To the Editor:

Re ``Recipe for a Brain: Cups of Genes and Dash of Experience?'' (Science Times, Nov. 4):

The old dichotomy between nature and nurture (or heredity and environment, learning and innateness) has harmed our understanding of the human mind. That entire way of framing the issue -- as a tug of war, or as complementary ingredients -- is wrongheaded.

Imagine that someone described a new computer of unprecedented power _ terabytes of RAM, virtual reality displays, libraries of information instantly accessible. Would anyone say, ``Then I guess it doesn't matter what I type in -- with all that built-in structure, its environment cannot be that important''? Of course not! Complex design makes a system respond more intelligibly and flexibly to experience, not less.

Bolstering this dichotomy, your article implied that I hold positions that I conspicuously disavow in my book ``How the Mind Works.'' These include the idea that I believe the brain is divided into ``areas'' that are ``hard-wired at birth'' and that rules of language are ``written in the cells'' of the brain. It is therefore not surprising that you were able to quote commentators to call these positions simplistic. The clich e that academics are once again sparring over nature and nurture makes for easy science writing, but does a disservice to readers curious to learn about the exciting new ideas on the mind and brain.

Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 6, 1997
The writer is a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.