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philosopher's avatar

Do you think that Scientists can ever help evil people?

Asked by philosopher (9145points) July 22nd, 2012

Is there a way for us to prevent people like this man in Colorado from wishing to kill? What role can society play?
I was thinking all these things and then I watched Through the Wormhole. Scientists think evil people have different brains but that family and society play a role too.
I wish we could find way to prevent evil people. How?
See link.

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29 Answers

Mariah's avatar

The man in Colorado was probably mentally ill, and may have been helped by psychiatry if he had sought it out. The problem is that many people won’t seek it out, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to force them, unless it is very clear that they pose a danger to others. But many people hide it well.

philosopher's avatar

I agree but last night I watched a show about this. Their brains are actually different. They said, that family and society does also have an affect. Which means that if, we catch children early enough we could prevent them from becoming evil. The information is on
It seems so wrong that someone as bright as this man became so evil. I wish we could prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

Mariah's avatar

Sure, it might be possible, my personal opinion however is that it would be extremely unethical to forcibly alter people’s brains because we don’t like the way they work.

marinelife's avatar

Gun control laws would prevent a gunman from killing and wounding so many.

philosopher's avatar

The way the Scientist explained it they would be helping them.
The problem with that solution is our Congress is a bunch of Partisan ineffective clowns. They only care when someone in their families gets shot. The Gun Lobbyist dictate policy.

Trillian's avatar

^^not liking the way a person’s brain works is a fairly casual dismissal/definition of the results of an unrestrained mental patient who is clearly a danger to society. What about the rights of society as a whole to be safe from random murderers?

Mariah's avatar

@Trillian, my problem with this scenario is the idea that we would be taking action before any crime is committed. Altering someone’s brain based on warning signs and our own definitions of what’s “evil.” I mean, sure, if we could look at someone’s brain and determine that they are definitely going to grow up to do something horrible, and we could find a way to prevent that without completely changing who they are as a person, that’d be great. But I can so easily see this becoming a method of discrimination. “Oh, this person is cynical/has radical political beliefs/etc., we better ‘fix’ them to be more like everyone else.” That’s not okay with me.

There’s always a balance between safety and freedom. I don’t like the idea of removing too much freedom to make ourselves safer.

Aethelflaed's avatar

“Their brains are actually different.” Who’s brain? Anyone you happen to find evil? Mass-murderers (because, um, no, see: the Holocaust)?

Just wanna point out: despite the CO shooter’s actions, anyone who isn’t his doctor is in no position to diagnose him one way or the other.

Nullo's avatar

@marinelife Gun control laws don’t ever seem to stop criminals from getting guns. Just hampering the innocent.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Do you think that Scientist can ever help evil people? It may be possible. We just aren’t close enough to it yet. It would take doing extensive research and tests on those that commit these crimes in order to discover a solution.

This would require gathering facts about upbringing, habits, and medical tests. It can be difficult to gather this information. The guilty aren’t always willing to cooperate.

Is there a way for us to prevent people like this man in Colorado from wishing to kill? We don’t know what this man’s motive was yet. Each case like this needs to be looked at individually before it can be grouped into a subset.

What role can society play? That depends on a lot of factors. In most of the cases where someone is found to be guilty in the first degree, be it of a mass murder, serial killing, or just one instance, it is common for someone who knew the killer and/or victim to step up and say, “This doesn’t surprise me.” They might have tried to intervene. They are often weighed down with the self-guilt of “What if I had just…?”

I wish we could find way to prevent evil people. How? I suspect that the vast majority of people, including some of these killers, wish the same thing that you do. Some who have been found guilty have been open about their thought process. A few have even donated their bodies for research once they are dead. Of the cases that I’ve read about, I don’t recall any coming up with a physical or chemical conclusion. Most seem to be based upon upbringing, e.g., environment, development, and relationships.

So, back to the How (do we prevent this)? It would probably take a Utopian environment to stop it entirely. Has any society been able to accomplish that yet? If so, then it would be worthwhile to study what they were doing right and copy it.

In the meantime, it would require stricter regulations on many factors. Who is qualified to be a parent? Who can own a gun or any type of weapon? Should there be psychological testing done on everyone? The list goes on and on. If regulations are put into place for every circumstance, then it becomes an overwhelmingly restrictive environment. This might cause more harm than good.

philosopher's avatar

The Scientist on Through the Wormhole discovered actual differences in the brain. You need to watch the show. I saw information about it but No video was available on line at this time.
I can not clarify as well as they did. They are doing research.

Coloma's avatar

I concur with @philosopher
The brains of sociopaths have defects in the frontal cortex and lack the ability to empathize / experience genuine emotion.
Sociopathology IS at least 50% nature and nurture may or may not make a difference.
Whether or not the Colorado. shooter is a sociopath is not something that can be known yet.

The only small chance of intervention would be before adolescence, otherwise, character is pretty much set.

mazingerz88's avatar

They can. But eventually they would cross a line involving universal human rights issues the majority of society wouldn’t be able to tolerate. Even if there were no guns in the world, it would be something else. Preemption has ben tackled. By high fantasy movies like that Tom Cruise film that Spielberg directed based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report.

philosopher's avatar

I have No clear answer. I was watching the show and learning. That was first time I ever heard that they had clearly documented the differences. Scientist are learning more about our brains daily and society will have to make choices for the benefit of the majority. I can see preventing dangerous personalities. It is far better than imprisoning or killing them.

Coloma's avatar

@philosopher Lots has been written/studied/documented in terms of early warning signs for potential sociopathology, including chronic bed wetting, animal torture/cruelty, fire starting, conduct disorders, etc. Thing is, very few parents, teachers, childcare workers are privy to what to watch for, and even if concerns are raised often these behaviors are minimized and denied. Serious intervention would need to take place before the age of 12 at the latest, otherwise, again, character traits, or lack of them are pretty hardwired at that point.

Really, intervention that might have any effect needs to take place far sooner, rather than later and even then, the odds are not good.

philosopher's avatar

Gene Therapy is going to be available soon. This will be a new world.
I just wish we could prevent senseless murder.

Coloma's avatar

Yep, the bad seed factor, it is real.

wundayatta's avatar

People’s brains are different. I think that an effort to destigmatize mental illness might allow people to get treatment earlier. But if this guy is a sociopath, destigmatization probably won’t help. Sociopaths do not have the same level of empathy that most people have. They do not have a problem causing pain to others. They simply can’t relate to others as if they were the same in any way.

I don’t know if this guy was a sociopath. However, whatever made him take this path is probably related to his brain chemistry. These are not decisions that most people make. Perhaps some day there will be a pill that can change a person’s brain chemistry so they won’t make decisions like his.

However, I don’t know if his condition, whatever it is, is diagnosable. Could his behavior have been caught before he killed? Did anyone know? Would an expert have been able to see?

And if so, what would have been the appropriate action? Should the school have seen his troubles and told the cops? Could the cops have interviewed him and decided he needed to be forecfully given mental treatments? Would that have even worked? I don’t know. I do know that I don’t believe in forceful treatment of the mentally ill. I think it’s better if people want it, although I have heard many stories of people who are grateful for being forced into treatment. I also know plenty of people who are really pissed about it, and didn’t seek care once they were let out.

philosopher's avatar

My husband did Administration for a Psychiatric Hospital for many years. It is clear that for some people drugs do make them calmer. They are not violent under medication. They do change their brain chemistry temporally. I hope that on going research will find a more efficient method than drugs.
In Europe they are beginning to use Gene Therapy. Some day this might be the answer.
Would we force Psychopaths to have Gene Therapy or should we? I don’t know.
I only know that we have a problem. We need a solution ASAP.

keobooks's avatar

The problem is, with some people, you never know that they have any potential to commit a heinous crime until after they do it. I casually knew someone (Kevin Ray Underwood) from an online game who committed one of the most disgusting horrible crimes I’ve ever read. And up until a few hours before he was caught, nobody he knew ever suspected what he was capable of. Once on his blog he posted that if people knew what sort of thoughts he had in his head, he’d be locked up for a long time. But lots of people have dark thoughts – almost nobody ever acts on them.

You can’t make genetic tests or brain scans mandatory. That would be unlawful search and seizure in the US. And really, I don’t think the person I knew would have ever caused enough suspicion to merit anything so drastic. He had suffered from severe depression in the past, but nobody ever thought he’d do what he did.

And while I wasn’t friends with him, I talked to him in the game for a few years on the public chat channels. He NEVER gave off that creepy vibe people swear they had after finding out someone did something awful. He seemed kinda boring. When the news broke out that the guy played our game, he would have been one of the last people I would have guessed. There were plenty of people who made disturbingly sick jokes in chat that I would have suggested needed to be watched or scanned. I would have totally passed him up as a candidate for needing to be locked up and have his brainwaves monitored.

Unless scientists can really create something ala Minority Report, I seriously doubt all terrible crimes could be stopped before committed.

Ron_C's avatar

I know that when you say “help” you mean mentally or spiritually. But in the sense that they “HELP” evil people they do it all the time. Scientists develop new and better weaponized biological and chemical weapons. In finance they develop financial instruments that benefit the originator. In the legal system they protect international company from attacks by the people they’ve harmed. In religion they provide warped logic that allows for huge Sunday collections, rationalize hating other religious groups, and rationalize bombing of the innocent to advance the cult’s philosophical goals.

In government they cover up torture, stupidity, and incompetence. In the prison system they justify private prison ownership and strict laws that insure full populations.

Ironically these scientists are so narrowly focused they fail to realize the harm their research causes

Aethelflaed's avatar

@keobooks And even in Minority Report, there was always the question of ethics. (I think Tom Cruise did the right thing in the end.)

Paradox25's avatar

I’ll give you an opinionated answer here, and in the only way that I can. First off, I’m a dualist, and I don’t believe that the brain generates our sentience or our egos, but nevertheless the brain can still affect these. Personally, I think that many severely mentally ill or insane people are really highly clairvoyant, with their brains having very weak information filter barriers which randomly allows the thoughts of many others to be registered by their own minds. This is why I believe that some medications can help many people with these conditions, since they alter how the brain filter functions.

I’ll try to tackle the issue of evil. From quite a few spiritual teachings that I’ve read about, evil doesn’t exist per se, but rather it is a lack of love, or a form of negation. I don’t believe that this problem is as straightforward as many physicalist scientists think. How do we define evil, considering that it can spring forth from many facets. There are drastic differences, and similarities between sociopaths and psychopaths, but does this mean that all sociopaths and psychopaths are evil? What about narcissists? Also, not all evil behaviors come from people who are antisocial, or who have antisocial tendencies, and many of these types of people do not fit into any of the typical ‘antisocial’ descriptions that we see, and no I’m not talking about closet sociopaths either.

I don’t think that the answer here lies in physicalist theories of the brain, but rather through society as a whole evolving and becoming more enlightened. By veering in that direction we can eliminate the planted seeds which I think actually generates negation. Unfortunately, we as a society are a long way from that goal; on earth as it is in heaven.

Coloma's avatar

Well….sane/insane is really just about legalities, as has been said, the rest of all the possible mental health diagnoses are still considered to make one mentally unwell, but as long as one is cognizant of what they do, can differentiate between fantasy and reality, well…that’s the rub between the true meaning of sane/insane.

@Paradox25 Yes, degrees, but…all sociopaths and all psychopaths lie, exploit and use others with little or no conscience or remorse, so yes, I would consider those that abuse others in any way to be “evil.” Scott Pecks book ” People of the lie” does a good job of showing what “evil” looks like with narcissistic and sociopathic types.

Aethelflaed's avatar

If by “psychopaths”, we mean people diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (since there’s no official criteria for psychopath, as it is no longer a disorder in the DSM, and various mental health professionals use different criteria for what they mean by “psychopath”, and there’s even wide disagreement on what the difference if any between a psychopath and a sociopath is), then no, not everyone with ASPD feels no remorse. The criteria in the DSM in no way articulates where the disorder comes from, and thus the majority of people diagnosed with ASPD are not those born without a conscious, but those so poor they do not have a choice. Additionally, many of those whom we colloquially call “psychopaths” would not fit the criteria for ASPD. Like, Ted Bundy.

Paradox25's avatar

@Coloma The problem with narrowing down ‘evil’ to certain antisocial personality disorders is that it ignores all the other forms of evil out there. Not all evil people suffer from antisocial personality disorders. There are people out there who probably really do love and care about those who are close to them, but yet have little problem doing horrible things to others. Also, there are otherwise perfectly normal people out there, but when in certain situations or with certain groups of people have been known to do the most atrocious things to other people. There are people out there who would have no problem killing others due to political or religious reasons too.

I highly doubt that the people in the situations I’ve mentioned above all suffer from some type of antisocial personality disorder. Even loving people can do horrible things to others, as many homicide cases have proven over the years. I think that it is extremely dangerous to narrow down ‘evil’ to some type of antisocial personality disorder. Evil, or negation is much more complicated than what many are implying here.

Coloma's avatar


That is true.
Still, evil is evil whether it is perpetrated by a certified sociopath of an immature, self centered narcissist. The road to hell and all that jazz. lol

wundayatta's avatar

Interesting article. It suggests that is would be really impossible to gather unbiased data to determine whether specific biological or psychological factors create an elevated risk and reduced responsibility for antisocial behavior.

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