Where does evil come from? This is a question that has tormented human beings for centuries. If kindness comes from the heart and ideas from the brain, does evil come from the stomach, the back, or a foot perhaps? It's hard to explain what would be the physical features –at least visible symptoms– of what we consider evil, especially if we try to understand the reasons or origins behind someone's despicable actions.
On that matter, and supported by the philosophical study of malignant forces that act on human beings, different areas of science have made a huge effort to explain the reasons behind criminal acts. In that road of hypothesis and research, it would seem as if neuroscientists or experts on the human mind were justifying the terrible actions of criminals. However, while the consequences of their actions are scientifically explained, they must be also analyzed based on ethical principles and jurisdiction.
Justifying actions in biological terms or explaining evilness through medical observations is not a legal exoneration. However, this widens the horizons of understanding enigmatic and cruel minds.
Some of the allegations come from specific studies or concrete situations of history linked to medical research.
For example, in 1966, 25-year-old ex-marine Charles Whitman murdered a policeman, his mother, and his wife. He left a suicidal note in which he explained that he couldn't understand a thing about his actions and that he found impossible to restrain his unusual and irrational feelings. Doctors practiced an autopsy on his body which revealed something that surprised the investigators of the case: Whitman had a brain tumor that pressed his brain amygdala, the region in charge of controlling primitive emotions.
The second case dealt with those responsible of the attack on the Boston Marathon on 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers. Despite their acts being completely linked to political motivations, there has been speculation that their acts were also related to the older brother's brain condition as a consequence of his boxing years. Though he was sentenced to life, specialists stated that even when psychopaths are unable to control their impulses, they're fully aware that they are doing something wrong.
About one century and a half before, specialists had the same conclusions with Phineas Gage in 1848. He was a man that experienced a terrible accident while working as a builder. After a detonation, a metal bar penetrated his skull causing damages in his frontal lobe and his cheek. As a consequence, he experienced a drastic change in his personality. The man who used to be rational and pleasant turned into a violent, offensive, and bitter person. His attitude was never justified, but there was a clear reason behind it.
Scientists have recently discovered that enzymes known as monoamine oxidase are essential behavior controllers. They break neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine and make sure that the brain is chemically balanced. Thanks to this research, it has been proven that babies born with some affected gene related to these enzymes have nine times the chance to show an antisocial behavior. Then, Adrian Raine, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that babies under 6 months of age who have a brain structure known as cavum septum pellucidum –a little slot in the front region between the left and right hemispheres– can develop behavioral disorders and are more prone to turn to criminality.
Although we have stated that, in theory, every criminal action has to be punished, we can't diminish all the scientific studies made in specific crime cases, since they can lead to multiple inventions and discoveries to avoid certain patterns related to mental disorders.
If you're interested in this subject, take a look at: The Sick Twisted Story Of The Liverpool Child Murderers and The Story Of The Beautiful Sad Girl Who Tragically Became A Mass Murderer.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards