Recently I had the chance to chat with a couple paranoid schizophrenic killers. Yea…I know…not your normal average everyday type of conversation, but it was some rather special circumstances and I’m pretty good at making friends, so there ya go.
One of them, whom we’ll call “Roberto”, spent all day sitting in a chair, whacked out on meds, and smiling lazily. He was a fifty-year old or so former gang member with three “tears” under his left eye. For those with a bit of knowledge of gang tats, you know what those tears represent. For those, like me, who have read a wee bit more than a little bit about how the brain remembers and symbolizes “people I know,” we know that those tears are very real, much the like the ended lives they represent.
One of the limitations of humans from a cognitive development standpoint (evolutionary biology) in the limit on the number of people we can really “know” at one time. Because of physical limitations and tribal culture, the human brain can only keep track of about 150 or so “personalities” that we can model the behavior for intellectually. When we try to go beyond this limit, or have more “friends” than this, our ability to empathize and remember minute details about our friends’ lives begins to diminish. When we stay within that 150 person limit, we are very good at keeping track of what people are likely to do. When we stray beyond it, we are really pushing the limits of the human mind.
So, to recap, we can “model the personality” of about 150 people in our minds. When one of those models go dark (i.e. that person dies) it leaves a hole in our brain for that person. Yes, we can still recall how that person acted and “who they were” but we can no longer add new information to that model and refine our understanding of that person.
We can still say, with some degree of accuracy, how that person would act or react in a given situation, and can often even “hear their voice” as we recall the many times we interacted with that person and how they helped shape and refine our own lives. This is a HUGE part of the human condition, as we depend on the perspectives and insights of others to keep a balance about the reality we all share.
When one of those slots is filled with the face of someone that a person has murdered, in cold blood, that space is filled with a void and many repeated, and unanswerable, questions. Most of which involved “why did you kill me?”. When one has more than a few of those empty spaces with unanswerable questions in their head, that person is often driven insane. Roberto is one of those people, a man with a good heart, who did horrible things, and now can’t get the dead to shut up, as it isn’t the dead speaking, but his own conscience. And one’s own conscience CANNOT be silenced, only distracted.
So, long story short, don’t kill people. It will drive you mad.
And don’t smoke crack either, it melts your brain. Quickly.
UPDATE: It should also be noted that after befriending Roberto over a few days, he became quite friendly and open about the voices and faces that constantly haunted him. On my last night there I told him (and others) my Pancho Villa joke, and when I was finally leaving, he gave me a big hug and told me of his love for me (“I love you, man.”). Perhaps it was the anti-psychotics talking, but I believed it to be a sincere statement and I thanked him a great deal for both the sentiments and sharing his experiences.