Letters to the Editors, November/December 2010

Letters to the editor about the July/August 2010 issue of Scientific American MIND

In your July/August issue the location of human memory comes up in at least three places.

In Ask the Brains, on page 70, David Smith mentions “the hippocampus, which encodes and stores memories.”

In “The Mechanics of Mind Reading,” on page 56, Daniel Bor writes about “patterns in the part of the brain that stores memories, the hippocampus.”

But then, on page 24, Anthony J. Greene, in “Making Connections,” says that “learning and memory are not sequestered in their own storage banks but are distributed across the entire cerebral cortex.” Do these researchers talk to one another?
Jerry Darnell
via e-mail

THE EDITORS REPLY: Darnell is not the only reader who wrote to us about this apparent contradiction. All three researchers are correct: the hippocampus indeed stores memories in the sense that it processes experiences and encodes them as memories elsewhere in the brain. The hippocampus is the librarian, not the library. As Greene explains in detail, the brain does not have a memory storehouse: memories are not filed in any particular location but rather as a complex web of connections throughout the entire brain.

I want to thank you for your excellent article on borderline personality disorder (BPD). As a psychiatrist, I felt the article provided an excellent overview of BPD. I wrote to you several months ago after reading an earlier article on BPD [“Dangerous Liaisons,” by Ophelia Austin-Small, November/December 2009], indicating that I felt that article was flawed, judgmental and not up to the scientific standards that I have come to expect from your magazine. This article has restored my confidence in your journalistic practices.
Deanna Mercer
University of Ottawa

I have loved your magazine for years, reading it cover to cover, sometimes twice. Scientific American Mind, always on the cutting edge, is exactly where I expect to find an article on borderline personality disorder that is filled with facts and is lay-friendly to read. Bravo to Amanda Wang for sharing her story. Having struggled with BPD for years, I, too, have felt crazy and very lonely. With my widely swinging emotions and anger, I have received endless criticism and blame for not acting “normal.” The stigma of mental illness is hard to conquer, and the BPD diagnosis makes it harder. Thank you for bringing much needed knowledge to the public and speaking about the treatments that exist. Most important, thank you for filling the article with hope for everyone struggling with this journey.

I read with interest the excellent article by Diana Deutsch, “Speaking in Tones.” Many years ago I discovered that I had a habit I might call “extreme onomatopoeia,” which involves “matching” environmental sounds in my head to a word or phrase with a similar inflection and rhythm. When I drop a pen on my desk with a rattle, I might hear the phrase “who did that” or “break away.” A creaking door might trigger the word “legal” or “beneath it all.” As you can see, the connection is not semantic but simply one of tone. This processing would seem to occur in the overlap area Deutsch has identified, between linear semantic speech and lyrical sonorous music.

This article was originally published with the title "July/August 2010."

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