After reading Robert Epstein’s article “How Science Can Help You Fall in Love,” I had to go back to the cover and verify that the word “scientific” was indeed part of the title of your magazine. The “Love-Building Exercises” he recommends are more appropriate to a magazine of fantasy and science fiction:
“Two as One”—feeling that the two of you have merged?
“A Mind-Reading Game”—wordlessly trying to communicate thoughts?
“Love Aura”—feeling “eerie kinds of sparks” when your palm is close to another’s?
Thought transfer? Auras? Come on! Shame on you for publishing such metaphysical pseudoscientific psychobabble!
In “Are Social Networks Messing with Your Head?” David DiSalvo rightly pointed out that social networking may affect the quality of our relationships; however, he missed the possibility that it can also affect the quality of our solitude. The reflection, quietude and introspection so vital to self-knowledge and creativity are too easily sapped away when we can be reached at any time, anywhere, by everyone.
The richness of information and accessibility social networks offer is potentially wonderful. But it may also create an environment where people lack the time or willpower to take even a few minutes of solitude. Surely, this aspect also might profoundly affect our psychological well-being.
J. Ramsey Golden
THOUGHTS ON SUICIDE
I have to take issue with the writing in the article “Daring to Die,” by Karen Springen. The headline and the statement that to commit suicide people “need the guts” to go through with the act are practically egging people on. Are you “daring” enough to pull the trigger? Do you have the “guts” to do it? I think it is good to write openly about suicide, but I feel we should be careful to avoid glamorizing language.
Springen rightly notes that restricting the means by which people commit suicide can result in fewer deaths. But she also says, “When a net went up under the Golden Gate Bridge, people could not jump to their deaths.” There is no net under the Golden Gate Bridge. It remains the deadliest structure on earth for suicide. Those of us who have lost our loved ones to the bridge (my 17-year-old daughter and only child jumped in January 2008) are fighting to install a net. It has been an uphill battle because of political inertia and public apathy.
EDITORS’ NOTE: Many readers wrote to correct this regrettable error. Our thanks to all of them for pointing it out.
I read with interest “I Learned It at the Movies,” by Wray Herbert [We’re Only Human]. I have a 12-year-old son who is fascinated by military history. We often watch movies together just for the camaraderie. After we watch films such as Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, The Patriot, Gettysburg, and so on, we both do independent research for a few days and then discuss the accuracy of the movie. My son takes great pleasure in one-upping me during the reality check. I don’t think that without the movies I could get him to research a topic I “assigned.” Debunking is educational!
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind
DEPRESSION AS A TOOL
I was fascinated by your recent article “Depression’s Evolutionary Roots,” by Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. But it left me with a question. How does the model of depression as a problem-solving adaptation account for depression caused by an irreparable social situation (such as the death of a loved one)? Rumination cannot resolve the problem, because these sorts of situations are unresolvable. I have seen many of my high school classmates become depressed over the loss of a close family member. How does this type of depression fit your model?
THE AUTHORS REPLY: Bereavement may seem, at first glance, to be a situation where intense rumination is maladaptive because one cannot “undo” the past. An event that cannot be undone, however, often causes other important problems that rumination may be designed to deal with. The loss of a loved one means losing crucial emotional or material support, creating new difficulties that may take months or years to surmount. The analysis that takes place in depressive rumination can help bereaved people effectively manage some of these problems and rebuild support in their social network. Although a loss might be truly irreplaceable, usually new relationships can be forged with people who can fill at least some of the roles of the lost loved one.
As one who has struggled with bouts of major depression since childhood, I find the notion that there is something “adaptive” about it bewildering. Granted, the term is used to describe a wide range of negative feelings, some of which surely are caused by real-world situations—and, therefore, sadness may force people to analyze the roots of their problems and find rational solutions.
But then there exists a much darker kind of depression that acts as a kind of lens through which the entire world is perceived. The most insidious aspect of this state is the conviction that “I’m perceiving myself as worthless not because of an emotional disorder but because I’m finally facing up to reality: there truly is no hope.” In this state of mind, the knowledge that “I’ve felt this way before, and things have gotten better” is utterly beside the point—that is surely not true this time.
The mood that accompanies this worldview is one of pure agony, and it certainly does not enable the sufferer to engage in a healthy analysis of real problems: indeed, the only rational course of action—assuming one has the energy—seems to be suicide. It is hard to consider anything about this mood disorder as adaptive!
New York City
THE EDITORS REPLY: Many readers wrote to us with similar concerns, pointing out that their experience of depression (or that of their loved ones) was so traumatic and debilitating there was surely nothing beneficial about it. As the authors note, some diagnoses of depression may be true instances of the disorder, but many, many more cases are not. According to Andrews and Thomson, “We simply believe that depression is overdiagnosed as a disorder—probably dramatically so.”
ERRATA: The article “Daring to Die,” by Karen Springen [January/February 2010], incorrectly stated that there is a net under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and that the net prevented suicides. On October 10, 2008, the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors voted 14 to 1 to install a net below the bridge as a suicide deterrent, but a net has not yet been installed. “Daring to Die” also incorrectly described Rahil Briggs as a pediatrician. He is a psychologist.
A Head Games puzzle in November/December 2009 incorrectly stated that Thrace is in Greece. Its modern boundaries straddle Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.