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Brain biology impacts human behavior. On 1 August 1966, Charles Whitman took the elevator to the first floor of the University of Texas Tower and ascended to the observation deck where he started to set fire to the people below (Eagleman 2). He shot a pregnant woman for the first time, and then her fiance came to help him shoot him. When more people gathered to support the pair, they were wounded. He ended up killing 13 people and wounding 32 people. Police officers killed him. When they looked into Whitman's home, they found out that he had written a suicide note that night. He killed his mother, too, and stabbed his wife. The suicide note contained how he had decided of killing his wife irrationally. Charles had a remarkable life where he had been an architectural engineering student of the university, a former marine, and a scout volunteer. So what led such a stable man to cause such an incident?
Charles had stated in his suicide note that he would like for his brain to be scanned to know what the problem was. He had been having mixed feelings of irrationality and increased violent thoughts. True to his words, a medical examiner found that in Whitman’s brain a tumour had grown. It was known as glioblastoma (Eagleman 6) It had grown beneath the thalamus and compressed a region known as the amygdala. Amygdala is responsible for emotional regulation. Scientists had discovered if the amygdala was damaged in monkeys they would have emotional disturbances. This showed anger and loss of fear of things that would have caused them fear. This was the case for Whitman.
Such cases have become rampant with the development of technology. Another such case is that of a 40year old whose sexual preferences had suddenly changed to child pornography. His wife reported him to the police after she found out that he had tried sexual advances towards his prepubescent stepdaughter (Eagleman 7). Later on, after being arrested and tried in court, he was taken to rehabilitation, the man made sexual advances towards the staff, and he was then expelled and taken to prison. When in prison he complained of headaches, and after being ignored he took himself to an emergency room. Here the doctor found a tumour that was growing in his orbitofrontal cortex. On removal of the tumour the sexual desires returned to normal immediately.
After a year, the sexual desires began once more. On examination, it was discovered that a tumour had not been fully removed that a piece had remained. On removal, his sexual desires went back to normal. The conclusion was that the biology affects decision making and desires
Disinhibiting is seen in patients with front temporal dementia. This means that the frontal lobes have started to disintegrate and there is nothing medicine can do. This is because parts of the brain have begun to disintegrate. This then leads inability to control impulses. This is seen when patients begin to have irrational behaviours when in public, for example, shouting for no reason or removing their clothes. In a court case, the families of such patients have to explain this in court for leniency and understanding by the court.
Victims of Parkinson’s disease are an example of changes in the balance of brain chemistry causing change in behaviour. In 2000, families of victims with Parkinson’s disease discovered that when given a drug known as Pramipexole, some of them turned into pathological gamblers. These were people who had never gambled before in their life but were flying to Vegas. Others had been amassed into huge credit bills. This gambling addiction and compulsive eating behaviours arose from the use of the drug. Parkinson’s disease results in loss of the brain cells that produce dopamine. Pramipexole impersonates dopamine. Dopamine mediates the reward system in the brain. This then means a person will want to eat, gamble and make himself happy as a reward to himself without thinking of the costs. An imbalance of dopamine would cause over eating and addiction to gambling and even drugs.
All these stories have a common lesson that human behaviour is inseparable from the human biology. As much as we are all free to make a decision, some people are not privileged enough to make their own choices like in the case of Whitman and the Parkinson’s victims.
The legal system asks the question if a man is blameworthy yet the true question should be is it his fault. This is because the decisions we make are yoked to our neural circuitry. A legal system that is more inclined to rehabilitation and incentives for good behaviour is what we should be striving for to make clear and good judgements.
People’s brains are different. The genetic disposition also affects human behaviour. It is likely that if one has the genes of a criminal they may incline to commit crimes if other factors force the person to do it. This then leads to another well-based conclusion that we are not fully responsible for our behaviour. Therefore sometimes it’s not someone’s will to commit a crime.
The legal system presumes that everyone is a practical reasoner yet in some cases free will does not decide whether to move a finger. Consider the case of a Tourette patient they tend to stick out their tongue or even call someone without choosing to do so. The case of Kenneth Parks who went over to his in-laws and stabbed them yet he had a good and close relationship with them. Thing is he was sleepwalking, and he even wen and confessed at the police station, but when he woke up he could not recall such incidents.
The writer speaks to a jury, and he appeals to them from science and biology. This is so because he tries to explain why some actions or some crimes tend not to make sense or have a base of reasonability or probable cause.
The argument given is strong in that they have biological proof. The cases that have been studied show that biology does affect how one makes his or her decision. The weakness of this argument can be viewed as doubt in that sometimes the measure of the effect of biology on behaviour is small. A person might be suffering from the stated dysfunctions but might have also have had the desire to commit a crime, and it became fuelled by his or her condition. Therefore a criminal might as well be released because of something he has wanted to do yet has the alibi of his mental condition.
The given information should change how we view crime, and other behavioural activities. Biology does affect behaviour and the legal system should accommodate this during a hearing and before making a decision that would jeopardize a man’s life.
Eagleman, David. The_Brain_on_Trial. 2011, p. 18. Accessed 5 December 2017
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