MAKING MAGIC MUNDANE
Your article in the November/December issue on how habits of perception and brain functioning are essential for so much of the success of magic tricks [“Mind over Magic?” by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, with Sandra Blakeslee] was fascinating to me. It reminded me of an interesting observation about magic I accidentally made back in the 1970s.
I was watching a television special by magician Doug Henning. Normally I’m the perfect audience for magic tricks; I go with the flow and gasp in amazement. But this time, after half an hour, I turned off the TV, bored, because I saw a probable opening for each illusion.
Why the change? I was tired, and so I was lying on my side to watch the show, with my head horizontal instead of vertical. I realized that our habits of perceptual construction are almost always learned and reinforced while we are in an upright position. Somehow lying down did not provide the implicit body cues associated with all those learned expectations, so my attention was not led in the normal way.
I have tried it a few times since, and I do not recommend it if you want to enjoy magic shows!
Charles T. Tart
Palo Alto, California
TALK THERAPY’S COUSINS
I applaud Jonathan Shedler’s emphasis on the tremendous value of psychodynamic therapy in your November/December issue’s “Getting to Know Me.”
I have been a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst for more than three decades, and I have seen many people greatly helped by this method of treatment.
But I also have seen many people helped immensely by psychoanalysis, which is by no means a method of treatment only of “yesteryear.” Many young therapists are still studying and practicing psychoanalysis as well as psychodynamic psychotherapy. Many hundreds of analysts have added to Freud’s pioneering ideas over the past century.
Yet I must reiterate that I am grateful that your article was so positive about the reality and value of psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Landrum S. Tucker, Jr.
Psychoanalytic Institute of the Carolinas
Chapel Hill, N.C.
I initially welcomed the article on psychodynamic therapy in the last issue. It started with gusto and provided a succinct and informative overview of its key principles and techniques and the most recent evidence for its efficacy.
Regrettably, however, the article was compromised by an ongoing comparison to a description of cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) that was ill informed and inaccurate. CBT does not “seek to persuade” patients, nor is it focused on “mental illness” but on people seeking help for distress.
Contrary to the impressions in Shedler’s article, CBT is based around a collaborative relationship between the therapist and client, who develop a shared understanding of the links between thoughts, feelings, behaviors, other people, and the unconscious rules and assumptions of the client. CBT therapists are consistently rated as having the strongest therapeutic alliances with their clients compared with other therapists.
The article gave the impression that psychodynamic therapy has a larger effect size than CBT from “one major study” that is not referenced. This is not a fair reflection of the literature. Differences between the effectiveness of different therapies are rarely identified, but still, a range of reviews points to the advantages of CBT over psychodynamic therapy.
Psychodynamic therapy has its own scientific foundations and appeal and therefore should not have to rely on an argument against a straw man in the form of a caricature of CBT nor on a selective review of the literature to make its case as a viable contemporary therapy. This only serves to isolate the field further and miss the opportunity to provide a shared vision of psychotherapy that could truly benefit a wide range of people.
Cognitive-behavior therapist and clinical psychologist
University of Manchester, U.K.
When I began reading “What Makes a Good Parent?” by Robert Epstein, I expected to find an intelligent discussion of high-quality research into an incredibly important topic. Instead I encountered an article littered with underqualified claims.
First, the study relies solely on convenience sampling and self-reporting, which is much less rigorous than many studies in this area. Even more disturbing was the lack of effort to qualify the findings in light of the methodological limitations. For instance, the outcome variable of children’s happiness should be referred to as “parents’ perceptions of children’s happiness” because of the lack of verification of happiness with the children themselves.
In light of these flaws, I found it was, at the least, inappropriate and, at the most, dangerous, to report the results with such authority. This article was certainly not up to the high standards for inclusion I have come to expect from Scientific American Mind.
Regan Clark Foust
I found “What Makes a Good Parent?” very alarming! Epstein writes in his top-10 list of good parenting that number nine is religion, without citing any real scientific data to back it up. I was appalled by this assertion because religion is directly undermining science education and acceptance in America today. I have to question the author’s motives—he seems to be projecting his own belief system into this article.
EPSTEIN RESPONDS: Some of the experts who evaluated the parenting test when we were developing it also objected to our inclusion of the “religion and spirituality” category. We had to include it, however, because legitimate studies exist that show that children who are raised in an environment of religion or spirituality flourish in various ways. Bear in mind that it is not necessary for an individual to be adept in all 10 areas to be a good parent overall.
THIS DREAM SMELLS
Will someone please let Christof Koch know that some of us can and do smell in our dreams?
The very night after I read his article, “Dream States” [Consciousness Redux], I dreamed I was escaping from pursuers through an unfamiliar house of cramped rooms. Passing through a door, I found myself looking down into a pair of green-and-white tiled bathrooms with wooden floors, two white toilets, and an unpleasant smell of, well, excrement.
When I woke in the middle of the night, I could distinctly remember the bathroom and the smell, and I could do so still well into the next day.
IN DEFENSE OF “AUTISTIC”
Reader Greg O’Brien [“People with Autism,” Letters] needs to calm down a bit.
To assert that a term such as “autistic toddlers” is disrespectful is the height of absurdity. This is a simple description, perfectly valid in the English language: adjective, noun. Is it similarly disrespectful to refer to “tall children?” Must we refer to them as “children with tallness?” Let’s contact the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) to let them know that they are disrespecting themselves. They should change the name of their organization to “American Veterans with Disabilities.” Oh, wait. We can’t refer to them as “American Veterans.” No, it would have to be “Veterans Who Are American and Have Disabilities.” Yes, that sounds much more respectful.
Your magazine is great, and your editing is fine. Don’t kowtow to the PC police!
New York City