The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Crueltyby Published 31 May 2011
|The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty.pdf|
Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common--lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world.
In The Science of Evil Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he examines social and environmental factors that can erode empathy, including neglect and abuse.
Based largely on Baron-Cohen's own research, The Science of Evil will change the way we understand and treat human cruelty.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty Reviews
Interesting book. That's about all I can really say. I don't find this as practical for the "layperson" as some books on the idea of evil and the human brain and mind are. Still you may find it draws you in a bit.
I think how this one hits you will depend on your own bent and interests. I picked it up after reading a few books on Psychopathy. That's not exactly what's discussed here, but it is interesting.
I can't really review this book, for the simple reason that I do not trust it, and am simply unsure what to believe and what not to. Perhaps my attitude is unfair, but it was these two passages that pushed me into Sgt. Schultz mode:
Some people compare him to the character that Dustin Hoffman played in the film Rain Man, which was based on a real person (Kim Peek) with autism, because... (p. 106, my edition)
Consider that back in 1542 Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet entitled Against the Jews (calling on Catholics to attack them) in which he advocated burning synagogues and destroying Jewish homes. (p. 166, my edition)
Kim Peek did not have autism. One need dig no deeper than his NY Times obituary (link) to ferret that fact out. I'd put this down as an honest mistake for most, but Baron-Cohen is supposed to be a world renowned expert on the topic of...autism. Sorry, dude, but you flat-out blew it.
Martin Luther's tedious imbecility on the topic of Jews is certainly true, but how Baron-Cohen got the idea he was trying to incite Catholics against them is not only wrong, it is utterly preposterous. In fact, Luther even took a swipe at Catholics...in the very document Baron-Cohen claims was used "incite" them. Viz:
Similarly among us Christians the papists can no longer pass for the church. For they will not let God be their God, because they refuse to listen to his word, but rather persecute it most terribly, then come along with their empty husks, chaff, and refuse, as they hold mass and practice their ceremonies. And God is supposed to recognize them and look upon them as his true church, ignoring the fact that they do not acknowledge him as the true God, that is, they do not want him to speak to them through his preachers. His word must be accounted heresy, the devil, and every evil. This he will indeed do, as they surely will experience, far worse than did the Jews.
Link to document - The switch from Jews to Catholics occurs at the end of Part II, though it is back to the Jews in Part III.
'Course Luther had a reason to be sore with Catholicism, since he'd been excommunicated and had a Church sanctioned document issued against him personally, wherein he could be killed on sight with neither civil nor religious penalties accruing against his murderer. (A Catholic version of a fatwa? Maybe. But it also seems to be the case that no one ever bothered trying, as best I can tell.) In fact, I'd say you could make a case Luther was saying Catholics, or possibly just the Church hierarchy, was in deeper doo-doo than Jews with God, based upon that last sentence.
Perhaps the two errors cited above are the only two in the book, and perhaps everything else is scholarship so pure it hurts the eyes to glance upon. But I doubt it. In my eyes the entire book took on the mantle of sloppy scholarship after hitting those two easily checked, inexcusable errors. I make no claims at genius or expertise -- quite the contrary! -- so if I'm picking up on wince-worthy passages, how many more might there be in here? Certainly in the Martin Luther bit he cites a source that he himself never bothered reading. (Would he tolerate such a thing from one of his students?)
Anyway, I'm giving the work no rating, since I cannot confidently say that there are sections of this work with which I have little familiarity (and that would be most of it) containing errors similar to the ones I've noted. His level of credibility with me has essentially fallen off a cliff; I'm not certain I'd accept anything he's written without independent verification. Very sad, since I'd previously held him in high regard.
4 Informative-Stars! ☆★☆★
There are some books that you read with your mouth open and all of your emotions displayed across your face. This is one of those books. Be warned, 'The Science of Evil' will make you disgusted and enlightened at the same time. What dug into my heart even more were the real life photos of acts of terror. It's gut-wrenching to see what people are capable of. It's unspeakable.
★ Nazi scientists severed a woman's hands and then sewed them back Switched. So her thumbs on the outside of her hands.
★ Some Nazi held experiments to see if people could survive being submerged in freezing water up to 3 hours. Double F#%K!!
★ Rebel soldiers ordering women to bash their children's heads into poles until they died to survive another day. Jesus, F#%king F#%K!!!!!
★ Nazis were not to first to kill thousands of people. The Turks killed over 1.5 million Armenians in 1890. They weren't even allowed to testify in court as witnesses, let alone pled their case. Did i say Fff#%kk!?!?!!!
★ In 1994, in Democratic Republic of Congo rebels attacked a village and forced a woman's son to have sex with her while they watched and then they shot him in front of her. Then each one of the soldiers raped the woman while her husband was forced to watch and then he was shot as well in front of the woman. Last but not least, they left her staring at her burning house and took her 3 daughters away from her. She hasn't heard from her daughters since. I cant even.... F... :o
The scariest part, these cruel people who did these operations were doctors. People we are brought up to trust, performing unethical experiments on innocent lives.
And soldiers that are there to protect.
I found it interesting how the author examined further into what makes people "evil". Evil is a broad definition that is used to describe many different people. He substituted evil with the word empathy or lack of empathy. Suddenly, character traits were more easily defined and their actions were explained. Some had lack of empathy because of their desire to protect and were blinded, others because of revenge or hate and in some instances, pure hunger. The things you will do when you've been starved for days, and pure instinct takes over are unfathomable. Emotions are dissected....
“When our empathy is switched off, we are solely in the "I" mode. In such a state we relate only to things or to people as if they were just things.”
Each chapter gave me goosebumps. I learned things that shocked me to the core! I had so many chills that i had to take breaks just to collect myself. Im grateful to learn about the human mind and how we as a society have evolved but some of these atrocities just made me sick. It was like reading horror story after horror story.
★ Fun Fact: Marilyn Monroe's real name was Norma Jean Mortenson. Norma?! Really? ...huh. I guess I'm the only one who's a huge fan of Psycho. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
★ I never knew that Marilyn Monroe was a child of divorced parents and a mother who was in the psychiatric ward most of her life. She went from foster care to foster care. When she was 11 and she was sexually molested by her stepfather! What?! She first got married when she was 16 to her neighbor to get out of foster care. She remarried 2 more times to all failed marriages. She was in and out of psychiatric clinics like her mother and attempted suicide three times! She succeeded killing herself, overdosing in 1962. Whoa...
I think my biggest take away after reading this book is how empathy is related to the brain. I never knew that certain parts of our brain control our lack or over abundance of the trait with hormones and proteins. It is really interesting.
(-1★) I took away a star for the sole reason of some of the tests mentioned. 'Bla bla bla, this test shows this information according to this doctor and this many patients, bla bla bla, but it is not conclusive; or it was not proven; or the patients life history was never taken into account or recorded....etc.' ☠ -Wait, WHAT? Why would you mention test results if they are not 99% true or even taken correctly?! I felt like my time was wasted reading those sentences over and over again.
When i read a science or psychology book i want concrete hard proof of the evidence your basing your topic on. Not hearsay.
Its like saying "1+1=11, because Eddie from the store told me, but it needs more working out." Ugh!!!! ☠
I liked the statement: "Narcissists have monologues, not dialogues."
During the Nazi reign, people who helped gather up the jews did not consider themselves part of the killing, instead they justified their actions by making statements like this...
➤ Person A: "I simply had the list of Jews in my municipality. I did not round up the Jews, but I did pass this list on when requested to do so."
➤ Person B: "I was told to go to these addresses, arrest these people, and take them to the train station. That's all I did."
➤ Person C: "My job was to open the doors of the train—that was it."
➤ Person D: "My job was to direct the prisoners onto the train."
➤ Person E: "My job was to close the doors, not to ask where the train was going or why.”
➤ Person F: "My job was simply to drive the train."
[through all the other small links in the chain that could lead to . . .]
➤ Person Z: "My job was simply to turn on the showers out of which the poison gas was emitted.”
All in all, there is a lot of important information in this book about the brain, people's personalities and upbringings. T discusses the how they impact one another and how to judge each one. This book made me dissect the word 'evil' as a word used to describe someone and dive further into what made them do the act. I enjoyed the book and appreciated the message. I agree that empathy or lack of empathy should hold a bigger part in psychology than it does. :)
Interesting details concerning the make-up of evil inherent in the human species, especially dealing with empathy, or as touched on in this book, the lack thereof. This book broke down the science of the condition, explaining how that we are all not, either good or bad, but rather in measure, we are all a mixture of both. I'm reminded of the cartoon I used to see where every person has an invisible little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, each trying to persuade us to do either right or wrong.
Simon used a scale, breaking down the difference between those who only had minor deficiencies in expressing empathy and those who lack it completely. A lot of the signs are characteristics that I recognize in people I have known throughout my life; some to a greater extent than others. I thought the part that was most disturbing was the realization that those who are at the lowest scale in lacking empathy can not only be extremely heartless and cruel, but in most cases, do not even realize that they are being that way. Their brains are not wired to make the distinction. A person who could hurt, or possibly even kill, for whatever exaggerated reason and not feel the slightest regret or even understand that what they have done is wrong, is about as scary a monster as I can imagine.
Over all this was an informative read on the subject, and I have a much clearer understanding now of my ex-wife.
I find that this book could be a lot shorter than it is, for the fact that it is repetitive and offers a lot of hypothesis and questions rather than answers or true discoveries. It regurgitates what has already been mentioned about narcissism, autism, antisocial disorder, and borderline disorder. I am not an expert on psychological studies but it appeared to only state what has already been stated and suggest that there are links between those disorders and levels of empathy in certain individuals and how that could potentially cause them to be inclined towards evil ways. Not that I think this is a bad link to be studying, but it basically stated that they are not sure if there is a link between the two and was so vague that I felt that this book accomplished nearly nothing. You are left with just as many questions if not more than when you went in and while it may be good in some cases to write something that causes society to question something that is being under-questioned, I read the book to get answers and data on proof or near-proof to actual conclusions.
However the book was very interesting for about 5 pages when it discussed the discoveries about empathy that were observed in animals such as mice and monkeys.
I felt that a more interesting question isn't how Hitler or certain people in history could be so evil but rather, how they were able to get so many 'normal' or 'common' people to commit such horrendous acts when they were seemingly healthy psychologically. The fact that Hitler may have been messed up psychologically and that that could have contributed to his demise is not ground breaking, earth shattering information that I couldn't have gathered on my own.
It was interesting but I don't know that I would recommend it because I feel reading it came quite close to a waste of my time. Especially when you consider how many other books are out there to read and all the books you could be reading instead of this one.