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Slavoj Žižek on Synthetic Sex and 'Being Yourself'

Philosopher and social critic Slavoj Žižek dislikes the sense of self-commodification and self-manipulation innate in online dating.

Slavoj Žižek: The problem I see with online dating is that it always automatically involves this aspect of self-commodification or self-manipulation. When you date online, you have to present yourself there in a certain way putting forward certain qualities. You present an image of yourself. You focus on your idea of how other people should perceive you. But I think that’s not how love functions, even at the very simple level. And so called, I think the English term is "endearing foibles," elementary ingredient on love. You cannot ever fall in love with the perfect person. There must be some tiny small disturbing element and it is only through noticing this element that you say, but in spite of that imperfection I love him or her.

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A funny story: They made in Europe, not in the United States, some decades ago when the two big modeling stars were Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford. They made in France, I think, a big opinion poll like, "Whom would you prefer to live with?" Cindy Crawford won. You know why? Because of that birth, that particular small mole here, whatever, birthmark. The idea was Claudia Schiffer is too perfect. There must be some tiny element of imperfection.

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And now let me tell you a totally crazy personal experience, which happened to me. I was talking once in a faraway country somewhere in Latin America. Of course I will not say where. A still very attractive lady, sexually, late 30s, who told me of a strange thing that happened to her. She told me that when her last lover saw her naked before making love that he told her if you were just to lose three, four pounds, your body would have been perfect. And I told her just don’t lost three or four pounds. Because, you know, like if she were effectively to lose three or four pounds she wouldn’t be perfect. She would just be plain. The illusion of perfection is created precisely by this excess. It’s too much, but then you imagine or without this it would have been perfect. If you say — if you take away this excess you don’t get perfect, you know. This is what in psychoanalytic theory we call object cause of desire. Not object of desire, object of desire I think in this case is a woman or a man or whatever. But the cause of desire in the sense of what makes you fall in love is always a sign of imperfection. So that’s for me a big problem in I don’t, I’m not doing it so I don’t know enough of it how to include into online dating this element of contingency.

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I don’t find a problem with online dating in the idea that you are not spontaneous, et cetera. Listen, we are never spontaneous. If there is a big lesson of all those Big Brother and other reality shows, it’s that even when we are just ourselves in private life we always play being ourselves. And I think this is in a way a good thing. I mean when people say no, you know, all these actor studio methodology — express yourself, be who you really are. Well I think most people are monsters secretly. I think — I like to live in a society where you do whatever you want. Just please don’t express yourself too much, you know. I like people who know how to control themselves. I believe in proper manners. So this aspect of health controlling that you stage a certain image of yourself, this doesn’t bother me with online dating, no.

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I even think now, I mean, if you allow me to conclude with another paradox. It would be so interesting to demonstrate how precisely when we act in an apparently wild way, you know, like let’s say — it’s not true, but let’s say we are talking in a nice polite way. Then for whatever reason you get mad at me or I get mad at you. And I explode. I start to swear using all dirty words blah, blah, blah. Now one would have thought the situation is this one. In normal conversation we control ourselves. Then when I cannot any longer control myself, I explode. No, I claim precisely this moment of explosion are the most precisely trained structures, artificial, if you want.

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I notice this, you know how; it’s a beautiful anecdote, I like it. With my friends, I notice that when we meet in a group to discuss just to have fun, we have to go through a certain ritual of humiliating each other with extremely — it’s not for our viewers to know if you know like the usual way we characterize each other which what I — it’s the Balkans stuff; what I will do to your mother, your dead mother; I will dig her out of her grave and do things to her sexually. The most tasteless thing. Then after 10 minutes of talking dirty, we tell to each other okay, we paid our tribute to ugliness. We got rid of it. Now we can finally be what we are and talk in a nice polite way, you know. Again, what I like is that it is — we have a certain perverse superego duty to talk dirty. And after you get rid of that, we can believe what we are. This is why I have always had a deep sympathy — although I'm not practicing — for sadomasochist sexuality.

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I noticed especially 15, 20 years ago because they were close to my theory I met many sadomasochist lesbians. And I can tell you I never met nicer, more kind girls or women. It is as if they were able to enact all the dirty disgusting stuff out there so that then they could afford when you paid your tribute to your superego to be nice, kind, and so on and so on. So to do the lust joke in this series, maybe some viewers know it, but I love it. I think this is one of my otherwise in my series of boring repetitive jokes may be a better one. Where are we today with sexuality?

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The Guardian, the British newspaper, asked me, "Is romance still alive today?" And my idea, my answer to them was let’s imagine an ideal sexual situation today. Let’s say I meet a lady; we are attracted to each other; we say okay, you are — all the usual stuff — your place, my place, whatever we meet there. Then, what happens then? I come with, she comes with her plastic penis, electric dildo. I come with some horrible thing. I saw it. It’s called something like stimulating training unit, whatever. It’s basically a plastic vagina, a hole. But you can — it’s wonderful technologically. You can regulate everything. How much it squeezes you. How strongly it shakes and so on. So my idea of a perfect date is the following one.

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We met. Then I put, she puts her plastic penis dildo into my stimulating training unit is the name of this product. Into my plastic vagina. We plug them in and the machines are doing it for us. They’re buzzing in the background and I’m free to do whatever I want and she. We have a nice talk; we have tea; we talk about movies. What can be — we paid our superego full tribute. Machines are doing — now where would have been here a true romance. Let’s say I talk with a lady with the lady because we really like each other. And, you know, when I’m pouring her tea or she to me quite by chance our hands touch. We go on touching. Maybe we even end up in bed. But it’s not the usual oppressive sex where you worry about performance. No, all that is taken care of by the stupid machines. That would be ideal sex for me today.

Philosopher and social critic Slavoj Žižek dislikes the sense of self-commodification and self-manipulation innate in online dating. People strive for perfection when they set up dating profiles. Žižek believes love isn't about seeing someone as perfect, but rather appreciating them for the reasons they're not perfect. Perfection is an illusion, he says. "Perfection" is plainness. It's innocuous and generic. This isn't necessarily an endorsement of bold and honest self-expression, because as Žižek explains, it's important to maintain manners and structure. Instead, Žižek promotes the idea of paying tribute to a perverse superego in order to be able to maintain civility. He then describes what he thinks the ideal date and sexual scenario would be — complete with the aforementioned "tribute."

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

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Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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