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Letter from a psychopath (twitlonger.com)
310 points by bdr on Oct 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

"We are neither the cartoon evil serial killers, nor the 'its your boss' CEO's always chasing profit at the expense of everyone else. While we are both of those things, it is a sad caricature of itself."

I have been friends with a couple people with clear sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies, and this is absolutely true. Most have been trained to seek social inclusion like the rest of us. They just suck at it. The lack of empathy is a strength while running a con or worse, but a serious handicap when trying to build long-term social relationships. It's downright pathetic to watch them attempt their social cons on people who are intelligent and self-aware. If you know your own weaknesses you know when someone is trying to attack them. When it's malicious the psychopath gets the boot fast. When it's a harmless attempt to fit in, it just puts the psychopath in the awkwardly manipulative category. The lack of empathy means they often don't know why they've been ostracized.

FWIW, I have the opposite problem; a little too much empathy and guilt, but it gives me the same talent of seeing the weakness in people. Which is why I'm friends with them. They use my empathy for friendship, and I let them because it's absolutely fascinating watching them work.

My suggestion, from personal experience, is to beware.

When one owns a snake, there is a temptation to think he's "my" snake--he would never bite me. But he's a snake--he just may not have felt like it so far.

Building on what you've posted, psychopaths having diminished capacity to build relationships could very well lead to depression or atleast unhappiness. I find this really interesting because we often see a psychopath represented as a remorseless beast void of any human emotions yet, looking from this perspective, it almost paints psychopathy as a dibilating disorder.

I also note it probably wouldn't be correct for me to use psychopathy as the name of a disorder but it should be fine for casual discussion.

>I find this really interesting because we often see a psychopath represented as a remorseless beast void of any human emotions yet, looking from this perspective, it almost paints psychopathy as a dibilating disorder.

That is true. I only met one person who seemed to act sociopathic (as well as admitting lacking the capacity to feel empathy) and she seemed to be shut off from society. It's rather sad. Falling in love with her was a rather bad idea too :)

Its been a long while since I took psychology in college. What he was describing sounded fairly common to me as an adult.

"Joseph Newman, the head of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that up to 1 percent of the general population in the United States can be described as psychopathic(1). This means that there are among us, roughly 3 million psychopaths."

If this is true, psychopaths should be concentrated heavily in certain careers such as sales.

There was a significant study which found higher rates of psychopathy (judged using standard psychometric scales devised by Hare et al) in high-level corporate environments than among violent criminals in prison.

I don't expect you to believe me on this one, so I am furiously trying to find a reference... Hopefully I'll be back to edit with a link.

EDIT: There is of course this book, written by the aforementioned Dr Hare, but still can't seem to find a paper. I remember seeing it in a recent BBC documentary on the subject, which interviewed him directly, which isn't exactly helpful.


EDIT: AHA! Here it is: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bsl.925/pdf

"In this study, we had a unique opportunity to examine psychopathy and its correlates in a sample of 203 corporate professionals selected by their companies to participate in management development programs. The correlates included demographic and status variables, as well as in-house 360° assessments and performance ratings. The prevalence of psychopathic traits—as measured by the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (PCL-R) and a Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL: SV) “equivalent”—was higher than that found in community samples. The results of confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modeling (SEM) indicated that the underlying latent structure of psychopathy in our corporate sample was consistent with that model found in community and offender studies. Psychopathy was positively associated with in-house ratings of charisma/presentation style (creativity, good strategic thinking and communication skills) but negatively associated with ratings of responsibility/performance (being a team player, management skills, and overall accomplishments)"

Looks like I misremembered the bit about a higher rate than in prisons, instead it is rather a significantly higher rate than in society at large.

Would be interesting to look at these individuals vs their respective socio-economic background.

"The correlates included demographic and status variables"

Another view could be that the psychopathic behavior may get you fired in a corporate setting and gunned down in a criminal one, so it may be simply that psychopaths last longer in non-violent areas of society.

I guess that would be corrected for in the above-mentioned "The correlates included demographic and status variables" ? Lifespan is objective so rather easy to correct for.

That's assuming you could account for the rate of psychopathy among those criminals who died before they could be tested for it as well as those who died before they were caught as criminals. Lifespan will also probably be different for criminals on the streets vs. inside prison, so I'm not sure you could simply adjust for that.

The original commenter amended his post to say that he mis-remembered about it being higher than in prisons, anyway.

The designation of 'mental disorder' is largely one of subjectivity and social convention. In some contexts, lack of emotional empathy is simply a gift[1]. As is the ability to apply rational empathy to a situation.

Physiological concerns aside, observed psychopathy is more or less a variation of behavior that allows the individual to apply more cerebral perceptions to social / emotional contexts.

Would the world be a better place if we had more people acting like this? or the opposite case of applying social / emotional perceptions to a more cerebral context? I would argue (for many reasons) that the answer to this question is the former, whereas it has been the latter through most of human history.

The capacity to act as a 'psychopath' may very well be a necessary evolution of our culture, and in fact may become a desired genetic trait in future years. More important that trying assimilate people with characteristics of psychopathy may be to foster this ability of the mind - keep children away from violence, keep young adults away from their egos.

[1] From my favorite new TV psychopath personality, Robert California of the Office: "I'll tell you some thing I find unproductive. Constantly worrying about where you stand based on inscrutable social cues, and then inevitably reframing it all in a reassuring way so that you can get to sleep at night. No, I do not believe in that at all. If I invited you to lunch, I think you're a winner. If I didn't I don't. But I just met you all. Life is long, opinons change. Winners, prove me right. Losers, prove me wrong."

"The capacity to act as a 'psychopath' may very well be a necessary evolution of our culture, and in fact may become a desired genetic trait in future years."

How so?

Recent genetic evidence suggests that, among the various traits that distinguish modern humans from the hominids we outcompeted (such as Neanderthals), one of them is improved empathic capability. We are better able to read and respond to social cues than our less-adapted cousins were. Our ability to work cooperatively was a major competitive advantage, and quite possibly the most critical competitive advantage.

It may be true that psychopathic traits enable certain individuals to game the system, as it were, and succeed wildly in modern society. The stereotype of the Psychopath CEO is grounded in some reality, after all. But if everyone behaved psychopathically, then society would possibly cease to function as we know it -- probably for the worse.

Genetic evidence? Really? They managed to get Neanderthal DNS, sequence it, and understand it?

Where was I during this earth shattering breakthough? (Actually understand DNA by looking at the sequence?)

This is probably just someones conjecture based on living conditions and such, there is no way it's based on genetic evidence.

"Really? They managed to get Neanderthal DNS, sequence it, and understand it?"

Not sure where you were during the sequencing, but yes, it's happening.


That is pretty impressive. But it was the "understand it" part that I'm surprised about.

I guess the real question was: Does the sequencing of Neandertal DNA allow us to prove that they had insufficient empathy?

A recent study showed that the modern human genome and the Neanderthal genome are something like 98% identical (I'm making that number up; it's in the paper I read; the exact figure is fairly close to that). The 2% of genes that differ include the genes in modern humans linked to empathy, facial recognition, social aptitude, etc. (We found out which traits these genes are linked to because they are present, but not expressed, in modern-day people with severe forms of autism).

If I can ferret out the paper, I'll post a link.

Its just speculation of course. But 2 angles:

1. Communication capacity is the reason empathic capability is important. Human-human communication relies on perspective-taking and evolves over time as our brains get more exposure to people. Emotional empathic capacity is just the bootstrap for perspective-taking. If human cultural norms evolve for communication capacity, then there is a case that empathic capacity will simply use too much cognitive capacity to fit within these cultural norms.

2. We communicate more and more with non-human devices than humans. I can't even imagine what this looks like 100 yrs from now or 1000, but there is a chance that natural selection will favor brains optimized for communicating with devices and machines where emotional empathy is not present.

Natural selection would only benefit those who are more able to communicate with devices if that trait led them to produce more offspring than the people without it; that's the selection part.

Do you see people who have a more natural ability to work and understand computers as having more kids than the rest of the population? If anything, it's the opposite.

I meant selection criteria in the same sense that ability to succeed in college may be selection criteria today. It does not require birthing more kids, rather a consistent use of this selection criteria from generation to generation in a subset of the population. If machines are performing all the work, and being able to send 10M messages per day to these machines is a requisite for economic success, some parents will filter heavily for this criteria in he best interest of their children.

I would say that we communicate with other humans at least as much today as in the past. We just are spending more and more time using "high-tech" communication mediums that filter a lot of the nuance and nearly all of the non-verbal cues from conversation.

Arguably, the need to pick up on emotions through text- or audio-only communication might make empathy more important.

> It may be true that psychopathic traits enable certain individuals to game the system, as it were, and succeed wildly in modern society. That's precisely why natural selection will encourage it, isn't it? >probably for the worse. I'm not sure I agree with that, a society where everybody can read each other accurately and perceptively..that may be a tougher society to live in, but it'll have its share of benefits (like perfect understanding), so it's not necessarily worse.

actually, empathy is pretty great for our species as a whole. the lack of empathy is what allows psychopaths to ignore the impacts of their actions on other people.

if you knew for a fact that you wouldn't experience any negative effects (like going to jail, having people label you as an outcast, etc.), would you kill a complete stranger for $100? if you had no empathy, you would.

Part of a comment I left on a discussion on LessWrong last week:

it has been annoying me lately that there are three distinct usages of "empathy" that are frequently conflated.

1) "Empathy" as the emotional interest in others, could also be called "moral sense", the kind of empathy that sociopaths are said to lack.

2) "Empathy" as the ability to identify emotionally with others, the set of instincts or "firmware" that make interpersonal communications and interactions go smoothly, the kind of empathy that autistics are said to lack.

3) "Empathy" or "imaginative identification with others", a more intellectual version, part of the definition of an intelligent being which is associated with metalaw. The ability to intellectually and purposely imagine yourself in the place of another, even a very different other, such as an extra-terrestrial alien, hence its association with metalaw.

Note, in the documentary "I, Psychopath" http://youtu.be/jKvhKI6Kxew they run tests in the MRI to predict psychopathy as the inability to consider future consequences on present choices. Thus, in view of this, lack of empathy is not the determining factor in psychopathy, it is lack of foresight. (perhaps it was about being oblivious to future pain - can't quite recall)

Interesting, I recently watched a show that showed that psychopaths are just as able to predict consequences, just like everyone else, but they just don't care if it negatively affects other people. Not because they're actively bad but because they have no empathic impulse.

Also it showed that they demonstrate no emotional response to words such as 'rape'. If you could monitor everyone's brain who just read that word in an MRI, you would be able to see mental activity that is associated with negative emotions. Everyone except psychopaths.

It looks like "empathy" and "psychopath" is being conflated with simply being moral and immoral. It is entirely possible for a very empathetic person to do something immoral, and a very psychopathic person to be moral (i.e. be categorically opposed to murder).

> Physiological concerns aside, observed psychopathy is more or less a variation of behavior that allows the individual to apply more cerebral perceptions to social / emotional contexts.

Not really. Many psychopathic behaviours are irrational. I.e. their long-term goals do not correspond to their actions.

The way I look at it, there's a spectrum of selfishness+impulsivity with psychopathy at the extreme end.

I.e. the psychopath's need to do what he wants to do outweighs any other concerns, including possibly your right to not be harmed / live. This may not always be true, but the impulsivity makes it true at the critical moment.

Does that quote really apply? I don't see how is worrying about where you stand socially a result of empathy.

Sure, if you analyze with less emotional involvement, it's easier to control that "social game", but as the letter describes, they still validates themselves for their ability to do so.

Seems to me like the disregard for the whole thing -which is what that character seems to be saying- is more common in the stereotypical "nerd," which either is either oblivious to it or simply uninterested, and that doesn't necessarily indicate less empathy.

Only tangentially applicable, was including for some humor and as a reference to the 'Gervais Principle' (an article that posits the Office's brilliant ability to characterize the effect of a psychopath on an organization). Robert California's complete lack of empathy was the basis of the situation - using both subtle and direct cues ('I think you are a loser') to re-create a team environment.

The sociopath described in that series is not a sociopath in the clinical sense. Venkat said as much in the second or third installment.

This entire thread here shows a deep misunderstanding by you of what sociopathy is and what its consequences are for an individual. You seem to be under the impression it turns a person into a sort of overman. You are very mistaken.

Sociopaths may be overrepresented in some niche you find desirable, but that says little about their success as a whole. If 1.3% of sociopaths are highly successful corporate officers - and the evidence for this is not conclusive - where the figure for the entire population is 0.9% (totally made-up numbers by the way), we still know little about a sociopath's fitness in society. Most evidence suggests they are worse off.

I really did not mean to discuss the clinical definition of a sociopath, so much as the common definition that I have read about - society's meaning of the word. Many 'sociopaths' who are designated as such may not fit the clinical profile at all. However, in some capacity they exhibited behavior they can act like people think a sociopath might.

Reading the message, I felt like this person felt stereotyped and misunderstood - but very in tune with himself. I wonder how he would succeed in an cultural environment with less emphasis on emotional empathy and guilt? Is it us or them that is actually best suited for the greater good?

So, the purpose of the thread was to elicit feedback on the idea that our world is changing fast, and this particular genre of behavior may be better suited. You can't deny that that 'overrepresentation' in some niches has grown, and is likely growing.

Incidentally, I've never seen my karma on comments on a single thread fluctuate so much. Its been very interesting to watch.

I suspect the default state of AI would be psychopathy. As I imagine it, an AI with goals, but not morals or empathy would behave exactly like a psychopath. Maybe psychopathy is the default state and empathy and morals are just evolutionary add-ons t encourage cooperation.

HAL 9000 was the best depiction of a psychopathic mind in action in the history of cinema, in my opinion.

"AIs that haven't been specifically programmed to be benevolent to humans are basically as dangerous as if they were explicitly malicious"


That depends on the goals; you could define the Three Laws[1] as inviolable goals.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics

You still end up with a psychopath with moral goals. The rules leave room for manipulation, exploiting weakness, feigning emotion without understanding, lying, etc.

I think there are still more great sci-fi stories to be extrapolated from Asimov's laws.

I don't, and I suspect the opposite may be true. It's easy to approach this from the perspective of Star Trek or early AI thinking, but that's flawed. We don't understand consciousness at present but we do understand a little bit about cognition and emotion, and we can infer what we see based on examples. It's tempting to think that emotion is the height of human consciousness (the classic Star Trek fallacy), but this is plainly not true. Animals much less mentally adept than humans experience emotion and feelings. Indeed, it seems quite likely that such responses are easier to bootstrap than self-awareness and fully developed perception of the world.

Personally I think we're more likely to see emotional robots before we see truly human level AI. There is still reason for caution of course because emotion does not rule out psychopathy. There is certainly a danger that malevolent or even merely competitive AIs could play the emotion game better than humans, and gain the upper hand (meaning: wealth, control, power, etc.) Consider how much emotion affects the entertainment industry, and the sheer amount of money involved (from TV and films to music to books to comics to games and even to restaurants and food, not to mention pornography and prostitution). Consider how much emotion plays into politics.

Overall I think Blade Runner and A.I. had it more right than Star Trek or Star Wars. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out of course.

The problem with the assumption that common people are inferior is that you will actually find proof that they are. It's a vicious cycle of self prophecy.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. Johann Wolfgang vonGoethe [1749 - 1832]

Liked it except for the last sentence, which I think is a manipulation.

"In the end, psychopaths need to be given that very thing everyone believes they lack for others, empathy."

Any feeling you give will be used against you in their treacherous games - you won't get true feeling back. Don't be their stepping stone.

Who's to say the entire letter isn't manipulation? After all it's written by a psychopath. "First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?"

I'd like to meet this person. It takes deliberate choice and a MUCH effort to act out against your nature. Though it may not be of the same degree, the effort shown here is not unlike that of a 12 year old suspected of ADD trying to do good in school.

My glass is raised this person.

And here is the ironic part. While the author of the letter chooses to place emotional stability over strategic ploys, most of our MBA schools, finance majors, corporate lawyers and hopeful business students want nothing more than to become what the author is coming away from.

The other day I found a website called sociopathworld.com, their FAQ is a great read:


"Such as statement might tempt you to say 'well obviously you're not a real psychopath then'. As if the definition of a psychopath is someone who exploits others for their personal power, satisfaction or gain.

A slightly more benign (but still highly inaccurate) definition is that a psychopath is someone who feels little guilt or empathy for others. "

That's not accurate at all. He wants to claim he's still a psychopath because he thinks it's made him special, but he's -not- still a psychopath. He was cured of that.

He's also not the only non-psychopath with those abilities. The condition may have honed those abilities for him, but it's not the only way to obtain them.

You can't be cured of psychopathy.

Argue with the article, not me. He's the one claiming to be perfectly sociable now.

No he didn't, he claimed to learn how to manage it; that's not a cure nor did he claim it so.

Everyone needs to get burned by one of these guys, so that you know how to recognize it.

There are some that are amazingly smooth and seem completely normal. You don't even notice until the tip of the knife is penetrating your back.

For those of you taking guesses at what the current thinking is about Psychopaths, I advise watching this Ted Talk by Jim Fallon.


I've always been interested in psychology, but I've been reading a little more recently. I think it's possible to use the concepts of 'control' and 'evolution' in relation to sociopaths; let me try to illustrate:

It's so-called human nature for individuals and groups to compete over resources - water, food, shelter, even sex, and latterly, money and power. I've been wondering whether this urge to control is in fact what is behind the behaviour of sociopaths. If we always had to have remorse whenever we obtained a resource, then would we survive as a species?

Of course sociopathy is a scale, not a division between 'good' and 'bad' people, but it's pretty clear from what's been going on at Wall Street (workplace of perhaps the most sociopathic group of people around) that there is a struggle going on - right now - between those in control and those who have lost power.

It's interesting that as history has progressed, communication tools have continued to bring people together -- but also extend the reach of influence and control. Wars have become larger and larger as communication has sped up and reached across broader distances. What we have now seems to me, perhaps extravagantly, to be a large scale confrontation between those in power and those outside.

We'll be witness to information wars - PR publications and spin, disinformation tactics, appeals to the heart - and perhaps some extreme exertion of control (note that the Occupy Boston protests have recently been suppressed by the police there -- and the Federal interpretation of the Patriot act is not standing up to scrutiny by legal questioners)

This might be a form of evolutionary conflict at a grand scale and fueled by social media (the thing that is really about to bring about a social singularity, well before any technological singularity) -- and because of this, we maybe have to question the people who are in control of the social media we use.

How does this relate to the original post? Note that the author is essentially arguing that psychopaths are part of humanity too and to be kept. I am not arguing that they should be controlled or destroyed; I think treatment is possible -- as does C.

Though it may seem cruel to say this in his death, looking at Steve Jobs' behavior when he was younger really makes me wonder whether he was a psychopath

Anyone else see the commonalities?

Reminiscent of 'Blindsight', an SF novel by Peter Watts. Humans have resurrected the genes of vampires (don't stop reading! it's hard SF) who are psychopaths and humans' predators, with concomitant higher intelligence. For this intelligence and dispassion they're the perfect choice to command in life and death missions. It's a good book, and it contains a lot of the feel of this guy.

A wonderful book - available free here: http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

The author of this post, Jon Ronson, wrote a book called The Psychopath Test that is a pretty good read on the subject.


He also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, if you've read that or seen the movie.

"I hope that it can remain confidential for the time being, seeing as it is quite personal. "

Dude, wtf?

The letter made me think of an odd combination of Dexter and Larry David.

It occurs to me that the profile he dress is excellent fit for most successful political leaders

this is one of the most interesting 'blog' posts I've read in a long time. Kudos to the letter-writer for exposing his own inner mind that publicly.

Fascinating if it can be believed.


Fascinating indeed.

Other than the serial killer thing and lets face it the army spends good money finding 100% sane people willing to kill lots of people, I just don't get what the big deal about psychopathy is. Most people want to feel loved or whatever the cues are for that emotion and lets face it, there is no way to "know" whether someone "loves" you. All you see are outward displays which are highly mediated by the culture in which the display occurs. Also, you're going to need people at the top with the emotional capacity to know that it's better for the group to fire 1,000 people today, rather than shut the whole concern down in 6 months.

Aren't most people just failed social actors who are rather poor at picking the signs in which to display their emotional communication? Psychopathy actually makes me think far more of vulcans than ted bundy.

> "there is no way to "know" whether someone "loves" you. All you see are outward displays which are highly mediated by the culture in which the display occurs."

Wow. I can't think of a way to rebut this without diving into personal accusations... but it seems that you've missed out on a lot in life.

When you feel loved is it not the neurons in your own brain generating that feeling? That was my point.

You may also want to consider the evolutionary pressure to love certain people in your family.

Do you think it's mere coincidence that massive amounts of oxytocin are necessarily for lactation, giving birth, released after birth, released after orgasm, and that this drug also just happens to create loving emotional bonds?

Seems that evolution is also manipulating our romances and the loves of our lives. On the other hand it's probably good for society that we're chemically manipulated in this fashion. My point is not that 99% of these feelings aren't "real" my point is more of a skeptical nature in that it becomes impossible to figure out how much is "real" and how much is chemical or other mechanisms of signalling.

> "impossible to figure out how much is "real" and how much is chemical or other mechanisms of signalling."

I don't see the need to make the distinction at all. So what if consciousness is just a bunch of electrical impulses, or that love is a giant dose of oxytocin - I'm not sure what would lead you think that these things are not "real" simply because they have some evolutionary/chemical basis.

I can have a delicious lunch today - but does the food actually taste good? Or is it adulterated by mental conditioning? Maybe I only like broccoli because of childhood mental conditioning. Or maybe it brings back a fond memory. Or perhaps it only tastes good because of the presence of certain chemicals?

... Does it matter?

Yes, it matters - both in food and in relationships. With modern chemistry unhealthy food can taste as good as what evolution has shaped us to detect as good food. With a psychopath a fake relation can feel as good as a true one.

In both cases you will know the difference, just not immediately.

That would justify vigilance and caution, not outright dismissal of all emotion as socially-conditioned, non-real constructs.

Certainly it would not justify something as cynical as this:

> "Aren't most people just failed social actors who are rather poor at picking the signs in which to display their emotional communication?"

which was the part that really rubbed me the wrong way.

>> "Aren't most people just failed social actors who are rather poor at picking the signs in which to display their emotional communication?" > which was the part that really rubbed me the wrong way.

But, aren't they?

Not actor in the sense of a script/a lie, but in the sense of trying, ultimately imperfectly, to convey how we feel to the world around us?

How often do you think you nail the perfect smile, the perfect handshake, the perfect snuggle, to demonstrate happiness, but not too much, familiarity and strength without being overbearing, and tenderness without clinging?

Combine that with the imperfect feedback you get from others and we have really have no idea about the finer details of anyone but yourself.

Not just that you can't detect lies but that we have no way of telling if our perceptions of red are the same, let alone a hug or a complex thought.

You're right and have a point - the question is, do our imperfect expressions of emotion somehow rob them of their reality, intent, or genuineness?

It seems to me (perhaps this is a misreading of the post) would have us dismiss emotional expression as inherently untrustworthy, or somehow unreal. I disagree vehemently.

Sure, our expressions, and the way they're perceived, is colored by brain chemistry, social conditioning, and a myriad of other factors... but I maintain that it simply makes them more complex, not less real.

"...but in the sense of trying, ultimately imperfectly..."

There is a broad range between trying imperfectly and being a failed social actor.

I think you are conflating two things here.

@potatolicious is comparing the experience of a tasty meal to the experience of love/happiness/whatever, and saying that it doesn't matter what the underlying cause of it is, it's the experience that matters. I think it's a reasonable point.

You're saying that the experience could be 'fake' because it's based on a fake stimulus. Just in the same way that a loving experience is could be based on a fake interaction by someone else (say a psychopath).

But from /your/ perspective, is there a difference in the experience between the fake and the real? If the inputs are the same, the experience is the same, whether they are triggered by chemicals or some kind of higher-level mental state that we can't adequately explain via chemistry or biology.

The OP seems to be denigrating the human experience based on the chemical 'fakery'/self-deception involved. But that's a different kind of fake--that's your body 'faking' it. [And I totally disagree with that by the way; I agree completely with @potatolicious].

If you are unable to distinguish from these "feelings", you could potentially be unable to tell if you are in love (persons your soul mate/personalities go really well/want to spend the rest of your life with that person) or if you just have good sex, which can allow a bad relationship to linger for years.

I think he's saying that if you're expressing such skepticism and cynicism about the subject because of lack of scientific objectivity, you're probably incapable of experiencing it or giving it. And I think that is what he thinks you're missing out on, the experience of really giving and receiving it.

If you want to call it a fairy tale and say the emperor has no clothes... the logical conclusion would have society be unable to have real examples of trusting love, and it would subsequently break down into a series of make-believe emotional transactions.

The societal and circumstantial evidence does not seem to corroborate your premises, even though there may be no scientifically tested objective data.

He can correct me if I'm wrong.

If everything is just matter, there isn't even a category of "real." Everything is just as real as everything else.

The outward displays are exactly how you know someone loves you. These is no private language of love, since love is ostensitvely defined.

Knowing that culture mediates action does not prevent you from enjoying it. You cannot understand human behavior without understanding the often artificial nature of outward displays.

I think in fact it is you that have missed out on a lot in life if you do not understand that when he says there is no way to "know" whether someone "loves" you, he is referring to the fact that he chooses to believe so anyway.

Not at all. You can enjoy what you feel when other people do what they call love without having to believe you know incontrovertibly what their personal experience of the world is.

You're off base. Vulcans aren't psychopathic precisely because they care about the whole group-- which, if you actually think about it, makes them more empathic than most humans who only care about the people who are right around them.

A psychopath would pretend to care about the group, if that's what helped them out the most personally. They would also kill the group if that's what helped them out the most personally. I mean nuke the world if it sets me up for life, cuz hey, why should I care?

That's the last person you want as a leader.

You have it completely backwards. A psychopath would likely claim that she/he cares about some "larger" common good while backstabbing all of the closest partners.

Well, there's nothing about psychopaths which makes them inherently more predictable than everyone else. That's what the article was about, yeah?

It's by the definition of psychopath as someone who lacks empathy that my argument follows. It is not a normal human condition to feel empathy for large/abstract groups of people. Most people I know do not feel deeply and profoundly sad for millions who died during a war or a famine, while most of them do experience intense sadness when a person close to them or one they identify with dies. Any empathy expressed for large groups of people is typically of an intellectual kind, a political/machiavellian tactic undertaken only when observed by others, something quite close to what a psychopath would do.

The difference matters in terms of predicting future behavior.

If someone loves me, I can safely predict that they won't betray me and will treat my well being as a priority. If they are merely faking it, they might throw me to the wolves (steal from me, kill me, use me, scapegoat me, etc.) whenever it becomes expedient.

Your argument is based on false premises. Psychopaths aren't more rational than other people. They're just more selfish.

The TV notion that psychopaths don't feel any emotion is off the mark. They certainly feel annoyance and anger.

They appear not to feel remorse because they're very good at rationalizing their impulsive/selfish actions.

"100% sane people willing to kill lots of people"

How is such a thing logically possible?

Sanity does not include one specific moral system. For humans, it also does not include being bug-free given some morality,

What would make you think so?

The apprehension people feel about killing others is a fairly universal thing that I don't believe to a purely social construct like "morals" (whatever that is).

I am fairly comfortable labeling "doesn't mind killing people" as sufficiently abnormal to be called "ill".

>"doesn't mind killing people" //

You're not correctly quoting the parent comment (I'm not sure you're quoting anyone, it looks like you're erecting a strawman), he said "willing to kill".

There is a lot of ground between being willing to kill, for example to save the lives of others, and not minding killing.

Parent said willing, not "doesn't mind." The difference is important.

The apprehension people feel about killing others is a fairly universal thing that I don't believe to a purely social construct like "morals" (whatever that is).

Well, once you've thrown away morals, it's true that all you have left is the hope that others will refrain from killing others due to not feeling like it.

Morality is just the portion of goals that humans in a given culture share, but I'm not sure you should be so quick to dismiss it as a positive force.

I think what we call "morality" probably has a biological basis as well. Humans are social animals. Hence, we're going to have selection pressures towards behaviors (and the internal thinking required to produce those behaviors) that preserve social groups. If we didn't, human groups wouldn't survive, and we wouldn't be social animals. I think we can point to other social animals as examples. There's also support in the fact that there are broad similarities across cultures about what is moral - for example, murder is wrong. If there was no biological basis, I think we'd see far more variation in what we call "morals."

Are you implying soldiers are not sane?

I am suggesting that one cannot at the same time be "100% sane", and be willing to kill lots of people. So no, soldiers are not completely sane.

That's a peculiar definition of "sanity" (not that there's an objective way to define it anyway). Humans have been fighting wars since ever, just like other animals in herds. There's maybe an evolutionary advantage to it. Nations create armies to protect themselves and assert their territory (ok, nowadays it's interests). Since "sanity" is a socially defined construct, there's nothing wrong with the soldiers.

People have be psychopaths since the beginning of recorded history to... Hell, there probably is a good deal of evolutionary reason for it.

I would wager both probably heavily involve genetic material having a leg up on others thanks to hundreds of thousands of years of genocide and rape.

None of this will factor into a reasonable definition of "sane".

I think you have underestimated how much culture determine people's attitudes.

Consider a normal guy from my home country a few hundreds of years ago. He believed that he will only go to Heaven if he dies well in battle and is hence really scared of dying from disease. He wasn't a psychopath; he loved people and would die for his friends etc. He is normal for a clan society.

The same genes sit in me, which sincerely hopes never to have to maim or kill anyone in my life. Those human genes program us to be very programmable with the present culture. A powerful tool can often be misused.

The trick is to make the culture stay "nice". And to not have neighbours from clan cultures.

Humans have been fighting, yes. Fighting things humans understand, and for traditional human reasons, at their discretion.

What's new-ish (5-10k years) and completely against individual success, is a large and largely unwilling army driven to kill for reasons they don't understand or are lied to about.

It's slavery, or at best a cult, pure and simple.

If you are looking for a mass delusion we all participate in but understand little, look no further than the money in my pocket. OT, this article has some interesting insights on how organized states (and armies) actually led to less violence historically: http://edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker

I agree on both counts.

My problem with armies is that we have these essentially slave-cults for protection and we call ourselves free. Better off, sure. But not really free because we've got this slave system (Military justice/prisons) to enforce discipline in our enslaved warriors (they might have chosen to serve, but you can't reasonably give consent for personality breaking) without whom we're unsafe - or so goes the theory.

I simply feel that each and every one of us needs to tote a gun through mud, and know why we're willing to do it, to live in a society that practices war. Not only so that we choose wisely, but so that we're really safe - not just under guard.

There's a bit of a difference between "willing to kill lots of people" and "driven to kill lots of people"...


I do not believe that sanity is a black or white issue. It is possible to be insane while still being less insane that another.

Since we're on the issue of psychopaths... The armed forces are grandfathered in societally. Examined critically there's nothing sane about the institutions or those they recruit, in theory or practice.

Think of what they do. They actively recruit young and impressionable children, by promising them huge rewards (toys) in the immediate future and no consequences. They use us-vs-them jingoistic propaganda and compliance tricks such as forced sleep deprivation to break the very critical thinking and will to question unreasonable authority that makes us what we regard as truly human. Ultimately they turn a once peaceful person into an executioner - willing to instantly utilize lethal force on command.

As long as we feel the need to legitimize lethal force we need to take a multi-pronged approach to it to ensure good soldier-to-society feedback, educate everyone in the reality of war, and train everyone to function alone (while still serving societal needs). But not just at the convenient war machine level, these people would also by necessity of training intelligent people, have self-driven goals at all levels from picking up trash to spotting crime, entrapping corrupt officials, and when needed, wielding lethal weapons in defense of the innocent, at home or abroad.

A society where war is called for and legitimized by those who haven't fought and aren't currently willing to, is a sick one. After all, the draft is only the polite grandfathered-in name for slave armies.

I don't think the term "psychopath" is used clinically anymore, except by Hare et al. who insist that there is a difference between sociopathy and psychopathy. I have read at least 5 separate explanations of the differences between the two, but I couldn't tell one from the other. Even the DSM-IV criteria for antisocial personality disorder are quite vague, as I see it. Aside from Hare, other psychologists like Millon have basically introduced their own classifications of people with antisocial tendencies. Millon's subtypes are even less useful because they overlap other personality disorders, like narcissistic, schizoid, and histrionic.

But consider Mr. X, who has several characteristics of schizoid personality, was described as alexithymic by a clinical psychologist, scored an 8 Simon Baron-Cohen's Empathy quotient[1] (whereas most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20), scored equally low on the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS)[2]. If Mr. X shows any kind of aggression, he might very well be considered to have ASP. Without the aggression, he seems to fall somewhere in the Autism spectrum.

Then there are also conduct and dissocial disorders, which have a lot in common (lying, stealing, violent behavior) with ASD. As far as I know, only the ICD-10 definition of ASD attempts to rule out conduct disorder.

To me it seems like most of the terms in the antisocial realm are pretty much generic labels that aren't very useful. The "psychopath" kind of touched on that implicitly in his letter a few times. It's at least some food for thought.

1 - http://glennrowe.net/BaronCohen/EmpathyQuotient/EmpathyQuoti...

   (this is not a test used in clinical settings)
2 - http://cooccurring.org/public/document/sias.pdf

Yes, we need to abandon 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' because they have set-in-concrete meaning for laypeple, which can only lead to misunderstanding.

Separate to that, having had a background in neurology and mental health and a degree in psychology, in my opinion you will never understand mental health disorders unless you have one, live with or are very close to someone who has one, or study it specifically.

But I guess what I'm getting at is that to someone with no knowledge of mental health issues, things aren't going to make sense ("Why would they do that?") because, well, mental illness is frequently highly irrational to begin with. The love affair the public media has with the 'psychopath' label does not help in the slightest. It just contributes to the 'us vs them' mentality.

To make things worse, most of the time when I hear the term "psychopath" or "psycho" in colloquial speech, the speaker actually means "psychotic" or even something as general as "crazy".

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