Are We Making Choices?

I’ve been contemplating the man who developed pedophilia from a brain tumor.

Start out with 40-year-old school teacher, respected and liked within his community his whole life. Over a period of months he develops an attraction to adolescents. He gets kicked out of his house and charged with child molestation for making advances toward his step-daughter. He washes out of the court mandated Sexaholics Anonymous program because he keeps propositioning women. The night before he is due to go to prison he checks himself into the hospital complaining of a headache and a fear that he is going to rape his landlady.

Doctors discover an egg-sized tumor in the right lobe of his orbifrontal cortex. Once they remove it, his impulses subside, he completes SA and gets back with his wife. A year later he starts collecting pornography again and under the inspection of a new MRI, they find the tumor is returning. Once it is removed again he goes back to normal.

Definitely something to stop and consider for someone who thinks their brain serves them.

The guy never gave any interviews which I think is really unfortunate. I’m really curious about the extent to which the tumor caused new ideas to come into his head and how much it simply impaired the mechanism that serves to filter out inappropriate thoughts.

There’s a school of meditative thought that likens the untrained mind to a monkey. The monkey will wander and misbehave in an attempt to distract the student. The more disciplined the student becomes, the more creative the monkey gets.

I’ve certainly entertained a variety of wildly offensive thoughts while meditating, particularly when doing a meditation where the point is to remain centered and unaffected. Sitting down with the goal of being unaffected by objectionable thoughts is something akin to deciding to not imagine polar bears. It is simply an invitation to come up with the most offensive ideas imaginable.

I have found the monkey metaphor useful, but I am not sure I agree with it. Freud divided the mind into the competing personalities and described the state of the mind as a balance between these competing forces. The monkey mind contains this same basic sense that there’s a monkey in my head that is somehow not me and I need to train it.

What if there is a component of the mind that simply generates options for us to choose from? Society teaches us from a young age what ideas are appropriate and what ideas are inappropriate and we attempt to steer the mechanism to produce acceptable ideas.

What if this guy’s brain tumor just knocked out his bounds on acceptable thought? Essentially removing the societal control on his ideation, perhaps his pedophilial thoughts were always present and simply stifled. When they were set free, because he had no experience dealing with them, he had no mechanisms to prevent them from affecting his behavior.

I’m really interested in studies of the relationship between people’s conceptualizations of their own behavior and their cognitive development. This guy didn’t want to be a pedophile, but exhibited the behavior anyway. If I could take this same brain tumor and stick it in the head of a practiced meditator, would it have had the same effects? Could someone experienced with recognizing and weighing their ideas have mediated the effects of this tumor? How much of choice lies simply in the meat and is there anything else?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *