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Defining Insanity

September 17, 2018

Ages ago back in the sixties when I was in college I took a course on the normal personality. We discused terms like self actualization and normal behavior. We also discussed how to determine whether someone was sane or crazy. The conclusion defined normal as behavior within the norms of society, that one whose behavior was outside the boundaries of what was considered normal was considered crazy.

The quarter ended and I moved on. But I never forgot the discussions and conclusions. That question continued to come up. Later I went to law school and took criminal law. There we dealt with the legal concepts and definition of insanity. The legal term for crazy. Insanity was a better word. It sounded more professional and even scientific. To find someone not guilty by reason of insanity was better than finding someone not guilty by reason of being crazy.

And what was st the bottom of the legal reasoning to reach that conclusion. Most jurisdictions hold that if a person knew right from wrong at the time on the act he was sane. Some juristdictions followed the irresistible impulse theory or other theories. Whether or not those conditions were met were answered by analyzing the person’s behavior.The question was put to a jury to look at the behavior and determine if the person was sane. Twelve people randomly selected from the community. The object was to find someone who could be designated as the authority to make the decision. In medicine it is the doctor. At law, it is the jury. Someone had to decide. No one wants to, but someone has to.
Things have changed since the sixties. Research has identified some genes that appear to be associated with some mental disorders. Brain scans have some that certain parts of the brain light up and appear to be active or not active in individuals with mental disorders. Some individuals with normal behavior have had brain scans that show areas that are not active in the same areas as the scans of serial killers. Scientists know more now about the functions of some of the different parts of the brain. They know if one of these parts is overactive or under active it will cause a difference in the individuals behavior and they know in what way the behavior will change. But that only applies to a few parts in limited ways.

Notwithstanding those advances we are still on many ways where we were in the sixties. We look at the behavior and determine from the behavior whether the person is crazy, insane, suffering from a brain disorder or normal. We base this on our expectations of normal behavior.

The debate goes on. What causes abnormal or deviant behavior and how can it be predicted. The jury is still out.




From → Observation

  1. You left out one element.. once “predicted” how can it be corrected and how should that correction be imposed? And THAT seems to be the future dilemma. Surely not within the lifetime of us baby boomers.. but soon enough to come, “Oh, Joe has the same brain pattern as Jeffery Dahmer and even though he has done nothing wrong so far we better ‘fix’ him before he does.” And the probes are attached and now he becomes a “new” man. Glad I won’t be around to debate that one.

    • There has been progress made in changing behavior by therapy and by medication. Medications to reduce anxiety seem to me to be the most effective. As research goes on to determine functions of different parts of the brain drugs can be used to allow those parts to function as they should. I see that as the best way to change behavior. We may be able to develop surgical procedures that will help. The lobotomy procedures did not bring the results they were hoping for. A lot of research is being done and it needs to be better funding. We will not see many advances in any fields if we cannot get the government funding for research. Maybe the midterms and then the 2020 elections will have better results and change our course.

      • we still know so little about the brain. but there is a ton of research going on. and there is less discrimination (some say stigma) against people with mental illness, but still a long way to go. hopeful for the future, though.

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