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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 5

Readers Respond to "Mortal Thoughts"

Letters to the Editor about the July/August 2012 issue of Scientific American MIND



Scientific American Mind

ANOTHER REASON TO HAVE KIDS
Mortal Thoughts,” by Michael W. Wiederman, raises an interesting question: Why did humans evolve such a strong fear of mortality in the first place? According to an article in the fall 2010 issue of Biological Theory, our awareness of mortality is a by-product of the evolution of consciousness (which has obvious fitness benefits). Yet natural selection was not finished: it then favored a fear of mortality, together with the amelioration of that fear through offspring production.

Could our fear of death have evolved to inspire us to have more children?

In other words, attraction to offspring production provided our ancestors with an important mortality anxiety buffer—a perception of being able to “leave something of oneself” for the future despite being terrorized by the uniquely human capacity to foresee one's own inevitable death. According to this hypothesis, children therefore represented vehicles for the transmission of self-identifying “memes,” such as values and beliefs, which reside in the minds and behaviors of a parent. More important, this drive to reproduce also ensured genetic legacy: the transmission of genes to future generations, including genes that influence the expression of legacy drive and therefore also genes that promote mortality anxiety. Being afraid to die turned out to be in the best interests of our ancestors' genes.

“netsirt”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

INVITING BACTERIA IN
Microbes on Your Mind,” by Moheb Costandi, adds to a slew of great microbe theories getting recent notice. Others include the idea that humans and their bugs now represent a single superorganism and that the complex part of our immune system did not evolve to fight invading pathogens. That talent may have been a lucky aftereffect of its more ancient role: managing the bugs our vertebrate ancestors “invited” in to help us better digest more kinds of food.

“The Mix–UAB”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

PREHOMOSEXUALITY
Regarding “Is Your Child Gay?” Jesse Bering should be congratulated for the courage and wisdom to write an article that enlightens us on “sexual orientation and how it is influenced by environmental, biological and hereditary factors.” This topic also raises an important question: How should boys and girls be raised?

“doc”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

HIGH ON ALL-NIGHTERS
I found “Tired and Amped,” by Morgen Peck, to ring true. I work the overnight shift three days a week. In the mornings, I do catch a kind of “second wind,” which allows me to make it through 20 hours of being awake. I can attest to feeling more hyper, silly and jumpy (it's better than being drunk) the longer I stay up. I also notice that after a while I completely go blank on anything that happened more than four to six hours earlier. Granted, I can eventually remember, but usually I have to sleep first.

“Magoonski”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

CATCHING A MOOD
In Ask the Brains, Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr., responds to “Is a Bad Mood Contagious?” In my opinion, nothing could be more true!

Years ago when my husband developed diabetes and his blood sugar levels were out of control, he was in a constant bad mood. It definitely affected my ability to attempt to wrestle with his disease. Yet when I sought the cure for dealing with someone in a perpetual bad mood, there was no literature available.

On the other hand, there is nothing better than contagious enthusiasm. It's wonderful to stand in front of an audience with the perfect opening line. Upon delivery, the broad smiles and applause make everyone cheerful.

“Petra”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

DRIVE MORE SAFELY
Old and on the Road,” by Wray Herbert [We're Only Human], offers a training method that seems like a really simple way to improve older drivers. It may work for younger drivers as well. I think anyone who sees his or her behavior from a third-person perspective can gain some real insights.

“Crasher”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Self-compassion is a crucial aspect of emotional and mental health, as Marina Krakovsky writes in “Self-Compassion Fosters Mental Health” [Head Lines]. It is important, however, to also study and learn from our “negative” noncompassionate thoughts and feelings. Although they are often oppressive and can be demoralizing, they have a capacity to teach us how we were conditioned and reveal the hidden ideals we harbor about how we should live our lives.

“jeffrey rubin”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

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

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