I was in college for a year. Only a year, but while I was there I had a good time and I learned some things, even if those things weren’t the things I was expected to be learning.
I was in a dorm that was set up as suites. Two rooms with two people in each, connected by a bathroom. My roommate and I didn’t really have anything in common and rarely spoke, but I got along fairly well with one of the girls in the other room of the suite and we occasionally ate together. One day we met for lunch and she had just come from a psychology class. In the class the teacher had given them, or talked about anyway, a psychological test. I don’t have all the details, I just have the "test" as it was given to me. My acquaintance told me this story:
A woman is at the funeral of her mother and across the room she sees a man. She becomes instantly infatuated with him, but doesn’t get a chance to go and talk to him before he leaves. For the next week she obsesses over him, completely convinced that she’s in love with him and they are meant to be together. At the end of the week, she kills her sister.
The "test" comes at the end. After my friend told me the story, she asked a simple question. Why? And not two seconds after the question was asked, I gave her an answer. My answer surprised her for two reasons. One was because I gave it so quickly and in such a definitive way. The other was because my answer was not one that anyone in her class had volunteered, and as far as I can remember it was also the answer, or one possible answer, that pointed toward the possibility of being psychotic.
I’m tempted not to give my answer here, to invite everyone who reads to leave their answer in the comments and see if anyone else comes up with the same answer as I did. But, my blog doesn’t have that kind of readership yet (you people hardly ever comment), plus I wouldn’t know how quickly the answer really occurred to you so I wouldn’t know if it was a conclusion you had to work for or if it was a conclusion based on how your minds normally work. So, this is what my answer was:
So she can see the man again at her sister’s funeral.
I think that when I answered my friend back in the dining hall that day I just said, "So she can see the man again", but the thought process was there for me immediately. If she saw the man for the first time at the funeral of a close family member, then it would stand to reason that he would also attend the funeral of another close family member of hers. It’s only logical. At least that’s what I thought. But my friend was shocked and she went on to explain that most of the answers she’d heard (and, as I found later when spreading this little "test", most of the answers I would hear as well) were things like, "She found out the man was her sister’s boyfriend". Some said husband instead of boyfriend, some said that she found out that the sister was after the man too or that they had been having an affair. It all comes down to the same thing. Everyone seems to assume that the sister has an intimate connection of some sort to the man, which really makes no sense at all. I mean, if they were having a secret tryst or relationship, why would he come to the funeral? And even if they decided to make their relationship public at that particular event, wouldn’t the sister have been likely to introduce him around to people? At least to her close family members, which would have included the sister who’d become infatuated? Working from the facts given in the story it makes no sense to assume a relationship between the sister and the man, but many, many people do it anyway.
For a long time the lesson I’ve taken from this is kind of a scary one. I’ve pondered how sad and frightening it is that it seems in most cases to be the psychopaths that are the more intelligent people in the world. If most people have such illogical thought processes, but psychopaths can sometimes be identified by their ability to use logic and rational reasoning, then that says a great deal about the sorry state of humanity. It says that the most brilliant of us are the most deranged. That’s not exactly a new theory though. It’s been posited many times by many people that perhaps there’s only a hair’s breadth of distance between genius and insanity. I think there might be more to it than that though.
The people who give the illogical answer aren’t necessarily stupid. They might not even realize it was a sort of dumb answer until after someone suggests my answer, or one like it, to them. I think that for some people it might have something to do with an unconscious desire for such murders not to make sense, or to make sense but in a way that is plausible to the person in question. Many people could see themselves killing a family member in a fit of emotion. Very few could see themselves killing anyone without a direct cause that can be in some way blamed on the victim. And that’s what this story shows, a woman who kills someone for reasons completely outside that person’s realm of influence. People don’t want to understand that, and they don’t want to understand it at such a deep level that their mind actively revolts against it and refuses to work in a logical way when presented with evidence that would lead them to that conclusion.
And I’m not sure if that new conclusion is more or less scary than the one that I originally came to.