by Nick Simmons
I sit down with Professor James Fallon, renowned neuroscientist and author of The Psychopath Inside, to talk about the past, present, and future of psychopathology, the violence of Elliot Rodger, and why these “human predators” might, for better or for worse, be necessary.
“Sitting inside now,” says the short, punctuated text message. I read it at the red light on Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, a block away from the coffee shop where we planned to meet. It is a late, lazy afternoon. The sun is drooling molasses behind the Strip’s low horizon of billboards.
I take a deep breath.
The man I am meeting is Professor James Fallon.
He is a neuroscientist, an author, a husband, a father, and a grandfather.
He is also a borderline psychopath.
In October of 2005, Professor Fallon was looking through a stack of PET brain scans for a study on Alzheimer’s, for which he and his family had volunteered as a control group.
By chance, something caught his eye.
There was a dark, hollow hole in one of the brain scans in his family’s pile–a hole Professor Fallon was intimately familiar with. The areas of the brain responsible for empathy were muddled and dark. When he removed the seal covering the name, Professor Fallon discovered the brain belonged to him. The hole, the shadow, was inside his head.
Upon further investigation, Fallon discovered a deep history of violence carved into his family tree: seven alleged murderers, including the infamous (acquitted) ax-murderer Lizzie Borden.
The darkness in his head was a family legacy.
And now, I am meeting him for coffee.
Professor Fallon is a large man, bearded and shaggy-haired, articulate with a friendly timbre to his voice that belies what is, apparently, his true nature. He looks every bit a professor — and nothing at all like Hannibal Lecter.
Since his macabre discovery, his story has caught fire. He wrote a book about his experience called The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. Fox News, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, and numerous others have picked up the story. He’s been interviewed on television (even playing himself in an episode of CBS’ Criminal Minds), and was considered a renowned authority even before he realized how closely related he was to his object of study.
As we take our seats across from one another, I start with what seems like the obvious question. I ask if anyone close to him treated him differently, since they found out about his brain scan. Even before we begin speaking at length, I get the feeling that, for all my effort to appear professional and courteous, I’m sure I’m one of the least experienced interviewers he has encountered. I’m self conscious that it shows. He’s respected, learned, and, just maybe, biologically lacks the ability to feel any empathy for me.
“One person that was very close to me, who was younger, said, ‘I cant see you anymore, I can’t be around you anymore,'” he laughs. He goes on to describe a story, which he details in his book, about a trip to the movies with his wife to see Manhunter, the very first cinematic appearance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. When Lecter’s rival, the functioning psychopath Will Graham appeared, his wife pointed to the screen and remarked: “That’s you!”…