Can Biology Make Us Murderers?

Pages: 7 (2302 words) Published: October 18, 2008
"One must feel sorry for those who have strange tastes, but never insult them. Their wrong is Nature's too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours than are we for being born bandy-legged or well-proportioned". Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), "Dialogue the Fifth" (1795).

If who we are and what we do originates in the brain, than the structure of and the occurrences therein can explain for our entire catalogue of personalities and behaviors. However, what about deviant behavior and personalities? If deviation implies wrong or inaccurate behavior, is there something wrong or inaccurate in the brains of those who are devious? The possibility seems immanent, but also too easy.

Surely there must be something wrong with someone who is extremely violent, or hurts individuals in ways our society will not allow. There are few things more repellent to 'human nature' and morality than the concept of a serial killer. What is different about the brains of these individuals whom our society finds unforgivable and unredeemable predators? Society might find a biological reason for such atrocities more comfortable than the prospects of 'good and evil' or a mistake. This paper will catalogue and attempt to organize the current biological differences between our minds and that of a serial killer.

Can Biology make us Murderers?

Recent reports in science have found discrete locations in the brain that are used in intricate systems that serve as the human moral compass (1).Changes in the brain have long been known to change the behaviors of a man. In the famous example of Phineas Gage, an accident at his job caused an iron rod to pierce through Gage's skull. Gage was able to stand and speak a few moments later. His intelligence was intact, but it soon became clear that this once model young man had been changed by the incident. He now cursed, lied and behaved horribly to people around them. Gage's doctor, John Harlow, said that Gage was no longer Gage, and that the balance "between his intellectual faculty and his animal propensities" had been destroyed. Can this example of brain-injury be used to explain the 'animal propensities' of serial killers?

The concepts of morality and emotion are hard to wed to the notions of science. Neurobiology seeks to find places in the brain where these things exist. However, even neurologists don't necessarily agree upon the dichotomy between 'passion and reason'. The complex interdependence of the things humans think and feel are noticeable to every individual. And this complexity seems to be further proved by the complex organization of the brain. There may seem to be natural dichotomies between thinking and feeling, but perhaps morality is a complex system of inhibition and activation using portions of the brain designated to both. Neurobiology has its work cut out for it, and thus there may be many physical reasons for an individual to be immoral. There may be a simple center that explains all, but more likely there is an intricate system with multiple vulnerabilities.

By finding places in the brain where behavioral traits lie we can understand that there may exist people with neuropathological disorders that can show 'rational-analytic behavior' that is dysfunctional in that it lacks the social emotions that guide normal human behavior. We may find a thinking individual without the portion of his brain that elicits angst or disgust or the fear of social retribution and social acceptance. Indeed, it has been found that the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in long-term planning and judgment, may not function properly in psychopathic subjects who are said to be 'immoral'. (5) (8) "To know does not necessarily mean to feel, even when you realize that what you know ought to make you feel in a specific way but fails to do so" (3).Ted Bundy 'knew' what he was doing when he brutally murdered his victims, but he may not have been able to...
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