A Fearless Life Is Not All It's Cracked Up To Be
I geek out over books on brain science. Also over books that draw on brain science. A quick check of the books I've unpacked and shelved (hey, I've only been in the new house for five weeks; many, many boxes of books still in the garage) reveals titles like The Gift of Fear, Buddha's Brain, The Paradox of Choice, and The Owner's Manual for the Brain.
Oh, the things our amygdalas get up to! Not to mention the sly antics of the cerebral cortex, or that pain-killing pro, the periadqeductal gray . . . but I promised not to mention them, didn't I? Point being that naturally I was drawn to a title like The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (highly recommended) when I wanted to learn more about Robert Friar, the chief villain in my lupi series. Robert Friar, who is the chief agent for an Old One who wants to destroy the lupi.
My takeway from The Pschopath Test: psychopaths are not like us.
With most mental disorders, we can―if we squint a bit―see our own flaws and foibles, simply writ large. Maybe in screaming Sharpie ALL CAPS, but who doesn't have a wee trace of the narcisist? We're born knowing the world revolves around us. The world disabuses most of us of this delusion, but a whisper of it lingers. Most of us reserve our panic attacks for appropriate situations like speaking before a large audience, but we can understand how terrible such spells must feel to those who have them more randomly. And who doesn't have some kind of phobia, even if it doesn't rise to the clinical level? I can't be the only one who refused to seeArachnophobia. . .
But psychopaths, however well they may blend in, however reasonable and even charming they may seem, have some serious deficits in the way their brains work. You probably know that they lack empathy. What you may not know is that humans are hard-wired to feel empathy. The ability to share in others' feelings is built into our brains. This starts with what are called mirror neurons―which, by the way, are the reason you can get so scared while reading a Stephen King book―that are designed to fire in sympathy with observed actions and emotions. We respond to smiles, to an angry exrpession, and to tears. Show most of us a grisly picture―say, crime-scene photos involving blown-apart faces―and we recoil in horror.
Psychopaths don't. Instead they are fascinated. They are often especially absorbed by the expression of fear or terror . . . because they don't feel it themselves.
That's what Bob Hare concluded, anyway, as the result of experiments he conducted with prison inmates. He gave two groups of inmates a painful electrical shock while wired up to EEGs and other instruments to measure their sweat and blood pressure. Those with normal brains reacted predictably as the countdown approached zero, when they knew they'd be shocked. They grew fearful.
The psychopaths didn't. They had no measureable physical or neurological experience of fear. Even after experiencing the countdown culminating in a painful shock once, they failed to react the next time.
Fear comes from the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. The limbic system is a set of brain structures that support a number of human functions, including emotions, behavior, and motivation. Many experts believe that psychopaths don't have a fully functioning limbic system. They don't feel anything deeply. They don't have a conscience. And they don't ever, experience remorse.
Every work of fiction explores what it means to be human. I do that, too, in my lupi books, but I also look at what it takes to be a monster. In MORTAL TIES, Lily wonders what it means if the Great Bitch, the Old One who wants to destroy the lupi so she can remake the world according to her own notions, keeps using human agents who look, act, and react a lot like psychopaths. Did they start out that way . . . or did close connection to her change them?
Either way, it's not a happy thought to know that the immortal being who's out to get you is some kind of psychopath.
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