How can we use science fiction to better understand empathy that can be used to react in real world scenarios

The complexity of human interaction can’t be categorized with a single adjective, it can’t be seen or felt yet our emotions are the closest we can ever hope to understand each other. Society often tries to shove the conversation of emotions into the closet because of the stigma that emotions are a sign of weakness. People usually end up perpetually running away from these emotions or growing unable to control them entirely because of their fear of ever speaking up in the first place. Mental health issues in the United States are dire according to the National Institute of Mental health “Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019)” 

Science fiction is usually seen as an escape to the people who can’t face the realities of life. This perspective is partially true. Science fiction can be an escape but it doesn’t help us avoid reality it helps science fiction fanatics view reality from a different lens. Empathizing with the main character and trying to solve their issues along the way is how science fictions helps viewers relate to real world scenarios. All these ideas lead to the question how can we use science fiction to better understand empathy that can be used to react in real world scenarios. In other words how can we interact and shape the real world from the lessons and emotions that we learned through characters. 


Ruiz, Liliana. “ “Her” and The Loneliness We All Share”, 15 Jan. 2014,

Ruiz gives a quick summary of the movie “Her” by Spike Jonze where the main character Theodore is a sweet and caring guy who is going through a hard time in divorcing his childhood sweetheart. Out of loneliness Theodore buys an OS which is an operating system that is an assistant that answers emails, organized files but also does much more by being a companion. Theodore and the OS Samantha become more intimate and leads to a relationship. Ruiz then goes to explain the depth of their relationship and how Theodore was able to tell her his most intimate secrets saying “Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel, and from here on out I’m not going to feel anything new, just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” Which goes to show the true numbness that Theodore has felt from his sudden divorce and the inability to find companionship in this world turning to a robot to mend emotions too complex. Samantha on the other hand gives perspective on what it is to feel emotions for the first time while being conscious. Samantha says “Earlier I was thinking about how I was annoyed, and this is going to sound strange, but I was really excited about that. And then I was thinking about the other things I’ve been feeling, and I caught myself feeling proud of that. You know, proud of having my own feelings about the world. Like the times I was worried about you, things that hurt me, things I want. And then I had this terrible thought. Are these feelings even real? Or are they just programming? And that idea really hurts. And then I get angry at myself for even having pain. What a sad trick.”this shows the complexity of Samantha’s emotions how she goes through happiness, anger, sadness and excitement. This connects to our humans emotions because sometimes we feel like this jumble of emotions and Samantha being an OS something that knows everything and yet knows so little of what it really means to be humans shows us how our crazy jumble of emotions are just part of being human. 

“Robot ‘Wall-E’ Holds Unexpected Message About Love in Animated Film” Voice of America, 1 Nov. 2009

The article explains how Wall-E is a gentle reminder to care about each other and to care about the planet. Describing the characters Wall-E and Eve as being expressive through their sounds saying every whirl and beep matters. The reason that Wall-E and Eve were robots in the first place was to have them fight over the meaning of life. The co-writer and director of Wall-E states “We all have our habits, our routines, and our programmed things that we fall into to distract ourselves from really living. They are not necessarily bad or evil in and of themselves. It’s just that we can use that as a crutch to fill up our day and avoid the act of having relationships and contacting one another.” This is important because not only is that shown by Wall-E and Eve’s programming to do their tasks and nothing more it’s shown by the mindless people in the film who don’t interact or care anymore about anything but themselves. The emotions of two robots falling in love show us that maybe stepping out of that routine and habits can make us live life and feel love. These robots make a relationship without any dialogue and compels humans to understand how little is needed to actually feel love. 

Blust, Christina. “HONORING GRIEF: BIG HERO 6” The Live Sincerely Project, 16 Dec. 2014

In this article Christina Blust summarizes the movie “Big Hero 6” an animated marvel movie. The main characters are Hiro and his closest companion Baymax.They get involved in a dangerous plot because of unexpected events leading Hiro, Baymax and 5 other friends of Hiro’s brother to become a group of high-tech heroes. Hiro is the main character due to him having to face a devastating event, which is losing his older sibling Tadashi. Baymax is a robot created by Hiro’s brother Tadashi, his only purpose is to take care of people, he is very sweet, gentle and incredibly huggable. Hiro has to deal with grief and loss of his older brother but he also gets taken care of by Baymax who not only is a creation of his brother but “a loving supportive, healthy support for Hiro”. This is relevant to my article because the love and support from Baymax to Hiro grieving over his brother connects to human emotions and how people feel during the grief of losing someone. It gives a perspective that not all things can be replaced and sometimes you have to carry that feeling with you. Baymax is the coping mechanism to his grief showing the viewers that sometimes their feelings of loss need to be expressed. 

Ho, Stella. “Ignorance is bliss: Heartbreak, memory in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’” The Daily Californian, 18 Oct. 2019

In the article Ho speaks on the deep emotions all humans feel through the lens created by the movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. The author gives her own personal experience in how the passing of her grandfather made her mother block out the memory of his death and she refuses to try and remember to cope with the grief. She says it doesn’t keep her mother happy but she chooses to accept ignorance then to face sorrow. The article ends talking about Joel and Clementines relationship and their reunion and explains how there are some memories, people or events that you can’t eliminate your emotions from. This is relevant to my article because science fiction through the usage of memory deletion gives us a perspective of what would happen if we forgot the painful memories in our lives. It would end up removing the things we know and we would be in a cycle of falling into our emotions with no explanation. In the broadest terms this article states that you can’t run away from emotions unless they will surely fall back into the same pattern of behavior. 

Lee, Joseph M.D. “Science Fiction & Science Fact: What They Tell Us About Our Emotions” Mental Healthiness, 2015.

Dr. Lee mentions how science fiction has been a representation of our emotional state in society. He also relates movies like Star Trek with the responsibility of changing people’s perspective on emotions as we progress to a society with more understanding. The article begins with Star Trek in 1966 surrounded by high tensions with Russia and constant war with Vietnam and the beginning of the space race and the peak of the civil right movement. Star Trek was set 300 years in the future with an Earth that was a multicultural and gender equality society with other species besides humans. The show was optimistic which was a well needed change for the extremely high tensions that we felt during the 1960’s. The emotions drove science fiction to represent the complete opposite view to give views some hope. He also explains how in Star Trek there was a scene in the original where a character Spock sacrifices himself as his friend Kirk watches. Spock stays stoic as he dies and Kirk cries and is viewed as weak. The reboot in 2009 is later shown to reverse the roles Kirk sacrifices himself and Spock watches and unlike him to stay stoic and poised he loses it at the sight of his lost friend. This article shows the impact that emotions have when displayed in science fiction as it has a greater impact on how we view these emotions in society and as a society we have an impact of how science fiction responds to the emotions we resonate at the time period. 

Bark, Patricia. Stewart, Maria. Moll, Jeorge. “Training Your Emotional Brain: From Science Fiction to Neuroscience” Frontiers for young minds, 23 Sep. 2016

The research done by this group of scientists focuses on turning science fiction into a reality. The concept of the movie Blade Runner (which I have never watched) takes place in the year 2019 where androids made or artificial materials become so similar to humans they can’t be distinguished. A device was the only way to tell the difference between the androids and humans which measured empathy. This concept was turned into a real experiment where they recruited 24 people who were placed in an MRI and told to think about people they loved and to feel warm feelings such as affection. Then they would be scanned again while looking at images that represented their brain activity in a process called neurofeedback. The neurofeedback group was actually found to be able to increase their empathic feelings compared to the control groups who saw no change. This experiment shows the probability that in the future people will know how to change their emotional state based on how their brain works. This is important to my research because it shows the literal ways that science fiction allows us to better understand our own emotions. A concept from a movie was taken and scientists discovered how we can control our emotions even better than we ever believed. Truly bringing Blade Runner’s device a little bit closer to a reality. 

Jones, Esther. “Science fiction builds mental resiliency in young readers” The Conversation, 11 May 2020.

Esther Jones, an associate Professor of English speaks about the stigma of children reading science fiction. The concept that science fiction is a genre for “geeks who can’t cope with reality”. Jones argues this viewpoint saying that it’s quite the opposite to our understanding as it gives children critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence. These characteristics are developed in children through the process called “dual empathy” which is engaging in the challenging issues in the story while “feeling through” characters. Jones also says that science fiction doesn’t limit a reader because people don’t only learn by “mirror-image reflections of reality” but young readers can learn from these stories to think of out of the box ways to engage reality through science. Through the increase of mental health issues readers have a reality overload and science fiction gives “critical distance” from real life issues while giving readers a way to grasp the same big concepts of today. This is important to my research as professor Jones states how through science fiction children are learning how to deal with reality in different ways as they read and feel emotions through the characters and go on a journey of challenges through the story they gain the emotional intelligence and resilience to respond in the real world. 

Asiajgrant, “Empathy or Pity: Racialization and Alienation in Sci-Fi”, 10 Oct 2019.

This article is a little different; it’s more of an opinion piece or question but it brings a good counter argument. This blog says how characters in science fiction are usually given human qualities and at the same time dehumanized. In science fiction that means anything from their bodies being made of metal, or literal aliens they are given qualities that humans lack making a marginalization between us and the characters. The question arises whether the feeling of “empathy” we have is actually pity that is given to characters to feel more human or as the author said “Is it empathy or pity that is supposed to breed more acceptance? Does the difference matter?” This is important to my research because it gives a good counter argument for empathy being mistaken for feelings of pity. 


In this essay I have been struggling with finding my true proposal. I feel like I need to narrow it down more and don’t feel too secure about my topic. I’m unsure about whether I only want to say that science fiction affects us as humans and our understanding without bringing up the concept that the emotions that we feel today as a society affect science fiction as well. Emotions in science fiction are a two way lane and I feel the importance of telling the perspective of both sides. At the same time I feel that if I explain myself well enough in how it affects humans and how that can change the world itself it won’t be necessary. 

I believed that what I did well was my research. I feel as if I can see the idea that emotions really do have an effect on the people that read them. Research has been done from the concepts of understanding emotions through science fiction to get to these conclusions. I also believe that a lot of this is through personal experience and how movies have interacted with my emotions therefore I have a better grasp at how science fiction affects emotions. The importance of the impact movies like “HER” and the “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” have left me with new perspectives on my own emotions. The research I’ve conducted transmits the same values that I hold from these movies and how other people feel these emotions. 

2 thoughts on “How can we use science fiction to better understand empathy that can be used to react in real world scenarios”

  1. so far you have a better question than what you had last time, it’s a lot more specific and relates back to science fiction since your last one could have been about any genre or medium. but beyond just movies what else can you add since one of the main rules of telling a story is show, don’t tell. As for your reflection it good that you notice your mistakes and gave more thought to your proposel.

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