A Conversation with Jamil Zaki About Empathy and Art

James Scott interviews Jamil Zaki, writer, neuroscientist, and professor of psychology, about how art informs society’s empathy.


James Scott: So one of the things we talk about a lot is empathy and how it relates to the arts. You believe it’s a necessary component, and a critical building block, in becoming an artist in the first place, right?


Jamil Zaki: Human beings are not the world champions of many things. We’re not big, strong, fast, or sharp (at least tooth-wise). But we are the world champions of understanding each other. In a way, art—and especially narrative art—is the greatest expression of that ability. Narrative is a way to embody lives and worlds we have yet to experience, and in almost all cases will never experience. In a way, it’s a type of empathy boot camp: living as many lives as possible without having to leave a single room.