Sir William Osler was a Canadian physician who revolutionized internal medicine. Living in the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, Osler prided acute observation of the patient and a humanistic vision of the patient as a human being. It is in this spirit that he said the following:
"Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has."
How does this apply to forensic psychology and beyond?
It is so often easy to focus on the crime itself that is committed that we forget that at the heart of the crime is not some malevolent force but a human being with unique psychology that is open to analysis. When a crime is committed that stirs moral indignation or revulsion, we are tempted to explain things in terms of good and evil without acknowledging that these terms are not in themselves diagnostic. Terms like good and evil are binary meaning that there is no room for grey and thus they have no place within the legal system nor in the mind of a seasoned investigator.
The suspension of judgment allows one to probe much deeper into the mercurial and marshy lands of the human mind. Once one commits to a certain frame of reference (good vs evil) everything becomes tinged with the chosen color or judgment and neither evidence nor facts will sway one very easily from a chosen paradigm.
This becomes a crucial factor when considering mitigating factors of a crime including neuropsychological issues.
The job of the forensic psychologist is to understand the psychology of the individual, that is see past the effects of the psychology and potentially glean what lies beneath the veil of ugliness. What we may see there may repel or convince of mitigating factors.
Osler's quote reminds us not to place a wall between ourselves and that which we hope to understand.
There is a lot to learn from various fields of inquiry and how they can be relevant to the field of our own study. Whether we read philosophy, medicine or physics all of these may hold truths of the human condition which we can exploit and use to understand the subject, suspect or patient currently under investigation.
As an added bonus, I would like to add a few further quotations from Osler, and I would like to challenge you to assess how they could be used in a forensic psychological perspective:
"Learn to see, learn to hear, learn to feel, learn to smell, and know that by practice alone can you become expert."
"Perhaps no sin so easily besets us as a sense of self-satisfied superiority to others."
"To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all."