“The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff,” Theodore Sturgeon, 1955 – (Novella) Two alien anthropologists observe the lonely inhabitants of a boarding house and study Synapse Beta Sub Sixteen, a trait which allows all sentient beings to step outside of their immediate situation and either act for their good or the good of others.
Comments: Read in A Treasury of Great Science Fiction: Volume One. A story of “performing human,” the limitations of language created by culture, appetites, compassion, love, and “gender expectations” created by the media for both men and women (e.g., communal stories, such as pretty girls “being discovered by Hollywood” and images, such as sexually provocative advertisements directed to men). The story has also been seen as a treatment of asexuality. For a review of the treatment of sexuality in Sturgeon’s sf, see the Salon book review, “Eros in the Age of Machines,” by John Clute. For a more detailed plot synopsis, see Genrebusters, which provides this description of Synapse Beta Sub Sixteen:
“Synapse Beta Sub Sixteen is akin to a social inner-ear, a ‘reflex of reflexes,’ allowing an individual to ‘reflexively adjust when imbalanced in his sociocultural matrix.’ This synapse allows for cultures to evolve as a single unity, to rise up and work together during times of great crises; without this synapse, no culture stands a chance at prolonged survival. While humanity must logically possess this synapse, the Bittlemans have discovered that it is either a dormant biological trait or that we have chosen to ignore it – both possibilities equally problematic.”
Author: Wikipedia: “Theodore Sturgeon (born Edward Hamilton Waldo; February 26, 1918 – May 8, 1985) was an American science fiction and horror author…In 1951, Sturgeon coined what is now known as Sturgeon’s Law: ‘Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.’…Sturgeon was a distant relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson.”