Mirror Neurons & the Philanthropic Urge

I’ve long held that people give to charity not out of some calculated, self-interested motivation, but because we are empathetic animals who have evolved to help those around us. The discovery of Mirror Neurons, which show that our brains are wired to experience other people’s pain and joy as if it were our own has helped validate the Empathetic Animal theory.

Today I want to share a remarkable video of bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin talking about the Empathetic Civilization. Importantly, Rifkin argues that an empathetic civilization is not a utopian vision, but instead that empathy is rooted in an acknowledgement of our mortality and the imperfections and difficulties of human life. Rifkin traces the way our spheres of empathy have increased as civilization has grown. While humans once had empathy only for family members, Rifkin shows how the circle of people we consider “us” has grown and foresees a time when it expands to include all life.

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  1. Pete Manzo says:


    I think you’re right about why people give, and this is fantastic, thanks for sharing this presentation about the empathic society.

  2. B. Freer Freeman says:

    Would an attack by space aliens speed the process along? Conversely. what happens to empathy that allows the Japanese internment, Rwanda. the Holocaust, etc.?

  3. Ha! An attack by space aliens would make clear a new “Us” and “Them”! I don’t think that Rifkin discounts human tendency towards violence. He just attributes it to how we treat “others”, which is exactly how the German’s saw the Jews, the US saw the Japanese, etc.