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In the News, Neuroscience

Neuroscientist describes why we can’t tickle ourselves

Neuroscientist describes why we can't tickle ourselves

As a review recently published in Science pointed out, kids are natural scientists. And the questions posed by their young, curious minds often seem simple but can be profound. A post today on the Atlantic explores this phenomena through excerpts from the book “Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds,” where scientific experts answer a range of children’s questions.

The Atlantic entry highlights a response from Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist David Eagleman, PhD, on how parts of our brain are always trying to predict the future and why this process prevents us from being able to tickle ourselves. Eagleman writes:

Remember when you first learned how to ride a bicycle? At first, it took a lot of concentration to keep the handlebars steady and push the pedals. But after a while, cycling became easy. Now you’re not aware of the movements you make to keep the bike going. From experience, your brain knows exactly what to expect so your body rides the bike automatically. Your brain is predicting all the movements you need to make.

You only have to think consciously about cycling if something changes — like if there’s a strong wind or you get a flat [tire]. When something unexpected happens like this, your brain is forced to change its predictions about what will happen next. If it does its job well, you’ll adjust to the strong wind, leaning your body so you don’t fall.

Why is it so important for our brains to predict what will happen next? It helps us make fewer mistakes and can even save our lives.

[...]

Because your brain is always predicting your own actions, and how your body will feel as a result, you cannot tickle yourself. Other people can tickle you because they can surprise you. You can’t predict what their tickling actions will be.

And this knowledge leads to an interesting truth: if you build a machine that allows you to move a feather, but the feather moves only after a delay of a second, then you can tickle your- self. The results of your own actions will now surprise you.

The explanations on why we dream and what goes on inside the brain when we love are also worth a read.

Photo by gemsling

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