When we empathize, we feel as if we are connected or at one. To capture this subjective quality of the event, the traditional model of a static self in relation to an other is inadequate. A more useful model will be one that accommodates a dynamic way of thinking about the relationship.
One way to model this is as follows.
Say we represented our conscious and sub-conscious processing of stimuli as the center of an arbitrary plane. We can then arrange the various sources of stimuli as dots surrounding this center, and place them near or far depending on how much we can empathize with them at any particular moment in time. In other words, the closer to the center the dot is, the more we perceive them as being connected with the self. The farther out from the center the dot is, the less we perceive them as being connected with the self.
In this model, if we’re experiencing flow playing a musical instrument, the instrument would be placed close to the center. Same would happen if we’re up on the mountain immersed in nature feeling at one with it.
On the other hand, if we cannot understand the thoughts we’re having, those thoughts will be placed far away from the center.
Thus, an implication of this model is that much of what we traditionally consider to be intrinsically connected with the “self,” can, at times, be an “other” with which we cannot empathize. Moreover, what we traditionally consider to be an “other”, can, at times, be connected with the “self.”
In other words, what constitutes the self and the other can change from moment to moment across time, as our relationship to the various sources of stimuli changes from moment to moment.
In light of this, I will now modify the definition of empathizing as follows:
Empathizing is a state of feeling as if we are connected or at one. Not empathizing is a state of feeling as if we are disconnected or at odds with an “other.” These feelings may last a brief moment or a prolonged duration of time and the “other” may be anything we can perceive as an object, be it a human being, an art object, or an idea.