A SOCIAL MALADY

The article “Why We Cheat,” by Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall, attempts to link cheating and deception to the natural sciences. In my opinion, this topic of study is much better suited to the social sciences. Fish, mammals and bacteria cannot cheat, although they may employ various creative tactics that resemble “dishonesty” to get what they want, such as food or a mate. These behaviors are only “wrong” once there is a social determination that the tactics being used allow for some kind of undue advantage.

For people, we allow a wide range of creative deception in our everyday lives (for instance, flattery or lying about one's age), but those behaviors are seen quite differently once they break an agreed-on moral/legal ethic, such as when an accountant engages in insider trading or a student cheats on a test.

By equating the natural aspects of our behavior with their social outcomes, the article conflates what is ultimately a social and moral choice with a natural trait. Only at the end of the article is the point correctly made by describing the social reasons why people choose to act dishonestly: anxiety over loss, copycat behavior, hypermotivation, and so on.

Severin Wirz
Annapolis, Md.

EASING EXISTENTIAL TERROR

I don't doubt that listening to Brahms is a nice trip, as Erica Rex described in “Calming a Turbulent Mind,” but I am betting that listening to Jimi Hendrix is even better. More seriously, I have long believed in giving the option of psychotropic drugs to terminal patients to alleviate the sheer terror of dying that many experience.

To do less, in my opinion, is simply cruelty. Those people who believe, for religious or other reasons, that such suffering has moral worth, are free to do without when their time of dying comes. But I am betting that, given the choice, most won't.

“Mr. Mxyzptlk III”
commenting at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com

AN APPEALING TIME

I'll be honest. I don't always make time to read magazines, and it was pure impulse when I purchased the May/June issue of Scientific American Mind to accompany my two-hour train ride from Connecticut to New York City. Yet many of the topics in this issue appealed to me as a failed premed major—in particular, “Perfectly Timed Advertising” [Illusions], by Stephen L. Macknik, Leandro Luigi di Stasi and Susana Martinez-Conde. As a museum curator, I spend a lot of time looking and inviting other people to look at works of art. I read this article and appreciated the discussion of the aesthetics of watch imagery. After the reference to the Marc Chagall painting, I vowed to look more closely at clocks and watches in art.

The next day I made a brief visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art before a meeting. In one of the galleries of modern American art, far removed from the crowds flocking to the major exhibitions, was Florine Stettheimer's The Cathedrals of Broadway, 1929. It was a beautiful coincidence that in this painting, the clock reads 10:10. Perhaps the time is a “real” reference to when Broadway performances let out, or perhaps it looks pleasing to the eye, which it does.

Thank you for this intriguing and informative article, which I hope will foster an appreciation for these relics of the predigital era.

Erin Monroe
Wadsworth Atheneum Hartford, Conn.

Many years ago I had heard that hands on display clocks were set at 8:20, not because they didn't want to hide the company name, usually on the bottom of the face, but to frame and point at the name. Hands in the horizontal position would not do this. (And why not reverse it to 3:40? Probably convention.)

Jack Thompson
East Lansing, Mich.

EMBRACE THE COMPLEXITY

I agree with R. Douglas Fields's comments in “A Push to Map All the Brain's Neurons” [Head Lines], by Karen Schrock Simring, about glial mapping being an indispensable part of the government's brain-mapping initiative, but we have to start somewhere. Adding glia into the mix at this early stage would increase the complexity exponentially and most likely kill the project before it even gets off the ground.

“NeuroJoe”
commenting at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com

FIELDS REPLIES (in an online comment): The brain is complex, but we want to get it right. You just can't leave out half the parts and expect to get an understanding that goes beyond one's preconceptions. I understand that the Europeans have added glia to their brain-mapping initiative.

SLEEP-DEPRIVATION THERAPY?

In “A Fast-Acting Antidepressant” [Head Lines], David Levine explains why sleep deprivation can temporarily ease the symptoms of major depression. Given that sleep deprivation can trip a bipolar person into mania (and when someone is in a manic cycle, they do not sleep), I hope researchers will also look into how regulating adenosine might be used to short-circuit manic swings.

“Suzanney2000”
commenting at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com

MIND OVER MATTER

After 30 years of using drawings and imagery to help patients have a therapeutic and healing response to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I was very pleased to see that someone has finally studied the effect of guided imagery and demonstrated its therapeutic benefits after surgery, as Tori Rodriguez detailed in “Healing the Body with the Mind” [Head Lines].

We need to continue to learn from experience and not let our beliefs stop us from exploiting the power of the mind and its hypnotic effect on the body. At times I have called this effect “deceiving people into health,” because people's beliefs manifest in the body and the beliefs can be positive or negative as related to treatment.

Bernie Siegel
Woodbridge, Conn.

HAPPINESS BRINGS AGE

Older people become more content, according to “Age Brings Happiness” [Head Lines], by Karen Schrock Simring. I will be celebrating my 60th high school reunion this year. I've noticed that in my age cohort the really unpleasant people have died off faster. I suspect that folks with paranoid or narcissistic tendencies tend to get mad a lot, thus giving themselves lots of stress and shortening their lives. In addition, people who do not acquire tools for acceptance of their self and of adversity also experience more life-shortening stress. These factors might contribute toward a correlation between happiness and age in the population.

At the individual level, a long life provides opportunities to develop the tools for mitigating the damaging emotional effects of adversity. Even an atheist like me can relate to the serenity prayer, which I have secularized: “Let us strive for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The longer you work at internalizing this aphorism, the more you will be able to reduce stress and improve the possibility of enjoying a long life.

“Pazuzu”
commenting at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com