Playtime for Everyone
Yesterday while going through our mail, Scientific American Mind’s cover line jumped out at me: “The Serious Need for Play. How it improves your creativity, emotional health—and cuts stress” [article by Melinda Wenner]. I was thrilled to see “play” on the cover.

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown is a role model for all of us who strongly believe in play. Readers might like to check out the National Institute for Play Web site,

Pat Rumbaugh
Takoma Park, Md

As a public school teacher of 18 years, I have been dismayed by the reduction of recess time and by the pushing down of inappropriate curriculum into kindergarten and first grade. In a six-hour kindergarten day, kids get a total of 40 minutes of unstructured play. Gone are most of the “house” corners where kids pretended. You won’t find a blocks corner either. I believe strongly in public education, but I couldn’t bear to put my daughter in that setting. She is now in a Waldorf school, where play is nurtured and childhood is protected.

“farmergirl”                                                                                                                                   adapted from a comment at

My delight at seeing a grown-up juggling on the February/March cover quickly damped down on reading the article. Silly me—hoping adult creativity, emotional health and stress reduction would be featured as indicated. By the second paragraph, I was reading about the importance of play for kids.

I concur, but that’s not what I wanted to see. As a professional learning and performance program designer and consultant for business and government, I know the value of play to promote interest, involvement and improvement. Play looks different for adults, but discovery, fun problem solving, creative daydreaming, a little competition and many other techniques produce stunning results.

In my long experience, playfulness and periods of free thought and action produce a sense of satisfaction and mastery for people—in the workplace.

Judith Blair
Boulder, Colo.

Primer for Performance
It is interesting that the title of Elizabeth Svoboda’s article, “Avoiding the Big Choke,” focuses on the negative rather than the positive. It could have been, for instance, “Perform under Pressure.” As a mental skills consultant for athletes, musicians and other performers, I would recommend starting from a more positive perspective.

Overall, the article was interesting, but I think the part discouraging people from “taking their time” was a little dodgy. In my experience, taking time can often be helpful, as a deep breath can allow the mind and especially the body to relax. The important difference here, which I think the article does not take into account, is that such time can be used proactively to focus on key words such as “smooth” or “powerful,” which you mention as a useful technique. Using these phrases with a relaxed body is likely to be more successful than using them with an overhyped one.

Mason Astley
adapted from a comment at

Move to the Music
As a physician with an antiaging practice, I can strongly support the value of exercise in combating disease states, including the aging process, as Emily Anthes wrote in “Six Ways to Boost Brainpower.” And what could be better for your health and longevity than the combination of music, socialization and exercise: dance!

adapted from a comment at

Fatherly Concern
The Father Factor,” by Paul Raeburn, is an excellent article. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Vanderbilt University psychiatrist Howard Meltzer, whom you quote in the article, and I share his concern about the lack of knowledge—on the part of both the lay public and medical professionals—about this cause of one third or more of noninherited cases of schizophrenia and autism. I recommend for further reading an article by Columbia University urologist Harry Fisch, entitled “Older Men Are Having Children, but the Reality of a Male Biological Clock Makes This Trend Worrisome,” in the January issue of the journal Geriatrics. Couples are waiting longer to start a family, and advances in reproductive technology are allowing older men and women to consider having children. I am concerned about these trends.

adapted from a comment at

I am 51 years old and have a child with autism. If I had known that my advanced age increased the risk that I would have an autistic son, would I have done anything differently? Would I have taken the risk of never knowing this boy, my son? I don’t think so. I hope not.

adapted from a comment at

As a long-time subscriber, student of the sciences and budding neuroscience researcher, I greatly appreciate your magazine. I wrote this “neuropoem” and thought you’d enjoy it. It is based loosely on Victorian verse, weaving timeless infatuation with modern neuroscience terminology using classic landscape imagery.

I Love Your Mind

How I’d love to go walking
Through the orchard of your mind
Fertile neurons branching
Intricately evermore
Arboretum lushly laden with
sweet serotonin

My fingers itch to dig up your
deep-rooted dopamine
My taste buds drown themselves
in craving
Your savory acetylcholine
I long to climb up your axon
And shake ripe neurotransmitters
From the delicate tips of your
dendritic branches

I ache to see your action potential
in action
To be blinded by the searing speed
of your electric signal
As it sparks from node to node
To behold the violent beauty of
vesicles fusing with your presynaptic membrane—
Pouring their contents into your
synaptic cleft
How I wish to be your postsynaptic
So that I may be flooded by your

Inhibitory, excitatory—it thrills
me to my core
I hyperpolarize every time you’re
near me
Gripped by glycine
Transfixed, mesmerized
Living to be behind your eyes
Depolarize me anytime

Emily Brown
Berkeley, Calif.

ERRATA “Building around the Mind,” by Emily Anthes [April/May/June 2009], misspelled the name of Columbia University’s John Zeisel in his second mention. “Learning by Surprise,” by Daniela Fenker and Hartmut Schtze [December 2008/January 2009], incorrectly stated
that dopamine is the messenger sent from the hippocampus in response to stimuli. The messenger is glutamate. Glutamate indirectly activates the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area, which contain cells whose axons release dopamine in the hippocampus.

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