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Sanity and Insanity

What is sanity? What is crazy? Was Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner crazy? How about Timothy McVeigh?

Here are some fundamentals. The brain is chemical-electric like a battery. It has memory – three kinds of memory, actually. The brain has transmission lines from the eyes, ears and from elsewhere in the body. It is the center of our nervous system.

Brain activity produces what we call "mind." When we sleep the brain is still active, as indicated by MRI scans, but in sleep our mind is not oriented by our senses. It drifts in uncontrolled directions – wandering associations and neuron excitations in our memory bank.

When we awake, those of us who have a degree of sanity quickly orient ourselves. Where am I? What time is it? Who is this person lying next to me? What was I planning to do today? The is the frontal lobe of our brain becoming active.

Being oriented is sanity. Some of us are better oriented than others. Some of us know better where we are as an individual in relation to others and to social forces in general.

Some of what appears to be crazy behavior rises from ignorance about societal matters and about likely consequences. Timothy McVeigh blowing up the Federal building in Oklahoma city, killing 168 and injuring more than 600, falls into this category. He saw himself as judge and executioner justly punishing the federal government, but people in general see him differently. The judicial system decided he was sane – of sound mind and able to bear responsibility for his actions – and they had him put to death for what it saw as a crime of murder, among other crimes.

McVeigh was politically naive and had a poor grasp of history. He believed that his act would inspire a rising against what he saw as a tyrannical government, but that wasn't about to happen. McVeigh didn't sufficiently appreciate the institutions that had developed in the United States, and he over-estimated his own powers. All this adds up to a craziness of sorts.

Another seemingly crazy person is Jared Loughner. Ignorance and naivete were involved in his rampage shooting against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, but bad chemistry in Loughner's brain may also have been involved. Loughner is reported as having messed up his brain by substance abuse (bad chemicals), inhibiting his ability to clearly align himself with realities outside himself. Like McVeigh, he too was politically naive. He also had a long-standing interest in conspiracy theories. He believed that a woman (like Giffords) should not be in politics, and he thought she had not sufficiently answered a question he had put to her at a previous rally. He was hostile toward the federal government and thought he had the right to war against it. Here again is crazy produced by an unrealistic orientation of oneself to society.

I'm reading about mentality in a book published this year titled Shrink, The Untold Story of Psychiatry. Its author, Jeffrey A. Libermann, tells of insanity caused by syphilis being cured by the killing of the syphilis bacterium in the brain. He describes a trial and error search for drugs as a remedy. Finally, the right drug was found as a counter to this bad brain chemistry.

Libermann mentions studies exposing some mental disorders as rating high in inheritability. These were autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Phobias, eating disorders and personality disorders rated lowest on the inheritance scale.

Neuroscientists have been hard at work doing research, and according to Liebermann they have found that,

To have a healthy brain, not only did you need the right kind of genes, but you needed a "just right' number of these genes – neither too numerous nor too scarce. (p 233-34).

Let us assume that good and bad brain chemistry comes in degrees. Those with a lesser degree of sanity have a greater challenge in applying their will (intentionality). Some of us are more self-disciplined than others. Some realize more than others the importance of keeping an eye on oneself, of questioning one's impulses, the importance of keeping an open mind and building a healthy perspective by educating oneself. It is easy to let oneself feel persecuted, easy to let one's impulses run and easy to let oneself strike with hostility no matter how futile the act. Many who need counseling or help will not recognize that they have a problem, and many around them, including their parents, may fail to recognize that these people need help.

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