Making Sense of John’s Brain, Take 43

When we accepted the fact that Cousin John was indeed guilty of killing his father (pushing him off a trail at Mt. Rainier) and his mother (gunshots), I tried to make sense of it.  Apparently there is a word for this:  Parricide.  To kill both parents.

I went to the research:  To the library, to Amazon, to the scholarly research articles on Pubmed and Psychinfo.  I came across few scholarly articles that address this, but some statistics were strangely helpful.  Like how much Cousin John fit the profile:  White, single, male, middle to upper middle class, in his early 30’s.  But as much as we tried to wrack our brains, we couldn’t make our memories fit the “traditional,” (if there is such a thing,) profile of two of the three “types.” who kill their parents.  

One: You’ve got your severely mentally ill, but no one had seen any signs of severe mental illness – No schizophrenia, no hearing voices.  Okay, a touch of OCD, but that hardly seems enough to trigger such violence.

Two: Then you’ve got your severely abused, but again, no one had seen any signs, although I do know just how well these things can be hidden from view.  But that didn’t fit other criteria – Usually the circumstances involve an adolescent who sees no other escape from the trauma, and can be trying to protect siblings.

Which just leaves #3:  The third reason, the one we were left with: People kill their parents for money.  But curiously, Dr. Kathleen Heide, who’s written the most on this subject, hardly explores that sub-type.  I guess it’s so obvious, it doesn’t require more in-depth analysis?  

And yet, how does a brain decide this is a logical course of action?  That killing your parents for money makes sense, and is not only worth contemplating, but worth planning and executing?

This is where Daniel Eagleman’s book “Incognito” helps me out:  “Criminal activity itself should be taken as evidence of a brain’s abnormality.”  (p177)  Yes.  While I don’t know, and never will know, what was going on inside John’s brain, suffice to say that something wasn’t right up there in his head.  Even if it weren’t to meet any DSM 5 criteria for mental illness doesn’t mean that all was well.  Eagleman also says, “The bottom line is this:  Criminals should always be treated as incapable of having acted otherwise.”  (p177)  Yikes.  Doesn’t that just undermine our whole ethical, moral, criminal, judicial, theological, free will, order.  

I can’t quite wrap my mind around THAT right now.  But it makes sense to me that Cousin John’s brain wasn’t working in a way we recognize as “right,” or “healthy,” or “functional.”  What exactly was going on will remain a mystery.  One I’ll keep chewing on, even as I watch my own brain chew away at it.  Maybe my own brain will give up its own mysterious workings.




2 thoughts on “Making Sense of John’s Brain, Take 43

  1. I do not think there is a reason that would satisfy. Each person does some mental calculus to make the best decisions based on their worldview. But calculus in a warped geometry is different from that in a “normal” geometry. The same equation leads to a radically different answer and we can understand it without understanding the geometry it was made in. Most of us live in the “flat” world with some subtle hills and valleys that make us different. At some point, a portion of a person’s world can become so warped that the calculus they do relative to that portion makes no sense to us, while in other portions their calculus may still look like ours. So we see them as fairly normal. Why he was so warped relative to his parents is a mystery with many variables and unknowns that will remain hidden. It is the very definition of tragic.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment – And you are so right in your description – The neuroscience research bears this out. My challenge and fascination continues to be watching my own brain’s process of trying to make sense of this, (and all sorts of other stuff) and the shifts that happen.

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