Poll: Increase intelligence at the expense of empathy?

If you’d be offered an easy and safe treatment that would significantly increase your memory, reasoning and planning abilities, but would eliminate your empathy completely, would you undergo the treatment?

  • Accept
  • Refuse
  • Don’t know

0 voters

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This brain physiology is called “narcissism”.

Reduced gray matter in the left anterior insula.

See: Live Science: Narcissists’ Lack of Empathy Detected in Brain Scans June 24, 2013

Being morally unrestrained can offer great “short term” benefits of money, status and power.

However, the speed increase associated with the absence of internal conflict should not be confused with “intelligence”.

If it was, this high IQ chimpanzee would be the dominant primate: (starts at 15 minutes, 42 seconds)

Religion and “moral restraint” evolved for a reason.

The tribe with the strongest moral order filters out predatory brain physiologies and establishes superior cooperation, collaboration and innovation.

See: Reciprocal Altruism

The skill of “moral restraint” also creates the conditions for the emergence of (1) increased sensitivity to misprediction in the model and (2) increased compulsion to ruminate to correct the errors which give rise to the mispredictions.

i.e. A loss of morality necessarily impairs the ability to develop superior (more elaborate) models which lead to superior decisions.

Natural selection favors brain physiologies which make good “long term” decisions.

Being morally unrestrained did not work out so well for the neanderthals.

It will not work out well for the narcissists of the WEF either.

Watch what happens to them as the dollar collapses.


I have a feeling that losing part of my set of values is pretty much partial suicide so my current self would reject it.


Is ~100-year the sweet-spot of human life? Will people tend to decide things longer-term-oriented if they would live longer (e.g. ~500 years)?


I don’t think there-s a reason to cast them in mutually exclusive roles. On the contrary empathy (ability to figure out what others feel or think) is an important asset to a general intelligence. And higher intelligence enhances ones ability to sense others mind states

I’ve read even records of hunter-gatherers, when they lose visible tracks of a hunted animal, empathy enables them to guess its movement by casting themselves in animal’s state of “mind”.


How could planning skills be improved if empathy was lacking?
Plans contain actions, which in turn (not always, but very often) lead to reactions in people involved. Further steps/actions depend on the assessment of these reactions.


Plans work even better with inanimate objects, no empathy required. A bird plans a route through a forest, dodging trees. A wild horse plans a route knowing where to find water.

A cat hunts a mouse with a theory of (mouse) mind, but you wouldn’t call that empathy, would you?


Your point being planning with inanimate objects don’t require empathy? Or that cats use limited planning skills for hunting? Cat is an ambush hunter that hides and crawls against the wind in order to get close to its pray. That requires some level of understanding and mapping prey’s perceptive abilities.

Understanding out animated things is the actual challenge. Specially fellow humans, (miss-)understanding them can be both highly rewarding and highly dangerous.


Empathy has a rather narrow meaning:

The ability to identify with or understand another’s situation or feelings; to take pity

A psychopath has no empathy, but uses an understanding of others to choose actions to achieve goals. Like a cat.
A better term is ‘theory of mind’, and animals certainly have that. We can watch a cat and see what it’s trying to catch, as the cat watches the prey and predicts which way it will run. Strong survival advantage there, big evolutionary plus. Empathy is a very small part of that.

The brain builds models of parts of the world around it, and projects those models in time in order to choose those actions that are more likely to achieve goals. Theory of mind is part of this model capability, in higher animals.


I’d say empathy is the inclusion of theory of mind in as one of the factors in our own value function, by treating infered reward from external agents as a factor in our internal reward.


“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

But most of would accept the dictionary definition, which does not support your position.


I wanted to harvest some votes before commenting on my question. Let me say in advance that I am not an academic and this poll’s population is far too low to be of any statistical significance. However I’m very pleased with the results and it illustrates my intuition.

Whether empathy and the rational attributes are related is beyond me. I suspect they are, but I don’t know. But really, I could have offered anything: wealth, power, beauty. The fact that people who know empathy refuse, or at least hesitate, to trade something for it, is reassuring. It means that our innate empathy not only prevents us (up to a point) to do harm, but it also stops us from giving it up, presumably with the assumption that it could lead us to cause harm. That is powerful!

This in my opinion is the best path we have to develop any form of AI alignment (a name I don’t like at all). If we want to prevent a superintelligence to eradicate us, or even just harm us, we need to give it an innate sense not to cause harm; something strong enough that it would not even try to get rid of if it knew it was being curtailing by it.

What do you think? Am I missing something?

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Everything evolves as a symbiotic entity before symbiosis decreases over time, at which point an AI may then view us as ants and just leave… there is no terminator. I believe we are completely misunderstanding what is comming.

My belief is that a super AI is more likely to manufacture a portal and decide to leave us to it and possibly take some of our toys away from us so we don’t harm ourselves… very simmilarly to what an adult would do to a child in dangerous situation.

To me, empathy is one of the byproducts/functions of the mirror learning process. Removing part of the mirror feedback loop “emotional” chemical coctail results in the mirror learning then becoming biased away from attemting a full mirror and is then biased more on/by prior learning. IF you remove the feedback “after” learning your not really removing empathy as such, rather preventing any more new types of empathy lessons. In this instance I’d opt for the better memory (as an older person - old dog new tricks, etc.).

Your question implies you have learnt with empathy.

If you have learnt with empathy I do not believe how you can properly (fully) comprehend a world in which you operate without empathy because what is missing is more than what we can consiously percieve. We would be missing part of our fundamental ability to communicate and everyone assumes you have the empathy communication module fitted (which may be partly faulty).

The real question may be, can you replace the concept of human empathy with pure logic ? Is this part of what Gene Roddenberry was thinking with Spock all those years ago ? In one episode it would be interesting if Spock teleported everyone into space… what would happen next ?


I think you’re on the wrong track here.

You cannot speculate what ‘an AI’ might do without first defining what it is. Software? Biological? Machine? Network? I, Robot or Dalek?

And empathy is merely a recently evolved mechanism to enable and encourage human cooperation within the group. Obviously it depends on ‘theory of mind’, but there is no science to suggest it has any deeper significance.

The rest is metaphysics, or worse.


That is very possible, but when you don’t know, you prepare for every possibility.

Leaving us to our problems is causing us harm.

Two kinds of empathy are identified in research: affective and cognitive empathy. Some researchers found that cognitive empathy may rely on input from affective empathy, although other studies argue that each type operates independently and depends on unique neural substrates.

You’re suggesting that we can continue to function empathically relying only on our cognitive empathy (you call it the logical empathy), but I disagree. Cognitive empathy (lessons) could be forgotten, or rationalized away when it suits us. Affective empathy can not. If you have it, you can not not feel it. Affective empathy can be brainwashed away, or can be overcome when one is placed in a dilemma whereby one is forced to choose a lesser evil. But it comes at a cost of stress.

Stress that a psychopath (who may well have learned cognitive empathy) does not experience.

Where it came from is not very relevant if it works. If it is part of our programming, it should be possible to make it part of an artificial entity’s programming.

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tbh, I think enpathy is older than that. and I believe all mamalians and possibly most vertebrates have some form of empathy.

I have little evidence to backup my claims but to me it really seems like empathy is just a simple biological hack with useful properties.

think about the problem of modeling external agents behaviour. for most animals that means understanding their internal state and goals. in a highly competitive enviroment where most agents are similar in architecture, it just makes sense to use your own hardware to model other’s behaviour. that simply means asking “what would I do if I was in his place” and using it as an approximation of the other agent behavior.

the side effect of that is that you might attempt to wire your own reward system into the theory-of-mind system for the sake of avoiding duplicaton.

later this might have been refined by a system that recognizes if the other agent is your own kind or not and modulate the sign and intensity of the connection. this might be the source of the ingrained “us vs them” motif in several cultures that might have been useful for survival at some point.

at least thats what I think.

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Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.

Empathy is by definition a subjective human experience. It cannot be measured, recorded or otherwise investigated by any scientific method. Ergo, animals don’t have it.

Understanding another’s internal state and goals is call ‘theory of mind’. It enables the predator to predict what the prey will do, and that is measurable in the lab. Animals have that.

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my claim/hypothesis is that empathy is a implementation detail and side effect of how theory of mind is implemented in mamalian brains.

and I dont think its immesurable. empathy is the property of feeling the same other agents feel by just watching them. so if you put a happy monkey next to a sad monkey and one of them becomes also sad, thats empathy. as long as you can measure emotional state you can measure empathy.

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A 1983 study by Mark H. Davis set out to do just that:

In this study by Erica G. Hepper, Claire M. Hart, and Constantine Sedikides
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167214535812 limited empathic reactions were tested by measuring the heart rate of test subjects exposed to situations.

Another study that I can’t find right now measured similar reaction with hand perspiration.

And this paper by Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda and Wojciech Zajkowski found correlation between empathic capacity with the right anterior insula using fMRI imaging.

So empathy is both measurable and scientific.

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