Originally Posted by Daniel Birdick
This is from a post I found on another forum that I found interesting. It’s cognitive-biological explanation of conscience:
Conscience isn't based on emotion, it uses emotion to be effective. Let me explain.
Conscience consists of two parts: a cognitive component and an emotional component. The cognitive component lies in the prefrontal cortex and is the appraiser; it determines, in this case, what is good and what is bad and you learn what is good and what is bad from your culture. Now the emotional component is housed in and around the amygdala; this aspect of the conscience is responsible for its effectiveness.
As you walk out of the store you see a six year old boy run up to your brand new corvette and kick the side of it, leaving a noticeable dent. You chase the little **** down and hold an angry fist to his face. What is going through your mind (if your normal)?
Cognitive, prefrontal cortex- "This person kicked my car, he must be punished. But he is just a kid and it is wrong to hit kids"
Emotional, amygdala- intervening guilt, and immobilization <--this is what the true psychopath lacks
Physical, muscular relaxation- You let go of the boy and he runs away.
There are two ways to make conscience ineffective: one is cognitive and one is emotional. The true psychopath has emotion, but not the full range. Without the intervening guilt--a modified form of fear--that follows the cognitive appraisal that something is wrong, nothing is really stopping you from hitting that kid. It becomes a matter of choice without involuntary interference (guilt). And because the psychopath does have emotions, like anger and disgust, he or she will be moved by those emotions and compelled to hit the boy, just as guilt would prevail over the other, less powerful, emotions of the normal individual under the same circumstance and would prevent them from hitting the boy.
The other way to make conscience ineffective is cognitively. We learn what is right and what is wrong, initially, through conditioning. We do not take the cookie from the cookie jar because we associate such an act with the disapproval of the caregiver. The idea of this act in turn brings about feelings of fear, fear of losing the caregivers love. If, in the psychopath, there is no capacity for fear, it becomes simply a matter of choice, and hunger for sweets will prevail.
Now, this is where is gets interesting. Let us say someone has emotions, however they do not care about the approval of the caregiver (or one wasn't present) and this separation of the self from the caregiver is reflected toward society at large (neither caregiver nor society is taken into account). Now apply this psychic construct to scenario 1. The boy kicked your car. You never internalized the caregiver and thus society, so what is stopping you from bashing his face in--nothing:
Cognitive, prefrontal cortex- "This person kicked my car, he must be punished. Though society thinks this is wrong, I think society is corrupt, unfair, or (insert rationalization)" A particular narcissist might say, because he identifies so strongly with his material belongings, "by kicking my car, the boy has kicked me, and he must be punished".
Emotional, amygdala- intervening guilt is neutralized through rationalization, intellectualization (people are just matter and energy ), or other inappropriately used defense mechanism.
Physical, muscular tension (anger prevails)- You dislocate the kid's jaw.
This is what I mean by having emotion without conscience. A person can distort--consciously and unconsciously--morality and societal prohibitions to the point of being completely devoid of it and them, respectively. We modal our subsequent relationships with friends, coworkers, etc, after our initial relationship with caregivers. We then modal our subsequent relationship with society after those. Without our emotional (meaningful) attachments to reflect on, we have no conscience, irrespective of our capacity for emotion.
The psychopath is who he is because his lack of the required emotions normally acquired at birth made impossible the formation of the emotional bond with the initial caregiver. And thus he never felt fear or (later) guilt when he did anything that would jeopardize their approval ("what's there to lose"). And thus never acquired the foundation with which people modal their subsequent relationships after. And without these relationships the psychopath is disconnected from society and free to do whatever he likes.
The true Psychopath lacks the required emotions. The Narcissist and Antisocial (or secondary psychopath) lack the required cognitions (true personality disorder).
I thought this wasn't half bad.
Wowow, in light of our recent discussion, and from conclusions that I have drawn independently over time, this post makes absolute sense ;)
I think when I first read this, I was a bit bogged down by how the scenario fitted in with the theory. I'm glad I've read it again.
Thank you Daniel, I look forward to more interesting discussion with you. And thanks for your kindness.
I can't blame you for disliking the lable. After all the vast majority of research on "psychopaths" has involved those sitting in prison. And Hare's PCL-R was originally formulated to predict future violent behaviour and criminality. People doing their own internet research come across Hare's checklist, and presume all "psychopaths" fit most of the "criteria".
But the truth is, though Hare wrote a book "teaching" people how to recognise psychopaths in general society(not that I've read it);
Hare says that we know little about these individuals in terms of systematic study about how the disorder manifests in the public at large.
Hmm, so Hare classifies "psychopathy" as a disorder. BUT, one essential criterion in diagnosing any personality disorder (according to the DSM), is:
The enduring pattern leads to clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Strange that, because his PCL-R factor 1 traits are likely to enable the "psychopath" to function unusually well in those areas. The factor 2 traits are the ones that are more likely to land a "psychopath" in trouble. And primary "psychopaths" are considered to have mostly factor 1 traits and secondary "psychopaths" have mostly factor 2 (anti-social) traits. Those diagnosed "psychopaths" in the slammer score high on both apparently.
I think you know where I'm going with this, so I'll leave it at that.
But, I will say this from my own experience, crossing a primary "psychopath" caused him to try to damage a few aspects of my life. I turned a few tables on him, and ironically, a few years later, and we get along fine. We share a son and agree on most things.
Ahem, excuse the ramble....maybe I'm just telling you stuff you already know.
I believe if laws were more logical more psychopaths would obey them. As a child I had a very hard time with rules that I didn't understand. If my mind can't justify a rule or law I just break it.
Example. I smoke bud. It is very available to me and cheap. It doesn't do harm to me and I function rather well under it's influence. Oddly it has inverse affects on me. Rather than become lazy I become more active.
However, I have never smoked crack or shot up or anything like that. Those drugs destroy lives. They wreck the Temple. Thus I will never use them.
I believe myself to be... designed for a different purpose. A conscience limits the abilities of one to function under pressure. Unlike many of you I function fine regardless of situation. No fear to strike me down. No guilt to slow me either. Perhaps it is because I accept situations without resistance. Whatever. My theory is that the psychopath is a natural part of nature intended to defend others. A conscience would slow us down.
I'm a natural 210lb. I fear nothing and those who try to provoke fear have always found my rage. You can get further with a kind word than attempting force on someone like me. But I see normal people as weak children who must be protected. I don't hve malice towards them for their weakness. I don't feel like the bad guy.
Hare bothers me. He points out all the negatives but what about the positive? We aren't all bad. Maybe those type 2 are but not us. I'd rather help you than hurt you.
Someone said their conscience defines their life or gives it purpose. Well it is a lack of conscience that defines my life. A world not compelled by emotion but by logical reasoning. I think God made people like me to defend people like you. It cripples your kind to act in psychopath manners. Your kind return from wars with post traumatic stress and other disorders that ruin you for life. It's because you aren't made for violence and killing. For those things God made wolves.
A conscience is a luxery I can't afford. I've seen people gripped by fear. You would do anything to feel safe. You would betray, lie, cheat, steal. Just for a feeling of safety. I've seen the blinding power of love. But what is given can also be taken away. Yeah.. Gods an Indian trader like that. LOL
You could live without your conscience but it would change you. Like those secondary psychopaths you'd probably hate the world ect. IMO a natural psychopath is dramaticly different than a secondary. I see secondary as normal people who have fallen and can only see in red. Victims of society. The natural... just normal psychopaths. No intentions negative or hate to fuel us.
Whitewolf’s post is an excellent example of another point people often forget. When they think about people who are for various reasons labeled as a socio/psychopath, they assume that those people are all the same. I’ve noticed this on several sites/comment boards/forums. They ask questions like “What would a psychopath do?” as if every single conscience deprived person would react the exact same way in the same circumstance. In other words, they run with their stereotype and leave it at that. But, just as it is true that not all homosexuals act and react the same and not all white people act and react the same and not all Samoans act and react the same, etc, not all of us who are without conscience are the same. Yes, we may share a few important characteristics in common, but there is still the rest of the personality structure to take into consideration, especially when you aren’t dealing with serial killers, child rapists, and so on. You have to take gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religious affiliation or lack thereof, intelligence and educational level and so on into account as well if you wish to accurately understand a particular person who happens to not have much of a conscience. Generalizations are useful of course and I’m not arguing that they aren’t. What I am saying is that it’s far too easy for most people to forget that generalizations have to be modified when you move from the abstract to a specific person, thus making their statements inaccurate and their questions about what “a” socio/psychopath would do moot.
Which Whitewolf’s post aptly demonstrates. I am a materialist, a methodological naturalist philosophically speaking. It follows that I do not believe in any god or anything supernatural. I also don’t make the same suppositions about meaning and purpose that he does. I don’t bring this up to start a discussion about who’s right or who’s wrong here. Someone can start another thread to talk about god and Jesus and meaning, etc. And I actually agree with much of he says in his comment, or at least the underlying sentiment. But even so, we are different people. I would encourage those who are reading this to keep that in mind when you have questions/theories/thoughts about socio/psychopaths or any other sub-group.
Having said all of that, we agree on this point:
Thanks, yes Daniel, he is.
Quote from you Daniel:
However, when I think about Hare’s checklist, it’s clear that I am not a match. I also know that Dr. Robert makes it a lot simpler than Hare, and using his definition, I am a psychopath. But even Dr. Robert doesn’t consider the conscience deprived as pathological, per his comments in the other thread; merely different. When I’m not posting comments online, I don’t go around thinking that I am a psychopath or a sociopath. I am not pathological. I am just me, no more, no less. My lack of conscience doesn’t create suffering for me and I appear to function relatively well (even better in some ways) in society that “normals”. I am what I am, that’s all.
That was pretty much my thinking behind the last post.
(There is a difference between a personality and a personality disorder).
Btw, respect to Dr Rob, but I'm not sure that "a lack of guilt" can properly define any particular personality. Narcissists, ASPDs, are IMO completely different conditions. Yet they share this "lack of guilt" with um, he who is not definable.
I also don't buy into the theory of "reduced emotional processing". Different processing of emotions perhaps.
I "turned the tables" by taking the combined evidence (which I carried on my back literally) to court to regain custody of my son. I was considered to be unstable because of my constant moving (running), by the child welfare. I went to High Court on borrowed money, at the exact time when I knew he was in a financial tie. He did't contest. And then I was lenient in allowing him access.
I had the opportunity to serve a similar "contract" on him. Actually I was involved with a guy who went and arranged it. He was more keen than I was. And when he told me that it was arranged and he was just waiting for the guy to get out of jail. I decided time out of the relationship.
I'm still not really sure why, but when the ex started in a conversation on phone about how I was a bad mother, blah, and he'd done nothing wrong, blah, wasn't involved, blah. I told him that I refuse to talk with him if he brings up the past again. And he never has since then. He pays the private school fees for my son, all his clothes, electronics etc, and has done for over two years.
So, I don't have all the answers yet I guess.
I've been reading the exchange and contemplated on these "feelings" that are portrayed here for awhile. It's like looking at someone talking in a foreing language. I feel nothing when i lie. I feel nothing when i steal. I feel nothing when i pretend to be someone i am not. It's amusing to see people riddled with guilt and shame over decisions that i wouldn't think twice.
What angers me, however, is the way sociopaths are portrayed as boogiemen/women who will steal your money, rape your children and eat your kitten if you interact with them, what a load of bull. The way people like me are portrayed is like the way black people were back in the day. I've never intentionally harmed anyone, atleast not with a deep intent. Just because it wouldn't affect me if i murdered your family and ate you kitten does not mean i would, there is no logical reason for me to do so.
Anger is the wrong choice of words. "Boggles the mind" would be more accurate.
That's the way it goes. Your mind is boggled by so called normals who dislike people like you whose actions, even if they are horrible, brutal ones would not be held in check by any conscience or feelings of doing wrong, and their minds are boggled by people who can do whatever they feel like doing even if it hurts someone else terribly. So all of your minds are boggled.
It's more about the assumption that we are all some kind of monsters that need to be put down than not understaning. How can "normals" understand if they have no desire to do so and istead label everyone as the next Ted Bundy. I find it amusing, they live in fear of everything it seems. Oh well...
Conscience? Heh... it's a tricky thing, really. Because as a child, I noticed my teachers and parents trying to ingrain into me stuff like "you must do this and that", "you must think and say this and that" so you can be a "good child/citizen of society", etc. Sure I went along because it was easier to live in a society that encouraged "a strict version of conformity" but often, I felt really perplexed because many of the things people did, truly made no sense. And so, there were times when I broke the rules. However, that didn't stop me from being "an absolute adherant(aka fanatic) of certain mindsets".
How does obeying all the rules to the T actually make you a "good citizen", if one has a limited self-awareness and is unable to understand that moral greys exist in many situations? For example: people have different motivations and that sometimes, what one person sees as "good" can be a "poison" to another or certain others, and vice versa. Also, unquestionably obeying the rules can actually inflict harm on yourself and others. Doesn't behaviour like absolute obedience often lead to massacres, tragedies or widespread damage that often negatively affects perceptions and treatment of a certain class, sub-culture, organization, etc.?
I do not claim to have a gold standard of conscience but I do have some conscience(only applicable if someone intends to commit a lot of harm to others or which will greatly inconvenience himself and others). Although, that doesn't mean I've never cheated, lied, committed theft(physical theft is a lot harder, digital is a lot easier), engaged in a bit of criminal behaviour(who doesn't?) and so on.
When my conscience isn't present, my fear will simply kick in and oh, guilt. I've attempted to detach myself from these emotions because simply, just because my fear says that "You should be frightened of doing this", doesn't mean it's a rational thing. Although I'll admit that it has saved me at times from doing utterly stupid things, at times, it comes far too late. As in: after I almost lost my life a couple of times, then my fear kicked in.
And as a child, I'd attempted to learn how to kill off my conscience and empathy because quite simply, I didn't see why I needed them and thought them useless. That didn't work out very well though and contributed further to my depression and other problems like losing my sense of self. After all, when one keeps switching between a "sociopathic-like mode" and a "normal, empathy-like mode" while retaining a level of awareness, it will utterly screw you up. Because if you're at least aware of both these 2 selves, it will mean quite simply: a total rejection of your "other self". So, I dropped this useless kind of thinking and behaviour because actually, I'm a highly empathic individual who cares for people a lot.
There is a Dr. Robert article that addresses this question pretty well. I suggest checking it out:
I Believe That I Am a Psychopath. Can You Explain To Me Why Other People Feel the Guilt and Sorrow Which I Never Feel?
I'm just rambling some. :-)
I think it is interesting that I can lack something yet comprehend it's functionings so very well. A conscience actually impairs the judgement of those who have it. They are restrained by their own chosen convictions. Born with limits.
Yet you would all think it important that we have this handicap? Why? Conscience creates fear. Fear turns normal people into dangerously frightened animals. Functioning off a.. fear instinct?
I've always had a facination with the conscience mind... after it has been twisted. Perhaps if some people lost their conscience.. their minds would heal from mental damage? Besides desensitizing.. how can you remove the conscience from a persons mind? It would be interesting to see the seperation and change in perception they would have.
I've actually heard of people incurring physical trauma to the brain and turning violent after but whether they suffered any loss of conscience, hmmm... only an MRI would tell.
Remember me Daniel from the other website?
Anyway, interesting question. Good to see you’re still thinking through things like this. Curiously, I don’t know if I have much of a conscience too, if by conscience we mean some kind of innate system that tells us what is right and what is wrong morally. Arbitrary rules don’t sit well with me either. I can tell you however that for me, it is more about how I feel when I say and do things that lead to pain for others. It doesn’t feel right to me. You ask about the body… I feel it in my body, the “wrongness” of hurting others. When I am helpful, loving, compassionate and kind I feel that as well. I feel it as a kind of warmth, a lightness, and as emotional uplift. I don’t interpret that as right or wrong though, if by that you mean objective morality. I think that like you, I don’t know if it is that black and white. For me it is more about the connection between living beings. If I act as if there is no connection, the resulting feeling is a sense of wrongness or incorrectness. If I act in ways that honor the connectedness, I experience that as rightness or correctness. By correct and incorrect, I am referring to the way things are, as in, it would be “wrong” to jump off of a roof without any means of flying and expect to fly. I’m talking about what I see as the reality of it. I’m sure I have many more beliefs that you would completely reject, but I think the idea that we are all connected should not be too controversial or “woo-woo” of an idea. We share 99% of our DNA! That fact alone should indicate to you that what we have in common far outweighs what makes us different.
And one more unrelated thing. I noticed from our previous encounter that your worldview all depends on whether each one of us is isolated, totally and completely atomized and apart from everything and everyone around us. Your worldview depends upon the walls of self being made of titanium. If that assumption is incorrect, if we are in fact connected and in this thing together, and I have every reason to believe that we are, then all of the other assumptions that follow in your worldview must also be suspect. So in other words, if you Daniel are unable or incapable of feeling a sense of rightness/lightness/happiness/joy when you act upon the belief that you are connected to others, then you truly are in some way disabled. Please don’t take that in a derogatory way because that is not where I am coming from. I do think that the Doctor is right. It is easy for you to dismiss what you do not experience as something fantastical and a little ridiculous instead of acknowledging the full reality of it.
Still, like I said, no insult meant. Great conversation you got started here Daniel! Thanks for the intellectual stimulation and thank you Doctor Robert for hosting it and getting the ball rolling!
Yes, crazydice, I agree with this. Daniel seems to lie to himself a lot, or at least he imagines things about himself which don't seem to stand up to scrutiny. When the doc tried to open a door to that possibility, Daniel shut it quickly in a classic gesture of defense mechanism. He told the doc not to try to defeat him in a battle of wits, saying that it would never happen. Well, the doc seems pretty smart to me, but I never thought he was trying to lord it over Daniel anyway. I thing the battle was all in Daniels mind. Of course we all have and need our defenses, and pointing this out is nothing against Daniel in particular, but his obvious intelligence seems at times more a handicap than a strength.
Here's a good example. In another thread called : Empathy and what it means to be "human" Daniel said
"Wherever my travels have taken me, I have always come back to the realization that although I am biologically a member of the human race, psychologically I am an alien. There is no home for someone like me, no "true" role. I am incapable of believing in or emotionally investing in any of it."
But this is obviously wrong on the face of it. Daniel is a member of the human race not just biologically but psychologically as well. His form of alienated feelings are not all that unusual. That was the doc's point in trying to un-demonize psychopathy so that it could be understood as what the doc calls a normal human personality variant. But Daniel does not really seem to want to be normal, because that might mean this his lack of compassion and emotional warmth really is a deficiency and not a strength as he wants to make it.
No matter where it comes from, whatever combination of DNA and childhood experiences, a conscience is a pretty nice thing to have, and trying to say as some do on this forum that lacking a conscience is a kind of freedom to me seems like trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
Anyway, crazydice, I agree with you about Ecce Homo's, comment about human connectedness. Keep up the good work, Ecce Homo. I hope the doc will comment at some point on this thread, and would like to hear from Daniel too.
Hmmm I'd like to point out something: like many other traits, whether compassion and emotional warmth are seen as strengths or weaknesses, depends on the society and culture, and era you belong to. In certain parts of Asia, the men are emotionally detached to the point of being utterly cold. These men likely have no compassion, no empathy and it is seen as a strength. To show emotions is seen as a sign of weakness like crying when disowning their children or feeling bad for beating some sense into their wife. (This manner of behaviour was probably also true for certain classes and types of females.)
Of course, in the modern 21st century Western society, this behaviour is probably seen as an aberration and thus, a weakness, because humans are supposed to be expressive, kind, caring, nurturing and stuff. I say "modern" since I recall reading in various sources that during Victorian-era and prior, the way people treated one another was really different. It was perfectly legal to execute children for stealing bread, to beat your wife and so on, depending on the "era" you were in. Humans just don't change so quickly. After all, we are still a highly vicious and violent race and no matter how much we convince ourselves that "we're nice and civilized" using theology, philosophy and so on, the memories of violence still remain within us on a certain level of our subconsciousness.
Apparently it is still OK in many minds to beat your wife.
And yes, I agree that to a certain extent a conscience is formed by social construction--but not entirely. There is much evidence (for example see the work of Steven Pinker) that certain human emotions are universal across time and culture. Compassion certainly is one of these--the Buddha taught it 2500 years ago. How that compassion is expressed may look different in different cultures or different eras. For example, if there is an Asian male preference for keeping a stiff upper lip as in Victorian England, that does not mean that those men lack compassion. You would have to look into their minds to know that.
I don’t really know how much humans have or have not changed over the millennia. I can say that I believe, as Doug intimates, that love and compassion have existed as enduring human traits right alongside hatred and violence. That seems to be how it is for us, for now. And as to what we are in our essence, a "vicious race" as you put it, well objectively speaking that remains to be seen, doesn't it? I have a different view of humanity based on my own explorations and insights. Humans can behave violently, obviously. They can also behave kindly, which to my mind is equally obvious. However, beyond the duality of yin and yang, black and white, good and evil, love and hate, compassion and violence, male and female and so on, there is a perfect order and infinite intelligence that manifests as all that we see and experience. This view allows me to see humanity in a much kinder light. But I am not arguing that you should believe me or take on my point of view. I'm just sharing what works well for me in helping me to lead a life that I can love.
By the way, thank you crazy dice and Doug from Vermont for your very kind words and your insightful comments. It's great to see that we're all trying to do the best we can, trying to figure this thing called life out so that we can love ourselves and others well!