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1113_coverCorrelation and Causation Confused

Adrian Raine confuses correlation with causation [“The Anatomist of Crime,” Nov|Dec 2013]. He was the co-author of a study which found that the subjects with small amygdalas were more likely to commit violent acts. But that is a correlation. It is not evidence that the small amygdalas caused the violent behavior.

It is more likely that the mental dynamics experienced by the subjects caused the amygdalas to atrophy. People who commit violent acts would understandably not want to feel guilty for their crimes, so would avoid using the amygdalas to process their feelings. Organs that are underused atrophy.

When interpreting a correlational finding having to do with mind-body dynamics, scientists would do well to be guided by what we know about the stress response. The stress response is a profound physiological dynamic that involves the brain, the endocrine system, and the cardiovascular system. But it is not caused by the brain. It is a response to threat, a perception, and a judgment that the threat is real, a cognition. Based on that we would interpret that the mental dynamics of the subjects caused the atrophy of the amygdala rather than the other way around.

Al Galves WG’69 Las Cruces, NM

Why No Mention of Gender?

I was so surprised to read the interesting article on the brain and crime in the Nov|Dec Gazette and see no mention made of gender in this discussion. If most violent crime is committed by men, is that because of differences in the brain between men and women, or does it mean that culture trumps biology? Doesn’t this question deserve to be addressed?

Elizabeth Knutson G’77 Gr’89 University Park, MD

The Measure of Responsibility

I find the concept of a distinction between the normal and abnormal of value in weighing whether recognizing the contributions of brain structures to criminality should absolve criminals of their crimes. You ask “how responsible someone with a broken brain might be.” If the brain is in fact broken, as a consequence of an accident or illness, they should not be held responsible if the consequence of the injury or illness puts them outside normal human functioning, but they should be held responsible if they are still capable of functioning within the parameters of the normal.

The same would be true of genetic inheritance or psychological capability. You may have anger-management issues that are a part of your makeup, but society has the right to expect you to control them unless they are demonstrably uncontrollable. I made the same argument in a master’s thesis for Penn Bioethics with regard to medical and genetic enhancements—enhancement within the range of the normal should be acceptable (eyeglasses), but outside of the range of the normal might engender bans.

Avram Israel Reisner GGS’02 Baltimore

Utopian Visions, Startling Abuses

As a psychologist, I have been startled by the ideas expressed by Andrew Raine here and elsewhere in suggesting that it is possible to identify genetic factors that will predispose children to violence, removing them from the custody of their families and sending them to an environment where those genes will not be activated, thereby preventing the violence. He then engages in utopian formulations and arguments about developing algorithms that will predict the genetic-behavioral profiles and help identify violent individuals. All of this without mention of psychosocial factors, toxic stress and attachment theory, which are currently used to explain the psychological environment in which children are raised.

Utopian visions such as Raine’s have arguably led to the theory and practice of eugenics, a theory which led to some startling abuses due to intrusive government mandates: in the US, for example, mandatory sterilization of persons thought to be a danger to society. There is no evidence that such practices produced a decrease in violence. Indeed, as the eugenics movement devolved into the Holocaust, it could be argued that theories such as those of Raine have brought out what is most destructive in human nature.

There was a book about the perpetrators and survivors of the Holocaust in which the results of Rorschach tests administered to the top Nazis prior to their executions were rescored. The results were telling: less than half of the top Nazis were psychopaths. The rest had normal personalities. If it is the case that personality has its basis in genetics, such findings represent an important challenge to the theory that all behavior has its basis in the genetic code.

I believe that Raine’s contribution is important, but that his theorizing needs to be rethought so that he explores theories from other fields that move him beyond fantasies related to his rescue fantasies for preventing violence.

David Herman G’71 Elkins Park, PA

Fond Memories of Philo

“Philo Phorever” [Nov|Dec 2013] stimulated fond memories of my days in Philo. I joined in 1941 and was active for four or five years. In order to be admitted I had to pass an all-night exam with tough questions in all fields of knowledge, from art to zoology. It was obvious that no one read the answers, and I was admitted. There were about a dozen members, all men. Women were not admitted then. After leaving Penn to work for the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, I lost contact with my fellow members.

It might seem strange that an engineering student would join Philo, since it was devoted to the liberal arts. But I was interested in both engineering and the arts. While my courses were in the Moore School, Philo gave me an opportunity to develop my interest in the arts. It was an important part of my education at Penn.

Later, while working in the computer field, I became active in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers publications and became vice president of publications of the IEEE. Since retirement my hobby is photography, which combines art and technology.

Ted Bonn EE’43 GEE’47 Carlsbad, CA

Sweet Dividends

Thank you for publishing that wonderful Philomathean Society tribute to Charlie Ludwig C’53 L’55. He was my Kappa Nu fraternity brother whose enthusiasm clearly resulted in Philo’s survival to become the vibrant literary and intellectual fountain that it is today. In my undergraduate years I often attended Philo meetings for a break from the straight and narrow Wharton curriculum. With alumni like Charlie Ludwig the future generations will inherit sweet dividends that university life offers—such as Philo.

Walter L. Zweifler W’54 New York

 

Public Space? Why No People?

You published a very interesting article on the Singh Center for Nanotechnology [“A Big Step for Small Science,” Nov|Dec]. However, the purpose of the public spaces was contradicted by the pictures, which were devoid of people in all but one case. I speculate that you got the photography from Weiss Manfredi, which, like most architectural firms, finds people to be messy and undesirable in depictions of their glorious creations. I wonder if Penn did the photography would it be different and send a different message?

William B. Tracy WG75 Denver

The images we published were taken specifically for the magazine—before the building was officially open—by photographer Greg Benson. But you raise an interesting point about the conventions of architectural photography.—Ed.

 

Would PICA Be Better?

“Fifty Years of Now” [Nov|Dec 2013] on the Institute of Contemporary Art was an interesting article and well deserved by ICA.

Question: Why, when reported on in newspapers and other media, is the museum’s connection to Penn almost invariably not mentioned? Should not the connection be part of the ICA’s name?

Joseph Silverman C’52 New York

Noteworthy?

I enjoy reading the “Alumni Notes” section of The Pennsylvania Gazette. However, it has come to resemble a society page what with the (many) names and classes listed for alumni who attend weddings.

This practice detracts from the seriousness of the publication.

Michael Brown C’69 Houston

Stand-out Shout-out

I receive alumni magazines from three Ivy League schools and a fourth from a top-flight but non-Ivy Eastern university.

Yours consistently is the best. Your well-written, very varied articles and reports, your page layouts, illustrations, and attractive use of color, are all stand-outs.

I congratulate you.

Giulio J. D’Angio, parent Philadelphia

Too Bright

I enjoy reading the Gazette but would enjoy it more if the paper were not so glossy that it hurts my eyes.

Edna Lake G’48 Fanwood, NJ

Word War Whom

To foster the playful tradition of nitpicking, let me correct the grammar-gaffe found in Michael Tow’s letter [Nov|Dec 2013] exposing mistakes in the crossword puzzle published in the Sept|Oct issue.

Tow writes, in correcting the crossword, that Eli Wallach was “the bandit who the seven were assembled to fight against.” There’s that ubiquitous who again, aggressively usurping the legitimate right of whom to be in its place.

Wallach’s character—Calvera—was the object of attack by the Magnificent Seven. Therefore, he was the one against whom the attack was directed. Or Tow could have rephrased the sentence, writing, for example, “he played Calvera, whom the Magnificent Seven attacked,” or “Calvera, the object of attack by the Magnificent Seven.”

Let’s not lower our guards, Penn graduates. It’s a battle, but language and literature warriors like me never weary in our fight to defend whom from whoever (subject of verb) would weaken its claim to proper usage.

Vincent Jubilee Gr’80 San Juan, PR

Actually, this error was not in the original letter, but was introduced by the editor—who hates whom, which has gotten him into trouble before.—Ed.


Varied Journeys, Varied Goals

“Shell’s Odyssey” [Sept|Oct 2013] by Dave Zeitlin gives an inspiring account of creative and effective teaching based on Professor Shell’s willingness to learn from students as well as teach, and to gain more insight about the ways to reach success through a deeply introspective review of his own life’s journey.

However, both Shell’s definition and the one expressed in the supplementary article, “Second Acts,” seem to measure success primarily according to employment position and income. Since the definition of success varies professionally as well as individually, it would be worthwhile extending the conversation beyond Wharton’s walls to an interdisciplinary one including the University as a whole.

For those who choose social service or inner-city teaching, for example, and not just as an “encore career,” success might mean a willingness to live with less in order to provide human services to underserved populations. For artists, musicians, and writers, success can mean finding time and space on a regular basis for their art without neglecting work and family responsibilities. Success for those willing to earn less might also mean maintaining self-esteem without losing confidence that one’s own human worth is equal to that of those earning more.

The varied journeys are important, but the goals are, too.

Susan Reid SW’68 GEd’94 West Hartford, CT

Early Electronic Music

The most interesting piece by Nate Chinen C’97 re Harry Mendell EE’76 and his work in the field of music synthesizing [“Arts,” Sept|Oct] invokes some fond memories.

My father, Cyril N. Hoyler, was an engineer and physicist, who, following an academic career at Lehigh and some graduate work with the University’s electrical and electronics engineering department, was recruited by the RCA laboratories in 1941 and subsequently was involved in a number of fascinating ventures, not the least of which was some work with the ENIAC at Penn.

But in the early 1950s he did considerable research in creating the so-called electronic music synthesizer. I hardly qualify as an authority, but I am told that the frequency of each of the electronic notes was pure and perfect, even in the production of a Bach fugue, and indeed only a trained musician would be able to recognize certain subtleties, particularly the paucity of certain overtones in this “artificial” music. Fascinating stuff!

I expect that much of his electronic hardware may still be on display at the David Sarnoff Library outside Princeton, NJ.

Obviously, my father’s incipient research over a half century ago was archaic, a far cry from the sophisticated advances in the current science of music and electronics.

Carl C. Hoyler C’59 GM’69, parent Malvern, PA

Christians Embrace Equality

Not that long ago, Bill Cosby took younger African Americans publicly to task for squandering the opportunities won for them by earlier generations of civil-rights workers and marchers. Professor Anthea Butler is guilty of that in her own way by glibly asserting that “good white conservative Christians” like myself would be content to allow a fascist state to crush “the black and brown people they fear” if we felt it assured our own safety and way of life [“Gazetteer,” Sept|Oct].

A good number of us “good white conservative Christians” applaud and embrace treating others as 100 percent socially equal human beings regardless of color or accent, and I am sure that the efforts expended in the civil-rights movement when I was a small child in the Sixties have a lot to do with that, in my case and others. If Professor Butler continues her efforts, she may well undo that in some people’s minds. Then she will say she was just “uncovering how they really felt,” whereas she would take credit in a heartbeat for actually changing someone’s mind if they became more tolerant.

My dedication to honoring scriptural principles in my thought and life has a lot to do with my determination to continue regarding all people as individuals. Some of it may also come from my Swedish, Norwegian, and German stubbornness. Whichever I credit for it, I basically refuse to toss out my willingness to coexist or be friends with African-American co-workers and acquaintances just because Professor Butler has more unexploded land mines in her soul than are in the soil of Afghanistan. However, if she is expecting everyone to be as stubborn as a Scandinavian, she’s mistaken.

Kenneth A. Rumbarger C’78 Trooper, PA

Refreshing Read

As I was finishing reading the article “Penn At Pixar” [Sept|Oct], my eyes came across the “On the Web” story of one of the screenwriters. I was truly enlightened and inspired by Alec Sokolow’s personal experiences in “My Toy Story.” It was refreshing to read about how Sokolow persevered through very traumatic moments to find success in one of the most creative animations of the 20th century. The article brought much encouragement to me, as I am currently processing the unexpected recent passing of my father. This article was a reminder of how some of life’s greatest achievements come from some painful losses. I now have a greater appreciation of the movie Toy Story.

Lakisha Hull GAr’03 GCP’03 

Los Angeles

Still Working

Thank you to Dr. Andrew Roth for his Class of 1960 alumni note in the Sept|Oct Gazette—and to all those other hearty souls still working. To those constant questions from my retired wife and others, I say I hope to work and learn practicing law until I drop or they kick me out.

Fred Emry W’61 Spokane, WA

Three More Things About Okinawa

I recalled fond memories of my trip to Okinawa when I read Alexei Dmitriev’s “The Turtle Shell and the Eternal Womb” [“Elsewhere,” Sept|Oct 2013]. The author captured the beauty of the islands’ landscape, culture, and people. However, he left out three points of potential interest to readers.

First of all, to say that “the locals for the most part do not seem to be bothered by the American presence” is not entirely accurate. When a foreign military occupies 18 percent of an island (i.e., the main island of the Okinawan archipelago), there is bound to be tension between the occupiers and the occupied. There have, in fact, been instances of conflict between Okinawans and American military personnel, the most notorious example being the outrage over the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three US servicemen in 1995. Luckily, no such horrific event took place when I was there 10 years later, but I did notice the American military presence—in particular, when the sound of helicopters overhead interrupted peaceful drives through the countryside.

I also question the accuracy of the belief of Dr. Makoto Suzuki, which the author referenced, that the longevity of Okinawans “has little to do with hereditary factors.” I do not doubt that a healthy diet and lifestyle help Okinawans to live longer, but I have concluded that Okinawan genes are important as well.

My evidence is only anecdotal, but it is strong enough for me to disagree with Dr. Suzuki. Although my grandmother, whose parents were both Okinawan, lived her entire life in the US and assimilated into American culture, she has shown exceptional longevity. She is currently 93 years old and does not show many signs of slowing down. I can only hope that some of those Okinawan longevity genes have made their way into my body.

Finally, I would like to mention a noteworthy part of Okinawan cuisine that got left out of the article: andagi—Okinawan donuts. They are small, round, fry cakes, similar in shape to American donut holes but larger and many times tastier. When eaten fresh, their crispy outside and soft, warm inside make them irresistible. And they come in a plethora of flavors, made naturally by adding different ingredients (such as fruit juice) to the batter; my favorite is dragon fruit. On my next trip to Okinawa, looking for andagi will be one of the first things I do when I arrive.

Despite the omission of some pertinent information, the article was educational and engaging. It gave me a strong desire to travel to Okinawa again in the future.

Brady Fergusson C’06 Rochester, NY

Friendly Question

Lately there seems to be a lot of fuss about athletic teams using ethnic names for sobriquets, especially schools using names referring to Native American characteristics or names of nations. This set me to wondering, what do members of the Society of Friends think of Penn’s teams being called the Quakers?

Daniel Nussbaum II C’63 Rochester, NY

Corrections

Several readers pointed out that it is St. Mark’s Square in Venice behind members of the men’s basketball team in the photo on page 25 of the Nov|Dec issue, and not Florence, as stated in the caption. We are planning a Gazette staff fact-finding mission to Italy to confirm this.

In the Nov|Dec “Arts” section, the “Briefly Noted” entry on Still Standing gave the wrong phone number for ordering copies of the book. The correct number is (610) 566-0492. Apologies to author Don Solenberger W’46 (and to the owner of the incorrect number) for the error.

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