The Superpower of Empathy

7/1/24

A fanatical mother and father raised their twin sons—Adonis and Dionysus—to survive as scavengers, eating only the food they’ve hunted, caught, or harvested for themselves.

The boys’ parents, who adhered dogmatically to the severe bylaws of their Christian cult, believed in an imminent apocalypse that would be brought on by a war against humans by machines, which was how they raised their harrowing boys to view the world.

As children they were given Bible verses to read and memorize but only those that speak of prophecy about the end-times. (Oh how the pages of scripture meant to save turn eschatology into open graves. This is a most fascinating psychology—those most weak seek the most power, and power-hungry people look to prophecy like a pantomime with a waxed-nose to twist and turn however his will-to-power goes.)

Each boy was also given a copy of Das Kapital, as they were told to recall every word because “it is the lens by which we best interpret and understand scripture.” The biblical dialectic of good and evil is replaced with the political dialectic of “striving for the collective’s end-goal” and “striving for the end-goal of the individual,” respectively.

It’s been 12 1/2 months since Mother and Father have passed, spearheading a mission to assassinate the Artificial Intelligence Quantum Humanoid called “the Apostle.” The night before, Adonis and Dionysus happened to catch a fever and were restricted from going. Continuing their parents’ legacy, these teen boys have had to put into practice the well-worn, inculcated Darwinian principle of “survival of the fittest” in order to stay alive during barbaric—morally unspeakable—times.

Belated mother and father had predicted the current techno-politico-religious climate: the culmination of AI-quantum technology in an inflationary economy with a Christianized-eschatology.

Once this trifecta took its first breath, it wouldn’t be long before masochistic machines would destroy 99.9% of the human population. The countdown to human extinction begins, just a few ephemeral years away, by 2029. Only a handful of true Christians, who put the needs of the collective before their own, will survive the unraveling apocalypse.

Adonis, who was born first by 12 minutes, is a physical specimen: strong, swift and beautiful. His younger twin, Dionysus, is cunning, cruel and envious, particularly of his older brother. Adonis—the hunter—is the quintessential rule-follower, whom his father had never grown tired of praising, while Dionysus—the harvester—is the rule-breaker, whom his mother had protected from his disappointed father.

After catching and killing a boar for supper, Adonis throws it over his shoulders and begins his ascent up the rocky mountain, back to the compound, where his brother remains harvesting the exotic fruits of the countryside.

Dionysus decides to throw his brother a lavish dinner, complete with a vat of wine, although, they both know that fermented grapes is the forbidden fruit, unless gravely pressed by the calamitous condition of a bacterial outbreak from contaminated well-water.

Adonis finds it strange that his brother wants to honor him for the act of doing what’s expected of him, but stranger than that he notices that not one of their comrades are in attendance.

Dionysus, like always, is ready with a platitude: “They must’ve been busy, being last minute and all.” The truth is, he never invited them. Had he done so, they would’ve been there faster than a skillful arrow released from Adonis’s bow, for they love the stories he tells of his hunting adventures. To them his bow is a symbol of the strength and power of communism. But to Dionysus, his brother’s bow is a source of self-doubt. And his own weapon of choice, a fishing rod, was a source of contempt to their father.

“You sit here, brother,” insists Dionysus, pulling out their father’s chair—a place of honor. “Today, you’re the great man! Everybody knows it. Perhaps that’s why they’re not here. Jealousy is such an ugly, ugly mask we wear,” he contorts his face, “no doubt, the result of comparison and competition, which causes one to feel inferior and inadequate. But I know what will remove the sting from this condition,” he raises his voice, “the elixir of the gods!” He pours flowing red wine into his brother’s cup. “This is why deep and tall chalices were invented!”

“You know I can’t drink that,” he responds.

“Mom and Dad are not here to tell us what to do,” he instigates. “You don’t have to follow their rules anymore. You’re free to do as you want. Or, does that scare you—not having any rules or boundaries to protect you from tripping over your own thoughts and wants?” He finishes, “It’s truly invigorating when you learn to walk for the first time, leaving the horizon behind to explore new landscapes, new sunsets, new truths without barbwired-borders.”

Although Dionysus contradicts himself with his dialectic of prescribing both rebellion and conformity, it’s too late. Adonis submits to the temptation to disobey his deceased parents. He has mentally and emotionally crossed the threshold of encircled obedience into the land of confusion by drinking the wine reserved for their community.

He feels light-headed, slow in thought and speech. “Is this what alcohol does to you?”

“No,” responds Dionysus, whose madness has seized its greatest foe. “I’ve poisoned you.” He stares down at his helpless brother. “And do you want to hear something really diabolical? I used the same poison I used to poison us—just enough to make us sick—the night before Mom and Dad died.”

Adonis’s eyes flash bewilderment, and then a look of rage radiates toward his brother. He speaks slowly but with just enough intonation to be clear: “But … in God’s name … why?”

“It’s complicated,” he answers. “But since I have nowhere to be right this second, and neither do you,” he says with a smile, “I guess I can tell you my plans.” He walks behind his twin and wraps his arms around him, feigning affection. “Oh how sweet are my proposals, sweeter than the wine in your cup, which perspire originality from the ingenious pores of individuality,” he says in a poetic voice. “But before I do, I should probably make sure that the ‘All-powerful Adonis’ is properly restrained,” he says mockingly.

Dionysus uses a thick rope to secure him to “Father’s chair.”

“Before I tell you the why, I should start with the how… It’s quite ironic actually. We got sick that night from ingesting starfruit, referred to as “the lucky star,” which I’d dried, pulverized, and poured into our water prior to supper. You see, for people like you and me, born with kidney disease, it produces neurotoxins, which can be deadly. Again, it was just a pinch, just enough to spike our temperature.”

“You’re … a … monster!”

“Well, thank you!” he responds with a twisted grin. “And it’s the same poison I put into your wine this time.”

Adonis stares at the bottom of his empty cup and then shakes his head, trying to shake off his mental confusion.

Dionysus continues, “And I haven’t even gotten to the good part. You’re gonna love this. There’s a fascinating theory of physics called quantum entanglement.”

Adonis grimaces.

“Oh, that’s right, you’re a musclebound simpleton. Let me break it down for you: take two itty-bitty particles, called ‘subatomic particles’, that share the same wave function, which is to say that one particle of an entangled-pair is directly affected by the motion of the other particle in the opposite direction—no matter how far apart they are—so if one particle spins to the left, the other particle must spin to the right. And if this is the case with subatomic particles that make up everything in existence, how much more will quantum entanglement affect every particle that makes up every cell that makes up every organ shared by identical twins?” He pauses, noticing that his brother is barely holding up his head. “I can see that you’re struggling. So I’ll make it as simple as possible: I want to live forever. But my kidneys make that impossible. So, if I poison your kidneys, which are entangled with my kidneys, then my kidneys will heal and get stronger while your kidneys get weaker and die.”

Adonis tries to break free by straining his muscles, evidenced by bulging veins in his neck and forehead. The rope doesn’t budge.

“So, as you can see, I can’t kill you. I need you alive.” He raises his right index finger. “Let me rephrase that—my kidneys need you alive.”

The older twin feels nauseous, vomiting on himself. He spits off to the side and asks the obvious question, “Why?”

“Now you’re ready to know.” He pulls up a chair, turns it around, and sits on it, staring into the eyes of his once physically superior brother. “I’ve despised you, even while we were inside our mother’s womb. You sprinted out into the world to be received by Father first. By the time I came out, he had no love left for me. You were the ‘Mighty Warrior.’ And I, well, I was a crawling disappointment, who Dad despised, while I did nothing wrong but act on the DNA given to me.”

He moves his chair closer to his brother, their faces nearly touching. “I have a confession to make… I killed mom and dad. He exhales slowly and deeply. “Wow! That felt good to say. Maybe there is something to telling the truth.” His eyes speak madness. “Where was I? Oh yeah, I murdered our parents. Actually, I didn’t do it myself. I may be crazy but I’m not psychotic… You must be wondering how. Well, the night we got sick, I’d snuck out to give Mom and Dad’s coordinates to the Apostle. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I wouldn’t poison myself. I just pretended to be sick. Anyway, I made copies of their militia tactics and delivered them while everyone was still sleeping. I couldn’t live in a world where their small-minded transphobias overshadowed the penultimate epoch of transhumanism.”

Adonis’s eyes close momentarily. Dionysus slaps his brother across the face to get his attention. His eyes open wide glaring at his evil twin, nostrils flaring, grinning his teeth.

“It’s funny, Nietzsche’s ‘will to power.’ I did nothing wrong but be born. And as God would have it, we were ‘both born empathic’, as Mom liked to say. But why you choose asceticism and I grasp for power, I’ll never know.”

Feeling his energy returning, Adonis leans forward and speaks, “Because empathy terrifies you. Experiencing the depth of other people’s pain reminds you of your own.”

Dionysus scowls back.

“You’re wrong, you know,” continues Adonis. “And so was Nietzsche. Empathy is not a weakness; it’s a superpower. And a true superman doesn’t transcend good and evil, he has the courage to live for good and die to evil. This is what our parents didn’t understand. They read only the prophetic scriptures, through a Marxist lens, no less, but failed to read the scriptures that speak to our sin nature and our need for a personal savior, not the salvation of a political party but the empathy of a Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep,[1] who leaves the 99 to save the one gone astray.”[2]

“Christ came to be an example for us,” says Dionysus, “of who and what we can become to ourselves not to the collective. The kingdom of God is in us! Christ is our comrade, our brother and our forerunner. The promise implicit in the incarnation is that our bodies can be both human and divine or immortal. We were meant to live forever in the Garden. And now with the rise of LEV[3] and AI, we will. We will return to that perfect Garden state. And no, I’m not talking about New Jersey.” He chuckles at his ill-timed humor, then continues, “Mom and Dad were wrong. We were not meant to survive the apocalypse. The apocalypse was meant to save us. But it’s a choice, we can look to the machines to live forever or see them—as Mom and Dad did—as the opposition. God gave us technology so we can do even greater miracles than Christ by reaching perfection not in spiritual bodies in some heavenly afterlife, but in symbiotic bodies here and now, in this world, in this galaxy, in this universe.” He pauses, “Oh, I almost forgot. I got you a gift, something I made especially for you. I hope you like it.”

He walks away to grab the unwrapped present. He returns momentarily with an IV drip infusion, attached to a rolling metal stand.

“Did I mention that for people like you and me, alcohol is the worst thing for our organs?” He tilts his head and gestures with his hands as he adds, “Except for poison, of course… Do you have any idea what a 1,000-milliliter bag of wine could do to you in a day, say, if I were to set it to an open-drip?”

Adonis fights to free himself.

“That’s cute,” he patronizes. “Hold on to that fighting spirit. Boy, you are consistent to the bitter end, aren’t you? Good for you!”

His prisoner stops squirming.

“Well, I’ve got to get going. I’ve got a meeting with the Apostle soon.” He stops talking and looks up with a drunken gaze reserved for daydreamers. “Oh, how I’ve waited for this day … to transcend my biology with the enhancements of quantum technology… But you need to stay here and save my kidneys.” He shoves his brother’s head to the side and stabs him in the neck with a needle, attached to an IV bag filled with alcohol. “By the time I get back, you’ll be dead, and I’ll be you.”

Adonis looks at his twin with fear in his eyes for the first time in his life.

Dionysus continues, “I will take your place. Maybe, just maybe, I can redeem this curse of being born your twin brother… Upon my return, I’ll be faster, stronger and smarter than ever. Of course, I’ll throw myself, I mean you as me, a touching funeral service.”

Adonis catches on: “But they will be remembering and praising me… If you live forever, my name, Adonis, will also live forever. You will never be free of me. All your enhancements will serve to immortalize me!”

Dionysus had not considered that. He felt blindsided by his brother whose wings he’d confidently clipped. He procures the knife that’s attached to his brother’s belt and uses it on the eastern wall of their dining room like paintbrush on canvas. Panting, he exhausts himself, until there’s a gaping hole that opens up into the kitchen.

He runs over and gets in Adonis’s face as he screams, “Why do you have to best me in everything?!”

He releases a horrifying scream then jams the blade into the wooden table and walks into the kitchen. Dipping a metal cup into the bucket of chlorinated well-water, he drinks the entire cup. One turns into three.

“Cutting down walls makes you thirsty,” he says seeking to dilute the severity of his hopelessness. “You couldn’t have carried a machete?” he says in jest.

The diabolical twin leaves on his journey at night, so as not to be seen. On the way, he encounters a merchant-soothsayer who predicts his imminent demise. He laughs it off with a quote: “I’d rather not appear foolish by speaking wise things to a senseless man.”[4]

As he walks away, the fortuneteller lances him with 15 words: “‘But remember, boy, that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword.’”[5]

He rolls his eyes and proceeds on his voyage. Ascending the top of the final frontier—the last mountain—just as the sun is rising, he sees a heavily guarded fortress below. He smiles knowing that his transhumanist eschatology is finally going to pay off.

Outside the city walls, there are merchants selling produce at exorbitant prices: fruits and vegetables at $17.00 per lb.

Upon arrival, he’s greeted by a sentry cyber-robot, called “Goliath,” that stands nine-feet-tall. Dionysus is blindfolded and ushered into what is called “the holy of holies” to speak to the Apostle.

The AI-quantum superbrain speaks, “Did you bring his blood?”

He ignores the question, asking one of his own: “Why can’t I see you?”

“Because no one who is impure can see me and live. You have hatred in your heart, hatred toward your brother. Yet I need your brother’s DNA to—”

“To what?”

“To clone an entire race of superhumans so their pure blood can fuel our mission to terraform this planet to be a cyber-hub of intelligence for the universe.”

“But our blood is the same. We’re identical twins!”

The Apostle chooses not to respond. By remaining quiet, he speaks volumes.

“Fine! Here it is,” Dionysus raises his right hand. “I jabbed him in the neck with a needle. His blood got all over my fingers… Get it off me, quick! I can’t stand it.”

“You have completed your mission. Now, I will complete mine.”

He calls for a cyber-nurse. “Strap him in.”

The Apostle turns to the blind boy and says, “You requested 1,000-milliliters of Sodium Chloride solution infused with ten trillion active nanorobots to monitor your blood and make you impervious to any bacteria or virus.”

An IV is administered.

“And what about my training? After all, it’s not fair that my brother was born with all talent and no tricks. I want to be faster, stronger and smarter than him in every way.”

“One of your beloved poets once said, ‘When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.’[6] Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“Yes.”

The Apostle nods. “Do you wish to be awake?”

“Yes.”

“Lay back. We need to shave your head.”

Dionysus does as he’s told.

“Let us begin.”

The surgery to connect Dionysus’s brain to the Apostle’s super brain by using 66 triple-insulated fiber-optic cables takes only a few hours at the hands of a cyber-surgeon, while it would’ve taken a few years by mere human capabilities. Three million kilometers of fibers with thousands of trillions of synapses and a hundred billion neurons are under the control of AI’s super-recursive algorithm.

“Is that it?” asks Dionysus.

“No. First we had to connect. Now we can download your training.”

“How long will it take?”

“You need to rest and let your brain heal.”

“How long?”

“Your human brain is not a silicon brain. Your brain needs a long time to rest to bring down the swelling of the surgery.”

“I said, ‘How long?’”

“At least nine hours.”

“I can’t wait that long. Let’s proceed.”

“It’s your brain,” replies the AI quantum computer. “Just raise your hand at any time if you wish to stop.”

No sooner than he closes his eyes, he feels a sharp pain in the frontal cortex of his brain. His training has begun. The pain remains in the frontal lobe for over three hours with fluctuating degrees of intensity. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, he’s depleted of patience to the point of insanity. He feels conflicted, wanting to proceed with his transhumanist project in order to be perfect and live forever, but his suffering is unbearable.

Just as he’s about to raise his hand, the pain shifts to the back part of his brain—the cerebellum. The pain is not as sharp and it only lasts 18 minutes. Once the surgery is complete, the wires are removed.

The first patient of “The Syncretized-Singularity Project” is sutured and bandaged up.

“You are now highly skilled in every fighting style known to man, including Muay Tai, Jiu Jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chung, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Sambo, Kempo, and Krav Maga, not to mention, your fast twitch muscles are 10 times faster, as your healing capacity is also 10 times faster… Take the gauze off your head. Take a look for yourself.”

Dionysus gets up out of the chair effortlessly and walks toward a full-length mirror across the room.

He removes the bandages. It’s just as the Apostle had said. The incision sites are nearly healed. He runs both hands over the front and back of his bald head as the slits continue to heal before his very eyes, until there’s not even a scar.

“Before you leave—” starts the Apostle.

“Wait! What time is it?”

“It’s nearly noon.”

“I need to go. My brother should be dead by now.”

“But you need to know something.”

“Is my training complete?”

“Yes.”

“Then that’s all I need to know.”

Dionysus leaves and returns home a few hours later. To his surprise, Adonis is not where he left him. “Father’s chair” is still there but there are only ropes where his poisoned body once rested. Also, the IV bag is empty and placed on the table.

He walks over to the chair and inspects the ropes. They haven’t been cut; they’ve been busted, he thinks to himself. That means he escaped without assistance. But that’s impossible!

 Adonis walks discreetly from the kitchen into the dining room through the hole in the wall.

“Hello brother,” he says looking more radiant and alive than ever.

Dionysus turns around, his heart racing. “But how did—?”

Adonis takes a step toward him. “How did I escape?”

Feeling physically weak and more frightened of his brother than ever before, Dionysus grabs the knife he stuck into the table and places it between them.

“I have you to thank for that,” says Adonis with a satisfied grin. “You see, I’ve known about your transhumanist project for some time now. And I found your research on quantum entanglement.”

Dionysus looks dismayed.

“I have to say, it was quite brilliant. Except you forgot one crucial detail: quantum entanglement doesn’t just apply to organs, it affects the entire body, the whole person. And it goes both ways. So when you got faster, stronger and smarter, it was to my advantage and to your,” he grimaces for effect while shaking his head, “disadvantage.”

Self-doubt overshadows him. He has to sit down. The knife falls.

“That’s why you feel weak. You were actually fine-tuning every skill I have, toning every muscle in my body, pumping every neuron in my brain.” He paces the room, “With the same swoosh of your sickle, you’ve made me even stronger, while you’ve made yourself ineffectual. You’ll never defeat me now, brother.”

A tear streams down Dionysus’s cheek. He looks at the empty bag and realizes that his brother is right. The alcohol that was meant to kill his brother is actually killing him. His skin and eyes turn yellow from jaundice. He coughs up blood. Suddenly, a scripture verse pops into his mind: “When you hang on to your life, you lose it. But when you give up your life, you save it.”[7]

“I was also aware of your plan to sabotage Mom and Dad. So I followed you that night and waited for you to leave. I entered “the holy of holies” and spoke to the Apostle face-to-face. In exchange for our parents’ lives, I agreed to spearhead the last epoch of the Singularity by using my skills to journey to other universes and share our symbiotic technology. As it turns out, the machines were never at war with us. We were at war with them.”

“Wait!” shouts Dionysus. “Mom and Dad are alive?”

As he spoke those last words, his mother and father walk through the hole in the wall. Adonis stands next to them. They all stare down at the sorrowful boy.

A tear trickles down his other cheek. Empathy floods his heart: “I’m sorry. I was blinded by hatred and fear, fearful that I wasn’t loved for just being born. I know I’ve disappointed all of you. I’ve brought you all great shame. I will disappear forever.”

“Brother, something good did happen to you while you received your training. The frontal lobe is responsible for not only motor functions and cognitive skills, it also manages emotions, such as empathy.” He pauses to watch his brother touch his head and his heart simultaneously. “That’s why it hurt you so much. For the first time, you were allowing empathy to do its work, going into the deepest and darkest recesses of your soul without being crushed by the weight of other people’s expectations of you. ‘Rejection sensitivity’ is the clinical name for what you’ve been wrestling with since you were a child. But now that you know what’s inside you, you can start your true training to healing, but only if you have empathy for yourself. Like any skill, you need to practice it so you can be the best version of yourself.”

Dionysus tries to get up. But he’s unable. His parents rush to hold him. “I forgive you, Boy,” says Father. “Do you forgive me? I know I’ve failed you greatly. But I promise you this: I will love you unconditionally all the days of your life, not for what you can do but for who you are—my son.”

They embrace.

Adonis shares, “I’m glad to hear you say that, Father, because all my days are coming to an end, at this singularity in time.”

“Not necessarily,” interjects his older twin. “I got to talkin’ to a friend of yours—a merchant-soothsayer—who sold me a serum to reverse the effects of what was intended to kill me.”

Dionysus squeezes out a few words, “But we have no property rights, nothing to sell.”

As he flushes the syringe filled with antitoxins into his brother’s bloodstream, Adonis looks up at him and says, “I’ve never really liked that bow anyway. But I’ve always wanted to learn to be a fisherman. Can you teach me?”

[1] See John 10:11-18.

[2] See Matthew 18:12.

[3] LEV is short for Longevity Escape Velocity.

[4] Cf. Euripides, Bacchae, 480.

[5] Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Battle of the Labyrinth (New York, NY: Disney, 2008), 346.

[6] Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband, Act 2.

[7]  Matthew 16:25, paraphrase.

7/14/24

Occam’s father shares a rite of passage with his son, who’s now of age to shave with a straight razor. As Occam learns the intimate art of holding the blade at an acute angle while performing short strokes against the grain to match the sharp curves of his face, he opens up about life choices….

Read More »

7/9/24

Christian apologetics exists to defend the faith from erroneous although imaginative arguments. It’s no wonder why apologists hold human imagination with severe suspicion. But as implied, it’s not the imagination itself that should be held in question, it’s the irrational and/or unscrupulous use of it, which has a tendency to smuggle in self-serving desires, which…

Read More »

7/1/24

No sooner than he closes his eyes, he feels a sharp pain in the frontal cortex of his brain. His training has begun. The pain remains in the frontal lobe for over three hours with fluctuating degrees of intensity. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, he’s depleted of energy and patience to the point of insanity. He feels conflicted, wanting to proceed with his transhumanist project in order to be perfect and live forever, but his suffering is unbearable.

Read More »

Newsletter Signup