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
Merker argues that basic forms of thinking and reasoning occur in primary consciousness.—B. Bower
Pride and privilege
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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.
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.
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.”
Newport News, Va.