Kissing Theory

Affairs of the Lips,” by Chip Walter, suggests that the chemistry of a good kiss can predict the future of a relationship. In the “Kiss and Tell” editorial letter by Mariette DiChristina, the kiss leaves the man “speechless” and the woman with “a shivery thrill.” There are undoubtedly chemicals transferred and brain areas activated, but that hardly explains the rich soul-stirring quality of a good kiss.

As a psychoanalyst, I find that the concept of incorporation goes much further in explaining the good-kiss experience than biology can. The couple’s unconscious minds have been primed by attachment to incorporate the other person. In the kiss, they each take in the other’s “good stuff,” symbolized by each other’s perceived oral quality. It is the rich lushness of the other’s inner being that begins to feel augmenting and transformative to them both. They feel intensely graced by the presence of the other’s qualities inside them.

This assimilation of the good other seems so instantaneously pleasurable as to be miraculous. But it is simply that when the unconscious mind incorporates the other, the act appears to the conscious mind like a magical process. Likewise, if the unconscious mind does not get enough preliminary signals of “good stuff,” there will be no incorporation, and the kiss will not be magical, although it may still be erotically good.

Augustus F. Kinzel
Canaan, N.Y.

Morality Bites

InWhen Morality Is Hard to Like,” by Jorge Moll and Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, I was intrigued by one of the test scenarios: Would it be moral to smother a crying baby to save a group of people hiding from a band of killers bent on murdering everyone? As usually posed, the choice is between the death of the baby and that of everyone in the group. But in reality, the smothered baby would lose consciousness before dying, at which point it would be safe to uncover its mouth. True, the chance of its death by accidental asphyxiation is quite real, but it is markedly less than that of death following discovery. Thus, preventing the baby from crying increases its probability of survival as well as that of the group.

This example demonstrates that studies of this type need to consider what are the alternatives that people actually think they are choosing between. The question is not just of methodological interest. Much of the brainpower spent making a difficult moral choice might go into finding a way to decide. If so, the processes of analyzing and interpreting the facts that surround and define the dilemma are of critical relevance.

Stephen M. Welch
Manhattan, Kan.

I was disturbed by David Pizarro’s conclusion in “The Virtue in Being Morally Wrong” that “utilitarianism may, in the end, be the right moral theory.” The decision about whether to push one man onto a trolley track to save five men farther down the tracks is a deeper question than he apparently assumes. A person making such a decision is not deciding simply if five is greater than one. He is deciding how bad he will feel if five people die versus how bad he will feel if he pushes one man to his death. This feeling he is weighing is more than just some squishy sentimentalism—pushing that one man is equivalent to pushing the whole of human trust onto the tracks. After all, how could we function if we had to always watch our backs so as not to be sacrificed? These feelings are there for a good purpose—they evolved from a system of trust and respect that allows us to function successfully as a society.

David Butler
Mission Viejo, Calif.

Where the Years Go

I very much enjoyed Pascal Wallisch’s “An Odd Sense of Timing.” According to the article, boring times seem longer when they are actually experienced but shorter when they are recalled, whereas active times seem shorter when experienced but longer when recalled.

Perhaps this explanation helps us to understand why, as we age, the days may seem to pass slowly while the years seem to fly by. Assume that there is increasingly less novelty and more similarity in our days as we get older. Then, according to the research cited, our days as we live them will seem increasingly longer, whereas our memories of those days will seem increasingly shorter. The end result is a mismatch between elapsed chronological time and the shorter-seeming psychological time that we remember as having elapsed.

Where do the years go? Apparently they are swallowed up in our memories of our less than exciting days.

Bob McCoy
San Francisco

Refusing to Be Duped

InGetting Duped,” Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse ask how the true situation in Iraq became so grossly distorted in American minds. They state that they do not think the deceptions were premeditated.

Perhaps Raley and Talisse have never heard about the White House Iraq Group, which White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card founded seven months before the invasion of Iraq. This group, chaired by Karl Rove, was created in August 2002 to market the Iraq War to America. Its escalation of rhetoric about the danger Iraq posed to the U.S. was part of the Bush administration’s plan to sell the idea of a war.

The Bush administration used not only the rhetorical devices Raley and Talisse describe but also outright misrepresentation to sell the Iraq War to the American people.

Elizabeth Saenger
New York City

I was disappointed by “Getting Duped.” It seems the authors were not interested in discussing the subject in any serious way but simply wanted to express their political bias.

What I got from the article is that conservatives dupe the public and, by omission, liberals do not. Tripe. By the way, the authors conveniently forgot that Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania did call for immediate troop withdrawal, contrary to their claim that “nobody” called for such action and, therefore, Bush was invoking a “straw man.” In fact, the whole article was an example of how we are often duped by others and how people dupe themselves.

If I see any further articles like this shallow, politically biased one, I will cancel my subscription.

Paul Westbrook
via e-mail

RALEY AND TALISSE REPLY: We received many letters accusing us of political bias based on the examples we chose, but such complaints are entirely beside the point. To charge someone with committing a fallacy is not to claim that his or her conclusion is false—in fact, it is not even to necessarily oppose the conclusion. Rather such a charge is simply to say that the argument does not support (much less demonstrate) the truth of the conclusion. So to say that, for example, President Bush has committed the “straw man” fallacy on some particular occasion is not to imply any evaluation of his position. Because nothing in the article entails a judgment about the truth of the positions promoted by those used as examples, it is difficult to make sense of the charge that the article is “biased.”

When identifying a fallacy, what matters is the form of the inference, not the content of the premises. We chose the examples in the article because we deemed them likely to be familiar to a general audience.