Recently a young Norwegian man asked Bill Nye what his perspective was on empathy in human evolution. Not when it comes to our bodies but how empathy influences us emotionally and socially. Bill Nye responded by taking an empirical perspective and examined how animals such as bonobos and chimps care for their young or mourn for the passing of their loved ones.
Bill touches on human consciousness and how it may not be as unique as we previously thought since animals demonstrate that they also feel emotions even without the ability to speak. Science is paving the way for us to better understand both animal and human emotions.
Learning more about empathy and getting in touch with our emotions could have a great impact on society. We could create beneficial new laws or help someone who needs our help because of empathy.
Watch the video below to learn more about that Bill Nye said about empathy or check out the transcript below.
Trym: Hi Bill. This is Trym from Norway. I was wondering how come us humans have empathy? Is it normal for species to have empathy — I was just starting to read about Richard Dawkins’ take on it. I was wondering how you would explain it? I love the way you explain things by the way. Thanks.
Bill Nye: You said your name with an accent that I will interpret Trym — I believe your name is? Trym, takk for your question. Thank you for your question. This is cool. So why are we empathetic? Just consider what a tribe of humans would be like without empathy, without ability to feel what someone else is feeling, without an ability to see it from another person’s point of view. It probably wouldn’t be a very successful tribe.
You wouldn’t take care of each other. You probably wouldn’t divide up tasks. You do this and I’ll do that. I know that’s hard for you; I’ll do this. I know you’re good at that, so you do that and I’ll do this. Imagine a tribe without empathy.
So my claim, which is extraordinary at first, is not only are size and shape determined by a process of evolution, but so are our feelings. And empathy is part of that. Our ancestors without empathy were not as successful. And furthermore, while you’re on Richard Dawkins, look into primate behavior. Our ancestors — gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees — they exhibit empathetic behavior.
They mourn. They take care of each other. They interact in a way that’s very much like and very similar to the way we interact. So check them out. Check out our primate buddies and you’ll see that I think empathy is deep within us. And as to its origins, that’s a great one. I’m not sure where it came from.
Like dogs like to hang out together. I’ve seen gerbils, mice, and hamsters hang out together or seem to prefer each other’s company. So I think whatever that thing is that makes you — leads you to prefer one another’s company must be connected with the ability to feel what someone else, another organism is feeling.
It’s a great question and it gets back to this deep thing, the nature of consciousness. Are we that different from other animals that we seem to be able to know that we are aware of our surroundings. We seem to be able to know that we’re going to die. We seem to be able to know what another one of our fellow humans is feeling or thinking. Where did that come from?
These are deep neurological questions that perhaps you will be the neuroscientist who answers this problem and we could then create ways to help each other live better lives. And I’m not kidding. If we pass laws consistent with our understanding of empathy, our understanding of how the human brain works and then ultimately if you made artificial intelligence computers that had this empathetic quality, it really could do great things.
Now in science fiction, you know, whenever you create anything artificial and things go bad, but that’s science fiction. We don’t have to do everything badly. We can make things great. That’s a great question, man. Takk. Tusen takk.
More About Bill Nye
Bill Nye is an engineer, comedian, scientist, inventor and author with a mission to help make society more scientifically literate. He wants everyone to be able to see and appreciate this world through the adventurous eyes of a scientist. By making science entertaining, he has reached the minds and heart of countless people.
While living in Seattle Nye combined his love of science and his talent for comedy. After winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest, he started a duel career as an engineer by day and a comedian by night. After a while, he quit his day job and became a full-time comedy writer performing on the show “Almost Live.”
This is the same timer period that the famous TV show that many US children watched in school growing up called “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” which aired right before Saturday Night Live. Bill won 7 national Emmy Awards for performance, production and writing while working on that show.
Bill has also written 5 science children books such as his latest one called “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.” He now spends his time running a Science Channel TV show called “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” and another called “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS.
Bill is incredibly entertaining and has a running competition with a neighbor of his named Ed Begley where they compete to see who can save the most energy while leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible. Currently, Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a hot water system that is solar-boosted.
Let us know in the comments below about your thoughts on empathy and Bill Nye.