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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 3

Readers Respond to "Being in the Now"

Letters to the editor from the March/April 2013 issue of Scientific American MIND



Scientific American Mind

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BE MINDFUL OF HYPNOSIS

As the author of the book Mindfulness and Hypnosis: The Power of Suggestion to Transform Experience (W. W. Norton, 2011), I suggest there is much to be gained by studying the relation between clinical hypnosis and mindfulness, which Amishi P. Jha wrote about in “Being in the Now.” Just as people experience perceptual shifts, sensory shifts, physiological alterations, cognitive changes, and more during mindful experiences, so do they in response to suggestions given in any similarly focused and responsive state, such as during hypnosis.

The difficult questions mindfulness practitioners must eventually answer are the same ones hypnosis researchers and practitioners have been studying for a much longer time. These include: How does a suggested experience transform into a genuinely “felt” experience? Is everyone capable of focused attention to the same degree? Are there mindful approaches that may generate undesirable effects?

Mindfulness works, but to better understand how, we need more cross-fertilization of ideas and methods between mindfulness and parallel approaches such as clinical hypnosis.

Michael D. Yapko
Fallbrook, Calif.

HAPPINESS NOW OR LATER

I'm wondering if you have a deliberate editorial policy of having adjacent articles contradict each other. In the current issue we have “Being in the Now,” by Amishi P. Jha, closely followed by “Time-Warping Temptations,” by David H. Freedman, which advises us not to live in the now. My life has been very instructive in this regard: When I lived in the now, it was always about doing things that messed me up in the long run; whenever I resisted temptation, invested in the future and stalwartly did not yield to impulse, I missed a lot of fun and never got my long-run payoff. After a lifetime of this, it seems to me that a first approximation to wisdom might counsel that impulses for honest, nondamaging fun should not be resisted (things won't be better later!) but that one should invest in the future if it's something you like doing now and will like better later on.

Meanwhile I hope these articles that contradict each other will continue! They make the reader think.

E. N. Anderson
Riverside, Calif.

THE EDITORS REPLY: You seem to have solved the contradiction. Research says we should live in the moment as a rule, as a way of appreciating life as it passes by. Doing so will help us stay calm and be happy, according to work by Jha and others. But when we are faced with a decision that pits immediate impulses against our long-term goals, we should generally not choose what would make us happy immediately, as Freedman explains.

Most of the day, though, we are not faced with such choices, and so we can appreciate the sights, sounds and other sensations of the day, as well as the many immediate joys—such as finishing a project or watching the home team win a game—that do not come in conflict with any long-term goals.

NOT NECESSARILY DEMENTIA

As an enthusiastic reader of Scientific American Mind, I was disappointed to see the magazine peddling inaccurate myths about mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in “Is Cocoa the Brain Drug of the Future?” by Daisy Yuhas [Head Lines]. The article misleadingly states that MCI is a “precursor to Alzheimer's disease.” The fact is that MCI is still a controversial clinical construct. Most unbiased studies show that individuals with the “condition” either stay stable or recover within any given assessment period (no studies appear to have assessed cognition for longer than a 10-year period). Thus, because only a minority of people with MCI progress to dementia, it hardly qualifies as a blanket precursor to Alzheimer's. Currently the best measures of preventing dementia (including Alzheimer's) relate to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, reducing obesity and preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.

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