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Freud’s Slips

david_myers
Author
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Looking for a great summer read? If you like Nate Silver’s quantitative assessments of politics and sports, you will love Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book on big data revelations about our human interests, traits, and behaviors. By drilling down through millions of data points, often from people’s anonymous Google searches, he offers insights into racial prejudice, sexual orientation, child abuse, and even the age at which people’s long-term sports loyalties crystallize.

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With data science he can also test popular ideas. Was Freud right to suppose that phallic symbols in dreams, and innuendos in word slips, reveal our unconscious sexuality? Is the man who dreamed of eating a banana on his wedding day “secretly thinking of a penis”? Is typing “lipsdick” when you meant “lipstick” an eruption of your hidden desire?

 

In search of answers, Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed whether phallic-shaped foods “sneak into our dreams with unexpected frequency.” His answer: They do not. In dreams, bananas are the second most common fruit . . . and they also are the second most consumed fruit. Cucumbers are the seventh most dreamt vegetable, and the seventh most consumed vegetable.

 

In search of Freudian slips, he analyzed 40,000 typing errors collected by Microsoft. A few were sexually tinged—“sexurity” instead of “security,” and “cocks” instead of “rocks.” But then there also were innocent slips such as “pindows,” “fegetables,” and “aftermoons.” After analyzing the frequency of various errors in random typos, Stephens-Davidowitz concludes that “People make lots of mistakes.” And when you make enough, you can expect an occasional and statistically predictable miscue. Searching the quarter million e-mails I’ve received since 2000, for example, I see that friends have written me about their experiences with “Wisconsin Pubic Radio,” with hearing access in “pubic venues” and with “pubic access,” and in their work as a national organization’s “Director of Pubic Policy.”

 

Thus, “Freud’s theory that errors reveal our subconscious wants is indeed falsifiable—and, according to my analysis of the data, false.”

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).