There was a rumor, about a tumor, nestled at the base of his brain

Jacob Sullum, in Reason, says that there’s no chance that a detailed pathological study of Stephen Paddock’s brain will explain why Paddock committed mass murder.

He quotes Szasz. A mistake.

Sullum’s claim is incorrect. Now and then we manage to recognize a pathology that underlies someone’s crazy. Once in a while we even understand it. I’m not saying that the odds of finding an explanation of this atrocity in an autopsy ( in our current state of knowledge) are good: they’re not. But sometimes it works.

Strokes, lesions, trauma, infection, cancer, circulatory disorders, firing a steel rod through your head – all can make people act even screwier.

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39 Responses to There was a rumor, about a tumor, nestled at the base of his brain

  1. Sinij says:

    A large segment of population manages to act screwy without any steel rods involved. It is a lot more rare when intact individuals manage to act rationally.

  2. ohwilleke says:

    The fact that this particular shooting incident was so singular (e.g. this is the oldest mass shooter in recorded history) makes a recent onset neurological cause much more likely than in the general public.

  3. MawBTS says:

    There seem to be pieces of Cartesian dualism left in the sciences. It’s like how you can describe physical differences between races (skin color, malaria resistance) without controversy, but when you get to mental differences, The Self™ is too deep and unknowable to be captured by such methods.

    He seems to be saying that it’s impossible to diagnose psychiatric illnesses by neurological methods. You can only diagnose neurological illnesses that way.

    I don’t get it.

    • JayMan says:

      Psychiatric illnesses exist in ether after all… 😉

      • MawBTS says:

        Dude, not even. At least “psychiatric illnesses exist in ether” would be an argument. He’s defining the problem out of existence.

        “The earth is flat.”
        “I used a sextant, and it’s round.”
        “Sextants solve navigational problems. The shape of the earth is not a navigational problem. Thus the shape of the earth is a question intractable to any evidence a sextant can provide.”

        It reminds me of Gould’s separate magisteria.

        • dearieme says:

          Was Gould mad or just a crook?

        • Jim says:

          Of course how one defines “psychiatric illness” is completely irrelevant to the empirical question of whether a brain tumor could be causally related to an act of violence. Sullum seems rather dense.

          • Abelard Lindsey says:

            Sullum, and by extension, Szasz, seem to be defining psychiatric illness as that which does not have an organic neurobiological cause, which would be defined as a neurological illness. If psychiatric illnesses have neurological cause, they should be apparent in a brain scan. My understanding is that some psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia do not appear in brain scans. If so, how is the etiology of these conditions defined and determined (e.g. shat other diagnostic tools are used to determine these conditions)?

            • gcochran9 says:

              “they should be apparent in a brain scan”

              Not necessarily: is being drunk apparent in a brain scan?

              All of the psychoses have fairly high heritability. Which implies..

              • Abelard Lindsey says:

                All of the psychoses have fairly high heritability.

                They do? If so, obviously this suggests genetics.

    • melendwyr says:

      ‘Psychiatric illnesses’ by definition cannot be explained by neurological methods, because if they can be, they’re neurological instead. The category exists solely to hold situations where we know of no physical cause but wish to consider them pathological.

  4. Anonymous says:

    At this point, the whole narrative we’ve gotten about the Las Vegas shootings is full of inconsistencies and holes. We’ve been told that Paddock committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with one the weapons stored in his room. As far as I can ascertain these are all variations on an AR 15 type rifle frame. The only way a person could shoot himself with one of these is by putting the muzzle in his mouth and stretching his arm to pull the trigger. (This can be done. I checked by making such a weapon safe – empty chamber indicator – and trying it.) A high powered round of the type Paddock was supposed to be using, most likely either a Remington .223 or a Winchester .308, fired in this way is going to wreak havoc on the calvarium and brain. So would any pistol round for that matter. The shock wave and pressure changes in the cranium would be enormous and comprise very rapid oscillations. I’m not by any means an expert but I’m guessing that Paddock’s brain was reduced to mush and fragments of intact tissue. But now we are being told both that a standard, gross post-mortem examination of Paddock’s brain has been conducted without any problem and that this is to be followed by a more detailed micro examination.

    • MawBTS says:

      He had a handgun.

    • Sterling Sorbet says:

      He could have easily put the gun to his mouth and shot out his brain stem and possibly the celebellum leaving his cortex and various lobes intact. I’ve seen such injuries. As such it would be possible to do an examination. Military ammo, as you probably know, also does less tissue damage.

    • deanamine says:

      If I were going to kill myself I’d just go for the brain stem.

    • AppSocRes says:

      It’s difficult to predict the damage a bullet fired directly into the calvarium will do. I’ve seen cases where a high-powered rifle round cracked the skull like a walnut and left the intact brain dangling out over the face. I’ve read of at least one case where a would be suicide survived a self-inflicted .357 magnum gunshot to the skull. The bullet expended its energy traveling in rings between the dura matter and the skull. I have also seen cases where brains have been reduced to mush by a high energy bullet passing through the calvarium. At this point all is speculation.

      • dearieme says:

        “At this point all is speculation.” And likely to remain so, I suspect.

        • AppSocRes says:

          I agree with you there. For one thing there has been no apparent investigation that Paddock was obviously involved in some kind of money laundering operation. One doesn’t make money playing video poker (a slot machine) but it is a quick way to launder money. So is his other supposed means of getting rich, real estate speculation.

          Paddock supposedly fired thousands of rounds from his hotel suite. There were not thousands of rounds of cartridge casings piled up in any of the “crime scene” photos I saw. That many .223 cartridges – the smallest round he might have been firing – would fill a space at least a couple of cubic feet or more. They also eject at very high temperatures and would leave severe carpet burns everywhere. The door that Paddock supposedly shot through also looked undamaged. And the list goes on.

  5. Frau Katze says:

    I haven’t read his books, but didn’t the late neurologist Oliver Sacks describe rare cases where personalities changed due to either an injury to the brain or a tumour?

    Maybe another reader knows more about it.

    But I was recently reading about Huntington’s disease. The sufferer’s personality often changes.

    • US says:

      Yes, The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat includes cases like those. Organic changes in the brain and nervous system can cause all kinds of changes, including personality changes.

      • US says:

        Just to be clear, it’s not a very good book and it’s full of the sort of waffle that Cochran often ridicules on this blog – I definitely do not recommend it. Here’s a short review I wrote. The fact that it was a poor book is also the reason I’m not going to go back to have another look at it in order to give you a more full picture of the material covered and how it might relate to Paddock’s actions.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Thanks for the link and I read it.

          There must have been some reason I never bought it. Ordinarily it would be the sort of thing that would interest me.

          I suspect I leafed through it in a book store and found the style of writing to be pretentious. Why would he refer to philosophers or novelists given the subject matter? It’s definitely a style I avoid.

    • Changing personality due to injury, or more frequently, due to stroke isn’t rare. It’s just writing about it borderline crimethink

  6. Realist says:

    When I read the headline I thought it was about McCain.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Some were dying, some were weepin’
    Some were studying, some were sleepin’
    Some were shouting, “Texas number one,”
    Some were running, some were fallin’
    Some were screaming, some were bawlin’
    Some thought the revolution had begun

  8. georgioxblog says:

    “He was sitting up there with his .36 magnum
    Laughing wildly as he bagged them
    Who are we to say the boy’s insane?”

    Do you think Crispr could help to cure genetic mental illness like Schizophrenia or Autism?

  9. Bruce Charlton says:

    It’s a matter of framing the question in the proper form.

    The proper question to ask about causality in this kind of incident is: Would Mr A have attacked Mr B if he hadn’t: (e.g.) had a brain tumour/ been delusional/ been taking drug X/ been an adherent of ideology X?

    It’s not that the brain tumour makes Mr A attack Mr B in such a time and place and using a specific method; but that if Mr A hadn’t had the tunour/ or whatever, then he wouldn’t have attacked Mr B.

    This kind of thing can often be established with legal (and reasonable) levels of certainty – indeed it is a routine mode of common-sensical thinking. Everybody knows that a drunk will do things the same person would not do when sober.

  10. jb says:

    There was a little rumor
    All about a little tumor
    Right in the middle of his forebrain

    Can someone come up with the next part?

  11. NobodyExopectsThe... says:

    Charles Whitman is the answer to the tittle?

  12. Boyd Silken says:

    There was a rumor, about a tumor, nestled at the base of his brain.
    A baby boomer in a bad humor, he surely was totally insane.

  13. crew says:

    On the topic of brains, this article suggests that the average brain size difference between certain groups is around 6%, which does not seem much.

    However, I would imagine that the ‘older’ areas like the Cerebellum and the non-Cortical areas would not show much difference … is there any data on Cortical size differences between races?

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