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Be a better person by becoming a psychopath with TMS and meditation?


(Michael Hrenka) #1

I just read the following article that claims that psychopaths possess traits that can be quite beneficial in many circumstances.

When psychologists like myself talk about psychopaths, we’re actually referring to a specific set of individuals with a distinct subset of personality characteristics such as: ruthlessness, fearlessness, charm, charisma, coolness under pressure, focus, and of course, those signature deficits in conscious empathy.

Some fictional characters are psychopaths:

  • James Bond
  • Sherlock Holmes from the BBC Series Sherlock

The article also mentions that the brain activity in psychopaths is most similar to Buddhist monks who meditate a lot. So, it seems that meditation can give you the positive skills of psychopaths without coming with the negative side effects!

Similarly, selective TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) used to inhibit the activity of the amygdala (the brain region responsible for fear and similar emotions) seems to temporarily turn people into psychopaths – and they like that, because it makes them feel so much better!

So, being more like a psychopath is not necessarily a bad thing. It only gets really bad when you get really harmful to the people around you. But being a psychopath with the intention not to do harm, but to prevent it, might be more effective than someone with the same goals, but who wasn’t a psychopath.

This opens up a can of worms: What if someone develops a “psychopath cap” that is simply a fine tuned TMS device that turns you into a psychopath at the push of a button? Would that be a good thing, or would that be too dangerous if everyone had easy access to that technology?

Well, everyone in principle has access to meditation, but that doesn’t prompt anyone to outlaw meditation. So, I’d say: Go for it. Let everyone become psychopaths if they want and see how that will turn out. The results might be pretty interesting and revealing!

(Maximo Ramallo) #2

It might be misleading by pretty much exalting a trait that is not the defining characteristic of the common psychopaths. They are defined by specific actions more.

Our definition may be limited too. As humans we may really misunderstand when defining humans, there can be some traits shared but by no means represent a reason to be cataloged and treated the same as criminals if we share similar traits.

Take a look at this TED talk:

(Michael Hrenka) #3

Yeah, we might not have a really good understanding of “psychological conditions”. I prefer to call them “conditions” and not diseases or disorders, because people are often too quick to pathologize anything that has to do with medicine and physiology even if you just want to talk about conditions purely descriptively without wanting to judge them.

What I think psychopathy is is a severe underactivity of the amygdala. This underactivity makes psychopaths relatively fearless and makes them care less about potential punishment. Thus, they are much more driven by possible rewards – which under normal circumstances is a really good thing, psychologically. They actually do seem to feel much less negative emotions. Which may also explain why they aren’t very good at empathizing: They don’t experience the full strength of the negative emotional spectrum that “normal” people experience, so they cannot easily empathize with these negative emotions.

Now, it’s interesting to see that meditation can have the same effects without coming with the negative aspects of psychopathy. But there seems to be a good explanation for that: People who meditate have grown up normally, with “normal” levels of amygdala activity. So, they do empathize with other people, unlike psychopaths. What meditation can do is however regulate the activity of the amygdala down when it’s inappropriate. And that seems to be inappropriate most of the time, because otherwise meditation wouldn’t have the big neurological impact that it has. Of course, you have get quite similar effects with TMS, but that requires an external device, while people can get the benefits of meditation for free and without and device they have to carry around.

Personally, I seem to be the opposite of a psychopath: I’m more or less an empath and I seem to have quite an overreactive amygdala (due to the association of overreactive amygdalas with ME/CFS). In bad phases I have generalized anxiety, especially when it comes to dealing with people.

It’s interesting that I have felt at best when I tried to be more of a psychopath and tried not to care about what other people think, or what they might think about me (even though it was really distressing to try acting more like a psychopath). That’s when some of the most interesting things in my life happened, because otherwise I would have been too shy and reclusive. And anyway, my intention was not to do harm, but rather the opposite: To make things better by not letting my good intentions being stopped in their tracks by my psychological inhibitions.

And yeah, we might have a language problem when talking about these topics. Our language isn’t differentiated enough. Talking about this like a purely descriptive neurologist might be better, but it still doesn’t feel sufficiently precise enough.

In any case, I want to have more control over the activity of my amygdala. Become an empath when I want to and become a psychopath when I need to. That’s the direction that transhumanism should move towards, no matter whether this mental customization and variability is achieved with meditation or wearable or implantable technology.

(Maximo Ramallo) #4

I think there might be idealizing what a psychopath is here.

The underlying problem with people dealing with excruciating mental depression seems to have their negative emotions “eating them”.

They do benefit from thinking having no emotion would help, but there is a reason. The accompanying effort of dealing with emotions at all is a way to negate mental energy that otherwise would be used by negative emotions, but let me talk you about evolution. If you think that negative emotions serve no purpose, beware of the yet again ignored transcendental warning from our ancestors. They needed a way of understanding the world without falling into dead ends, and negative emotions serve as the system of warning embedded in our human selves.

Emotions take energy, even negative emotions. To not letting them control over us we do not feed the monster, but we don’t let die a part of us neither. It may be difficult for people under great depression to value negative emotions when these are destroying their lives, but excess of negative emotions is what we should avoid, not emotions altogether.

Even so, sou might want to read this if you like to contemplate the “override” of emotions:

(Michael Hrenka) #5

The solution of the conundrum might lie within the situational appropriateness of feelings like fear or empathy. Most people simply live all their lives on one general level of fear or empathy “reactivity” (meaning, the level of fear or empathy they react with when they face one certain situation). This is true for “normal” people, empaths, or psychopaths. But it’s not true for those who use mind altering techniques like meditation or TMS. The mind alterers can have access to a wider range of emotional reactivity and thus have better chances for reaction emotionally appropriately in each situation, because they can think about the situation and choose the emotions and intensity of those emotions with which they want to face that situation.

Thus it might make sense for normal people to sometimes try to be more like a psychopath or an empath. And it makes especially much sense for empaths to be more like a psychopath. Also it makes very much sense for psychopaths to be more like empaths. In all of these cases, people expand their range of emotionality – and that’s a valuable asset, at least if you can learn to use it rationally.


I highly recommend the paper On being sane in insane places.

The definitions of psychological disorders are certainly too vague by far, joint under and overdiagnosis shouldn’t be as easily occurring as it seems to be.

Psychopath Heroes” seems to be overly romanticised, so I’d recommend disregarding any fictional examples.

Being cool, and making the logically correct decisions counter to our primitive, small scale emotional and gut responses, is a very important ability for people in positions of responsibility, I wouldn’t say that everyone who can do this easily is a psychopath.

Interestingly, depending on the model of ethics you follow, the definition of a Psychopath/Sociopath could change:

A consequentualist would see a person who fits all of the personality traits of a Psychopath, but who doesn’t end up harming anyone, perhaps even helping people/society in general beyond the abilities of a neurotypical person as a good person.

A virtue ethicicist …

An Intention ethicist …

A Deontologist …

What if someone develops a “psychopath cap” that is simply a fine tuned
TMS device that turns you into a psychopath at the push of a button?
Would that be a good thing, or would that be too dangerous if everyone
had easy access to that technology?

I’d say that supplying universal access to such technology would be very bad.

I fear the already vast number of people who ultimately decide whether a person’s mental functioning and life situation should be changed, while lacking even my poor and rudimentary understanding of psychology, incentive structures and rational reasoning.

At present those people with access to TMS/tCDS technology are primarily medical researchers and DIY experimenters.
I would argue that these individuals are on average more responsible in their application of the technology than the average person would be.

It is not an ideal situation, because self experimenters are often irresponsible and break things, and extensive systemic problems exist in research institutions and academia in general.

However if an ideal regulatory body with the right incentive structures and correctly educated agents were to regulate application of this and other mind altering technologies, then I agree that much could be gained by the consequent optimization of our society.

I would argue though, that this is an AI-complete problem, and not properly solvable with flawed human institutions (and especially not companies!)

(Michael Hrenka) #7

Probably. Perhaps it would be the best to handle such technology legally in the same way as possession of weapons is handled. Getting a license should be possible, but not trivial for every crazy person who wants one.

People can still get broken, but that’s not a very good arguments against use of such technology, since people are often pretty much broken by nature, or our artificial environment. If such tech gives them a chance to improve their situation, without causing too serious side-effects, why not?

What are “correctly educated agents”? I’d argue that a complete education should include the experimental use of such technologies on oneself!

While that may be true, this kind of reasoning could be applied to any kind of problem that we are faced with. Humans are too stupid. Let the AIs fix them. Well, we are faced with problems now, or very soon. There’s no time to wait for the saving grace of the AIs we are going to build.