a dynamic, relational view of empathy – Daniel Goldin, Psy.D.
Sunday, January 15th at 2pm PST
Empathy is a ubiquitous concept across schools of psychoanalysis, and yet its meaning remains vague and difficult to grasp. Empathy is not an experience that can be observed. It cannot be analyzed the way the eye can be analyzed. There is no organ of empathy. Many psychoanalysts and neuroscientists rely on the metaphor of the mirror. The idea is that we reflect the other’s state through a process of internal simulation. The problem with the mirror metaphor is that it presses us to see empathy as a static one-off happening, one that can be measured by an FMRI machine or confirmed by a “validating” psychoanalyst. Empathy can be correct, or it can fail. And if it fails, we can repair it.
In this talk Daniel will lay out an alternative view of empathy as a dynamic relational process taking place on a continuum. On one end, we have what we might call a “what” form of empathy, the quasi-automatic mirror-neuron version that picks up emotions and intentions in an immediate way and relies on what is the same about the two of us. On the other end, we have a “why” form of empathy that looks to the “reasons ” a person expresses a certain attitude and takes certain actions or why a particular situation emerged between the two of us. And here there is a gap between us from the beginning. In fact, the call for this extended form of empathy is the very appearance of the gap, something that needs to be worked out to set us right. In order to perceive the other empathically in this way we have to work together to put together a story about what is going on with the other person or between us or both, a story that has sources and direction beyond the present moment. This kind of empathy starts with difference and never claims perfect understanding. It is an empathy that doesn’t seek to be right but rather always falls short – and so never ends matters.