Thursday, April 21, 2011

David J. Linden's "The Compass of Pleasure"

David J. Linden, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has worked for many years on the cellular substrates of memory storage in the brain and a few other topics.

His publications include The Accidental Mind, a book that "seeks to explain how brain evolution has given rise to those qualities that most profoundly shape our human experience."

Linden applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, and reported the following:
Imagine my delight in finding that page 99 of The Compass of Pleasure is not only smutty, but has my favorite illustration of the entire book.
Most but not all homosexual behavior seen in animals would be more accurately described as bisexuality. In many species heterosexual contact occurs only during the female’s fertile phase, but homosexual behavior is common at other times. In some, like bonobos, it seems as if homosexual behavior, in addition to providing
sexual pleasure, also fulfills a social role by diffusing tension and promoting social bonding at the expense of aggression. At present, there are only a few examples of animals engaging in lifelong, purely homosexual behavior, and these have occurred mostly among males and mostly in captivity. Nonetheless, in a number of zoos around the world, male penguins of several species have been observed to form stable monogamous couples. They build nests together and use a rock as a surrogate egg. In one well-publicized case, a pair of male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York City were provided with a fertilized egg, from which they successfully hatched a chick.4 Likewise, about 6 percent of domesticated rams court and mount other males exclusively, even when estrous females are present.

Figure 4.1 Adult bonobo females engaging in genital-genital rubbing, a common expression of bonobo sexuality that can result in orgasm. Illustration by Joan M. K. Tycko.

We can’t close out this discussion of animal sexuality without mentioning some even more exotic phenomena. Cross-species sex is most commonly observed in animals in captivity, but examples have been documented in wild populations as well. For example, male moose have been known to have sex with female horses. In a zoo in Siberia, a tiger and a lion were encouraged to mate and bore (infertile) offspring. Genetic analysis has been employed to identify offspring from cross-species hybrids in the wild, providing evidence for sexual encounters between grizzly bears and polar bears.
This section is part of a larger explication of the point that human mating, dominated by monogamous pair-bonding, a single sexual partner during a given ovulation cycle, and a paternal contribution to child rearing, is highly aberrant in the larger mammalian community.

So our conclusion in light of these findings is a bit counterintuitive. It’s not really kinky or forbidden behavior such as homosexuality, masturbation or even cross-species sex that makes humans sexually unique—those things are well-represented in our mammalian kin. Rather, it’s our most conventional and socially sanctioned mating behavior that is totally aberrant in comparison to other mammals.

Overall, in this case, page 99 gives a fairly good idea of the flavor of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at the official The Compass of Pleasure blog.

The Page 99 Test: David J. Linden's The Accidental Mind.

--Marshal Zeringue