Mathematics and Sex by Clio Cresswell at TEDxSydney (Transcript)

Clio Cresswell at TEDxSydney

Full text of Dr. Clio Cresswell on Mathematics and Sex at TEDxSydney conference.

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Yes, I am the mathematician who is going to get you so laid.

And to begin, I need you to stare at this equation.

Wt+1 = a + r1Wt + Ihw (Ht)

Ht+1 = b + r2Ht + Iwh (Wt)

I mean, there’s your first orgasm right there, I know it.

But these are very sophisticated equations that model a successful marriage. And they’re groundbreaking equations because it was the first time that truly sophisticated mathematics was used in the field of romance. And they predict with 95% accuracy rate whether newlyweds will be together in six years’ time.

And you can see there is the “W” for wife and the “H” for husband. So, they modeled newlyweds talking about areas of contention like the in-laws or money. And then they modeled the responses according to how each partner was responding to the other. Body language as well.

And what came out was this interesting influence factor at the end there, which actually revealed that couples that responded the least to each other had a better chance of a successful marriage. So that means — I see some people are like, We knew that.

So, couples that compromised the least ended up being together the most. And this was very interesting because a lot of therapy has been based on empathy. And you laughed before, so maybe you don’t say when you partner comes home, “Yes darling, I know. Let me rub your feet and fix you a martini.” Because what they’ve actually found is that might not be the best way forward. Maybe the best way, or the mathematics revealed, that having high standards and finding ways to reach for those standards is in fact the way to go.

So mathematics is the study of patterns. All the symbols that you see are in fact patterns, you know, encapsulating patterns. And we’re very used to seeing mathematics being used in physics and engineering. That’s just because it’s been there the most. You know, E equals mc squared. That’s so early 1900’s. There’s actually been an evolution.

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Since the 80’s we’ve seen mathematics venture into stock market analysis, risk analysis that was new. And then since the 1990’s or 2000’s even, we’re seeing mathematics enter into the sometimes called Softer Sciences like psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology.

And so new mathematics appears every day. So I brought in a few just to remind you of how that works.

So here’s some latest research. This is looking at antibiotic use and how to implement antibiotics for tuberculosis while getting the patient healthy, but making sure that we avoid antibiotic resistance. That came out a couple of weeks ago. And this is looking at how an opinion spreads through a population. And when will you have the coexistence of several opinions, or one big consensus.

One of my favorites, it’s a little bit older but I couldn’t resist. This one is from 2009 and this is how to create the perfect chocolate. One that melts in your mouth but not in your hand. And yes, these are very sexy equations, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, Mathematics is absolutely everywhere these days; it’s being used everywhere. So it really is no surprise that now we’re seeing the equations for love.

Now, love sucks. I know you all know that. Because, yes, you’re excited at first. But then you’re scared. Oh, my god. I haven’t eaten. You’re sitting looking at your phone, “Please ring! Please ring!” Then they send you a two-word text. And you’re like, “Whoo-hoo! It’s on like Donkey Kong.”

And so these equations look at which personality traits are more likely to come together to have a more stable companionship type love because some people it just ends up being up and down continuously. I mean imagine being in a relationship with Charlie Sheen. That would be like well, unlike Donkey Kong and also like this. It gets a bit out of control — mathematically quite fast. So just to tell you, it’s about one thing to look out for is if your partner — if you overestimate your partner’s qualities.

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So with partners we can behave a bit like proud parents. “He’s so smart. He’s so sexy.” And everyone’s just staring at this guy like —

Anyway, here’s some more mathematics. Now, men report, on average, having had sex with two to four times as many women than women do men. And this does not make sense. It doesn’t.

I know you’re all thinking, “But what about prostitutes?”

Another girl — “But what about my ex? He’s slept with everybody.”

No, every time a man has sex with a woman — there are averages for other things — But in a large enough sample space it’s going to be about the same, not off like this.

So here’s an example. Here’s Charlie Sheen. He’s had sex with everyone.

Then the next guy, only one. One, one, one. And that forces, you see, the outcome for the women. The first one’s had one. The others have had 2 partners each. And 2, 4, 6, 8, 9. 9 divided by 5 and on the right 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 9 divided by 5. Every time a man has sex with a woman it’s adding to the general tally of both sides.

Now, why is this discrepancy? Because the surveys are confidential and non-identifying, it turns out, if you ask about kinky things, people are very honest.

What we’ve turned to is we think it’s counting strategy. Because if you enumerate you’ll be prone to an underestimation. If you approximate you’ll be prone to an overestimation. So it seems women are going, “Justin, Brad, the guy with the sexy biceps. The end.”

And men are going, “20 a year for the last 5 years.” You know.

My favorite clue in all the data was that 80% of men’s results were divisible by 5.

So, of course the mathematicians are like, “Yeah, no, you’re lying.”

Back to some more waves. Of course, there are waves in women’s hormones. And these equations look at what kind of mechanism is in a woman’s body — how does your body know 28 days have gone by? And it’s based on understanding why women have all their immature eggs at birth ready to go. We hear so much about women’s hormones, so I’ve brought in men’s as well.

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These are — These are real. I’m not making them up. This model, the relationship between the brain and the testes as the fluctuation happens during the day. I promise these are real.

Testosterone, for example, has a peak in the morning and a slump in the evening. But there’s actually a mini testosterone peak every 2 to 2.5 hours in between. So, you know what that means, especially women. If you ask a guy a favor and he’s not responding just wait half an hour and ask again, just try and — just try and get that slump moment. It’s got its purposes. Though the peak has another purpose as well.

Yes, this is all great fun and I could carry on with fun maths and sex problems for hours. But ultimately, what I’m about is our amazing brain and the impact of abstract thinking and the power of abstract thinking.

And so let me turn things a little bit around on you and say, what do you think happens if you think about sex before doing mathematics? Because it’s actually not super distracting. You’ll actually become better at doing certain types of brain processes. It turns out there’s two fundamental types of brain processes. You either think globally or locally. Forest or trees. And when you’re solving a problem, you often start with the global kind of analysis and then you have to dig in deep and follow leads to solutions.

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