Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Seuntjens, author of the dissertation on yawning and sex, responds

I would like to share with you a letter from Wolter Seuntjens, the Dutch academic who wrote a dissertation on yawning and sex, on which I commented in a previous post. His dissertation attracted quite a lot of attention in the media around the world, and he writes to set the record straight on some matters which were reported:

Dear Vox,

I read your comments on my dissertation ('Yawning and Sex'). I am glad that you write about it with humor.

The thing is that, although the publicity generated by my work is quite unexpected, mostly showing a mixture of amusement and incredulity, not everything that the newspapers write is true (the truth of this last sentence I have always known theoretically, but since I published my treatise on yawning I have known it first hand, practically, as well).

As a scholar I am slightly shocked by the ease with which (some) journalist discuss my work and present the “facts”. These “facts” get then multiplied quickly via the Internet.

One of the least mistakes is that I am not affiliated to the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) Amsterdam. (Some authors made me a professor of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: an example of ‘jumping to conclusions’.) The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam was founded by the Reformed Church in The Netherlands in 1880. It is a bit complicated: yes, I did receive my Ph.D. at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam but I am not and was not in any way employed or contracted by that institution: I graduated as an ‘extraneus’.

Rather more seriously is that most of the press publicized my theory as that all yawns are erotic or even sexual. This is, of course, not the case and I have never stated that. I only argued that there is an erotic and even a sexual dimension in yawning and that accordingly some yawns may be interpreted as erotic and sexual. This idea is in itself new and revolutionary, because it is counter-intuitive.

I am happy to say that there are some good journalists, too. For example Dirk van Delft of NRC Handelsblad (30 October 2004, p. 41. in Dutch) who read the complete work and who actually studied it closely [You will have to register before entering the page].

Again, I am glad with your humorous comments. In fact, I have put quite a few quotes from religious texts, for example from the Bible, in my dissertation (you may be surprised to see how yawning, even erotic yawning, can be linked with biblical passages).

Very best regards,

Wolter Seuntjens

PS There is a beautiful picture of the yawning infant Jesus by the British artist Tommy Canning [here].

Mr Canning wrote to me:
“[…] the child Jesus is yawning in the picture. I thought it an unusual way to show His humanity in His childhood and a perfectly natural thing a baby would do in the safe arms of His Mother. It makes people smile and contemplate His humanity. […] I drew this sketch years ago and wanted to do a Mother and Child that was a little different and it kind of worked. I also think God has a sense of humour and inspired me to do it like that.”

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

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