Ponerology is defined as the scientific study of that which is called “evil.” The reason that we explicitly specify “scientific” is to distinguish it from other approaches to considering evil, such as:
The philosophical approach – Considering evil abstractly, rather than in its real-world implications
The artistic approach – Considering evil through literature, painting, poetry and so on
The theological approach – Considering evil as potentially emanating from the supernatural realm
This last approach, the theological one, is extremely commonly employed in our present world. It may actually remain the most common approach to evil. And it was on display last week during a segment of The O’Reilly Factor. (more…)
Last summer, while searching the web for ponerology-related information and people, I came across a website discussing a movie called I Am Fishead – or, cleverly, I Am <Fishead(.
It said the film is about corporate corruption and the role that psychopathy may have played in it.
The title, supposedly, refers to a Chinese saying that a “fish stinks from the head,” implying that this movie might be an exploration of how the dysfunction of our hierarchical society originates from those at the top of the pyramid.
Well, of course, I was very intrigued as I have not only dedicated a great deal of time and energy to learning about this topic, but specifically to advocating for more – and more forms of – education of the public about it.
My interest grew even stronger since I related to the background of co-director/co-producer of the film, Misha Votruba, a former psychiatrist who moved on from that career to more creative endeavors, eventually circling back to focus on a psychiatric topic – psychopathy – from a more activist perspective as a filmmaker.
The other co-director/co-producer of I Am Fishead is Vaclav Dejcmar, an economist and businessman with a lot of experience in investing and the financial markets. This background makes him an ideal complement to Misha Votruba in making this film that includes a focus on the overlap of psychiatry and our economic systems.
I finally got around to watching the film and I have quite a bit to say about it. This piece is going to get quite into depth about the film so if you’d prefer to see it first before knowing too much about what happens, you might want to watch it (I’ve embedded it below) and then continue reading this afterwards. If you don’t plan to watch it or don’t mind going into it knowing a lot of what happens, then feel free to read on.
The titles of Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 in the sections immediately below are those from the actual film, but names given to other segments in this synopsis/review are my own. (more…)
One of the most challenging and important questions in ponerology is whether conditions associated with reduced empathy and conscience, and thus with increased likelihood of harmful malicious and neglectful activity, are caused by nature (genes, biology, etc.) or nurture (environment, upbringing, etc.)
Most who work in the fields that study aspects of this question take the view that the answer involves some combination of the two.
But this still leaves us with another question. In what proportion do each of these factors contribute in which people?
One remarkable case offers some fascinating insight on the subject.
Dr. James Fallon
James Fallon, Ph.D. is a highly decorated neuroscientist and Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Neurobiology at University of California, Irvine. Dr. Fallon has several areas of expertise. One is adult stem cells. Another is psychiatry. Specifically, he is interested in the relationships between brain imaging (he has served as Director of UC Irvine’s Human Brain Imaging Center), genetics and various psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, depression and addictions.
An Extraordinary Experiment
Aware of his specialties, for many years, Fallon’s colleagues have sent him brain images they wished to have him analyze.
At one point this interchange took the form of an experiment.
Colleagues sent him 70 MRI scans of brains belonging to people ranging from healthy to mentally ill. Included in the batch were scans of brains belonging to killers, including some notorious ones. But Fallon had no idea which scanned brain belonged to whom.
Nonetheless, he was able to identify differences in five of the scans so dramatic that he could recognize them as the markers of psychopathy. And it turned out that he was correct. The five scans on which he zeroed in actually were those from the brains of psychopathic serial killers. (more…)