TECHNOLOGY'S PROMISE AND PERIL
Your November/December 2014 issue is a wonderful reminder that the brain is an electromagnetic organ. I have incorporated much of what you describe in my clinical work as a doctor. Interested readers should look into a technique called a quantified electroencephalogram, which allows us to discern brain areas that are functioning either too fast or too slow and to discover poor inner communication. Such dysfunction can be corrected by brain biofeedback, in which we employ audio and visual entrainment of brain-activity patterns to correct clinical problems. We engage the peripheral nervous system with this biofeedback so it can also improve physiological functions. Some of us doing this work begin to think of ourselves as coaches or trainers who might be teaching someone how to hit a backhand by using a vocabulary that fits the action during the process; we similarly talk in different metaphors as we engage different areas of the brain.
Another benefit of understanding the electromagnetic origins of many brain disorders is the relief it brings patients. I'm reminded of a concept in narrative therapy: “You are not the problem; the problem is the problem.” Many people who feel ashamed or guilty about their problems are greatly relieved to know that they have some brain frequency and coherence problems to correct, and the sense of personal worth and competence that comes with successful correction is a pleasure to all.
I have just finished enjoying Scientific American Mind's 10th-anniversary issue, and the prospects for technological enhancements of the human brain look bright. But the dark side was also well represented by articles such as “Virtual Assault,” by Elizabeth Svoboda, “Kid Gloves for Young Offenders?” by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz, and “Turing's Test,” by Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham.
In “When Two Brains Connect,” Rajesh P. N. Rao and Andrea Stocco prescribe “highly secure communications protocols” and “laws to minimize any possibility of abuse” to “minimize the risks” of the new brain-to-brain communication technology they describe. To anyone who has had to deal with a corrupt cop, all this is less than reassuring.
Hadn't we better deal scientifically with what theologians call evil before going any further in pursuit of our Wellsian science-fiction dreams?
David Matthew Mooney
YOUNG OFFENDERS NEED EMPATHY
I was elated after reading “Kid Gloves for Young Offenders?” by Lilienfeld and Arkowitz. Someone is finally seeing the light and understanding that treating violence by exposing the offender to more violence is counterproductive. As a middle school science teacher, I have witnessed students who have returned from programs such as boot camp or “Scared Straight” even more determined to cause trouble but now armed with the proper skills to get away with it. They have learned how to circumvent cameras and be more discreet so as not to get caught. Obviously, the programs they were in did not teach them the right skills.
What we would like for these children is that they learn to develop a sense of empathy and to see past their own needs and feelings through the eyes of their victims. One of the most important rules my parents instilled in me is to treat others the way I would want to be treated. Nobody wants to be abused or treated badly, but oftentimes individuals haven't known anything else, and that kind of treatment is what they come to expect and, in turn, dish out. I am not saying that there is no such thing as a true sociopath. My question is: How many more are we creating?
Nicole Le Floc'h
HELP STOP ONLINE BULLIES
It's good to read that people are doing something about cyberbullying, as Svoboda writes in “Virtual Assault.” The work described is excellent, and I'm encouraged that people can do something simple—add a comment of their own telling the bullies their remarks are not welcome—to make a difference and reduce the incidence of bullying online. Thank you.
Commenting online at
WILL GET POKED FOR $$$
“A Brain Structure Looking for a Function,” by Christof Koch, is brilliant. It's a pity the research is stalled because implanting electrodes can only happen when medically necessary. I'd volunteer for the electrodes, for a day, in exchange for three brain PET scans of my devising. And for a price, I'd let you keep the electrodes in for a month.
Why can't people get paid to volunteer for relatively harmless procedures like this? This is not organ selling, by any means.
Commenting online at
PRACTICE AND TALENT MAKE PERFECT
Regarding “Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect,” by Nathan Collins: The basic premise that with enough practice anyone can succeed is as false today as it was when those psychologists came up with it in 1993. No matter how much you practice, you are very, very unlikely to be able to run the 100-meter dash in less than 10 seconds. Only a handful of individuals, out of the billions of human beings who ever lived, have been able to pull it off. And probably no more than a few thousand ever even had the potential of pulling it off but were unable to do so because of their personal circumstances (historic, economic, and so on)
One has to have what it takes—the raw material—and work very hard. Either condition on its own will not get you to the top. We have been selling people on the idea that “you'll get to the top if you work hard” or “you'll get to the top if you put your mind to it” for too long. Such assertions are blatant falsehoods. Although it is true that you will do better if you work hard, your mental and physical limitations will always be there.
Commenting online at
SALIVATING FOR CUTENESS
“Why do we want to bite cute things, like adorable newborn babies?” Emma Poltrack asks in Ask the Brains. We can learn much by watching animals. I have farmed most of my life, and I believe the correct answer is really about transferring saliva so that we can recognize the cute object as part of our family.
A cow that has undergone a cesarean section or other trauma and therefore cannot lick her own new calf dry will not recognize it. Smart farmers will sprinkle some grain on the calf for the cow to lick off and transfer her saliva so that she will acknowledge it as her calf. Indeed, this technique works even in a herd with many similar-looking calves.
I once brought a new puppy home, and the old dog stood over it and drooled on the puppy, to the point that it took a full roll of paper towels to wipe up the mess. He then accepted the new puppy as his own.
That is why we have a strong urge to kiss new babies and cute things. The nibbling is simply a way to transfer our saliva, an extension of that personal smell, so that we and others will know them as our family.
Owen Sound, Ontario