You Will Now Feel Better. . . .
As a surgeon who has used hypnotic techniques with patients, I heartily support psychiatrist David Spiegel’s findings [“Hypnosis Works,” November]. I think that studies of the brain both under anesthesia and under hypnosis would show many similarities. I have been able to correct cardiac arrythmias, bleeding, rapid pulse rates, and other physiological problems by talking to anesthetized patients in a therapeutic way during surgical procedures and by using similar techniques preoperatively. Surgeons have also done major abdominal surgery on patients under hypnosis alone. Hypnotic and communication techniques can create positive results. The placebo effect is, in essence, a positive result of communication. I have had children go to sleep as they entered the operating room because I told them they would, and some have resisted hair loss from chemotherapy because we relabeled their vitamins “hair-growing pills.” Just as we can heal with a scalpel, we can heal with words.
I was entranced by your article on hypnosis. I have used it in my general practice and for some surgery since 1957. There is no question that hypnosis works but lots of argument about how. The field is somewhat divided into experimental hypnosis and clinical hypnosis. It is the experimental guys who argue endlessly, while we clinical types just want to use it as a tool. It is a pity you did not have space to mention Milton Erickson, who was one of the godfathers of clinical hypnosis in the United States.
Louis S. Moore
Only the Beginning
In November’s “This Is Your Ancestor,” Discover has once again demonstrated the relentless presumption of evolutionary dogmatism. Evolutionary microbiologist Mitchell Sogin has found genetic and cellular parallels among fungi, sponges, and man, and then has unequivocally claimed the sponge as our ancestor. These parallels, by his interpretation, point to common evolutionary history. Call the sponge man’s ancestor if you must, but genetic and molecular relationships among widely varied species are no more significant than the fact that you can find the same 26 letters forming the entirety of Macbeth and “Hickory Dickory Dock.” Actively researching, highly credentialed scientists in many areas of study are proposing that the complexity of life on Earth and the links between cell structure, RNA, and chromosomes point to a common intelligent designer, rather than to common ancestry. It’s time for more thinking scientists to develop their hypotheses without presenting their interpretation of the origin of life as definitive, substantiated fact.
Leigh Ann Pierce
Your language example offers an interesting analogy. Language is an information medium, as is DNA. Language gets transmitted and transformed from generation to generation, just as the information in DNA gets transmitted and transformed. Many languages have appeared, changed, and vanished over the centuries, but nobody has ever seen a new language spontaneously appear. Nevertheless, people accept that languages evolve and that modern languages derive from earlier ones that were, in many cases, considerably different. Why then is it so hard to accept that the same process might happen to the information in our DNA?
I have always enjoyed your magazine, but I now question your editorial judgment. It was shocking to read the conclusion of Patricia Gadsby’s article [“The Chemistry of Fish,” November], in which the author and comrades gleefully devour an ayu while quoting Harold McGee: “Who could ask for anything more?” Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this fish is on the red list of threatened species compiled by the international World Conservation Union. It seems this article will promote the consumption of this already rare species. Will your next issue include an article on the culinary delights of bald eagle consumption?
The ayu Gadsby feasted on was farmed.
Science on the Block
I enjoyed your conversation with Lord Robert May [Discover Dialogue, November]. I, too, long for the ideal of science shared openly and impartially, its utilization in the marketplace—or lack thereof—based on the sanctions of an erudite majority. I fear, however, the future of science at market will be forever determined by profit. Be the product oil, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, or stem cells, there will be issues of pollution, safety, pricing excess, and ethics that will be decided more by the maximization of profit than by good science, open communication, and popular opinion. And the force that will mitigate the risk in such a world is not the weight of legislated regulation but rather the economic reprisals of engaged consumers. Ensuring appropriate education of generations to come is of vital importance.
In “Extra Helpings for the Holy” [R&D, November], Jocelyn Selim quotes Philippa Patrick as saying that “food was one of the few pleasures allowed in the monasteries, so if it wasn’t good and plentiful, there could be a lot of unrest in the ranks.” While suggesting that food may have been a good incentive for keeping monks, well, monks, I believe that the study may have touched on an even more likely scenario: Fat monks were a good marketing tool. When you consider the era and circumstances mentioned in the article (11th- to 16th-century London), it is likely that food was more valuable than most currency. While food may have been a retention tool, a fat monk was probably even more effective for demonstrating that the church was stable and successful.
If the dance bees use to communicate the source of pollen to their fellows evolved as a way of disguising this information from competitors [“Honeybees’ Espionage Mission,” R&D, October], this may shed light on the puzzle of the bewildering array of human languages. The world is full of examples such as Cameroon, where hundreds of recognized languages coexist in a space slightly larger than the state of California. The conventional wisdom of linguists is that our languages diverged due to geographic isolation and the passage of time. But students of Darwin know that evolution needs not just an opportunity to create change but a reason. Perhaps our ancestors developed their own verbal version of the bees’ dance to protect the location of favorite gathering sites or hunting grounds.
Santa Cruz, California