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Killer Empathy

Monday, February 06, 2012 - 09:00 PM

Broken spectacles Broken spectacles (josie lynn richards/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Sometimes being a good scientist requires putting aside your emotions. But what happens when objectivity isn't enough to make sense of a seemingly senseless act of violence? In this short, Jad and Robert talk to an entomologist about the risks, and the rewards, of trying to see the world through someone else's eyes. 

Lulu Miller introduces us to Jeff Lockwood, a professor at the University of Wyoming, who spent a part of his career studying a particularly ferocious set of insects: Gryllacrididae. Or, as Jeff describes them, "crickets on steroids." They have crushingly strong, serrated jaws, and they launch all-out attacks on anyone who gets in their way--whether it's another cricket, or the guy trying to take them out of their cages.

In order to work with the gryllacridids, Jeff had to figure out how to out-maneuver them. And as he devised ways to keep from getting slashed and bitten, he felt like he was getting to know them. Maybe they weren't just mindless brutes ... but their own creatures, each with their own sense of self. And that got him wondering: what could their fierceness tell him about the nature of violence? How well could he understand the minds of these insects, and what drove them to be so bloody?

That's when the alarm bells went off. Jeff would picture his mentor, Dr. LaFage, lecturing him back in college--warning him not to slip into a muddled, empathic mood ... not to let his emotions sideswipe his objectivity. And that would usually do the trick--Jeff would think of LaFage, and rein himself back in.

But then one night, something happened that gave Dr. LaFage's advice a terrible new kind of significance. Tamra Carboni tells us this part of the story, and challenges Jeff's belief that there's a way to understand it.


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Comments [52]

Edgar D. Havisham

I have always found empathy a very interesting topic. It is just so hard to believe to me to imagine that some people lack the ability to have empathy. This podcast really gave light to the subject and it was really interesting when they compared humans and insects together to discover the true powers of empathy. I'm glad I listened to this.

Mar. 23 2015 10:08 PM

The woman who said she can't imagine committing violence against another human or killing someone is either lying or tremendously sheltered. What she probably means is she couldn't imagine doing violence against or killing another now, after this event in her life. Had she had the chance to save the Dr's life by grabbing the gun and in the process inadvertently killing the assailant, or if her life were under threat and she could have survived by killing the assailant, I'm sure she would have, and would still do.

It is also surprising to me the bug guy was shocked by the cricket eating it's own insides. My primary reaction to that is "man, that's a strong feeding instinct" or "well, I guess that argument that they don't feel pain stands up", not that the bug is doing something disgusting. It is, but pretty much every animal does horribly disgusting things. Everyone's pets sure do. It's not unusual. It's also interesting to see where the limits of the bugs understanding of where/what it's won body is ends, but since dogs and cats can't seem to realize that their own tails are part of their bodies under certain circumstances, it doesn't surprise me that a bug wouldn't have that comprehension in an unusual situation. Why would it know it has guts?

Feb. 12 2014 07:58 PM

This is the first Radio Lab episode that drove me to read one of the source documents. Jeff Lockwood's Essay in Orion is extremely well written and I have to say I find his quote about violence being the baseline strategy strangely enlightening. "Violence is the baseline strategy for most encounters between, and indeed within, species. This tendency is reduced only when there is a more successful adaptation to defending oneself or acquiring vital resources."

Is it really true? If so, wow. Violence is the baseline strategy between and within species.

He does go on to say, "Human cultural evolution has produced complex rules to constrain instinctual violence, but these norms must be learned within a viable social network."

Let the learning and evolving continue!

Oct. 29 2012 01:45 AM
jed rothstein from staunton, va

on 'psychiatric imigaing diagnosis':

realize, ptsd is most often misdiagnosed as every other diagnosis because no propper refference to past history is applied to the symptoms. the
dsm-4 is the first refferance that goes beyond battlefield horror as the only cause. note paragraph at bottom of 4th page; 'OCD'. simply, "DO NOT MISCONSTRUE SYMPTOMS OF PTSD AS SYMPTOMS OF ANY OTHER DIAGNOSIS." FANTACIES AND OTHER SYMTOMS OF NORMAL FOR A '3 YEAR OLD' ARE ACTUALLY ALL THAT IS HAPPENING AS RESPONSE TO EXPERIENCES OR LEARNINGS OF THE SICK TWISTEDNESS OF SOCIETY. mine were constant stress of wrongfull understandings that i was impropper due to my performance in school and a very serious trammatesation i now understand as the totally sick function of HUMAN TRAFFICING as a whole.

further, the seriosly incredibly barbaric lack of propper use of sientific method; and 'bandaide' fixes; and hack, cut, and sew; or a pill to force out of accepted norms of tests rather than dealing with the basic real neads of the body to function normally.

as to ptsd, we just have more empathy and disdane of human barberism.

there is a great deal of true knowlege, and gobs of disfunctional understanding of what 'inventions' are true and what are useless or literally horrid. simple exaples; nutritional supplements, drugs, quick to surgery as the answer. all have speciffic wonerfulls and total disfunction

Oct. 13 2012 02:59 PM

This is the first episode I have listened to that made me kind of angry. There is really good research out there explaining clearly how most murderers become murderers. It's not an unknowable horror -- it's pretty knowable. Why not have another show about "Why They Kill" by Richard Rhodes, or its basis. His book is about a criminologist who interviewed hundreds of killers to find the "recipe." It's very reassuring to understand these behaviors better, so lets do that!!

Mar. 17 2012 11:02 AM
Basla from Virginia

I have heard that, after birthing a fawn, does eat the afterbirth to prevent its scent from attracting a predator. Maybe by eating its own entrails the cricket was reducing the possibility that a predator would smell the fat and find and eat the injured cricket.

Mar. 16 2012 01:50 PM
Beckner from Los Angeles

It's doubtful that any level of "understanding" will satisfy the friends of LaFage, because it is not understanding that they seek. They are seeking meaning. They hope to discover a motive or purpose that will match the gravity of this death, and balance out the emotional weight of their loss.

It's reassuring to think that there is some kind of existential karma at work behind the scenes. But life rarely works like that. Some things really are just random. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Zoom out, and we can see that our emotional need to find meaning can be so powerful that it can lead us to see meaning when none is there. This impulse may be the source of religious ecstasy as well as the unconscious driver behind conspiracy theories.

Mar. 10 2012 04:15 PM
clementine from raleigh, nc, usa

@ Laura:
it's shame you couldn't finish it. I got grossed out too, like, nauseous. But it passed and I'm glad I listened all the way through because it's a moving story that really sticks with you.

Feb. 24 2012 03:06 PM

Couldn't finish the podcast... too gross. Disappointed.

Feb. 24 2012 11:45 AM
Jon Winters from Houston, TX

The kid with the gun ordered them to close their eyes, Dr. Lafage refused to obey, so the kid shot him. My guess is that he gave the order because he did not want to be identified or picked from a line-up. Perhaps his rationalization was to give them a way to avoid being shot by asking them to close their eyes.

I heard an interview with the Rev. Billy Graham once where the interviewer asked if the world was becoming more dangerous. The answer surprised me. Rev. Graham replied no. He believed that evil was always with us, no more or less, it just takes different forms over time.

Feb. 22 2012 02:45 PM

Champagne radio- took me on a journey and really moved me. Without wanting to ignite a nature v nurture debate, isn't the killer a sum of his biology and experience? There are many things that can explain an increased risk of violent crime including socio-economic background and the experience of trauma as a child. We can never know the killer's motivation in this case but we aren't without some idea about the products of a society full of inequalities and injustice.

Feb. 22 2012 10:46 AM
Christine in Berkeley, CA

re: "consuming his own innards"
I'm not sure I can make it through the rest of the episode.

Feb. 21 2012 06:17 PM

What is the name of the orchestral / folk piece in the middle of the episode?

Feb. 20 2012 01:32 PM

Someone said the new episodes were getting disturbing. Maybe they're referring to the meditations on death, which I deeply enjoyed because at the time I was taking a sociology/anthropology class called "Cross-cultural perspectives on death" which paired up nicely with those episodes. In this podcast, the material being disturbing only served to highlight the way we project our humanity as an assumption on other entities. I think the greatest reward of your show is that little bit of truth you find by looking from a different angle. Stay brave and bold, Jad and Bob! Don't sweat the dark stuff.

Feb. 19 2012 06:43 PM
Mitt Romney's Evil Twin II from The Land of Longwindedness

What does this have to do with human behavioral predictability?

Yes, human behavior can be predicted, to a degree. And consequently, behavior can be explained in retrospect, discussed and to a large degree, understood in a way that makes some sense. But understanding the nuance of why a person behaved in a given situation requires all the past experiences a knowledge of that individual which are reflected in the observed behavior. So what we end up with when trying to understand human behavior is a lot of uncertainty. Often, not even the individual understands why they behaved as they did.

The magnitude of that amount of data (that influence human behavior) far exceeds the reflexive and instinctual brain of cricket's response to environmental stimuli. To fully understand and predict, how and why, a human will behave as they do is knowable, if you could collect all the relevant experiential data for that individual; but that alone would not suffice... crunching that much data to produce a relatively accurate prediction would require a quantum computer (or something akin to one). It's not something we can glean with great accuracy by observing the behaviors of others (since not all individual have the same life experiences), or even begin to glean instinctively, which is where our confusion comes in... and our sense that human behavior should be knowable. After all, shouldn't we know? We are human too, we should know why other humans behave as they do. But of course we don't. So we're reduced to saying things like, "do try to understand it."

Thus, in a way fully understanding human behavior is both knowable and unknowable; it's theoretically possible, but practically unfeasible. It's like the quantum physics thought experiments that suggests that if we knew all the details of the universe from the beginning of time we could predicts all outcomes, of all things, even the actions of humans.

Yeah, that kind of knowledge is not really in our privy.

Feb. 18 2012 07:08 AM
Mitt Romney's Evil Twin from The Land of Longwindedness

Understanding the behavior of an insect can be predicted much more easily because much of what an insect does is instinctive. The brain of an insect, such as a cricket, is complex, but in a different sort of way than a human's brain; it has a decentralized brain, which confers a selective advantage of survival based on a relatively narrow range of variables, such that it will instinctively seek food, water, shelter, reproduce, defend itself, etc.. But these processes are not done in the same way a human performs these acts; an insect's behaviors are programmed for a set of possible variables for which the insect has evolved over time. And an insect will no vary much from that hard-wired programming during it's lifetime.

Why is a human brain, and subsequent behavior, so much more complex and difficult to understand and predict? The cerebral cortex; unique to vertebrate, and much larger in primates, and especially in humans.

We are capable of planning. We are capable of applying past experiences to knew ones, we are capable of extrapolating outcomes. We are capable of interjecting feelings of self, and of others, of compassion, of hatred, of envy, etc., in a behaviorally robust way that is less instinctive and more cognitively diverse, with respect to other individual humans, (i.e., we're different from each other), as such it's not so easy to predict human behavior as easily as it would be to predict the behavior of a cricket. The human brain offers the possibility of novel behaviors, depending on the stimulus. A cricket, not so much; a cricket's programming is based on millions of years of environmental pressures; it does not improvise, it has a set of tricks up it's sleeve, but will not vary much from those tricks.


Feb. 18 2012 07:05 AM

A HUGE thx again for a gem of a podcast all concerned. A powerful subject indeed. So many comments this time round. A very tragic event and for some taken to heart more than you can imagine. It´s very good that you give warnings to sensative areas of discusion. Keep cooking you guys ^^

Feb. 18 2012 05:42 AM

I think if you get all the answers, you'll find it really was senseless.

Feb. 18 2012 04:14 AM
michael Cavanaugh

I feel like the newer episodes of this show are more and more disturbing, could you guys lighten up a little please.

Feb. 17 2012 08:45 PM
Harry K. from Los Angeles, CA

Id like to have more information about Professor/Dr. LaFage's murder. I have a suggestion to possibly solve that crime, or atleast a chance to give the murder investigation a boost. Please contact me at the LAPD Crime Lab. Thank you.

Feb. 17 2012 08:34 PM
Harry Klann Jr.

Please contact me at the LA

Feb. 17 2012 08:28 PM

If someone cut open my belly and donuts started coming out, I'd probably eat them too...

Feb. 17 2012 10:36 AM
David Levy from Marina Del Rey

Hi guys at Radiolab, I discovered your podcast not too long ago and have been an avid listener since then.
In two of the last episodes:
Killer empathy
The Bad Show
- Some of the conclusions seem to end in some kind of "void" where it seems there are no explanatory reason for violence aggression and so on. You may be interested in my theory (by the way I am not a doctor, I am a designer, but interested in social issues)
It seems that in both shows, a big part is missing: psychoanalysis. And not necessarily in the term "you should also talk about analysis", but more in the term: what are the complex parameters BEFORE a violent episode, and what kind of violence may have engendered more violence.
- For example: the person who shot Mr Lafage, may have been addicted, if so, what kind of trauma had HE lived in order to become addicted enough to kill someone. Addiction is very often linked to a need for self "soothing" which most probably originated from a serious parental or relational trauma. All in all, it seems that a lot of violence originates in one single element:
- Lack of love.
I know, it may sound corny, or hippie, or both. Believe me, I am none of the aforementioned. I think, or I hope.
But it seems that (and based on research done by doctors, and also horrific experiences done by dictatorships in Romania and also Nazis), love is almost to us humans (and other mammals), like water to plants:
no love=dysfunction or death.
It also makes sense that there would be a discrepancy with people that have known that love through proper parenthood, and those who have not. How can we understand what lack of love can create, if we have never lived it?
Anyway, I find fascinating the fact that something as intangible as what we call "love" could be the link behind ALL social issues lived in our society. Almost a theory of everything, but for social issues more so than physics.

Feb. 15 2012 01:02 PM
Em from NY

The clue is in the way LaFage said "don't do that" to the killer. Lockwood projected what he expected in the tone of that statement: one of concerned reasoning (implying empathy) which was completely different from the tone described by his wife who witnessed the event. The irony seems to have been missed: Lockwood projected in exactly the way he did over the cricket, the way we all do about everything. Objectivity is the greatest delusion of science, we all have to filter information through the lens of our own subjective experience whether that be a person or a cricket. The way Mrs LaFage described her husband saying "don't do that" was not in an understanding empathetic way, it was almost patronising and arrogant, maybe a tone the shooter had experienced one time too many in his life, who knows.

Sometimes you just have to accept there isn't enough data. Unfortunately it's frequently a rule scientists *choose* to ignore and make wild and arrogant assumptions based on inadequate evidence and determined by their own experience and prejudices. Does a cricket self-devouring really deny a sense of self? We know that people have done all manner of masochistic behaviour, or when disease/incapacitated have chosen suicide over a long painful death. Isn't a sense of self actually determined and defined by our relationship to others? I recently listened to a documentary on the Ukrainian famine and a story about a mother cooking and eating her toddler, saying to the police "he was going to die anyway." How does empathy and self-awareness factor into that experience of humanity?

Empathy isn't some airy moral concept, it should be considered part of our somatic nervous system, it is the filter between sensory data and Sense - we all have it, or we wouldn't be able to interact and co-exist, but we can control, enhance and also suppress it's function. The horrible acts we are able to commit are part of that mechanism of suppression, but it comes with a huge cost whether on the battlefield, on the street or in the lab. Eventually it will come back to haunt us, so until we start understanding that golden rule we will always be just ghosts in the machine. Science could help us, but until scientists stop viewing Science as an omniscient, objective God, it never will.

Feb. 14 2012 01:28 PM
L.J. from Texas

New here. How do I view these videos?

Having read a lot of the comments I ask these intelligent people to please use then" and "than" in proper context.
"Then he went away." Not ; " Than he went away." No, this phrase does not appear in the text. Hopefully, this will be taken as intended, to be helpful. Keep on with the good replies.

Feb. 14 2012 10:53 AM

Great story telling as always. After the last three podcasts is there anyway the theme can shift away from the depressing nature of our impending death?

Thanks Jad, Robert! :)

Feb. 13 2012 06:57 AM

I don't understand the confusion over the last sentence, "I can understand another being eating it's own leaking entrails, at a level that i can't understand one of my fellow beings pulling the trigger and killing a man that i love." The key part of the sentence is "man I love." People are violent beings, it's more surprising we don't kill each other more often. The fact that you love someone doesn't make anyone else care about them more than they do any other stranger. If you can imagine someone killing anyone, then you can imagine someone killing a loved one. You just want more of an explanation when it is a loved one. You want a specific explanation, not the general one that society usually keeps most of its members in line, but we are all capable of violence. specific answers for human actions are not achievable, that is why sociology and other social sciences study human behavior aggregately. If our actions were specifically understandable, we would be rational and have full self knowledge, and advertisers would be out of a job. Perhaps neuroscience will grow to be able to predict and explain actions in the future. Even if that becomes a reality, having trial groups of people rob other people at gunpoint in a brain-scanner of some kind seems like a far fetched, even if ideal epistemologically speaking, scenario for gaining this desired knowledge.

Feb. 12 2012 11:06 PM
Max Nelson

I Found the last sentence very profound, "I can understand another being eating it's own leaking entrails, at a level that i can't understand one of my fellow beings pulling the trigger and killing a man that i love."
It seems to me that this empathy exists for the insect because it's behavior is a mechanical function, similar to the basic survival function delegated by the amygdala in humans, akin to Freud's Id. We do not question drinking a glass of water, we simply do it. The act of murder however in modern day society, is a complicated decision, resulting from insanely complex personal mental anguish, akin to Freud's superego, which is very personal and specific to each person, thus the lack of empathy.

Feb. 12 2012 09:27 PM

I'm not surprised by the fact that this person randomly killed Dr. LaFage, what I am surprised by is the lack of understanding of violence and the claim to have never wanted to commit a violent act. That's weird to me, because I was under the impression that everyone has wanted to commit a violent act at least once in their lives. Now, I've never shot a gun, never had a fight outside of the one in elementary school, never even taken a self-defense class, but I have been angry or scared enough to want to hurt someone. I mean, that's normal.
I also find the pretense that this terrible incident is "unexplainable" a bit disingenuous. It seems obvious to me that the person didn't really intend on even shooting someone, or was wholly unprepared for the reality of shooting someone. Otherwise, they would have taken the purse, and probably would have had enough control not to shoot Dr. LaFage in the first place. I mean, has no one in this story ever entered into a situation that they were unprepared to deal with yet at the same time felt they had to, and then seriously screwed it up? Cause that's what it looks like happened here.

Feb. 12 2012 10:10 AM

The shooter was most likely young and impressionable by the media and friends. He is desensitized to the actual truth of shooting someone and not being caught or seeing the man die, continues to not realize the consequence of his action.

The loaded gun does not mean he intended to shoot it but that he was confronted in any way by the man who looked at him (a socially challenging action in some sub-cultures) and therefore he shot.

The fact that the police did not search long enough to find him guarantees that he will do this again.

Feb. 12 2012 09:39 AM
Jason Abbadon from Right behind you!

Humans are pattern seekers- and though this is the basis for all curiosity and science, it often leads us to assume patterns and explanations exist where there are none.
What causes a man to rob someone at gunpoint and shoot them? I doubt even the shooter himself truly knows.

The harshest lesson when bad things happen to good people is that we live in a world that often has no cause- no single thing that might have prevented a tragedy.
As with the Othello character of Iago (discussed in The Bad Show), the hardest part for the survivors of such violence is the not knowing why or if they could have done something change things.

All of morality, religion... prahaps all of civilization itself is the struggle to invoke a pattern onto humanity's often irrational and senseless nature of violence and loss. Each culture and set of laws and customs is another attempt at this desperate struggle for meaning.

Just my two cents. Take them for what they're worth.

Feb. 11 2012 08:59 PM
Lucifer Prometheus

While shooting someone in the midst of an attempted robbery isn't necessarily sensible, it is far from senseless. What I find impossible to make sense of however is why anyone- especially someone who has made a serious life-long study of violence- would try to argue with an armed robber.

Feb. 11 2012 03:14 PM

As humans, we do have a strong desire to “make sense” of things — that's how we ended up with neat technology like Radio Lab. In some cases, though, the only “sense” we can properly make is “insufficient data.” Given that almost nothing is known of the shooter, then unless new data comes to light that must be the final conclusion.

Nonetheless, we still have that urge to make sense of things.

My apartment was broken into back in the 80's and I composed a story in my head about a drug addict who needed some quick cash. A friend of mine told me that I had no right to assume that the guy was a drug addict, and he was right. Interestingly, though, the story DID quiet my mind. It was credible, and so it stopped my mind spinning with “Why!?”

In the year 2006 I lived in a different apartment and was attacked by two hooligans, one of whom sprayed a chemical fire extinguisher in my face in an effort to blind me. I managed to repel the attack and then called the police officer.

Now here's the odd bit: I decided that the only explanation was “insufficient data.” I didn't want to concoct a story that would merely entertain my mind rather than illuminate reality. The crisis had passed and I was sweeping up the mess when the police arrived to take my report.

The main police officer was acting very strangely toward me. He seemed to be expecting something. Eventually I realized that he was troubled that I wasn't more upset. As soon as I saw this I said, "Well, officer, I hope you catch those little @#$%ers!" He smiled, relaxed, and then they left.

Apparently “insufficient data” isn't considered a good enough answer for some people. But hey, it was the truth! What more did I need? Revenge?

Feb. 11 2012 03:04 PM
Kaitlyn Tikkun from New Jersey

I have long taken as a given that Radiolab can invoke duende with the richness and depth of its topics and craft. This short program seamlessly took me from feeling the joy of the otherness of insects to the scalding horror of the otherness of humans. I am in near tears and awe at the same time. On so man levels, you are brilliant.

Feb. 10 2012 05:18 PM
O Dog

Brilliant Work!

Feb. 10 2012 03:14 PM
SWSteve from SUNY@Buffalo, NY

On the shooter.
He must have been startled upon realizing that he did shoot Dr. Lafage, and this was not his original intent. If he had set out to commit a murder/ robbery, then he would have shot them both and taken the woman's purse.
That he turned and ran as soon as he shot Dr. LaFage suggests that this was unexpected and upsetting (in some meaning of the word) to the shooter.
There are vicious killers among our species, but this does not seem to involve one of them.

Feb. 10 2012 02:59 PM
A. Persson from Sweden

Perhaps the killer had made his mind that he would shoot anyone who looked.

Feb. 09 2012 11:29 PM
Caitlin from USA

Thanks for story. I just wanted to comment on another aspect of this piece, which is that I have found entomologists to be some of the most philosophical, humanistic, and lovely people. And I say this as an entomology graduate student - I still haven't drowned in my own bitterness! ;)

Feb. 09 2012 01:02 PM
Josh from Hell

Yes, Yes. Sometimes we must put aside our emotions for the sake of science -clinking champagne glasses. Whenever Radiolab, or essentially any science story, mentions putting aside emotions or "for the sake of science" I will bet it has something to do with animals in cages. Don't feel for them, just observe and then draw startling conclusions related to human-centric problems.

Feb. 08 2012 09:44 PM

One must have empathy and also tolerance for these little critters. They may sting and draw blood, but we humans are higher evolved than they are and they just fly by if you give them the space. They are in such a pitiful rush that you have to feel compassion for them. They miss all of the wonderful things and experiences that a walk in the park will provide while they are so buy thinking about getting to that darned destination and they will burn you if you get too close. Just give them space to fly by and laugh at their little pea selfish wired brains. A sting every once in a while will not kill you. Just take it and move on because you have a lot to accomplish in life and if confronted these reptiles will bite your head off.

Feb. 08 2012 07:26 PM

I wonder if Jad really believes his final statement or if was written as a crowd-pleasing, quasi-existential counterbalance to Robert's more nihilistic take on violence.

To ever be able to say that there may be no sturdy explanation(s) for animal/human violence, we would have to already have exhausted every conceivable research method for studying the causes of violence. Since we are not quite at that point, why suggest that there is no clear explanation? And if we could somehow determine that there were none, what good would our fruitless, deluded search do us in trying to pretend there was one? We would be better off slowly acclimating to the new reality and diverting our time, energy, and resources elsewhere.

Jad's sentiment on the subject is a tad melodramatic/undergrad philosophy.

Otherwise, great show as always.

Feb. 08 2012 05:40 PM
Teddy Phufner from Seattle

Certainly violence can and should be studied. However, as is typical when trying to learn about behavior and observation, it is language and semantics which clouds our perceptions. Words don't do justice to our inner sufferings. But I think the focus should not be micro-studies of individual acts of violence, but the macro forces that lead to higher incidences.

Instead of only demonizing and focusing on the inhumanity of violent perpetrators, we need to focus at human behavior as animal behavior. Violence and murder occur in all animals. And the factors that lead to these things are similar among all animals as well. It is about resources. If we want to live in a society that decreases violence, than we need to live in a society that is much more equitable than we currently live in in America.

I don't see how we can look at violence and not look at equity of resources.

Also, love the Stars of the Lid piece at the end. Whoever is doing the music scoring is doing a great job.

Feb. 08 2012 02:04 PM
Julie from Columbus, Ohio

I just listened to this episode, having recently become addicted to the awesome radiolab. But I have to say I was disappointed with this one. It seems pretty ridiculous to expect 2 people who dearly loved the victim of this crime to understand "why" he was killed. Maybe I agree with Dr Lafage re violence (or at least the little I gleaned of his thoughts on the subject): it's inherent to all species. Surely any human being under some certain set of circumstances is capable of murder. May we consider ourselves blessed (or lucky) if we have never been faced with them.

Feb. 08 2012 10:37 AM
Allan On from Earth. ish.

Southeaster is right. The shooter was acting solely out of his own interests, with no empathy or perception of others as human. He is the only thing that matters in his universe.

For us, we can only treat these people in this state as reptiles - they can't be trained, taught, or reasoned with. The best you can do is manage their environment and the way you act around them.

Feb. 08 2012 10:27 AM
John from Dublin, Ireland

Ugh, I was eating just as the audio reached the six minute mark....

Feb. 08 2012 10:02 AM

Amazing, Such a beautiful piece of radio.

"You have to try to make sense of it, even if there is no sense to be made."

Who have you been reading?

Feb. 08 2012 09:13 AM
Matt from Brooklyn, NY

Hearing this story on Radiolab was totally surreal. I grew up across the street from Dr. LaFage's parents, and the story of their son's death was one of my first encounters with the concept of senseless violence as a child. The weight of their loss was palpable and I remember being struck by the randomness of what happened. I had never really considered giving dimension to the assailant. I always saw it as something absolutely unexplainable that happened to a person who meant so well.
Without knowing anything about the attacker, we have no way to look at the confrontation from the other side. I think that's what's so haunting about this story- we're left only with the shocking and abrupt end to a man's life at the hand of another. There's no understanding that.

Feb. 08 2012 01:10 AM
Tom Vahlstrom from Spokane, WA

This is no more than an idea concerning the shooting, certainly not trying to explain the unexplainable, but it seems to me that the assailant did not mean to shoot, or at least, not right then. I believe it was an accident in light of the fact that the purse was not taken. Given the number of guns that have no safety lock and a "hair" trigger, e.g. Glock, the idea of stress and inexperience with such a weapon could account for one more accidental shooting with this weapon. The fact that it hit a major artery was certainly no less than bad luck.

Feb. 07 2012 06:25 PM
Phoenix from Columbus

Perhaps the gryllacridid realized that it was severely injured and began eating it's own innards as a self-preservation mechanism, that is, the environment that the gryllacridid typically inhabits is arid and it cannot afford to lose that much moisture or fat and eating it's own innards is the only way it can recapture what it was losing in the hopes that it could recover from it's injury. In effect, it was doing it's best to save it's own life.

This would most likely be an instinctual response and not one of self-realization and forethought, but as the audio article succinctly offers, "How can we know what another creature is thinking?"

Feb. 07 2012 02:46 PM

It seems the Gryllacrididae that ate himself, did not see a being, an identity or any relationship to himself and his own body but only instinctive opportunity and thus reacted automatically without thoughts of logic, philosophy, or empathy.
And the killer did the same.

Feb. 07 2012 01:35 PM
David Henderson from Columbia, Missouri

It's arguable that Dr. Lafage's murder was determined a billion years ago, or as a probability calculation of all the variables that lead up to the meeting of the individuals concerned. Where one had low self control combined with a highly aggressive intent and another was prone to non-compliance (speculative, based on the story) when responding to aggression.

I get Radiolab's point though, it's extremely hard to recognize and understand another being's perspective when it's so alien to your own.

I agree with Jad though, apparent senseless violence needs to be understood and given enough time and effort it can be.

A little science on the topic crime and violence:

Feb. 07 2012 12:58 PM
JohnA from England

You can’t question why it happened.

There are too many variables. He could have been a schizophrenic or under the influence of powerful drugs. His genetics, up-bringing or even what he had for breakfast two months ago would have changed that day and could have led to a different outcome.

The kid himself, if questioned will not be able to give you an answer that took into account all factors. In fact, I would argue that there are an infinite amount of variables leading up to the event and if any of these changed then not only Dr. LaFage may have survived but so to might have JFK.

Feb. 07 2012 08:21 AM

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