Empathy’s Evolution in the Human Imagination

What Began as an Aesthetic Response to Art Is Now a Highly Complex Neurochemical Reaction

Empathy seems to be one of the most “natural” emotions, but before 1908, no one in the English-speaking world had heard of it.

And when it did appear, “empathy” was a translation from the German Einfühlung, literally “in-feeling,” with the surprising meaning of projecting one’s own feelings into nature and objects of art.

This meaning is strange to us now. But the feeling we call “empathy” has shifted dramatically over the last century from a description of an aesthetic response, to a moral and political aspiration, to a clinical skill, …

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