Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo: The Empath

Having been produced by millions of years of natural selection, the human brain is such a phenomenally fantastic organ, and the study of neuroscience has given us a great window into how it operates. Common misconceptions maintain that brain function remains a complete mystery to science, leaving imaginary gaps in function of  the human psyche. One of those gaps that woo-woo wishes to fill includes the concept of empathy, which of course is attributed to the ambiguous term “energy” as well as a cacophony of other facets, real and imagined. You cannot have New Age beliefs without exalting yourself as some sort of psychic, thus this particular brand I will cover today is labeled as “empath”.

Some of the attributes of supposed “empaths”:

1. Ability to sense feelings of another.
2. Literal mind reading capacity.
3. Feeling drained from social situations.
4. Psychic connection to the spirit world.
5. Knowing when people are lying.
6. Psychometry – ability to psychically read the history of objects through touch.
7. Susceptibility to illness by being around sick persons.
8. Capacity to heal others by taking on their pain and releasing it…wherever….

There are many other claims of course, but these are the main characterizations typically given as symptoms of being a super psychic empath. Now if you are a fan of Star Trek, you will find these themes awfully familiar. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I was personally reminded of a character named Commander Deanna Troi, who was half human, and half Betazoid, which is a telepathic alien race.
Troi
Recently I began to watch the original series of Star Trek, when I ran into this episode. It was uncanny…

Star Trek: The Original Series – “The Empath”

Lots of folks seem to get their New Age beliefs from movies and TV programs. I have mentioned the ideas they have regarding “The Matrix” being a real thing previously. This is no different, and often fiction will be mixed with some bits of reality in order to relate to the audience. But when it comes to the actual claims regarding empaths, how can the truth be distinguished from what’s false?

Sure, I can understand the human source of empathy arriving at the behest of such things as mirror neurons, and perhaps the brain is largely responsible for responses to our social encounters. Neuroscience gives us quite a bit of understanding of how we feel empathy, as Dr. Thomas Lewis demonstrates below:

Perhaps there is some merit to the idea of being able to detect emotions from micro-expressions, and other non verbal forms of communication. I will even grant being around sick people can often be the source of one’s own illness because of the germ theory, and that stress can lower immune system responses.

But psychic healers? Well, there’s hoards of people who wish to believe this, yet sadly no evidence. If these people actually can heal with their abilities, perhaps they should visit as many hospitals as possible. If this notion is mentioned to anyone who claims to be an empath, watch them squirm to move the goalpost. They will say “oh but my abilities aren’t fully developed yet,” or “it drains me when I do a healing for free.” You heard that right… “for free” because it seems there is no corner of the internet where you cannot find a supposed reiki healer.

BS Detector.jpg
I used to consider myself an empath, and in some ways, I still do, except for the psychic nonsense. The truth is, aside from those who have defects in mirror neurons or unusual brain patterns, the majority of human beings have an uncanny ability to empathize, and it assists us in maintaining a healthy group dynamic. Identifying with a group is very important to the human race, and it’s this very thing that seems to lure some folks into believing they belong to an elite association of empathic light workers.  For example, the other day I ran across a self-proclaimed empath who felt it was their job to condemn a selfie poster as lacking in self-esteem. They were quite shocked to gain some backlash. You’d think a person with psychic feelings would’ve seen that coming…

Ironically enough, those who consider themselves an authority in regard to feelings tend to tread on others and misunderstand quite often. However, when questioned rationally, this authoritative stance breaks down completely, especially since humanity has empathy written into the fabric of their being. It’s definitely no outlier when one can relate to another’s feelings. A simple and rational explanation for the human capacity for empathy lies within the proven theory of natural selection. As mammals, our brains are hard-wired to care for our offspring; as apes, we are a very social species, thus the proponents of caring for one another is a key aspect of our survival. There is no need for the additional burden of supernatural abilities, nor pseudo-authoritative labels.
Spock

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