As an editor, I've read thousands of pieces of writing. Yet some manage to stand out vividly, such as one column, “Ten Thousand Acts of Kindness,” penned almost 20 years ago by the late Harvard University paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould for Natural History magazine. We tend to remember the bad encounters we have had with other people, Gould noted, such as the time a driver rudely cut you off in traffic and then yelled at you on top of it. He believed that such incidents are memorable partly because they are rare. In fact, he pointed out, for each unpleasant moment we probably experience 10,000 acts of kindness—or at least neutral interactions—when we meet up with other people. Social togetherness, empathy and cooperation are hallmarks of humanity.
How puzzling, then, is the criminal mind, the subject of this issue's cover. What complex interplay of social and physical factors could lead to such aberrant behavior? The article “The Violent Brain,” by Daniel Strueber, Monika Lueck and Gerhard Roth, explores the psychobiological roots of brutality in the brain. The story starts on page 20.