Behavior is not the problem

Yesterday I watched a very intriguing Tedtalk about brain science from Dr. Daniel Amen who has spent more than 20 years scanning 83,000 brains. For the first time in my life, I realize that there are so many kinds of brain damages that have been ignored most of the time – those that might seem to be minor at the surface, yet are actually tremendous like the underwater part of an iceberg. He then raised a very profound statement through his findings: “Behavior is not the problem; behavior is the expression of the problem”.

Scanning brains of criminals and problematic children, he discovered brain damages that only revealed themselves in SPECT scans. In several cases, he noticed that successful treatments of these damages can totally transform a murderer or a murderer-to-be into a trustworthy Mr. or Ms. Tax-payer.

He therefore questioned the rationality of prisons in the modern society, quoting Dostoyevski, of course: “A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals.”. He proposed a system where more emphasis is put on evaluation and treatment, rather than punishment.

I think Dr. Amen really makes some points here, but as an amateur in the field, I somehow shrug at the idea of treating the brain. I mean I’m quite sick at the asylum in “One flew over a cuckoo’s nest”. Or somehow when an initially good idea is manipulated by a group of fanatic extremists, a disaster could be looming. Don’t you remember that a century ago, decent citizens were so diligent about treating homosexuality?

Are modern spychiatry and behavioral sciences mighty enough to mess with the brain?



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