By Guest Blogger: Oronte Churm.
World's Fair friend, the venerable, unparalleled Mr. Churm, is our guest for the day, contributing the post below. He is the author of a top notch blog over at InsideHigherEd.com (called "The Education of Oronte Churm") and one of my favorite sub-features at McSweeney's, "Dispatches From Adjunct Faculty at a Large State University." Of the 15 dispatches, I might highlight #10, On Repose, as a personal favorite. If it isn't clear from those references, Mr. Churm is in fact a real-deal writer who teaches in the English department at a big state university. He knows his words. We thank him for the post and hope to see him back here soon.
A New York Times article by John Tierney, "The Whys of Mating: 237 Reasons and Counting," has an editorial teaser that trumpets, "Researchers may have come up with the most thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled." The motivations, expressed by nearly 2,000 subjects, vary wildly, as you might expect. Love evidently made it to the Top 10, which is nice.
Being a nonscientist, I would lump respondents' motivations into categories based on the types of people who answered: Dumb People Sex ("someone dared me"), Vengeful People Sex ("to hurt an enemy"), or Bored People Sex ("to change the topic of conversation"). Researchers at UT-Austin organized their findings by their own categories: Physical, Goal Attainment, Emotional, and Insecurity.
While the 237 reasons grasp for logical explanation, and Tierney invokes Andrew Marvell as yet another reason ("The grave's a fine and private place, / But none, I think, do there embrace," from "To His Coy Mistress"), I might suggest a little Pascal: "The heart has reasons, of which the mind knows nothing."
Which is why I was struck by an unconscious (I think) juxtaposition of Tierney's article with another article the same day, "Who's Minding the Mind?" by Benedict Carey, which suggests that our behavior, thoughts, and feelings are controlled subconsciously by many little software programs in the brain, launched by unlikely commands. In a study conducted by psychologists at Yale,
The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee -- and asked for a hand with the cup.
That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java...the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs...and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.
Dr. Bargh, the researcher, adds: "Sometimes those goals are in line with our conscious intentions and purposes, and sometimes they're not," which explains why it's necessary to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure.
But we've known that--intuitively, not rationally--forever. After all, Faulkner reminds us in his Nobel speech that the only thing worth writing about is "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself."
The study on sexual motivations is an awfully blunt tool, and having Love at the top of the list gets confusing. Is it an ex post facto stab at meaning? Are many of the other "motivations" different conscious rationales for the very same subconscious motivation? Doesn't "love" equate to any reason you can name? And can narratives be trusted to reflect the subconscious at all, at least in the scientific realm?
Why not dig deeper? Here are seven subconscious triggers for sex. Feel free to add your own.
1.I hate you.
2.It's Labor Day.
3.The space shuttle is in orbit.
4.If you keep smacking your lips when you eat, I swear I'll...oh, never mind, come here.
5."Something in the way she moves / attracts me like no other lover...."
6.I'm a bad, bad boy.
7.I got this and you got that: What else are we gonna do with them?