>>James Fallon: I always knew who I was. One
thing is I absolutely sure of who I was. My own identity, my sense of self. And then I
got a little bit of a surprise. But the first thing it, started out in a small
way. You know, I’m a white heterosexual male. My name is James Henry Fallon, so I’m a WHM,
and I’m also an Irish Sicilian American, so I’m a WISAHM.
Then when I was about 13 I found out that was not my real name. It was not James Henry
Fallon, which I think I had made up. I’m a James Harry Fallon. And I’m also — we were
not Irish at all, but we were adopted, so we’re really English genetically, if you will.
And so here is really what I really am. I’m a white English Sicilian American heterosexual
male, middle-class, agnostic, brought-up Catholic boy; libertarian, New York transplant-to-California,
married, Angels-Ducks-Chargers fan. So I’m a WESAHM, a MAMCABUCATHIC. Okay.
And so that was fun to find out. You know, this was just part of a parlor game that everybody
has gone through. And I had a pretty standard youth. I always
considered myself to have a standard youth. I ended up being class clown in high school.
I was always goofing around. I was more angel than devil. And I also was named Catholic
Boy of the Year in the capital of New York. And that, for some reason, afforded me the
honor of meeting Nelson Rockefeller. I don’t know what the two have to do with each other
but it was a fun thing. He didn’t do that to me. He was a great guy, and I was a kid.
So I did some — you know, involved with some other things, too, and I was involved with
a lot of extreme sports and everything, but pretty normal stuff and really regular stuff.
And I have been married since Nixon, and here is my wife, and we started dating when we
were 12. We were first dates, and we loved to dance together and swim, so we really go
along. We became friends, and we knew nothing about romance and certainly not sex.
And then we were about 16. We were just wrestling downstairs, and we just started making out.
And it was like, oh, there’s this. All of a sudden the hormones hit.
[ Laughter ] So we started to go out, and we said, hey,
we think we like each other, we really like each other. We ended up getting married. So
we’ve got three kids who are in their 40s and five grandkids now so far, the youngest
of whom is 18, and this kind of jumps up at you.
I’ve been a professor at U.C. Irvine since 1978, so I’m kind of a potted plant there.
I’m still there, but I’ve really had a stable family life and I’ve had a very stable professional
life. And I really always considered myself very — quite normal.
And so I retired at 62 from all the administrative work at the university and my formal teaching.
I still teach and do stuff, you know, but I mostly do research, but I’m my own graduate
student now. I’m just having fun. I don’t need to do anything for money so it’s great.
It’s where you want to be. So I’m happy, successful, and I’m a self-diagnosed
normal guy. [ Laughter ]
And then something happened; okay? Now —
[ Laughter ] I think I’m partially responsible for — this
is the first time Gandalf showed up, and it turned out to be me, in a sense.
So what I had been doing since the early ’90s, we got a PET scan, a positron emission tomography,
and one of the things we were doing was these really bad — these serial killers, bad murderers
would come in, and then during the penalty phase of the trial they’d say, “Okay, I’ll
get a PET scan and then you can tell me that I’m crazy so I won’t get the death penalty.”
So we’d done that, one or two a year, and it was thrilling for the medical students
because they’d these guys in in manacles and shackles into the PET scanner, SWAT team on
top of the medical school buildings. The dean and the chancellor loved this, of course.
But this went on for a number of years, and other people were sending me different kinds
of scans. So I was looking at different scans of murderers, but I told them don’t tell me
who is who. I wanted to do it all blind, because even when you try, you create a narrative
in your head of the way things should be. I said don’t tell me even if they’re killers
or anything. So I got a whole bunch of these in 2005, and
when I was looking at them I realized there was a pattern. And I’m not an expert in psychopathy
or in murderers or anything else. It’s just one of those things you do when you’re in
neuroanatomist. You like patterns and so people send you this stuff. And that’s my computer
again, and always has been. And I noticed this pattern, and the pattern
was that in all the psychopaths, the area of the brain that’s called the limbic system,
it’s part of the social brain and emotional regulation, that it was turned off in all
these guys. So, you know, I just kind of put together
a theory and kind of vetted it at different psychiatry departments, law schools and everything
just to kind of move it around. And that was 2005.
So I had this — you know, this theory. And then just happened to be doing — we were
looking for the genes associated with Alzheimer’s, because we know the apo E but we thought there
might be a gene that would interact with it, that would really cause trouble for people
who had these genetics. And so we needed some normals.
So I got some controls, and I was one of the controls, because we had to get the study
done. We had all the Alzheimer’s patients. And so what we ended up with is all the controls
looked like controls, it was great, except one. I looked at the PET scan, and I told
the technician, I said, you’ve got to go check the scanner because this is obviously one
the killers, because it looked like the worst of the psychopaths that I have looked at ever.
[ Laughter ] And they went and checked the machine twice
and everything, the whole providence of the data. They go, “No, it’s somebody in that
group.” So I had to peel back the name. Somebody is
running loose who is a control and is a murderer. And of course I peeled, and the name on it
was mine. [ Laughter ]
You know, when I saw it, I just kind of laughed. I said, I’m not a murderer, a rapist, any
of that stuff. I’m a normal guy. So I just kind of blew it off, and I just
thought to myself, you know, the theory is probably wrong.
[ Laughter ] It had to be that.
And — But it turns out the theory wasn’t wrong because other people after this found
the same pattern in psychopaths. So it wasn’t that.
About a — We were very busy that year looking at the genetics and the scans of schizophrenics
and people with Alzheimer’s, so we were really distracted. But within about six months, 2006,
I got the first of my genetics back. And the genetics, the alleles, the forms of the genes
that I had, all lined up with high violence and high aggression, low anxiety, and a kind
of empathy that’s consistent with the psychopath. So, you know, I’ve got the two biological
markers, including ones in my own theory, and I still was pretty much in denial.
About the same time, we were having a party. My mother is 97 now and she’s just full of
it. She’s cognitively in great shape. And she says, “Your cousin gave me a book. You’ve
got to read this. It’s a historical book and it’s about your father’s family.” Now, her
whole family is from Sicily and she always got the business about being Mafia. In fact,
growing up, she was a bootlegger and all this stuff and she rode a dynamite truck to Lucky
Luciano’s place, but they were all good people. You know, they were —
[ Laughter ] So she was sick of that. And here was a book,
and it was about the first killing of a mother by a son, matricide, in the American colonies.
And it was my direct grandfather; okay? It was the Cornells.
But in that, you know, one of my cousins is — as a Cornell, founded Cornell University.
That’s very of nice; right? Kind of offset it.
[ Laughter ] Hopefully. That’s the idea.
Another cousin, though, is Lizzie Borden. Cousin Lizzie got a lot of press. I tell you,
she’s innocent, so we don’t count Lizzie as one of the murderers in our family.
But we also found, for example, that one of my cousins — one of our cousins is Jimmy
Carter and Marilyn Monroe. And of course we all have these kinds of connections with people,
but it was fun finding this out. Again, part of the parlor game of it all.
But then it got kind of worse. Now, ancestry is not genetics; right? But
it’s fun to do. But it turns out on my father’s side of the family not only was that one line
of murderers and bad actors but there were three other lines of murderers. And one of
them went back to this group of English kings who were the most savage of the English kings,
and those were all direct grandfathers. And we had slave traders. Oh, they’re a very charming
family on that side. But there was also kind of a high percentage
of ministers and nuns. So we were really holy people or really rats. It was a funny family
on that side. So anyway, I found that out, and I got a call,
and — by the guy who had just put money into an adult stem cell company, and he put a few
million dollars in. He goes, you know, give a TED Talk and talk about the struggle to
get adult stem cell biology accepted. And it never was. And we had findings in the mid
’90s and had some findings in the humans. And after ten years, the New York Times, it
was not the Nobel committee, said our results were like the most startling finds of the
decade of the brain. So I was going to talk about kind of the struggle
against the bias, some scientific bias where people just don’t believe you. People just
didn’t think there were adult stem cells in the brain and certainly you couldn’t activate
them. We found out we could, and now my whole life was dedicated to finding out how to mobilize
them to reverse Parkinson’s and also chronic stroke.
So we formed this company. He goes, “Talk about that,” that whole struggle. I talked
to the TED people, and they were, “Nyeh, okay, but can you make it sort of personal and funny?”
And here’s the mistake I made. I said, “Well, I have this other story,” you know. And I
said, “I don’t know if anybody is going to think it was interesting,” because they never
really thought it was that interesting. And I told them, and they said that’s it.
So I gave this talk, and in it I had this theory that I got from watching my mother
weeding in the backyard. She was on a three-legged stool, and I said, well, we have contributing
to psychopathy, these high-vulnerability genes, and the other leg would be a certain brain
pattern. And the third one was early abuse or abandonment.
Now, I was somebody who never believed that environment meant anything. I was really into
the genetics and behaviors, the biological basis of it. So I gave that talk.
And that — that talk — I know nothing about politics or the law or business. But I found
out something — I do know something about marketing.
If you have a TED talk and the keywords are “psychopathic killer,” you get a million hits
really fast. [ Laughter ]
Now, here was — that was sort of okay. And it was just sort of a cute, fun story.
And then I went to Oslo. I was invited to give a talk with the ex-prime minister of
Norway on bipolar disorder and the connections and the genetics of it and everything. So
I gave it. He gave a talk. He had kind of brought himself out as having that during
his first term, and he got treated and came back and very successful second term. So it
was kind of a heroic story, especially for a Norwegian to admit this.
So I was giving a talk, and I had to use somebody’s genetics. So I used all my genetics and my
brain pattern. And I listed all of my clinical conditions from birth onwards. You can’t read
that there, but I went through this whole list.
At the end of the talk, the chairman of the department of psychiatry was there. He says,
“You don’t know this, but you have bipolar disorder. It is just not recognized as such
in the United States.” He says, “You have hypomania and you don’t feel depression but,”
he says, “you are full bipolar.” He says, “And I also want to talk to you afterwards.”
So we met after the talk at the president of the University of Oslo’s house. And several
psychiatrists and psychologists were there. I talked to them for a couple hours. They
said, “You are pretty close to being a full psychopath.”
[ Laughter ] Now, that kind of slowed down my cabernet
drinking that night. You know, I had never taken it seriously.
I had biological data, but I just kind of blew it off. But these people didn’t know
me, but they knew the clinical and biological data. And these psychiatrists, they talked
to me and they said, “You got to check this out.” First time I took it seriously.
I went home and I asked the question — I started asking the question to people. And
when you ask this question, be ready for some answers. And I just basically said, “Tell
me what you really think of me.” Now — And I said, I won’t get mad. I won’t
do anything. And I started with the psychiatrist who knew me for many years and who knew my
behaviors. And then I went on to my family and very close
friends. They all said the same thing. They said, “Well, you’re pretty much close to being
a psychopath. We’ve been telling you for years.” [ Laughter ]
I said, “No, you said I was crazy.” I said, “You’re not crazy.” But all these things — they
went through the specific behaviors. When I saw them all there, it kind of hit
me. Then I got analyzed, psychoanalyzed, and all this stuff and took the tests. And I’m
a borderline. I’m not a full categorical psychopath. I’m what you call a pro-social psychopath.
It sounds nice. [ Laughter ]
It is also called a successful psychopath, which basically means you haven’t been caught.
So one reason you don’t know me is because I have been hiding all these years and didn’t
quite know that. So, anyway, to get back to this, I still didn’t
understand why I wasn’t really much worse than I was, even though I have behaviors that
are not so charming and I have all the — these pro-social symptoms and traits. And I looked
at it, and it didn’t make sense to me. And then when I was looking at it just a couple
of years ago, I looked at some of the alleles. One of them was the serotonin transporter.
And I had these so-called warrior genes. I’m just loaded with them. But some of these,
they’re only warrior genes if you are abused or abandoned early in life, especially from
birth to first few years. But it was found out in a monkey and other
papers in humans that if you are treated really in a nurturing environment, it erases some
of the other negative characteristics. So this was really the first aha moment because
in my whole life, I was always treated like a golden child.
Our mother had our older brother, and they wanted a huge family. And then she went through
five years of miscarriages, and then I showed up. So the very fact that I was alive meant
I was special. You know, it was like a mistake but I’ll take it.
And so — and then another four years of miscarriages. And then after that, my mother’s uterus got
it right so she ended up with six kids, boom, boom, boom, very quickly.
But I was treated so well by not only my family but my extended family, and they knew when
I was going through puberty, I was in some trouble. I was going through some dark period.
In having especially a matriarchy who could see into behavior and do something about it
was great. So I think my mother told me teachers, “Watch this kid, make sure he keeps busy.”
And so I kept busy all the time, and that was it.
And then, of course, you know, about ten months ago, I got contacted. And these literary agencies,
you got to write a book on it, which I did, “The Psychopath Inside” where I go through
some of the nasty things, my own psychopathic behaviors and kind of the biology of it and
the genetics of it, what’s known about it. Okay. So in reflecting on this, the first
thing was that, you know, I had always been in denial of the effect of environment. And
it turns out that this was incorrect. Now, if you look at the whole history of nature/nurture
which turns into genetics and epigenetics ultimately and environment, from the time
of Plato and Socrates, it turns out Plato was correct. Socrates didn’t quite have it.
But there is this whole history of genetics and a large part at the it at the end, of
course, includes Craig. And it will be great to hear what he’s going to say.
But in this, I never appreciated this interaction of genes and environment and that’s when the
crow showed up. You know, if you are a scientist, you hate to be wrong, especially if you’re
narcissistic. I’m very narcissistic. And I had to admit to all my colleagues I was wrong.
So when you have to eat crow and a crow this big, I didn’t enjoy it at all but, I mean,
I was caught in a bind there. So, now, given this, I asked the question:
What do I do about this personally? Now, I know that you can’t do anything if
you are born with a psychopathy or any of these personality disorders. There is no treatment.
But I said, I could do it, though. I can change. So what I started doing first with my wife
a couple years ago, I started every interaction I would have with her, I stopped for a moment
and said, “What would a good guy do here”? So it starts with: Who do you pour the wine
for first? Who do you serve? Do you clean up? Simple things. But also I’m the kind of
person who if there is, like, a family death, if I find a party, I will be at the party.
I mean, I’m a real rat. And so I stop and I stopped and said, “No,
you got to do this other thing.” But I found out a couple things. First of
all, that stopping and looking at this emotionally, you know, with some empathy — and it turns
out I do not have very good empathy, emotional empathy. I have cognitive empathy but not
emotional empathy. And I found out that hundreds of times a day
I was doing the most selfish thing possible but it slowed me down because I had to think
about it. And I became less smart. Part of being a psychopathic is you don’t
care about other people. Everybody — usually when you are interacting with people, you
are saying: Am I going to hurt this person? Somebody like me, I don’t even think of it.
So I appear smarter than I am. I may not appear too smart right now, but you appear smarter.
And so psychopaths don’t have to go through that inefficiency of looping into the limbic
system. [ Laughter ]
It is sweet, isn’t it? And after a couple of months, she goes, “What are you doing?
What’s going on?” She thought it was a con. I said, “What do you mean?” She says, “Your
behavior has changed. You’re nice.” And then I started to do it with everybody
else close to me. And they said the same thing. They weren’t talking to each other.
But then they — and I told my wife and I told my close friends. I said, “This is not
sincere. I’m just doing it because I think I can do it.”
[ Laughter ] And I was really being honest. It was like,
Are you lying? Being honest? And they said, no, just the fact that you’re
trying and you’re doing this is enough. I said, “You don’t care if I’m sincere?” They
go “No.” I never understood this about people. They
all just want to be treated well. This is a big surprise to me.
[ Laughter ] You are talking to a 14-year-old boy here.
And so the next thing is what do you do professionally? So I got two of my close colleagues. In the
back, there is Fabio Macciardi. He was the first guy that discovered associative mating.
You end marrying a family basically. This was back in the ’80s. He’s a geneticist and
epidemiologist, psychiatrist. And also Tom Stevenson who raises — who is a fund-raiser.
And the three of us got together. Of course, when you get three of you together, you don’t
call yourself the three amigos or the three musketeers, or what my wife called us which
I can’t repeat, you call yourself a global consortium, of course.
[ Laughter ] So we started this global consortium.
I mean, it is the only thing to do, right? And so what we started to do is given this
information, what can we do professionally? Now that we are starting — and a lot of people
are starting to know this research-wise — how epigenetics evinces behavior and can it be
changed, I said, once you have early epigenetic changes early in life, you can’t change them.
So — but how can we convince belligerent countries, belligerent groups that by creating
neighborhoods that are in generation after generation of violence, it changes those kids
because they’re seeing violence all the time. And you end up with a warrior culture which
sounds like, you know, a brave world, but really they destroy themselves.
So if we can convince them biologically and behaviorally that it is a bad thing to do,
to have generations of it because they destroy themselves — everybody’s against war, right?
But if you say you are going to destroy yourself with it…
So that was the beginning idea. And we started to do some studies.
Now, one of the things — it got me to thinking about leadership. And so when I was thinking
of all the psychopaths in the world, of course, this idea came up through film and movies
and through the financial world and elsewhere that there was something about psychopathy
and leadership. Now, I thought the first thing — my recommendation
to any company or a group — and I work with the military, them too — that they take — in
the C suite, they have a C level person called the CPO. It is very important which, of course,
is the chief psychopathic officer. Now, that sounds — it is tongue in cheek,
and it is not cute to have a full categorical psychopath working with you. It is really
bad. But there are traits associated with psychopathy that are interesting.
And if you take one trait — and this is one of these pro-social traits called fearless
dominance. And fearless dominance is a major psychopathic trait. On the left is Teddy Roosevelt.
You have JFK, FDR, Ronald Reagan. They all have a very high psychopathic trait called
fearless dominance, but it is pro social. It is not the antisocial. It is a pro-social
one. Now, the thing about this, this is also associated
by the voters as being leadership. So when people with that charisma, they got the light
around them when they walk in the room, that’s fearless dominance. And it is what people
want. It doesn’t make you a good leader, but it really impresses people.
So leadership at any level is this. And so, you know, in a way, we have to accept
some psychopathic traits as being very powerful. And, you know, you can look at, for example,
more recently President Clinton, President Carter.
Now, President Clinton he’s kind of in the middle. He doesn’t have this full trait. He
is in the middle but it is thought to have great leadership skills.
And Jimmy Carter has zero psychopathy, as it turns out. Now, he has got leadership skills
but zero psychopathy. So we are tending to have these less sort of pernicious people.
Now, if you look at the Bushes, it turns out that George Bush and Bill Clinton have the
same level of psychopathy in leadership. It is the same one. George, Sr. also like Jimmy
Carter, zero. And so there is a very interesting thing of how psychopathy really integrates
into the culture. If you look at empathy, here’s another one.
Different kinds of empathy. One has to do with being ingroup and outgroup, people who
are empathetic toward family and tribe versus whole nation and the world.
And now there are other people who just have this cognitive one, and there’s the marker
in my brain for cognitive empathy. I have very little emotional empathy.
But I know what other people are feeling. And so the problem with psychopaths is they
use that against you. Now, if you take a look, I looked at three
of my heros, right? Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. It turns out that they
love the world. They love all the children of the world. They did tremendous things.
But if you heard Nelson Mandela’s daughter talk at his memorial, she said he was a great
man but you probably didn’t want to be his daughter.
Same thing with Gandhi. He was not very good with his own family.
Mother Teresa interpersonally, a wonderful person, was a little prickly to be along with.
[ Laughter ] Some of these traits are very conducive to
leadership. But one of the points is that you don’t have good and bad genes. And if
we look at these traits as good and bad, think of them like this. Some of these traits are
good for the individual and a family. They’re not good for the whole species. Some which
are great for the species are terrible for home life.
And if you look at it that way, you have to look at it in a complete species way.
And so we started asking some questions — and just one, leaders and energy. Without narcissism,
who’s got the energy to go 24/7 to be a President or a CEO? You have to be on all the time.
And the average person just doesn’t have it. Doesn’t have that drive and take risks.
We took two of many questions that we’re now looking at, so we are looking at funding for
these others. And we have also started on some of these.
And I’m almost done here. I see I am out of time.
Because we are really concerned about not only bullying but street violence and home
violence. And so what we did was, like — I went to the Sahara. And the idea was that
nomads have very little war. So if you took a group of living nomads and went in and tested
them genetically, for example, with origins, et cetera, but also interviewed all of them,
both Bedouins and Berbers, Arabic, non-Arabic nomads, and in this found out that both of
these, the Arabic and non-Arabic, were genetically very close to Sicilians.
In fact, the way they adjudicate problems is very similar to the way Sicilians do it.
And they have a very stable society. They let people fight for a while. And then they
got to get in front of the elders and say “Shut up.” So they have a very efficient way.
You did this and this. And so they have a very efficient way.
What I never understood and appreciated was the effect of the physical — harsh physical
environment. The harsh physical environment is very conducive to peace.
And this is why Burning Man should never be held anywhere other than that playa up in
northern Nevada. If it was held in a very nice place, people would be fighting all the
time. But up there, you got to be good to each other.
Now another thing we are looking at right now is we’re looking at human skeletons and
human DNA from 500,000 years ago to today. This guy right here we’re looking at is 24,000
years ago. It is upper paleolithic, and we have good DNA from him. We have a skull reconstructed,
so we are reconstructing what his brain looked like. And we’re trying to match up the changing
genetics throughout the past 500,000 years with the brain, how the brain is changing,
and the culture, the art that’s found with them, the tools. So we’re trying to look at
it in kind of a transdisciplinary way to see the human trajectory.
Now, one thing I said a few minutes ago was that you can’t reverse epigenetics very easily.
But it turns out Fabio Macciardi just published a paper that showed that you can, which is
fantastic news, that you can go back and forth with gene expression. You can change the epigenetics
which means that we may be able to uncode psychopaths and other nasty people or people
who have been bullied. You know, the whole depressing cycle of that. So that was very
good news. And I want to end with this, which is here’s
the usual way we look at the human trajectory. That is, we see this steady progression into
modern man. But we’re headed, of course, toward a transhuman
world that was already mentioned today. And that is the integration of synthetic biology
and digital sorts of interactions with our genome and our epigenome. And so that’s being
done. It is inevitable. And it is probably a good thing even though it is scary.
So here is where we see humans going. We went from handyman, homo habilis to homo erectus
to homo sapiens. There we are today. Neanderthals, we somehow outbred them, and so they went
extinct. But about — there is about 1% of Neanderthal DNA in each of you. But it is
different DNA for all of you. So about 25% of Neanderthals is in us. So they became somewhat
integrated with us. But now what happens after that? Well, we
have with the transhuman changes, we’re going to have a homo cyberneticus and homo optimus
who are then going to interbreed to form homo hybridus. And homo hybridus will then be integrated
with robotus primus and to make ultimately homo machinus. This is going to be the brave
new world that some people see. And, of course, the people who are fighting
this will become almost Homo sapiens leditus and they will simply go away.
This is a depressing future. But if you’re a scientist, it is very exciting.
[ Laughter ] Bums artists out. I know that.
Lastly, what does this have to do with “The Common Thread”? In thinking about this, in
order to really do all of this well, how do we address the threat of violence and abuse
in global cultures and look at this throughout the span of human history, we need to sustain
a stable and nurturing information society for good business and to do it well and ethically
and morally, right? And so that’s — it is very important for
us to proceed in this way. Now, here we have a new formulation of what
Neanderthal — this is a Neanderthal woman, a pregnant woman, probably looked like. It
is much different than we’re used to seeing. A very elegant red-head her in this picture.
Her hair is dyed. And this is a reconstruction of what she looked like.
And here in the middle is some of us Neanderthals, meaning just a fairly modern young gal. And
where the interaction takes place, what is the common thread?
Well, it turns out that Neanderthals did have culture and a flute was found. So they played
music. Instead of talking so much, they probably
used their mouth as a third hand. I want fishing — tuna fishing three days
ago. And everybody out there was a Neanderthal because we had to tie hooks and everything
with our mouth. But also last month found in Gibraltar in
a Neanderthal cave was this symbol that was carved into the rock. The first real showing
of neanderthal art. Now, I don’t know what it looks like to you, but to me it looks like
a hashtag. [ Laughter ]
This first hashtag was 40,000 years ago by a Neanderthal. What was he trying to tell
us, this artist? Well, in finding the weave — the weave of the common thread, I think
the best verbal description of it is by Goethe and Faust, which is “In truth, the subtle
web of thought is like the weaver’s fabric wrought. When treadle moves a thousand lines,
swift dart the shuttles to and fro, unseen the threads together flow, a thousand knots
one stroke combines. In the talks I’ve heard, I’ve seen some of
those single strokes that are really quite inspiring. So I think we may see it here before
the conference is over with. So thank you. [ Applause ]