Letters to the Editors, June/July 2008

Kissing Theory

Affairs of the Lips,” by Chip Walter, suggests that the chemistry of a good kiss can predict the future of a relationship. In the “Kiss and Tell” editorial letter by Mariette DiChristina, the kiss leaves the man “speechless” and the woman with “a shivery thrill.” There are undoubtedly chemicals transferred and brain areas activated, but that hardly explains the rich soul-stirring quality of a good kiss.

As a psychoanalyst, I find that the concept of incorporation goes much further in explaining the good-kiss experience than biology can. The couple’s unconscious minds have been primed by attachment to incorporate the other person. In the kiss, they each take in the other’s “good stuff,” symbolized by each other’s perceived oral quality. It is the rich lushness of the other’s inner being that begins to feel augmenting and transformative to them both. They feel intensely graced by the presence of the other’s qualities inside them.

This assimilation of the good other seems so instantaneously pleasurable as to be miraculous. But it is simply that when the unconscious mind incorporates the other, the act appears to the conscious mind like a magical process. Likewise, if the unconscious mind does not get enough preliminary signals of “good stuff,” there will be no incorporation, and the kiss will not be magical, although it may still be erotically good.

Augustus F. Kinzel
Canaan, N.Y.

Morality Bites

InWhen Morality Is Hard to Like,” by Jorge Moll and Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, I was intrigued by one of the test scenarios: Would it be moral to smother a crying baby to save a group of people hiding from a band of killers bent on murdering everyone? As usually posed, the choice is between the death of the baby and that of everyone in the group. But in reality, the smothered baby would lose consciousness before dying, at which point it would be safe to uncover its mouth. True, the chance of its death by accidental asphyxiation is quite real, but it is markedly less than that of death following discovery. Thus, preventing the baby from crying increases its probability of survival as well as that of the group.

This example demonstrates that studies of this type need to consider what are the alternatives that people actually think they are choosing between. The question is not just of methodological interest. Much of the brainpower spent making a difficult moral choice might go into finding a way to decide. If so, the processes of analyzing and interpreting the facts that surround and define the dilemma are of critical relevance.

Stephen M. Welch
Manhattan, Kan.

I was disturbed by David Pizarro’s conclusion in “The Virtue in Being Morally Wrong” that “utilitarianism may, in the end, be the right moral theory.” The decision about whether to push one man onto a trolley track to save five men farther down the tracks is a deeper question than he apparently assumes. A person making such a decision is not deciding simply if five is greater than one. He is deciding how bad he will feel if five people die versus how bad he will feel if he pushes one man to his death. This feeling he is weighing is more than just some squi­shy sentimentalism—pushing that one man is equivalent to pushing the whole of human trust onto the tracks. After all, how could we function if we had to always watch our backs so as not to be sacrificed? These feelings are there for a good purpose—they evolved from a system of trust and respect that allows us to function successfully as a society.

David Butler
Mission Viejo, Calif.

This article was originally published with the title "February/March 2008 Issue."

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