.

5) In general, the ease with which we can identify with life form X is directly related with how similar they are to us. It's easiest, therefore, to identify with our close relatives, followed by other people, other primates, other mammels, etc. It's quite difficult to identify with an insect. It's next to impossible to identify with a leaf.

6) People tend to feel more sympathy for close relatives than strangers, other people than apes, apes than other mammels, other mammels than birds, birds than insects, and insects than leaves.
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