Letters to the Editors, October/November 2008

Letters to the editor about the June/July 2008 issue of Scientific American MIND

Let Your Creativity Soar,” the panel discussion led by Mariette DiChristina, was a great article, but I think the experts are a little bit off when they address society’s perception of creativity. “Artist” and “creative” are not equivalent. I do not believe Western society has a negative perception of creativity; rather there is a negative perception of financial instability and destructive behavior. It happens that artists and musicians can fall into such states. So although parents may steer their child away from painting or writing as a profession, they probably would encourage their child’s creativity in science, computer programming or marketing, all of which can be extremely creative fields.

adapted from a comment at

It is disturbing that psychologist David C. Geary of the University of Missouri–Columbia, quoted in Nicole Branan’s “She Never Forgets a Face” [Head Lines], assumes that conflict and competition constitute the evolutionary mechanism that resulted in women’s superior recognition of faces. Geary would benefit from reading women’s psychology researchers such as Judith Jordan and Jean Baker Miller. Women’s social interaction has been shown repeatedly to utilize collaboration over conflict. Face recognition would be a vital tool in that process. I fear “collaboration blindness” by male politicians and business leaders as well as scientists has led us down a narrow path to aggression and, ultimately, violence. I am disappointed that Branan did not include this alternative interpretation.

Mary Ellen Bluntzer
via e-mail

I read Yvonne Raley’s article “Character Attacks” [Perspectives] with great interest. Thank you for a thoughtfully reasoned and carefully stated presentation.

The ad hominem fallacy sweeps through our social and political lives so pervasively that it is taken for granted, not as a fallacy but as a tool of discrimination. Issues, arguments and positions in economics and politics are so complicated and so easily misrepresented that I fear that those who bother to vote or even to ponder their views on biofuels, power in the Middle East, farm subsidies, the war on drugs, cabbages and kings all too often surrender in desperation to the questions “Who advocates this?” and “Who opposes this?”

Martin Luther King appealed to us to judge people not by the color of their skin but by “the content of their character.” And isn’t this just what we do when we endorse or contest an idea based on the identity of its advocate? We endorse the content of the character of our chosen advocate and hope for the best. In a way, the representative form of democracy implemented in the U.S. institutionalizes the ad hominem by asking candidates to win our trust and then be allowed to vote on our behalf in the various legislative houses of government.

This is not to say that I applaud this state of affairs. Even if the ad hominem is inescapable, we should apply it knowingly. I took delight in reading Raley’s biographical note at the end of the article: “... she teaches critical reasoning, among other subjects.” I have long felt that my high school years would have been better spent with only two subjects: critical reasoning and project management. How to think for yourself and how to get something done. Learn everything else in context of a project, at least before college. Maybe that would not work for everyone, but I cannot think of a more urgently needed skill than critical reasoning in these times. Or any times.

This article was originally published with the title "June/July 2008 Issue."

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