PT Bookshelf: Irrationality, Sex, and Creativity

Irrationality, sexual fantasy, and other book reviews.

By Jay Dixit, Matthew Hutson, published on March 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Predictably Irrational

By Dan Ariely

We're all walking tangles of contradictions. We'll steal office supplies but not cash. We stock up on things we don't want just because they're free. We'll trek across town to save $20 when buying a sweater, but not when buying a car. Meanwhile, we're buffeted by a hurricane of unconscious forces. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT, is a master at devising ingenious experiments that illuminate the thousand cognitive quirks that make up human nature. In one study, he found that only 5 percent of men said they'd consider slipping a woman a date-rape drug. But when aroused—viewing porn on a laptop covered in protective Saran wrap—26 percent said they would. In another study, Ariely found that a placebo for migraines works great when it costs $2.50—but not when it costs 10 cents. In the end, Ariely says, we're all strangers to ourselves, unable to predict how easily our minds veer off course. Like Freakonomics and Stumbling on Happiness, this book will make you think twice about the way you make decisions.

Who's Been Sleeping In Your Head?

By Brett Kahr

Kahr, a psychoanalyst, conducted the largest survey of sexual fantasies ever, collecting more than 20,000 dirty daydreams. He reproduces hundreds, explores several in detail, and explains 14 functions of sexual fantasy. Kahr emphasizes the mastering of trauma, and says most masturbatory fantasies are attempts to transform early difficult experiences into pleasure. Whether the secret urges documented here incite eye-rolling, titillation, or a shameful sense of familiarity, Kahr refrains from labeling them "perverse." After all, he concludes, we are not the architects of our own fantasies.

Poets on Prozac

Edited By Richard M. Berlin

As scientists debate the "Sylvia Plath effect," Berlin asked 16 poets to contribute essays on how mental illness and treatment have affected their creative processes. While some thank periods of unbalance for forcing them to explore humanity's darker side, the consensus is that meds and therapy allow the day-in, day-out crafting and revising of words necessary to shape sentiments into publishable verse. Treatment also seems to tune rather than mute their emotional clarity and to make their output more relevant to others. Without it, these bards would still be finding fancy ways of saying "life sucks."