(New York Times) Sex, Lies and Data Mining
The concentrated essence of this curious book is contained in its 11th chapter, which attempts to explain what the “Mona Lisa” has in common with Chicken McNuggets, vampire novels and the concluding scene of most pornographic videos. Each of these works of human creativity, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam write in “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” exploits perceptual trickery to arouse and gratify our desires. The enigma of the Gioconda smile; the technologically engineered “craveability” of fast food; the alluring, “alpha among alphas” quality of the paranormal hero; that climactic moment beamed to watchers on a hundred million laptop screens: all rely on the artful manipulation of our brains.
That ultimate pornographic image in particular, the authors write, “is an erotical illusion that merges the visual with the psychological” and that juxtaposes “three sexual cues within a single stimulus: the penis (a visual cue), the ejaculation (which may be a sperm competition cue or possibly a cued interest in some men), and — most important — the woman’s emotional reaction, which may be a psychological cue of female pleasure (if she expresses delight) or a psychological cue of sexual submission (if she expresses surprise or dismay).” And you thought it was all just masturbation.
“A Billion Wicked Thoughts” promises to reveal “the truth about what men and women secretly desire — and why.” Ogas and Gaddam, cognitive neuroscientists who met as graduate students at Boston University, analyzed a year’s worth of terms entered into the search engine aggregator Dogpile between July 2009 and July 2010, and found that 55 million of the roughly 400 million terms were sexual in nature. The authors organized those searches into a ranked hierarchy of categories. “Youth” was No. 1 and “breasts” was No. 4. “Cheating wives,” “gay” and “penises” all made the top 10.