Six years ago my wife suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm that seriously endangered her cognitive function and her life. As a result I began an extensive study of the brain and its functions in order to better understand what had happened and how I might help her recover. I purchased, borrowed and read a huge number of books about the brain and visited many websites providing visual insights into the mysteries of the brain and the ongoing research into its functions. Obviously, I am no expert on cognitive function, brain mapping or related fields but I think I can claim a better than average layman’s knowledge of these subjects.
Recently, I’ve been exploring the emotional lives of animals thanks to Carl Safina and his wonderful and deeply moving "Beyond Words*"carlsafina.org and primatologist Frans De Wall’s "The Ape and the Sushi Master*"*. The visceral impact of " Beyond Words"is very strong. Anecdotes about elephant family life and infant care had a huge emotional impact and both books helped me to realize the connections that are possible between us and them (the elephants, the porpoises and the whales)
Our connections to others are in many ways similar to the synapses that are created in the brain . First comes a biological or emotional tie, e.g. a sibling or a friend and then, through shared experience or propinquity this becomes a connection which can sometimes last a long time or even a lifetime. In contrast even the relationship with a sibling is tenuous and the shared experience tenuous the connection is never completed and the connection like a neglected synapse - withers and dies.
The question arises: can we experience empathy without a real connection? Can we ever experience real empathy with someone we don’t even know?