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What’s the Story Here?

Staunch gun control advocates say guns cause mass shootings.

Gun rights advocates say mental illness causes mass shootings.

Recently I’ve heard in some lively discussions that the AR-15 is not an assault rifle, but a Colt brand. One internet site says the AR-15 is a now expired Colt design patent and that the AR-15 is and is not an assault rifle depending on which options the gun purchaser chooses. The history of modern psychiatric diagnoses suggests that official labels for mental conditions change like trade names. Prior to the 1960’s, paranoia and schizophrenia were characterized as paranoid or schizophrenic reactions. Reactions point toward something. Any person seeking counseling is likely to receive some mental health diagnosis.

The March 18 Post-Standard reported the story of a father declared mentally ill when, because of what the father said he’d learned about the devil, the father drowned his son in the shower trying to extinguish the fire of Satan that he thought he saw in his son’s eyes. Primitive imaginings and teachings about God, angels and devils show up in both mental illness and traditional organized religions. Irrational people often attack the evil they think they see in others. I recently visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan. While the exhibits don’t specifically mention this, some of those who attacked NYC on 9/11 did so believing the United States was “The Great Satan.”

Throughout history, those with the freedom and means have sought to track planetary movement and understand the human condition, including human thought. It seems easier to map the sky than to see into ourselves. References to “god” often filled in for answers we couldn’t find.

Through much of his career, Stephen Hawking sought what he called a “unified theory” of the universe, a theory Hawking believed could bring humankind closer to knowing the “mind of God.” Hawking used the term god as a metaphor, and later in his life, after much thinking and searching, Hawking came to believe that perhaps no unified theory existed. He concluded the universe may operate in 11 dimensions and probably doesn’t reward good. He was surprised when he found that some light particles could escape black holes; he’d not been looking for that. When he was wrong, he admitted it. And as Hawking’s amyotrophic lateral sclerosis steadily robbed him of movement and breath, mechanical technology kept him alive. He spoke about self-euthanasia. “The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”

While scientists like Stephen Hawking studied how matter in space works, the most intricate and finely tuned operations of human physical matter seem hidden from view. We rush to blame when tragedies occur, yet many people choose not to consider how human consciousness develops. The neurotransmitters that likely create human emotions are visible through an electron microscope but only in preserved brain tissue. While fMRI technology can detect which parts of a test subject’s brain activate when that volunteer responds to a command, that same technology cannot see into the classrooms, churches and neighborhoods where a good neighbor, scientific genius, troubled psychiatric patient or brain trauma victim has come to be thus. Nurture shapes nature.

Through much of his career, Stephen Hawking sought what he called a “unified theory” of the universe, a theory Hawking believed could bring humankind closer to knowing the “mind of God.”

Scientists chart the course of planets and track meteorological patterns looking through eyes which are integral parts of human brains wired from day one with information taken in through the senses and remembered in culturally specific language. As infants, we feel before we cry, and we cry before we learn to speak. Neuroscientists suggest specific mirror neurons prime infants to imitate the adults around them. All conscious minds, great and famous or not so great and infamous learn to think their thoughts amid the physical dynamics of energy. Felt feelings, conveyed teachings and first-hand experience coalesce into individual cognitive processes which should lead to self-respecting, self-caring autonomous thought regardless of someone else’s approval or dirty looks.   

Hawking wrote, “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the
possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Debra Merryweather