Philip K. Dick used the presence of empathy as the dividing line between human and machine. Interestingly, the field of social neuroscience has been looking in-depth at the human side of this interface. Science Magazine offers a state of the discipline overview through a profile of its founder, Prof. Dr. Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, at
The article is behind Science’s paywall. The full reference is below and should be worth a schlep to a library that gets the journal.
Vol. 341 no. 6152 pp. 1336-1339
Concentrating on Kindness
by Kai Kupferschmidt
Singer combines sophisticated functional MRI methods with much squishier techniques such as transcendental meditation to see if humans can be (re)programmed to be more compassionate towards one another. The mind/body problem is difficult and frankly uncomfortable territory for science – one with a history of questionable claims and outright quackery. More than the usual skepticism should apply but the account of the present research is intriguing. Addtionally, Singer is aware of the pitfalls and has structured her studies to have the required controls. If it does play out as correct, one wonders when the empathic response will eventually be modulated, manipulated, mandated, or outright mimicked by circuitry.
For the first-person version, Singer’s eBook “Compassion: Bridging practice and science” is available here.
The fine theatrical exploration of this topic continues at The Sacred Fools until 19 October in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.