Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Science of Evil

A new book on The Science of Evil by the respected neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen starts with this:
Explaining "Evil" and Human Cruelty

When I was seven years old, my father told me the Nazis had turned Jews into lampshades. just one of those comments that you hear once, and the thought never goes away. To a child's mind (even to an adult's) these two types of things just don't belong together. He also told me the Nazis turned Jews into bars of soap. It sounds so unbelievable, yet it is actually true. I knew our family was Jewish, so this image of turning people into objects felt a bit close to home.
It is true that the Nazis were evil and killed many Jews, but they did not make lampshades out of human skin, and not soap either.

The book is a short and scholarly book, and it attempts to advance the state of the art in explaining evil. It cites research, and gives references. His main thesis is that evil people have psychological disorders that cause them to objectify people. He starts with an "unbelievable" anecdote that he says is "actually true". He has fallen for a well-known hoax. It is a wonder that anyone reads past page 1.

On page 138, he says, "We waited with baited breath while the genotyping took place". Did he have worms in his mouth? Shakespeare said bated breath. For more info on the term, see What is the origin of "bated breath"?

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