Okay, ErosFans, let’s test your publication acumen. Where do you think the following might have appeared?

There must be something in the water here in Lanesboro, Minnesota, because last night I dreamt of an encounter with a very muscular African-American centaur, an orgiastic experience with – gasp – drunken members of the opposite sex and (as if that weren’t enough) then being asked by my hostess to wear a white wedding dress while giving a scientific keynote presentation. “Does it make me look too feminine?” “Not at all,” she assured me, “it’s a man’s dress.”

centaur

If you guessed something porny I commend you on your browsing habits.

But if you guessed Scientific American give yourself a gold star.

I owe this bit of fine weirdness to my recent discovery of Dr. Jesse Bering’s Bering in Mind column at Sci Am, a discovery which I in turn owe to Dr. Bering’s being interviewed this past weekend on Bloggingheads.tv’s Science Saturday feature by John Horgan.



Now Dr. Bering has recently completed a book on an the empirical epistemology of religion called The Belief Instinct, but for some reason Horgan just wanted to spend the whole hour talking about sex. (Some people are like that, I guess.) Which is just fine, because Dr. Bering can talk very fluently indeed about sex and all the fun psychological research that’s going on there. You have to love a gay psychologist who will write a column with the title Top scientists get to the bottom of gay male sex preferences. In another column Dr. Bering recounts doing research in the files of the Kinsey Institute on the origins of people’s kinks in childhood experiences. (He uncovers the story about the origins of a “rubberphile” which was really something.) Dr. Bering promises us he’s writing a book on the subject, tentatively entitled Perv. (I hope he keeps the title.) I get the sense that Dr. Bering is working from the intuition that people’s fantasies and experiences are one of the best windows into the mind we can find.

As I reflected on all this, it occurred to me: who needs the Kinsey Institute? What are I and many of you and millions of other people doing on the Internet but writing about fantasies and experiences? Some of us might be doing it more elaborately than others, but even the humblest Tumblr reblogger is creating an image of a mind, in showing the world what it was in the vast visual record available to it that turned that mind on. Collectively we are all creating one of the widest and deepest pools of raw sexual self-report data humanity has ever known.

And that, in turns, brings my mind back to legal matters. Here in the United States there is a legal test called the Miller test, after a Supreme Court case, Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), which holds that in order to be obscene (and thus lacking protection as free speech) a work must, among other bad attributes “…taken as a whole, [lack] serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” (My emphasis.)

How many of us realized we were contributing to science? But we are. All our content has serious scientific value, whether that’s part of our intention or not. And that’s another bit of armor against those who would harm us.