Epistemology is the study of how we know. It’s a fascinating field, and one that has preoccupied philosophers for years, as they’ve asked how the mind works, how sensory input is processed, how we learn, how we recall, how we categorize what we know. In recent years, psychologists have entered into the debate, which gave rise to a new way of understanding epistemology: EQ vs IQ, related to the “empathizing/systematizing” paradigm.
The theory of “EQ” explains the “Emotional Quotient,” which is opposed to the Intelligence Quotient measured by an IQ test. One of many varieties of intelligence, emotional intelligence is the ability to know others, and to understand oneself, without recourse to specifically analytical means. It may not get you a perfect score on the SATs, but it might lead to successful job interviews and happier marriages, since interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions form such a huge component of everyone’s life. The more recent theory of the “empathizing/systematizing” paradigm contrasts emotional knowing with a systematic intelligence—the sort of mind that likes to puzzle out problems rather than intuit a solution.
This episode is about that contrast: the Observers are systematizers, and their anomalous un-child Michael doesn’t fit in, because he is empathetic. Windmark’s interrogations of the Ministry of Science employees emphasize the difference: he “reads” them and understands them. “I believe you,” he says, but what he really means is, “I’ve analyzed you and found the data valid.” Michael, on the other hand, “reads” something else: emotional honesty, the kernel of truth that explains not just what happens, but why.
We’ve known the Observers were analytical; their ability to read timelines gives them the data they need to understand what people will do with such accuracy that the “why” isn’t important. But as Nina implies in her beautiful final speech, there’s a terrible price for that sort of analytical brain: the loss of emotion, compassion, empathy. Peter refused to give those up and took out the tech that made him Observerish; the regular Observers don’t have that choice, as their evolution (which is to say, our evolution) has replaced empathetic knowledge with systematizing knowledge.
Windmark asked Nina, “What is it about the fugitives that inspires such misguided loyalty?” If he had emotional intelligence instead of a lizard brain, he would know: hope. But he doesn’t know, because although he can read minds he can’t read hearts.
Michael, on the other hand, can—and I suspect September could, too. Empathy, it seems, will be the answers to the problem of this miserable future. It will be the key to the revolution, and—I suspect—the key to the plan, which I’m pretty sure will involve someone’s (likely Walter’s) dramatic self-sacrifice in a triumph of empathetic goodwill over the nihilism of analytical intelligence. If I’m right, Nina’s suicide in this episode is foreshadowing. If I’m wrong, we can just add this paragraph to the long list of erroneous predictions I’ve made about this show. :-)
What great poetic justice, by the way. Michael, an anomaly meant to be destroyed, might be the key to the Observer’s downfall. Human empathy isn’t enough; the revolution requires the distilled empathetic power of an anomalous Observer to counteract Windmark and all the others. Take that, Baldies!
This episode, of course, was incredible: although it was mostly just dialogue, I was riveted. It passed by in a flash, even on re-watch. Michael crying made me cry (there’s that darn empathy at work). Walter’s flashback-mindmeld moment made me cry and not just for the perfect score. Nina’s sacrifice made me cry. But I have to agree with Walter: we do have a world to save, you know. Perhaps the last three hours, set to air on January 11th and 18th, will be an epic blockbuster revolution and all the waiting will be worth it.
That’s one prediction I’m pretty sure is going to come true.
Recommended Reading for the Winter Hiatus:
• I’ve simplified the above theories with wild abandon. If you want to learn more, I recommend Howard Gardner’s book on multiple intelligences for more about intra- and interpersonal intelligence and “EQ.”
• I also recommend Simon Baron-Cohen’s website, which includes tests where you can figure out whether you’re empathetic or a psychopath. He’s the one who came up with the empathizing/systematizing paradigm, which he links to male/female “hardwired” neurological difference.
• For the record, I think a lot of Simon Baron-Cohen’s work is horrifically sexist, and his experiments horribly planned. For more on that, see Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, an incisive takedown of the pseudo-science behind neurological justifications of socially-constructed behaviors.
• And, obviously, all of these ideas are related to the much earlier Myers-Briggs test, which is a lot of fun to take.
Four out of four Ninas