Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Psychopath Inside

A book I  very much enjoyed -- but many may not. It gives you "The time", "The watch", "How to build the watch", as well as quite a bit about the watchmaker (biography) -- a play on "I just wanted to know the time, not how to build a watch". "

The author, James Fallon, is a fairly famous brain scientist specializing in the study of what the brains of psychopaths look like, and how are they different from the norm. If you want to get to know him, there are a number of Youtube's of him, and he has appeared in the media in various forms.

The "punchline" is that he accidentally discovers that HE is what he classifies as a "prosocial psychopath"! He also has some interesting connections " ... I had seen her (mom) lecture our family friend George Carlin ...". Also a bunch of film and media connections, since the line between scary and interesting is sometimes narrow -- "psychopathic killer" as sold a lot of movies and books!

He goes into a LOT of depth on his personal life experience, and the neuroscience of various behavior disorders -- depression, borderline, bipolar, narcissism, OCD, panic disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, obesity, social phobia, etc

He starts out as pretty much a materialist "matter over mind, nature vs nurture", but as with many of us, reality has a way of calling imagined world views into question as they face up to the actual world. 

In my mind, we are machines, albeit machines we don’t understand all that well, and I have believed for decades that we have very little control over what we do and who we are. To me, nature (genetics) determines about 80 percent of our personality and behavior, and nurture (how and in what environment we are raised) only 20 percent.
This is the way I have always thought about the brain and behavior. But this understanding took a stinging, and rather embarrassing, blow starting about 2005, and I continue to reconcile my past belief with my present reality. I have come to understand—even more than I did before—that humans are, by nature, complicated creatures.

I found the results of a a Case Western Reserve study by  Anthony Jack to be an interesting explanation as to why some people have a lot of trouble thinking of a dualistic mind/body/spirit sort of split.

What group of people did Tony Jack find that are stumped by the very idea of dualism? Psychopaths. My lack of emotional empathy and my abandonment of God, the soul, and belief in free will may all be connected.

As Christ said, "forgive them for they know not what they do", it seems that science has now verified this.

Having worked at IBM with a number of people (including myself) at least fairly high on the autism spectrum, I found the following interesting.

... another important dichotomy, and that is between emotional empathy and cognitive empathy, also known as “theory of mind.” Theory of mind, as I’ve previously discussed, arises early in childhood, developing progressively until adulthood, and is a key developmental accomplishment in which the child learns she possesses mental states like desires and intentions and beliefs, and that others possess similar states, though those may be different from her own. Someone with autism will not show a normal theory of mind. This lack may also be present in people with some personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, and also some forms of bipolar disorder. In contrast, people with psychopathy, narcissism, and certain affective types of schizophrenia will have cognitive empathy but lack emotional empathy.
 As I worked as a Peer Support Specialist and reflectect on my personal struggles with anxiety, depression and panic, and also studied DBT and practiced mindfulness, I became more aware of various "spectrums" ... as was stated in the book.

Psychiatry is moving away from categorical thinking—the latest diagnostic manual talks about “dimensions” to disorders—but it’s hard when doctors don’t want to learn new methods, insurance companies need to rely on specific diagnoses, and everyone likes closure and clearly defined labels. I see psychopathy like others see art; I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.
Categories are helpful and dangerous -- as is pretty much everything. "Everything in moderation" is a statement with a lot of wisdom. We are ALL "on the spectrum" for all characteristics, AND, the more we are aware of that, and willing to give grace to others because we are all in the same boat, the better this world will be. "Do unto others" tells the tale.

Would you like to be forgiven? Then forgive.

Would you like to be loved? Then love.

Would you like to be understood? Then seek to understand.

I found this paragraph to be obviously and totally true! (at age 63 ;-)
These brain circuits mature at different times during development, and although there are major maturational events that take place in the terrible twos, puberty, late adolescence, the twenties, and the mid-thirties, some are not completely integrated until one is in the sixties, which appears to be the typical average peak time of human insight, cognition, and understanding in many realms of life.
Not that we have a choice, but if I did have a choice, the grass looks greener to me on the other side ... (I've got a lot of anxiety and memory, and my theory is that part of the reason they go together is because you KNOW that if you screw up, or bad things happen to you, you WILL remember -- VIVIDLY!)

For example, one allele that codes for the growth factor BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is associated with excellent memory but high anxiety. This is the combination I have, and it fits with my actual behavior. The other allele of BDNF codes for lower memory function but also low anxiety. So what would I rather have, a great memory and high anxiety or a poorer memory and a mellow disposition? Tough call.
So ... if you enjoy LOTS of detail, low level brain chemistry discussion, personal biography/asides, etc, then I HIGHLY recommend this book. If you don't, then if you are able to judiciously skip around the "watchmaking sections", you might still like it --- otherwise, look for other brilliantly done reviews like this one ;-)

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