The brain chemistry of the psychopath was the subject, loosely speaking, at last night’s lecture at the Rubin Museum of Art, a New York City museum that focuses on Himalayan art and occupies the former Barney’s department store. Officially, the program was part of the museum’s “Brain Wave” series of lectures about dreaming, and the subject matter assigned to thriller writer and lawyer Scott Turow and neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga was “The Murderous Mind.” I think I expected, or hoped for, an experience like something out of Justin Cronin’s voluminous literary vampire novel of last summer, “The Passage,” in which the lonely band of humans on the run from the vampires who have overtaken earth are tricked and seduced by their dreams. But dreams weren’t on the agenda at all, and the conversation was fairly arid and ultimately academic.
We did learn that the relatively new field of social neuroscience is working to zero in on the brain chemistry that fuels the criminal mind. “Neuroscience is going to find out what’s wrong with psychopaths,” said Gazzaniga. And both panelists seemed pretty sure that criminals will eventually be able to be rehabilitated with psychotropic drugs. Imagine, a pill instead of a penitentiary! “[It will be] far less invasive to control the mind than to eradicate an entire human being,” said Turow, who served on the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment. We also learned that the wacky filmmaker Sacha Baron Cohen has a brother, Simon Baron-Cohen, who is an authority in this field and has a book coming out, “The Science of Evil,” this May. I’d love to see the two Baron Cohens (Simon hyphenates, Sacha does not) on the same panel. Maybe the Rubin Museum can arrange that for next year’s “Brain Wave” series.