Letters to the Editors, February/March 2009

Letters to the editor about the October/November 2008 issue of Scientific American MIND

No War On Terror
Talking about Terrorism,” by Arie W. Kruglanski, Martha Crenshaw, Jerrold M. Post and Jeff Victoroff, makes an important point. Whether we are anti­terrorism, antiwar or anticancer, when we wage a war against the enemy we empower that enemy. Mother Teresa is reported to have said about her refusal to take part in antiwar rallies, “If you ever have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

As a physician, I see the difference when people battle cancer or other diseases—they either win or lose the battle. Instead of fighting, we need to look at how to heal our lives and find peace. Then there are no losers; with healing comes a true resolution of the problem.

We are not born to be killers. Think of the effect of spending billions to help other countries heal rather than spending that money to kill and eliminate ­terrorists.

Bernie Siegel
Woodbridge, Conn.

Everything in the article makes sense, except the point it tries to make about not considering our actions “war.” In fact, all the tactics that the article contrasts to war are familiar elements of warfare. War isn’t just killing the enemy’s soldiers; it is also determining what makes the enemy tick, attempting to befriend the enemy’s population and avoiding unnecessary battles.

“T. Rakei”
adapted from a comment at

Classifying Anxiety
I read with interestWhy Do We Panic?” [Facts and Fictions in Mental Health], by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld. As a clinical psychologist, I have long observed in my patients a taxonomy of anxiety and panic that I have been unable to find in the literature. I note three kinds of anxiety and panic: In the first, anxiety and panic are associated with a mood disorder, so that anxiety is one face of what the DSM regards as a depressive illness. The second type is of a posttraumatic nature, and the third kind arises as part of the onset of a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia or dementia.

This taxonomy covers all the patients I have ever seen in 22 years of clinical practice. The taxonomy also suggests guidelines for treatment. For the first: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly known as antidepressants. For the second: talk therapy with SSRIs and/or a sleep aid. For the third: antipsychotic medication. The differential diagnosis is sometimes tricky and requires a thorough history.

Jeff Mitchell (“drmitch”)
adapted from a comment at

The Beginning?
Regarding Jesse Bering’sThe End?” why do we perceive death to be different from prebirth or, more precisely, pre-conception? That is also a time when our brain is not functioning—when it does not exist. Yet we do not spend nearly as much time pondering what happened to us or where our minds were before we were born.

adapted from a comment at

BERING REPLIES: It was fascinating to observe how many readers of my article on imagination and the afterlife—or rather the troubles thereof—were tempted to compare “life after death” to “life before birth.” These periods of nonexistence are certainly analogous from a philosophical perspective. Both are marked by the absence of the generative phenomenological organ (that is, the brain) that we so often confuse with the soul. But psychologically speaking, I suspect that people may be disposed to reason about these two periods of the self’s inexistence in different ways.

This article was originally published with the title "October/November 2008 Issue."

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