I read with great pleasure “Reflections on the Mind,” by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran [Illusions]. These experiments involving the senses are indeed fascinating. Similar experiments were first done by a well-known behavioral optometrist, Robert A. Kraskin, more than 40 years ago in Washington, D.C. He used the techniques in diagnosis and for vision rehabilitation—including for Luci Baines Johnson while her father was in office. He called his regimen of eye exercises “squinchel” and taught it to many optometrists and vision therapists nationwide at various professional meetings and workshops. As a member of the advisory board of the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association, I thank you for bringing this useful and interesting phenomenon back into public awareness.
Diana P. Ludlam
via e-mail

Painful Pessimism,” by Janelle Weaver [Head Lines], is misleading: most drugs are taken to effect a cure, but the study was only on pain management. It has long been known that pain management is very complex and involves both physical and psychological factors. My wife has ovarian cancer, so I have become very aware of how many people truly believe that a positive attitude is the key to a cure. It ain’t necessarily so! We have had drugs fail totally when we expected them to work, and vice versa. Please, please, please, Scientific American Mind, don’t feed the antiscience, antipharma sentiment.
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

Melinda Wenner Moyer’s article “The Sunny Side of Smut” [Perspectives] misleads readers by painting a “sunny” and innocuous picture of pornography. Not only does Moyer’s account leave out much research that depicts pornography in bleaker terms, it also overstates the sunniness of porn. The overall insinuation one gets from the article is that porn is not all that bad.

When children are in porn, no one simply looks at the declining rates of child sexual abuse and blithely insinuates that child pornography has a “sunny” side to it. There it is acknowledged that the children depicted in child pornography (mainly girls) are harmed in its creation. Nonchild pornography is still a form of prostitution (paying women for sex acts), and there is ample evidence that women are harmed in systems of prostitution. Pointing to those who claim they were not harmed does not erase the harm of those who claim they were.

To indicate that porn does not harm relationships, Moyer looks at studies that take the porn users’ side of the equation (their reports of sexual satisfaction and intimacy), as if that is sufficient to indicate that relationships are not harmed by porn. She ignores other research that indicates wives and girlfriends report being deeply hurt by their boyfriends’ or husbands’ porn use.

Finally, I think the “benevolent sexism” Moyer indicates that pornography produces hardly compensates for the “more negative attitudes toward women” that she concedes it brings about.
Saffy Casson
via e-mail

I am a senior family and individual psychotherapist. My long experience is that pornography is not at all harmful to anyone, even adolescents. I am a clinician, however, and not a scientist.

I do know that statistics establish correlations, not causes or effects. The correlations some cite about bad marriages and pornography do not establish anything causal. Spouses who are jealous of their partners’ autoerotic private life need to grow up. A jealous partner who interprets the other’s interest in porn as rejection might consider whether the other finds one an unsatisfactory partner in sex and life in general and get to work on making things better.
“Dr. Whom”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

As a two-time All-American golfer for the University of Georgia, I can personally attest to the illusory perspective that the hole is larger on some days compared with others, as Andrea Anderson writes in “Towering Targets” [Head Lines].

That being said, my purpose for writing you has nothing to do with golf or any other sport but addresses the topic of perception itself as it relates to what people perceive to be true. Your article mentioned a general consensus that “what we see is often not an accurate reflection of the world around us.”

Forget about the size of a baseball; if what you say is true about the inaccuracy of our perceptions, how can we be as sure as we are about the perception of our enemies—especially when you mix in some fear, anger and emotional sensitivity? Is our perception accurate enough to justify hurting or killing our enemies? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about finding the truth behind our perceptions?

At this point in our evolution, I would hope that humankind could reach a general consensus on what is real. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be an accurate reflection of the world around us. I recommended this story to all of my friends and encouraged them to question the accuracy of their judgments. Great article!
Jeremy Parrott
Marietta, Ga.

“Lingering Lies,” by Valerie Ross [Head Lines], reports that even when people understand, remember and believe a retraction, misinformation will still affect their inferences. Perhaps it should. After all, something makes lawyers reveal inadmissible evidence. Or, using the example in the study, there was probably a reason the original report said the bus passengers were elderly instead of a young hockey team. Without knowing why information was said to be wrong, can we really dismiss it? Perhaps the hockey team’s coach was elderly, thus confusing the person who gave the first report. Remembering what was told us incorrectly might give us clues to a more complete picture.
“David N’Gog”
commenting at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind

Regarding Paul Li’s answer about panic attacks in Ask the Brains, I would like to relate my own experience. Many years ago I started getting panic attacks. I couldn’t drive over bridges or on freeways. I couldn’t go to concerts or movies or be in enclosed spaces such as elevators. My attacks were just as Li described. I was debilitated for many years.

Then one day I heard on NPR about a young woman whose doctor put her on propranolol to keep her heart rate from rising. I realized that if I could keep my heart rate under control, maybe I could avoid panic attacks altogether. I called my doctor, and he said that this drug is used for stage fright. That is exactly how a panic attack feels.

I started taking propranolol, but it took three months before I got up the nerve to test its effect. I finally called a good friend, and we drove across every bridge in my city. I felt great and have never had another attack since. For me, propranolol is a miracle drug.
Susie Stanton
via e-mail


Erratum The order of the authors was incorrect in the byline of “Outsmarting Mortality” in the July/August 2011 issue. The correct order is Alexander Weiss, G. David Batty and Ian J. Deary.