As a gender studies scholar, I was quite interested in your special issue. I read all the articles with great enthusiasm. I was, however, surprised that you featured only Deborah Tannen’s ideas concerning gendered speech styles (“He Said, She Said”). Because there is so much fascinating research in the area, I was disappointed that she lists her own work exclusively as possible Further Reading. For other work in the field, visit the International Gender and Language Association (IGALA) Web site: www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/organisations/igala/Index.html.
Well done on a fascinating issue overall.
Trinity Western University
PRAISE FOR MODERATION
“The Truth about Boys and Girls,” by Lise Eliot, is the clearest and most unbiased psych article I have read in a long time. Far too many of these studies have interesting results, but then the authors make unwarranted leaps in the conclusions. I like that this one discussed the many possible causes of what we are seeing.
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind
“The Third Gender,” by Jesse Bering, is not of the quality I have come to expect from Scientific American Mind. The author reports myths as facts with no documentation, and the one theory he does document, Ray Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia, is perhaps the most controversial in the transsexual community. Sexual orientation is no more a part of our identity than it is a part of the average person’s. Our condition centers around the internal subjective feeling of being the opposite gender to that assigned at birth.
Numerous studies support the belief that there is a biological genesis to these feelings. Your article has done nothing but further the view that transgendered people are freaks, rather than taking the opportunity to educate the public and fight the negative stereotypes.
I am disappointed that Scientific American Mind would publish such a poorly researched article that so poorly describes us and our condition.
Here they go again.... As shown by the angry comments online, the antiautogynephilia folks have not stopped demonizing scientists who suggest that arousal by the idea of oneself as female explains some male-to-female (MtF) transsexualism—a theory supported by objective physiological evidence.
Why do some people get so angry about a theory they disagree with? Somehow they link it to violence, as if criminals who attack minorities pay attention to sexologists. Maybe they think it is shameful (I do not, and no one should). Maybe they are wounded and disordered to the point that they insist on everyone viewing and understanding them in the way they themselves do, and they act out with rage when anyone wonders if the theory might explain some transsexualism. It must be something beyond simply not resonating with their own experiences of their transitions and identities.
I would welcome the day when autogynephilia is disproved, partly because knowledge will be advanced. But also partly because the shrill suppressors of sex science will move on. To that end, I would ask them to help advance science instead of terrorizing people they disagree with. How? Why not help fund, design and participate in studies of MtFs, including studies of arousal?
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind
THE SCIENCE OF LOVE
Harriet Hall’s e-mail in Letters, in which she accuses Robert Epstein’s “Love-Building Exercises” of not being scientific, shows a misunderstanding of science. There are many kinds of science, and the studies cited by Epstein are actually well-designed, good experiments.
My scientific training includes a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have spent the past four decades as a psychotherapist and graduate school teacher. My reading of the professional literature and my therapeutic experience strongly support the personal and clinical benefits of the exercises mentioned by Epstein. I do these exercises in couples therapy, allowing the practice of powerful behaviors that really can bring a couple closer together. One of the most important outcomes is unlearning or relieving the common and strong anxiety many people experience because of the vulnerability inherent in emotional intimacy.
Therapy outcome research is extremely hard to do well. Moving from published science to creative therapeutic applications in real-life healing requires careful, extensive and long-term assessment of measurable treatment outcomes—a real challenge. Unfortunately, many clinicians pay little attention to the scientific literature and thereby miss both therapeutic options and reports of what does not prove useful over time.
HOW MANY NEURONS?
Everything I have read says the brain has approximately 100 billion neurons. Paul Reber in Ask the Brains states one billion.
REBER REPLIES: Curiously, nobody really knows exactly how many neurons there are in a human brain. A good recent estimate comes from a 2009 paper by neuroanatomist Susana Herculano-Houzel of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. By her estimate, 85 billion total brain neurons includes 65 billion in the cerebellum and only around 17 billion in the cerebral cortex. Fact memory is probably a function largely of the cerebral cortex and not the cerebellum. Given that there are a number of different types of neurons in the cerebral cortex and that there are many areas where the neurons do things other than help with memory, you can see how one billion is a conservative estimate I hoped would be useful for understanding the storage capacity of the human brain. Even if the true number is more than that, my point bears out—it is unlikely we could ever use up our storage space.
FLUENT IN DREAMS
Regarding “Once Learned, Never Forgotten,” by Karen Schrock [Head Lines], I have been under the impression for years that once something such as a language is in the brain, it is never forgotten on a subconscious level. My mother was a hidden child during the Holocaust in French-speaking Belgium, and the experience was traumatic for her at such a young age. As she grew up, she lost the ability to speak French fluently; although she took French in college, she was no more fluent than any other college student who has had some classes.
But during the course of her life, she had dreams of Belgium in which any conversation would be in Belgian French without any feeling of limitation in vocabulary. In her dream state she simply knew Belgian French and not English anymore. It seems that all people have the language they learned as a child stick with them on a subconscious level, but it took the trauma my mother went through to spark her nightmares and show that to be the case.