Letters from the November 10, 2007, issue of Science News

Thinking it through

Bjorn Merker says that “the tacit consensus concerning the cerebral cortex as the ‘organ of consciousness’ … may in fact be seriously in error” (“Consciousness in the Raw,” SN: 9/15/07, p. 170). But the real tacit consensus is that the cerebral cortex is the organ of conceptual consciousness, of thinking and reasoning, and that is not challenged by studies that identify the brain stem as orchestrating the basis of awareness. Awareness per se isn’t the same thing as conceptual awareness.

Tibor R. Machan
Silverado, Calif.

Merker argues that basic forms of thinking and reasoning occur in primary consciousness.—B. Bower

Pride and privilege

Other than people with HIV or AIDS, the prime model for a group overrepresented among those taking the option of physician-assisted suicide (“No Slippery Slope,” SN: 10/6/07, p. 212) would appear to be educated, insured, financially comfortable, psychologically fit, nondisabled white males between the ages of 21 and 80. Perhaps the research simply demonstrates that we are loath to yield control, even in death.

William Mock
Chicago, Ill.

Unclear advice?

A researcher cited in “Exhaust fumes might threaten people’s hearts” (SN: 9/29/07, p. 205) recommends that people at risk of heart attack should avoid exercising outdoors on highly polluted days. What an odd conclusion, on two counts: First, that avoidance, instead of elimination of the poison from the air we breathe, is the recommended course of action; and second, that only “at risk” people need take any special action regarding diesel pollution.

George Cammarota
San Jose, Calif.

No, the other one

My cat has been doing for years what scientists at the University of St. Andrews reported of orangutans: motioning for healthy portions of their favorite foods (“Orangutans hand it to researchers,” SN: 9/8/07, p. 158). Except that four tins of cat food later, my cat is still motioning “Not that kind, wrong flavor.”

Sally Young
Newport News, Va.

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