I read this New Yorker article not because I care that much about Linux but because I became fascinated about the concept.
On Sunday, the benevolent dictator announced that he would be stepping down temporarily, to “get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.” Torvalds, who is forty-eight and lives with his family outside Portland, Oregon, made clear that he wasn’t burned out. “I very much do want to continue to do this project that I’ve been working on for almost three decades,” he wrote in a post to the Linux-kernel mailing list. “I need to take a break to get help on how to behave differently and fix some issues in my tooling and workflow.”
Linus Torvalds is confident he can become a better person
To me, this isn't a question about how we can change and become better people. I believe we can. I am extremely skeptical that empathy can be treated as a code-bash though. I kept thinking "is it possible to take an empathy sabbatical?" Can we simply will ourselves to feel empathy? Can humans, through time and attention re-factor our sense of empathy? I don't think we can.
Empathy requires us to inhabit the emotions of another person. That can only be done through building our own life experiences as stand-ins for the emotions of a foreign experience. Then we project ourselves into the life of the other. It's often an unconscious response managed by our mirror neurons.
These mirror neurons reflect back actions that we observe in others causing us to mimic that action in our own brains. When we observe someone in pain or when we are with someone happy, we experience that to a certain extent. These mirror neurons are the primary physiological basis of empathy. They create a neural Wi-Fi that connects us to the feelings of people around us.
I do not know or empathize with Linus Torvalds so my opinion is just based on what he projects into the world. By his own accounts he is a mean and inconsiderate person with near complete apathy for how other people feel. He has always been self aware though. With enough time and attention, I do believe a person can fake empathy. We pay to see good empathy fakes at the theaters. We vote for fake empathy in government. It's a tried and true way to get support from passionate people.
Some of the most effective liars I've ever known were excellent fakes. They read emotions and reflect back the appropriate response. Heck, I do that sometimes because that is part of working with people we do not understand. This is not noble or good. It's manipulative.
Since the 2016 election I have lost a lot of my empathy. Perhaps I've focused too much attention on my differences with people that cheer for racism or clap for sexism and violence against the dis-empowered. Whatever it is, I can no longer empathize with a large number of people in the world. Empathy can give us joy as easily as it can give us sorrow. I now find it difficult to mirror the joy in other people and this makes me sad. Empathy is one of the characteristics that make us special in the animal kingdom and I feel lesser for it's frequent absence.
De Waal says animal empathy is underestimated: "There is increasing evidence, mostly in mammals but also in birds, that animals are sensitive to the emotions of others and react to distress in others by attempts to ameliorate their situation or rescue them. There are experiments showing the same, so these videos are to be taken seriously as illustrations of this tendency."
If we can lose empathy through concentration, does that mean the opposite is true? Can we gain empathy simply by contemplating others? That seems difficult to believe for a 48 year old man.
"So in the end, my 'I really don't want to be too PC' stance simply became untenable. Partly because you definitely can find some emails from me that were simply completely unacceptable, and I need to fix that going forward. But to a large degree also because I don't want to be associated with a lot of the people who complain about excessive political correctness.
Perhaps we become what we continually pretend to be. Or perhaps a lie is as good as the truth if you can get someone to believe it.
This is an incredible piece of journalism by Ariane Lange at BuzzFeed:
Old letters, emails, and transcripts of AOL conversations between the women and Kricfalusi back up many of their claims. They each have witnesses to parts of their stories. Yet both women worried that they sounded “crazy.” For years ...
This episode of YANSS came along at a crucial time for me. I've been struggling with lesser traits.
I love the idea of the “out self” and how we align our internal compass to what we project outwardly. This isn’t just about politics. We all exhibit the most ...
These people are gone. The voices of reasoning that stood witness to our most terrible decisions as a country are rapidly vanishing. Now we, as a country, seem to have developed selective amnesia about where we come from.
The following videos on YouTube are from a series of lectures and ...
There's a good deal of buzz around hypothetical details of the upcoming TouchID replacement.
I don't have a strong opinion about the quality of the experience for unlocking my iPhone with my face. If it works, then great. If it doesn't then I'd be disappointed.1 ...
Sam Harris has an excellent and deeply intellectual podcast. This week's episode features an interview with Professor Stuart Russell about the current and future state of A.I. and it's potential impact on society.
I've taken a very specific stand against journalism paywalls in the past. It felt like an artificial barrier that restricted access to potentially vital information. It felt like a failure of foresight in an industry that refused to acknowledge the reality that they documented every day. I was wrong ...
Kurt Vonnegut would be 94 today. His words and thought experiments shaped who I am. He made me a better person. I’m glad he kept his shit together for as long as he did.
“There is a tragic flaw in our ...
If you're like me, then you may be looking for some distractions this week that don't involve Twitter, the internet, television or even other humans. I've found solace in iBooks and the Kindle service. Hardbound and Viki for Wikipedia are also great distractions.
It's a long holiday this weekend in the U.S. Here are a couple of excellent articles about the "Moral Economy" to keep you busy during your travels and parties. What's the moral economy? Well, read them. They aren't just smart, they are well written and often ...
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