Home' Technology Review : November December 2008 Contents FICTION
SOME PEOPLE FEEL NO EMPATHY. AN EXPERIMENTAL
DRUG MAKES THEM TAKE A HARD LOOK IN THE MIRROR.
"It's one of the crybabies," the guard told her. "He's trying to
kill one of the psychos."
Dr. Alycia Liddell swore under her breath and grabbed
her keys. Only two weeks into the drug trial and the pris-
oners were changing too fast, starting to crack.
In the hospital wing, a dozen guards crowded around an open
cell door. They were strapping on pads, pulling on helmets, slap-
ping billy clubs in their palms. It was standard procedure to go
through this ritual in full view of the prisoners; more often than
not they decided to walk out before the extraction team went in.
The shift lieutenant waved her to the front of the group. "One
of your babies wants to talk to you," he said.
She leaned around the door frame. In the far corner of the cell,
wedged between the toilet and the wall, two white men sat on
the floor, one behind the other, like bobsledders. Lyle Carpenter
crouched behind, his thin arms around Franz Lutwidge's broad chest.
Lyle was pale and sweating. In one hand he gripped a screwdriver;
the sharpened tip trembled just under Franz's walrus-fat chin.
Franz's eyes were open, but he looked bored, almost sleepy. The
front of his orange jumpsuit was stained dark.
Both men saw her. Franz smiled and, without moving, some-
how suggested a shrug: Look at this fine mess. Lyle, though, almost
let the screwdriver fall. "Doc. Thank God you're here." He looked
ready to burst into tears.
The doctor stepped back from the door. "Franz is bleeding," she
said to the lieutenant.
"Lyle stabbed him in the chest. It looks like it stopped, but if
he's bleeding internally we can't wait for the negotiation team.
I thought you might want to take a crack at getting Lyle to drop
"If I can't?" But she already knew the answer.
"I'll give you three minutes," he said.
They wanted her to put on pads and a helmet, but she refused. Lyle
and Franz, like the other 14 men in the GLS-71 trial, were low-risk
prisoners: liars, thieves, con men, nonviolent o enders. The review
board wouldn't allow her to enroll the more aggressive prison-
ers. Still, she'd succeeded in finding men with very high scores on
Hare's Psychopathy Checklist. They were all-star psychopaths---or
sociopaths, to use the term some of her colleagues preferred.
The lieutenant let her take only three steps into the cell before
he said, "That's good."
Lyle's eyes were fixed on hers. She smiled, then let concern
show in her face. "Why don't you tell me what's going on, Lyle?"
Franz said, "I'm not sure he knows himself."
"Shut up!" Lyle said, and the hand holding the screwdriver shook.
Franz lifted his chin slightly.
"Just focus on me," she said to Lyle. "If you put down the weapon,
we can talk about what's upsetting you."
"I fucked up, Doctor Liddell. I tried to stop him, but I couldn't---"
"Call me Alycia, Lyle."
"Alycia?" He looked surprised---and touched. She never permit-
ted the prisoners to call her by her first name.
Franz made a derisive noise, but Lyle seemed not to hear him.
"I was doing this for you, Alycia. I was just going to kill myself, but
then when he told me what he was going to do, I knew I had to
take care of him first." He flexed his fingers along the screwdriver's
grip. "I stabbed him, going right for the heart. Then he jumped up
and I knew I'd missed. I knew I had to hit him again, but I just---
froze." He looked at her, his eyes shining with tears. "I couldn't do
it! I saw what I'd done and I almost threw up. I felt like I'd stabbed
myself. What the hell is happening to me?"
That's what we're trying to find out, she thought. GLS-71 was an
accidental treatment, a failed post-stroke drug that was intended
to speed speech recovery. Instead, it found the clusters of mir-
ror neurons in Broca's area and increased their rate of firing a
Mirror neurons were specialist cells. See someone slapped, and
the neurons associated with the face lit up in synchrony. See some-
one kicked, and the brain reacted as if its own body were under
attack. Merely imagining an act, or remembering it, was enough
to start a cascade of hormonal and physical responses. Mirror neu-
rons were the first cogs to turn in the complex systems of attach-
ment, longing, remorse. They were the trip wires of empathy.
Except for people like her all-stars. In psychopaths, the mir-
rors were dark.
"I know you must be confused," she said. "GLS is making you
feel things you've never felt before."
By DARYL GREGORY
Illustrations by OWEN SMITH
Links Archive January February 2009 September October 2008 Navigation Previous Page Next Page