Letters to the Editors, September/October 2011

Letters to the Editor about the May/June 2011 issue of Scientific American MIND

Thank you for the excellent article “The Unleashed Mind,” by Shelley Carson. It’s very refreshing to read that people with eccentric, novel and even schizophrenic ways of thinking are often very high functioning, talented, intelligent individuals who can use their strange perceptual experiences to access beauty, originality and creativity.
Greg Westlake
Norfolk, England

When I telephoned my partner, a highly creative person, and read her the paragraph in Carson’s article in which the question is posed, “Do you often feel like a square peg in a round hole?” her prompt response was “My peg isn’t even on the same plane as the hole.” Another startling affirmation of the complexity of artists’ daily cognitive input.
J. Kruger
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Your May/June 2011 cover illustration may indicate a not too subtle prejudice against highly creative people. It would seem better suited to an article entitled “The Unhinged Mind.” I notice that not one of the nine people shown on page 25, said to be “known for their quirks,” has even a remotely maniacal expression on his or her face, unlike the subject of your cover art. If a person had never known any creative people, one look at this cover would be enough to make him or her want to avoid them, if at all possible. Hardly an unbiased appraisal.
Leonard Kindler
via e-mail

Fatal Attraction,” by Christof Koch [Consciousness Redux], describes how parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii can affect their hosts’ behavior to suit their survival needs. I’d like to point out that this effect may not stop at parasites. There are a myriad of bacterial organisms that call our bodies home. To think that over the many millennia none of them could have evolved to influence us to act toward the survival of their species would be naive.

We are not just human, we are an ecosystem, and organisms in an ecosystem—be they humans, beavers or ants—often alter their ecosystems to suit their needs.
“David N’Gog”
commenting at

I found “The Hidden Brain,” by R. Douglas Fields, to be exciting reading. This and other research are lending credibility to the conjecture that consciousness is a function of glia, not neurons.

Many who practice meditation are aware that consciousness can be free of the usual verbal chatter of our minds. It may be that what we call our self, or the “I” in our perception of self, is made not of patterns of electrochemical synaptic logic (neurons chattering) but rather the aggregate experience of the mass of glial cells, each one contributing its particle of consciousness to the whole. The mental sensations of self, desire, fear, love and hate seem better understood in the light of Fields’s discoveries about the manner in which glia interact with neural synapses and interact with one another.

Most striking of all is that we may be approaching an understanding of why we feel so strongly that our minds and bodies are split. Functions of the subconscious may be subconscious because they are neural rather than glial. A simple thought experiment: when you first wake up in the morning, your thoughts may be sluggish, but your consciousness is so fully active that you are aware you are thinking sluggishly. It is indeed ironic, as Fields describes, that we have long ignored the glial functions of thought processes, thinking of them as merely support for the nervous system, in a manner similar to the ancient Greeks thinking the brain was simply an organ for cooling the blood.
Wayne Schotten
via e-mail

This article was originally published with the title "Letters."

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