Letters to the Editors, April/May/June 2009

Letters to the editor about the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Scientific American MIND

Go Ahead, Put it off
I disagree
with Trisha Gura in “I’ll Do It Tomorrow.” I don’t see procrastination as a problem to be fixed. In my corporate job, I found that the longer I procrastinated, the more likely the “need” for that activity would evaporate. Now, in my software development and musical activities, I find that in the time between procrastinating and actually getting down to it, I very often come up with a more efficient or creative idea than the way I would originally have approached the task. Procrastination is a method for letting ideas cook longer.

adapted from a comment at

Weighing Hypocrisy
The Truth about Hypocrisy,” by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse, was full of fascinating, quotable material, but it had some logical inconsistencies. The authors gave abundant reason not to engage in ad hominem attacks. That’s all well and good. They ultimately allowed that some hypocritical behavior indirectly supports the hypocrite’s position, such as in the case of a father who might say, “Don’t smoke, son; look how addicted I am.” That’s good, too. We shouldn’t renounce our ideals simply because we fall short of them. But couldn’t the same argument be applied to former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who could have said, “Make prostitution illegal and strictly punished. Strong deterrents are necessary. Look at me, I need them!” This case is actually more consistent with the authors’ argument than the example they gave of Al Gore’s personal jet. It raises the question as to why moral (in a religious sense) hypocrites are apparently less redeemable than others.

Jennifer Schwirzer
via e-mail

How to Change
Although “Set in Our Ways,” by Nikolas Westerhoff, correctly depicts change as difficult to make, the article does not stress the most fundamental reason that people fail to make changes in their lives: competing commitments. For example, I’m committed to losing weight, but at an underlying level I may be more committed to appearing jolly and cuddly so that I’ll be loved. We all have thousands of these competing commitments, developed over a lifetime—and even when we recognize them, like slippery little worms they wriggle away from our awareness. Taking on these competing commitments one at a time, recognizing that they do not serve us and replacing them with commitments that help us move our lives forward present a daunting challenge—and are most worthwhile. In this way, it is possible to make large changes in our lives in a short period of time, regardless of our age.

adapted from a comment at

I think the title of your article should be “Why Do Men Rent Sex?” rather than “Why Do Men Buy Sex?” Buying sex is called marriage; the marriage contract, distilled, has been as follows: the man gets sexual access and fidelity from the woman, and the woman, in ­exchange, gets lifelong financial support for herself and her offspring. Not consummating the marriage contract and “alienation of affection” (withholding sexual access) are still valid grounds for having a marriage annulled and for divorce.

A more interesting article might be entitled “Why Men, Crazy as This May Seem, Actually Get Married Rather Than Use Prostitutes”!

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

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