You can’t tickle yourself

While entertaining at a wedding anniversary recently, I was listening to the music in the background which was a compilation of 60’s and 70’s music. On came ‘Voodoo Chile’ by Jimi Hendrix and an immediate Pavlovian response of pleasure rippled through my body. I gave it my slightly divided attention (I was still caricaturing at the time) and appreciated the brilliant textures and harmonic movements in the piece.

Wow. I thought, this is sensational! How come I hadn’t noticed just how good it was before?

On the drive back home, I got out the cd that had Jimi Hendrixs’ greatest hits and played Voodoo Chile’ again on the car sound system. I must have heard this track hundreds of times and when I played it in the car, it was as I remembered – OK.

That’s strange I thought, why did it sound so good when I was working in the room?

The answer, I reasoned, must be like tickling. When someone tickles you, it’s unbearable because you don’t know where they will go next. But if you try tickling yourself in the same places… nothing happens.

I remember when I would spend hours as a youth drawing in my parents’ home and playing records to keep me company. As I was relatively poor, I only had so many records so I knew them intimately. My brother would then ask if he could have a turn on the record deck. He would have a few records of his own but a lot of the music he played would be what I had played earlier. I noticed then that when I had no idea what song was coming next I enjoyed it all the more. It was the unexpectedness that made me appreciate the song anew.

I suspect a lot of things in life are like that. If you engineer an outcome, it is as you expected; but if an outcome is unexpected, it is almost like experiencing it for the first time again. Is this why an unexpected bargain is more pleasurable than a fiercely negotiated deal?

Why is the human mind so fickle?

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