CREATIVE SPARKS

I enjoyed reading “The Eureka Moment,” by Guenther Knoblich and Michael Oellinger. The authors give a puzzle (“Puzzle Two”) with the objective of having readers calculate the combined area of a square and a parallelogram. The solution given (that is, treating the figure as two overlapping triangles) is creative. But I am not certain of its advantage over standard geometric computation.

We are told that the figures are a parallelogram and a square. The formula for the area of a parallelogram is the product of the length of the base and the (perpendicular) height. A glance at the diagram shows b to be the length corresponding to one side of the square plus the length of the base of the parallelogram, so the length of the base is clearly ba. The height of the parallelogram is already labeled a, so that makes the area of the parallelogram a(ba) or aba2. The area of the square is of course the second power of the length of a side a, so it is a2. Summing these two areas gives aba2; + a2, which is equal to ab, the desired answer.

These two geometric formulas are within the proficiency of secondary school mathematics, and the few algebraic computations can be quite easily performed without the aid of paper and pencil. I realize that this “high school method” may not be as glamorous or creative as the one the authors propose, but sometimes the old ways are just as good as the new ones.

Deepak Mitra
via e-mail

The Eureka Moment” contains a frequently made mistake concerning the connections between the eyes and the brain hemispheres. It is not the right eye that is connected with the left hemisphere (and vice versa), rather it is the right part of the vision field. This part is captured by the left half of the retinas of both eyes. People in the cited experiment (by Mark Jung-Beeman and Edward Bowden) sat in front of a computer screen and arrived at the problem's solution (with both eyes) either in the left or in the right field of the screen. As a result, the projection arrived in the opposite hemisphere. So the rest of the article is correct.

Pol Craeynest
Marke, Belgium

THE READERS WRITE

Last night was the first time I picked up Scientific American Mind, and I absolutely love it. I almost purchased Psychology Today but did not, because it has too many self-help articles. I am much more interested in recent scientific discoveries, how the mind works, how the senses work, and so on. I like that the publication seems geared to a sophisticated audience. Also, I like the layout and graphics. I plan on subscribing.

Taylor Tudzin
Los Angeles

I am disappointed to say that I have seen only two—one from this year, one from last year—issues of Scientific American Mind. I do not intend to miss another. In the issues I have seen, each story not only interests me but also each and every story calls to me the way dessert does after a fine meal. The stories are not only relevant but highly accessible. I am glad the magazine is now published on a bimonthly schedule; I'm sure it will take me that long to savor each issue. Congratulations on a fine publication.

Louis Vitela
via e-mail

I read your issue from cover to cover and was very impressed by the content. All the articles were very well produced and clearly written. Style-wise, they strike the right balance for me between complexity and intelligibility.

I am a British clinical psychologist who went into mental health service and policy research, and so I read the material from a particular angle. In this light, two pitfalls lurk, and they are linked. Neuroscience approaches to psychological topics (which the discourse in your magazine reflects and reinforces) always are at risk of bioreductionism and naive realism. There were signs of this problem in many of the articles, although you do incorporate cultural arguments some of the time.

My main turnoff on the naive-realist front was your glib acceptance of diagnostic categories such as “depression” and “schizophrenia.” These labels reflect the epistemic error of confusing the map with the territory; they are not facts but constructions (and pretty puny ones at that for scientific purposes).

To boost your credibility with a wider intellectual audience, you could invite social scientists and post-Popperian philosophers of science to write for you or get digests of their material from well-informed journalists. An overreliance on neuroscience will narrow both your audience appeal and your academic credibility.

David Pilgrim
via e-mail

HO-HUM ISSUE

I did not like the October/November 2006 issue. I found little of interest there.

Take the article about people who do not count [“Don't Count on It,” by Annette Lessmoellmann]—boring stuff, that. I count, as do all the people I usually interact with, so this information was of no use and less interest to me.

The special report, headlined as “The Body Speaks,” could have been very interesting. Indeed, I read the articles eagerly, but you gave us little in the way of useful information. What exactly do we look for that tells us X or Y? Basically, the articles just told us it was possible to read body language and gave examples that proved it. But the package provided almost nothing to help us read such expressions and gestures for ourselves.

One could argue that you provided references and pointers we could have followed up for more. My answer is that I do not have time for that. All I have time for, just barely, is reading the Scientific American Mind magazine in my hands. If you cannot give me the information I want right there, then this magazine serves me no purpose.

I do not find articles about people with defects interesting—autism, for example. I prefer items that might help normal people do better with the brain/mind they have, such as the past articles dealing with mediation, the Dali Lama, and especially lab studies related to them both. I find interesting articles that explain what is going on in my head. I only care to read about things that might be of use to me in coping with my rather routine and normal problems—especially anything having to do with how we learn, understand and remember new things, as well as anything having to do with keeping our cognitive abilities intact as we age.

David March
via e-mail

GRAMMAR POLICE

The article on complex language and the mind (“Can We Talk?” by Annette Lessmoellmann) is excellent and enlightening. But the sentence she presents as an example of nested modifying clauses is, er... well, it's wrong: “The woman, whose dress, which was not unattractive, and rustled when she walked, sat down next to me.”

Each nested clause needs its own subject and predicate. This sentence could be correctly written in a couple different ways. Each removes a single extraneous word that breaks the syntax of the sentence. Here are two: “The woman, whose dress, which was not unattractive, rustled when she walked, sat down next to me” [removes conjunction “and”]; “The woman, whose dress was not unattractive and rustled when she walked, sat down next to me” [removes pronoun “which”].

Bill VanAlstyne
Rio Rancho, N.M.