Are There Evil Brains?

Men have wondered about the sources of evil since forever. Nevertheless, if during long centuries, evil was attributed to a supernatural force, today, the physical and psychological component of it is being explored.

In 1966, before killing 17 people in a mass shooting at the University of Texas, Charles Whitman, left a suicide note where he wrote “I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (…) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts … please pay off my debts [and] donate the rest anonymously to a mental-health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type”. In Whitman’s autopsy, the investigators found a tumour and a vascular malformation in the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotions.

In a famous 2003 case published in the Archive of Neurology, a 40 year-old schoolteacher with no history of pedophilia, started developing an interest in child pornography and begin harassing his stepdaughter. After his wife’s complaint, he was arrested and put in jail. Nevertheless, complaining of an explosive headache he was sent in emergency to a hospital. Doctors found a brain tumour the size of an egg, in the region that controls decision-making. After the tumour was removed, so did the compulsive sexuality.

The mysteries of the human brain are old news. Yet, the fact is that the more we discover about it, the more we understand its impact in physical and mental health. Is it really possible to justify evil with physical anomalies? Most importantly, do physical anomalies and diseases take responsibilities from evil acts? Can science really help us understand such a complex feature of human nature?

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