Paul Halpern

Imagination and Empathy

We live in a diverse world, rich with numerous cultures, faiths, pursuits, and lifestyles. To maximize the chances for world peace and mutual cooperation, friendly interplay between informed, accepting citizens around the planet constitutes a valuable goal. Barriers to understanding, whether they be physical remoteness or psychological distancing, increase the chances of political leaders emphasizing “otherness” and opening the door to exploiting such differences and engendering hostility. Therefore, any means of avoiding such barriers and trying to intuit other perspectives, reduces the possibility of such malevolent exploitation.

One way of encouraging empathy is through exchange programs and travel.  But that is not always possible, and not always enough. That’s where the power of imagination comes in. Our minds are well equipped to ponder a vast array of possibilities in life, from wealth to poverty, and from decadence to austerity. Imagination allows us to explore alternatives, and fathom what it might be like to be in others’ shoes. That doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing all the other paths; rather it involves coming to grips with the enormous range of cultures and lifestyles on earth and sense the underlying humanity within all of us.

Imagine a world in which, instead of empathizing “otherness,” we find togetherness in a full appreciation of diversity. By striving in our mental imagery and creative activities to connect with the broad rainbow of possibilities, we might begin to see our planet as a wonderful tapestry of distinct ideas and pursuits. Imagination, therefore, could be a key to global harmony.

Paul Halpern is Professor of Physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia who has published seventeen books, most recently Flashes of Creation: George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, and the Great Big Bang Debate, and Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect, plus dozens of research articles, and who has given numerous scholarly presentations at conferences and universities.

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