Saturday, 13 September 2008

Jokes and their relation to my unconscious, part two

The second gag I remember from my psychology degree all those decades ago is the one about the hypothalamus. Regular readers will know that the first gag was about short-term memory capacity — one of three jokes or witticisms on the course that stuck with me because they helped me remember something significant.

For the one about the hypothalamus, I need to set the scene a little. In my memory it was in a lecture by the head of course, a professor of gathering years whose tutorials were enlivened with small glasses of sherry. Or so I’m told. He wasn’t my tutor. Not that I went to my own tutor’s tutorials either. But I did occasionally bump into him in the student bar and maybe have a chat about my work. Maybe.

The hypothalamus? A small thing, about the size of an almond, that sits pretty much in the middle of your head.

The gag was about its function. What does the hypothalamus do? the professor asked rhetorically. He answered his own question: ‘It controls the four Fs.’ Which are? ‘Fear, flight, fight and . . . sexual behaviour.’

I could barely believe I’d heard it. An ageing, crustyish professor had just alluded to fucking, in a lecture. Some of the younger, less worldly girls looked genuinely shocked. Remember this is a third of a century ago. A different world, even in New Cross.

It’s not the whole story of the hypothalamus. It has other tasks, too. But the gag stuck those four in my memory, didn’t it. Infuckingdelibly.

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