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Jane Goodall & the Lack of Empathy in Science

Pioneer primatologist Jane Goodall was highlighted in Nova’s web series ‘The Secret Lives of Scientists & Engineers’, and in the clip above she talks about some of the ways in which Science has gone wrong: namely, its lack of empathy and its confusing of coldness for ‘objectivity.’

At the beginning of her career, she was heavily criticized for naming the chimpanzees she was observing. “I was told you have to give them numbers because you have to be objective as a scientist,” Goodall says in the video, “and you mustn’t empathize with your subject. And I feel this is where science has gone wrong. To have this coldness, this lack of empathy, has enabled some scientists to do unethical behavior.” It was precisely her ability to connect & empathize with her observation subjects, what enabled her to do the groundbreaking work she’s famous for, which eventually help revolutionize our understanding of social groups in primates & other animals.

“I think empathy is really important, and I think only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our full potential.”

(h/t Cryptomundo)

  1. The more I think about this
    The more I think about this the more does it lead to some very fundamental stuff about reality in general. Empathy is really “identifying” with something outside of one’s self which is another way of saying that you bring what you already know to the rest of the world. While this can lead to subjective mistakes it also can lead to new insight. Real science should be a tightrope balancing act between the two states – total neutrality and total empathy, and even the most proudly subjective scientists often bring a cultural empathy to their work even though they can’t see it as has been so well parsed out in the most recent volume of Darklore especially in the article on the history of “ball lightning” in research.
    Personally, I advocate for taking highly subjective “forays” into research just to see where they lead. That doesn’t mean that a researcher assiduously believes everything his subjective mind conjures – it just means that he “tries on for size” everything imaginable – sort of like cross-dressing in the mirrored privacy of one’s own home. Now, I am not a cross dresser, but I am the equivalent of one intellectually. I try not to censor every idea that comes down the pike just because it has some flavor of taboo. Empathic people tend not to let taboos get in their way.

    1. Forteans in Drag —Faaaaabulous!

      Real science should be a tightrope balancing act between the two states – total neutrality and total empathy, and even the most proudly subjective scientists often bring a cultural empathy to their work even though they can’t see it […]

      Agreed completely

      Intellectual ‘cross-dressers’? The problem with that is I don’t think I would be able to find high heel shoes of MY size 😛

      1. They have your size, Red
        They have your size, Red Pill.

        http://www.allheelsformen.com/

        This reminds me of an instance of my own prejudices being sorely tried and exposed. Years ago I went to visit a friend in Columbia, MO and was also introduced to some of his friends there which included a visit to a home where the fellow greeting us at the door was dressed up like a little girl with little girl shoes and a little girl bow in his hair – the outfit was very accurate. I admit that I had to catch my breath though I tried not to show it outwardly. After some conversation I perceived that this was not a gag, but was the fulfillment of some deep need within the fellow’s personality, but for awhile before I was able to adjust I was seething inwardly at my own prejudices welling up inside me. It was a big learning moment for me about my own narrow world view at least in some regards.

        1. Prejudice
          I know what you mean. Now matter how much you rationalize it, there’s always some side of your personality in which a bit of prejudice may reside; when that prejudice surfaces, you need to expose it to the light instead of hiding it under the bed, like we often do with our inner monsters.

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