James Fallon on Learning From Your Inner Psychopath
A commonly reported anxiety dream is standing in front of an audience naked. Neuroscientist James Fallon lived this nightmare. While giving a talk in Oslo to leading researchers and a former prime minister, Fallon showed a scan of his brain to provide an example of imaging genetics. Afterwards, he was approached by a scientist who had recognized a familiar pattern in Fallon’s brain. It turns out that, after 60 years of being oblivious to the truth, Fallon was a borderline psychopath.
“I have a high threshold so many things really don’t get me mad. You can just about do anything. I’m pretty cool that way,” he says. But upon examining his behavior with the help of a psychiatrist and all too enthusiastic feedback of family and close friends confirming his psychopathic tendencies, Fallon realized that he had a penchant for getting even. His anger would drive his actions even years after suffering the initial insult. “I’ll get you. And I always do. And [people] don’t know where it’s coming from. They can’t tie it to the event,” he says. “It comes out of nowhere.”
In order to control his need for revenge and other selfish behaviors, Fallon had to embrace his inner psychopath. “I have to use my ego, my sense of narcissism to manipulate myself to handle it,” he says.
As Big Think previously reported, psychopaths make up 1 to 2 percent of the US population, and any organization of 35 people or more includes at least one psychopath. Their genetically-wired brains are driven by a need to dominate and manipulate others, but for borderline cases like Fallon's, their behavior can be controlled.
“I’m [now] 66, you know, do I really want to be that way anymore?” he says. “It’s a challenge and I think I can overcome it.”
Fallon shares his personal story and the science behind it in his memoir, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientists Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. For more on his life-changing discovery, watch this clip from Big Think’s interview:
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.