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July 23, 2012

Already Bats? Some Thoughts on the James Holmes Science Camp Video

James Holmes in Court first appearance 1

James Holmes in Court first appearance 2

The photos of James Holmes, disoriented, confused, possibly delusional, at his initial hearing this morning are bizarre and shocking as they relate to his state of mind. What I’m curious about, at this point, is how these pictures relate to the video released yesterday by ABC News of the then-high school senior presenting his work at a science camp in San Diego.

Jalmes Holmes Science Camp Video 1

Because the public in general isn’t sure what to make of this kind of data released and pumped by the media, I wanted to note some of the significant and not-necessarily-significant elements I saw in the video.

• First off, Holmes’ is geeky and a little nervous, sure, and his sleeves are too long and his shirt is too big, but all that is pretty unremarkable.

Jalmes Holmes Science Camp Video 3

• The most positive sign in the video is that Holmes makes eye contact with the audience.

As more history comes out and he undergoes psychological evaluation, I’m guessing we’ll discover that, within the past year or so, he either developed into a full-blown schizophrenic or that he suffer from acute depression with psychotic features. The fact he’s not just able to present his work on stage (and laugh appropriately at the Slurpee joke) but also make eye contact with the audience shows he’s at least fairly oriented in the social world at this point.

Screen shot 2012 07 23 at 8 08 11 AM

• What most people get, listening to the video clip, is that the “temporal illusions” business seems weird. Psychobiology notwithstanding, it is.

It would be very helpful to see the full video (and I would hope ABC would release more than just this tiny clip). Based on what we’ve have here, though, Holmes “research” involving “illusions that allow you to change the past” and his interest in differentiating internal versus external experience suggests he’s (already?) entertaining the process of retreating into the mind in a fantastical way for the purpose of revising what has come before. From just what we know already (including Holmes’ state of mind as reported by the gun club owner in Colorado in this NYT article), we’re in symptomatic territory already.

Screen shot 2012 07 23 at 8 07 32 AM

• If we’re looking for troubling behavior manifesting as much in the real world as in Holmes’ mind, however, this is the key slide.

If you read the interview with UCSD’s John Jacobson about Holme’s internship at the Salk Institute, it’s pretty enlightening. Besides emphasizing Holmes’ pronounced introversion and either stubborn nature or mental rigidity in approaching his tasks, he describes that he was never Holmes’ mentor and found it futile trying to connect to his summer intern.

Even as a high school senior, Holmes would (or should) have been aware of how much of an ethical breach he was committing publicly and academically representing his relationship to Jacobson as a mentorship, with Jacobson guiding his research. (Jacob described it this week as “almost slanderous.”) It also raises questions about what kind of guidance he was getting (or already avoiding) at school and at home to pull off this kind of misrepresentation.

(View here for full BagNews coverage of the Dark Knight massacre.)

(screen grabs: MSNBC; video: ABC News)

  • bystander

    quibble, quibble, Michael.  re: a full-blown schizophrenic 

    A diagnosis is not prognosis, nor is it the full sum of the individual, right?  So, could we say, instead, that Holmes may have slipped into a fully developed case of schizophrenia?  Or, some such.  I’ve worked with a lot of people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  I don’t think of them as schizophrenics… particularly, given the way that descriptor tends to be used colloquially.

  • bystander

    Also, re: (Jacob described it this week…)

    Should that not read: ( (Jacobson described it this week…)

    Sorry.  I’m being a pain in the butt, aren’t I.

  • LanceThruster

    No matter how broken the brain is, how does one murder a 6 year old girl and show no emotion, but still warn law enforcement about booby traps?

    • Jella

       Crazy or evil never works the way non crazy or non evil people think it will.

    • Know nothing

      Eeexaactly. Booby traps, online ordering with no limits, no bars, no assault weapon purchasing info exchange, innocent UPS guy toting all that H*ll stuff to the dudes apartment. Psychiatrist listening to his God knows what in the sessions. A 6-year old, does he even know what a 6-year old is? He evidently doesn’t know what a lot of the real world is. He’s really gotta go, really.

  • Subversavi

    Having a close relationship with a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, I can say with a degree of certainty that all of the descriptions of Holmes’ behavior fit what I’ve observed with the paranoid schizophrenic in my life. Inability to approach women appropriately or have “normal” sexual relationships with women, inexplicable stubbornness (attributable to their paranoia), social phobia and awkwardness, beliefs in or drawn strongly to pseudoscientific/borderline scientific ideas (the report he gave as a teen), and yes, even the months of planning. One does not simply wake up one day and be in the midst of a full-blown psychotic episode; the episodes, particularly the first episode, can take a year or more to reach the totally-out-of-touch state. Increased withdrawal, increasing poor performance in school or work, suddenly quitting, etc. – it all fits the profile. It’s so so sad that nobody saw this coming.

  • dissector

    Michael –

    I’ve had ~50 undergrads in my lab over the last 5 years. They are all ‘mentored’ to different degrees; some are essentially worker drones (low contact with the PI doing grunty work for a letter or rec or course credit) whereas others truly invest themselves intellectually and become coauthors on papers stemming from their work. However, any of them would have the same kind of slide for a presentation, listing me as an official ‘mentor’, whether I was truly one or not.

    My point is that one shouldn’t necessarily make too much out of a slide like this. It might have been perceived as weird if a mentor had not been named in his presentation. I know plenty of graduate students who feel they received little mentorship from their advisors, yet the head of the lab goes on all their publications.

  • Richard Banderas

    This guy did all of this “premeditated”   , him and that other guy who shot up those in Fort Hood should receive the FAST TRACK to the Death Penalty…no stupid delays….BS

  • tinwoman

    People who are interested in science are crazy and evil–haven’t we learned this from cartoons by now?  A good heart and a strong fist are all we need, like Superman.

    The villification of science that has been occurring as a side effect of this media spectacle is no accident.

  • Know Nothing

    Rare cases of schizophrenics being violent. Rare. When someone does something so hideous as run into a movie theater filled to the rafters with filmgoers, and has a full
    arsenal of weaponry capable of blowing up everyone, we need an extreme cause for this act. We look for the most radical explanation: i.e. he heard voices, schizophrenic, psycho, school made him snap, and all the rest of the speculations. Though I don’t know what made, told, asked, showed, drove or compelled the shooter that night, I do know the mind is extremely complex and being able to plan and act out such a horrible tragedy sure had somebody fooled. If he was truly “crazy” out of his mind, he’d just order the assault rifles and take them down to the grocery store to share, something insane like that. Instead, he ordered online, hid them, and dressed incognito to the theater. More planning and plotting I’ve done in a while. He’s not that over the top crazy. As for the behavior in the courtroom; he just looked like a 24 year old who had been awake for two days and a acting like a dazed jerk. Did Subversavi’s friend go out and terrorize and kill people? That’s why I don’t buy the easy schizophrenic route. More complicated IMO.

  • Know Nothing

    Right. And if a normal thinking person tried to carry this horror out they would most likely mess up, freak out, give in, repent, etc. No way could I order the arsenal online he purchased. I’d assume FEDEX and UPS had X-RAY security. Be paranoid I’d be paralyzed with fear.

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