No Understanding, No Empathy

Debating how to maximize empathy goes to the heart. There is no heart without soul, or soul without mind, and mind without knowledge.

I just argued in “Finance Worth: CERN, Not Plutothat the Will To Knowledge, in particular the Will To Science was the best way to undermine social injustice and inequity. It’s no coincidence that the English, American and French revolutions happened when the scientific revolution became obvious even to the plebs.

Paul Handover, a trusted and most faithful commenter on this site, author of the Learning From Dogs site, objected to my allegation that The Will To Know is a different dimension in psychological space from empathy (literally, “feeling the pain“).So I argued that funding physics was primary. Paul wrote:  Spending to alleviate, nay remove, homelessness should come way before physics despite the power of your argument. Just my two-cents worth.

I will show here that, although, in first order, physics and empathy are independent of each other, in second order, the latter depends upon the former, in our honorable genus. Actually the dependence of empathy upon cognition is central to the ferocious genius of the human genus.   

No Cognition No Communication No Civilization No Commiseration

No Cognition No Communication No Civilization No Commiseration 

The first time I met that idea, I was a child, watching a grainy TV screen. Neil Armstrong was landing on the Moon. Some French intellectuals who I saw only that day, smirked, and said it was a terrible thing. “With all the money they spent on that they could have fed the hungry instead!”

I was outraged. Being half Algerian, and having lived mostly in Black Africa, I had direct knowledge that people suffer, die and go hungry for reasons that have nothing to do with spending. Money can’t buy love, and it can’t buy hatred, either.

JFK and LBJ spent 100 billion dollars landing on the Moon. That was money splendidly and fruitfully spent. Stepping on the Moon was a better idea than a Third World War with the USSR. Arguably, if the USA and the USSR had not competed to get to the Moon first, they may have competed with direct war (instead of the indirect war in Vietnam). The race was pretty much settled when the giant Soviet N1 rocket exploded every single time a launch was attempted, producing a 7 kilotons TNT explosion (half of Hiroshima), and destroying its launch pad.

The technological fall-out of the landing on the Moon was enormous (never mind that the 100 top NASA Saturn V engineers were Nazis). The scientific fall-out is still ongoing. Some of the astronauts were geologists and brought back lots of rocks which were studied worldwide. The Moon’s geology is full of surprises: it’s a piece of Earth’s mantle!

Considering the discoveries made on the Moon, I have argued in “Life Giving EARTH NUCLEAR Reactor” that one ought to introduce a new term in the so called Drake equation: a huge fission reactor may be needed for life, and the Moon may have resulted from it. If true, this has all sorts of philosophical, not to say political, consequences.

A parallel, highly ambitious technological program was the much derided Franco-British supersonic, the Concorde (initially a French idea). Concorde was an enormous success too, and nobody knows. No, it’s not because Concorde still hold some speed records. Concorde contributed a lot to the advanced of civilization. And not just by having the French and British taking tea together.

How? When a plane flies supersonic, its center of lift goes way back. To compensate, the center of mass of the plane has to go way back too. That was done by transferring fuel. That was not done by hand. That was done, could only be done, by computers, and assorted electrical systems. With its Gothic delta wings very unstable at low speeds and its variable geometry air intakes, Concorde needed to have many other mechanisms under computer control.

One did not want the computer system to fail. An elaborated system was invented to make sure of that. Five computers, using different software systems built by different companies were put in command. One machine flew the plane while others watched and were ready to take over. Concorde was the first “fly by wire” plane (the next one, years later, was the USA Space Shuttle). Now such systems are ubiquitous, not just in aviation, but each time a driver applies the brakes, a train goes somewhere, etc.    

That empathy should be viewed as coming “way before” understanding is THE classical mistake. The Roman emperors, the top plutocrats per excellence, thus committed it again and again, for all to see and hear, until they drove Rome into the ground, below their boot.

Nothing comes before understanding. Understanding is what humans do. Many animals have empathy. Elephants certainly do. In humans, understanding has grown so much, that empathy has become a slave to understanding. (That’s the major problem with tribalism.)

After all many animals, or human populations, have empathy, but, lacking understanding, that empathy is of no effect whatsoever.

One can easily imagine that it is what befell the Mayan civilization in the super drought of the Seventh Century or all the Americas when the epidemiological and military apocalypse of the Fifteenth Century was upon them. The cataclysm was not understood, empathy had no effect.

All Aztecs had homes, but, to protect their homes, they would have needed enough knowledge of physics to make field guns to repulse the 2,000 invaders.  The Aztecs could not understand why Conquistadores climbed on Mexican volcanoes: they were fetching saltpeter to make more gun powder.

Meanwhile, paralyzed by their version of empathy, the Aztecs captured Spaniards alive to offer them, alive, to the Gods. So, when they had the struggling Cortez in their hands, literally, they tried to tie him up with ropes, and that gave enough time for his men to kill all the Aztecs swarming him, and rescue El Capitan.

Under what theory does providing a roof for everybody comes before understanding for everybody? After all, is a roof necessary for life? During most of human evolution, in most places, there were no roofs. It’s as if I said:”Oh we need to understand how to grow more food” and someone replied: ”Well build a home for the homeless, first”.

What if my neighbor does not want a home? After all, I have enjoyed bivouacs many times: I understand the charm of life in the grand outdoors, below the Milky Way.

Poverty is more than about roofs: I live in one of the world’s richest regions (the SF Bay Area) and I see people digging into garbage all the time. That did not use to be the case. It’s more so since Obama rules, with his fake empathy.

When I was a child, I saw only dogs and vultures dig into garbage. In Black Africa, a place with no intrinsic riches whatsoever. So poverty is a problem with the organization of society. Obama’s USA are the richest ever, but so is financial inequality. In other words, poverty in the USA is a question of understanding Obama and Pelosi did not understand, hopefully, that what they were doing was bound to increase inequality.

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest machine, is mostly under France, and its power mostly comes from nuclear power plants in socialist France. There is absolutely no contradiction between socialism and understanding, just the opposite. That’s why the LHC and ITER sit in France. Not because France loves homelessness and treating the poor like trash, but, precisely, because empathy without understanding is self-contradictory.

The understanding approach to things is first to ask why there is homelessness, and then to address the factor therein. Some people are homeless because they scrambled their brains on drugs: ponder the factors therein. Millions of people are homeless, or poorly lodged, because the jobs are not where the houses are: that’s endemic throughout the world. Fix that through construction programs, where needed, and so on.

An important advance in Physics has been Quantum Field Theory. The useful theories therein are RENORMALIZABLE. What does that mean? Because of vacuum energy fluctuations, any Field is subject to non linear self interactions. The Fields feed backs on the Field, non linearly. When physicists can handle this, by changing the mass and the charge, in a topological way, the theory is RENORMALIZABLE: one can compute with it.

It’s obvious to me that the mathematics and methods so developed are applicable to other fields (pun not intended). Actually they have been applied in statistics. It’s only a matter of time, and enough people knowing physics, before these methods are applied to the fight against plutocracy and homelessness.

Indeed, if some people in the USA live as some African dogs and vultures used to, it’s not because there is not enough spending, or it’s going in the wrong direction. The Black Africa I knew was 1,000 times poorer than the USA is today, per capita. However the psychological situation was different. It’s psychology that made the difference, not spending. And what psychology is used for.

Plutocrats know human psychology very well. Simply, in the mood they are, the hyper exploitative mood, psychology is in the service of the hormones, the neurohormones, and the glands, in or out of the brain, in the service of the Dark Side. 

The Will To Know can ram the Dark Side, and only the Will To Know can do so. There is no empathy without understanding, because empathy itself is a form of understanding.

The housing crisis, in the USA, and throughout the West, just like the employment crisis, is, first of all, a cognition problem. There is a Will Not To Build. That needs to be re-cognized.

All these considerations will fly beyond the understanding of the presidency in Washington. Obama organized a State Visit and assorted dinner for his romantically complicated partner, President François Hollande of France. That’s the first State Dinner in two years. Last year’s dinner was cancelled by the president of Brazil, when she learned Obama was spying on her as if she were Osama Bin Laden.

The thick ivory invitations with gold embossing and the words “The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of” were printed for 300 celebrities and powers of the plutocratic order. They had to be destroyed and new ones printed without Ms. Trierweiler’s name. Trierweiler was a woman endowed with extraordinary powers because she was thought to be sleeping with the French president, until it was revealed that she was not. Then her powers magically vanished.

One may wonder by which other magical powers those 300 hundred worthies are invited at the seat of power. No doubt, if she were around, a few years ago, the Obamas would have invited, in the past, the corrupt daughter of the Spanish King.

In a real democracy, should that not be unsupervised by We the People? Can there be empathy without democracy? Hell no. Hell says no, and does care about that a lot.

When Pluto plays philanthropist in a forest, do moralists want to find out what’s going on?

Patrice Aymé


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28 Responses to “No Understanding, No Empathy”

  1. open page in new window Says:

    […] Source Page: […]

  2. Nathan Curry Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis – but admit to being swayed by emotional arguments to the contrary in the past. Especially when it comes to space exploration vs feeding the poor.

    However, the military industrial complex has some pretty upside down values. Examine these statistics:

    And this article by UNICEF:

    I have to agree with your argument for spending on physics. But that too is often ousted by the military expenditure governments sanction (esp USA) to be perfectly natural and ok. ie More than 50% of US spending goes to the military. The natural evolution of CERN was proposed in America and the Senators kicked it out because it was too expensive. Following your rational above the argument would go that the “opportunity” lost to America was too valuable not to invest in….but the Senate voted no. Bush cut spending on stem cell research for 8 years because of utterly insane Christian religious values…that took us back to Neanderthal logic and stalled the progress of medicine. I imagine a similar hokey God-fearing logic was behind saying no to the proposition of the biggest particle collider on Earth. Yet more than 50% of US spending goes to the military.

    Concorde, as you argue, developed benefits beyond its simple mandate to cross “the Channel” supersonically. But your argument above does beg the question…given the trillions of dollars spent on military…..what is valuable to humanity therein and what is not?

    There was a radical philosopher by the name of UG Krishnamurti
    He said: “Whoever has better weapons will have the day for himself. ” – which I would argue is the basic logic of military expenditure. Have the best weapons = rule the most territory (and take the least shit from everyone around you). UG thought that Nuclear Weapons were one of man’s greatest inventions in terms of their presence deterring some major conflicts from happening. I would definitely say there is some truth to that. I feel your argument is sound but that it lacks the necessary nod to the dangers implicit in understanding/knowledge is power. eg nuclear fusion can yield a thermonuclear bomb or the holy grail of the energy economy.

    Research and education = the advancement of understanding. Imagine if a few percent of the military budget were to be channelled into NASA and more teachers and more empowered students…

  3. Nathan Curry Says:

    I feel your argument is sound but that it lacks the necessary nod to the dangers implicit in understanding/knowledge is power. eg nuclear fusion can yield a thermonuclear bomb or the holy grail of the energy economy. = I meant to add this:

    Implicit dangers in understanding stuff/knowledge is power are obvious when one sees that power can corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely (aka plutocracy).

  4. picard578 Says:

    Excellent article. As they say, “The road to hell is full of good intentions.”

  5. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Thanks for your sincerity, Nathan, and admitting that you felt tempted, as we all do, with the easy line that empathy is all we need. Or love, as John Lennon put it (while sleeping with all cute girls in his way).

    The military-industrial complex is much criticized, and is a real problem, especially now that it is entangled with a police state. However, it’s mainly behind the venerable democracies of the West which maintain superiority of their political system which, although not the democracy it ought to be, is much more so than what its potential enemies would impose.

    It would be more efficient, more defensive, to finance fundamental research and education more, than to build military dubious aircraft carriers, agreed.

    BTW, “thermonuclear bombs” are generally mostly boosted fission bombs… With the exception of the biggest of them all, Tsar Bomba, which was mostly fusion (it would have been easy to double its power with fission, but it would have been a real massacre!)

  6. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Have you seen this presentation?
    TEDxYYC – Kirk Sorensen – Thorium
    Kirk Sorensen discuss “Thorium” at TEDxYYC 2011. Kirk Sorensen is founder of Flibe Energy and is an …

  7. Nathan Curry Says:

    Nice Alexi 🙂

  8. Paul Handover Says:

    Guess I asked for this!

    However, an understanding of your post, your essay, will take more hours than today can offer. We are preparing for a meeting with Senator Wyden at noon to protest the proposed relaxing of Oregon’s clearcut logging laws.

    But a longer reply from me will be forthcoming, possibly in the form of a guest post?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Your excellency meets with Senators now? Good job, anyway. Whatever they do, primary forests (if any left) ought to be protected. Clear cutting second and third growth is something else.

      Empathy is a complicated thing. Power helps it. Knowledge helps the mastery of power.

      I welcome this debate, because it goes to the heart. And there is no heart without soul, or soul without mind, and mind without knowledge.

      • Paul Handover Says:

        The longer reply has evaded me today. But you and your readers may be interested in this. The meeting with Sen. R Wyden, a public meeting, had a good 200 attend. In 2 hours of public questions, not one was about ObamaCare, or the NSA, or any other aspect of American policy.

        Every question was to do with the land, forests, environment, sustainable lifestyles, and climate change. It was inspiring.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Well, these are the core questions. The rest are distractions.
          The former are of much greater difficulty than the later. Obamacare, NSA, and low taxation of the hyper rich are idiocies. They have easy solutions.
          But the question of melting down the planet and resources exhaustion are major and very difficult. The later only was probably what broke the back of the Roman empire.

  9. Alexi Helligar Says:

    PA: “When Pluto plays philanthropist in a forest, do moralists want to find out what’s going on?”

    Alexi Helligar Apparently, in the course of giving all his money away Bill Gates regained his spot as Forbes richest person in the world:…/gates_worlds_richest…/

    Bill Gates is once again the richest man on Earth
    Ex-Microsoftie rolling in a cool – WAIT, HOW MANY BILLIONS?!?

    • Chris Snuggs Says:

      Yes. Too many people buy an absolutely crap Word-processor called MS Word.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Alexi, Chris: That Gates is richer than ever will not prevent Obama his doggie to claim that Bill and Melinda are changing and helping 16,000 public schools, as he just did in the SOTU (State Of The Union) address, in front of the whole USA population.

      My thesis here is that Gates, an extremely greedy, immensely powerful man with little formal education is the very definition of the dangerous plutocrat… precisely because he looks friendly, though he harnessed essentially public system to get where he got.

      Because of his ties with Monsanto (among others) and legal tax evasion, he can keep on growing like a cancer, while Obama, among other plutophiles, hopes to get his family or friends on the payroll… Monsanto is part of the plot to kill all Monarch Butterflies through genetic manipulations that have allowed to augment the dosage of insecticide of so called “crops”. Just an inkling. Such people belong to jail, that’s why they call the White House home.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Chris: what’s better than MS Word?

  10. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Agreed. The fawning over wealthy plutocrats and their self-serving “charitable” foundations sicken me.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The point is that the Foundations allow plutocrats to extend their power, but in a perennial, tax-free way. Gates is a demonstration of that.
      Less visible is an entire archipelago of Foundations manned, tax free, by the many heirs of immense plutocratic fortunes. Foundations augment inequities.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Gates Of Hell
      Here they were, on the magazine“60 Minutes” of CBS News, once made famous for revealing serious data about the Vietnam War. Our Lords. On the left Warren Buffet, on the right Bill Gates. In the middle Melinda, Queen of Hell..

  11. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Alexi Helligar @ Patrice Ayme: better than MS Word is

    LibreOffice 4.2 is here!
    LibreOffice is the free power-packed open source personal productivity suite for Windows, Macintosh and Linux, that gives you six feature-rich applications for all your document production and data processing needs.

  12. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Alexi Helligar And better than MS Windows is

    Main Page – Linux Mint
    Sleek, modern, innovative Stable, robust, traditional Solid, full-featured, polished Light, simple, efficient Linux Mint is funded by its community.

  13. Chris Snuggs Says:

    Chris Snuggs: I use Wordperfect. I know Word very well, and I can tell you that it is horrible compared to WP, if only for the use of tables and tabs.

    WP also has a brilliant “view code” mode which can be very time-saving. People get used to and usually swear by what they use, but I do know both of these and avoid Word like the plague if I can.

    Linux Mint I installed with the advice of Alexi and it is extremely stable and fast. There is however a fairly demanding learning curve of differences from Windows. Well, a day or so of intensive self-practice is enough to master most stuff. However, I have NOT found a website creator/editor like Dreamweaver, which makes it difficult for me to leave Windows as I do a lot on websites. No doubt if I could hand code I wouldn’t need Dreamweaver, but I can’t.

    I also like to use macros with Excel, and I am not sure if the OpenOffice E spreadsheet can handle that. Not enough hours in the day …..

    I couldn’t do this in Word in less than a week … maybe you are better….. in WP it is a breeze:

  14. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Alexi Helligar To download an entire site I use “wget”:


    If you have MS Windows you can try the MS Windows version of wget:

  15. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Alexi Helligar As a child, Bill Gates’ two favorite games were “Risk” (where the object is world domination) and “Monopoly.”

    Read more:

    Bill Gates
    The digital demagogue earned billions by anticipating the market’s needs. Now, his philanthropic foundation is helping countless others across the globe.

  16. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Alexi Helligar The road to hell is paved with good intentions backed by bad practices

  17. Chris Snuggs Says:

    Chris wrote: “MS gulped up all its competitors to achieve a near monopoly of desktop applications, despite their vast inferiority in key areas.

    It consistently abused its monopoly to extinguish competitors, until eventually checked by the E U and others.

    This is in the Nature of Man and companies; weaken and if possible destroy competition to achieve domination – no different in politics of course, and the natural phenomenon of the survival of the fittest.

    However, everything can be abused – and is, by a minority. I really do not like Microsoft very much.”

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