No War On Terror
Talking about Terrorism,” by Arie W. Kruglanski, Martha Crenshaw, Jerrold M. Post and Jeff Victoroff, makes an important point. Whether we are antiterrorism, antiwar or anticancer, when we wage a war against the enemy we empower that enemy. Mother Teresa is reported to have said about her refusal to take part in antiwar rallies, “If you ever have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

As a physician, I see the difference when people battle cancer or other diseases—they either win or lose the battle. Instead of fighting, we need to look at how to heal our lives and find peace. Then there are no losers; with healing comes a true resolution of the problem.

We are not born to be killers. Think of the effect of spending billions to help other countries heal rather than spending that money to kill and eliminate terrorists.

Bernie Siegel
Woodbridge, Conn.

Everything in the article makes sense, except the point it tries to make about not considering our actions “war.” In fact, all the tactics that the article contrasts to war are familiar elements of warfare. War isn’t just killing the enemy’s soldiers; it is also determining what makes the enemy tick, attempting to befriend the enemy’s population and avoiding unnecessary battles.

“T. Rakei”
adapted from a comment at

Classifying Anxiety
I read with interestWhy Do We Panic?” [Facts and Fictions in Mental Health], by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld. As a clinical psychologist, I have long observed in my patients a taxonomy of anxiety and panic that I have been unable to find in the literature. I note three kinds of anxiety and panic: In the first, anxiety and panic are associated with a mood disorder, so that anxiety is one face of what the DSM regards as a depressive illness. The second type is of a posttraumatic nature, and the third kind arises as part of the onset of a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia or dementia.

This taxonomy covers all the patients I have ever seen in 22 years of clinical practice. The taxonomy also suggests guidelines for treatment. For the first: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly known as antidepressants. For the second: talk therapy with SSRIs and/or a sleep aid. For the third: antipsychotic medication. The differential diagnosis is sometimes tricky and requires a thorough history.

Jeff Mitchell (“drmitch”)
adapted from a comment at

The Beginning?
Regarding Jesse Bering’sThe End?” why do we perceive death to be different from prebirth or, more precisely, pre-conception? That is also a time when our brain is not functioning—when it does not exist. Yet we do not spend nearly as much time pondering what happened to us or where our minds were before we were born.

adapted from a comment at

BERING REPLIES: It was fascinating to observe how many readers of my article on imagination and the afterlife—or rather the troubles thereof—were tempted to compare “life after death” to “life before birth.” These periods of nonexistence are certainly analogous from a philosophical perspective. Both are marked by the absence of the generative phenomenological organ (that is, the brain) that we so often confuse with the soul. But psychologically speaking, I suspect that people may be disposed to reason about these two periods of the self’s inexistence in different ways.

In fact, as I write this, Natalie Emmons, a Ph.D. candidate in my lab, is en route to a small village in rural Ecuador, where she plans to systematically investigate children’s reasoning (or “folk beliefs”) about the mental status of human beings prior to conception. We believe the difference goes beyond simply having more to worry about in the future than in the past.

Developmental psychologists such as Deborah Kelemen of Boston University have found evidence of a “creationist bias” in young children. These findings suggest that our species’ default cognitive tendency is to reason about the origins of animate and inanimate objects in terms of a clear beginning—and furthermore, as having been designed by an intelligent creator such as God. The bottom line is that the jury is still out on this issue of how we tend to conceptualize our subjective existence in that exhaustively long epoch that was life before us.

Listening for Soundness
InWhy Dogs Don’t Enjoy Music” [Head Lines], Sandy Fritz writes, “These results suggest the fine discrimination of sound is not a necessity for survival.” I’ve often thought that the ability to appreciate the quality of sounds is vital in a toolmaking species. In many crafts practiced by early humans—selecting stone for tools, judging whether wood for a boat or clay for a pot is sound or assessing whether a bow is properly strung—the ability to judge the quality of sound is essential. It would be interesting to study the ways in which contemporary Stone Age cultures use sound in toolmaking.

adapted from a comment at

Laugh in Relief
In “Ask the Brains,” William F. Fry suggests that we laugh when we see someone fall down because of the incongruity of the situation. I have a different idea: laughter is an expression of relief. During the brief instant of watching someone fall, our brains gear up for a possible fight-or-flight response: Will the person be injured and create a crisis? When the event concludes positively—no crisis to respond to—our bodies release the tension with a physical, audible expression: a short burst of relieved laughter. You can also see this reflex in action when a golfer is trying to sink a putt or when a basketball player tries to make a three-point shot—spectators will release the momentary tension with a hoot of success or a groan of failure.

adapted from a comment at

ERRATUM In “The End?” by Jesse Bering [October/November 2008], we misstated the location of Queen’s University Belfast; it is in Northern Ireland.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Letters".