"Human empathy is a critically important capacity, one that holds entire societies together and connects us with those whom we love and care about. It is far more fundamental to survival, I'd say, than knowing what others know. But since it belongs to the large submerged part of the iceberg – traits that we share with all mammals – it doesn't garner the same respect. Moreover, empathy sounds emotional, something cognitive science tends to look down upon. Never mind that knowing what others want or need, or how best to please or assist them, is likely the original perspective taking, the kind from which all other kinds derive. It is essential for reproduction, since mammalian mothers need to be sensitive to the emotional states of their offspring, when they are cold, hungry, or in danger. Empathy is a biological imperative.
"Empathic perspective taking, defined by the father of economics, Adam Smith, as 'changing places in fancy with the sufferer,' is well known outside of our species, including dramatic cases of apes, elephants, or dolphins helping one another under dire circumstances. Consider how an alpha male chimpanzee at a Swedish zoo saved the life of a juvenile. The juvenile had entangled himself in a rope and was choking to death. The male lifted him up (thus removing the rope's pressure) and carefully unwrapped the rope from his neck. He thus demonstrated an understanding of the suffocating effect of ropes and knew what to do about it. Had he pulled at the juvenile or the rope, he only would have made things worse."