Ölveczky, B. P., Andalman, A. S., & Fee, M. S. (2005). Vocal Experimentation in the Juvenile Songbird Requires a Basal Ganglia Circuit. PLoS Biology, 3(5), e153. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030153.sg003
A friend of mine once told me an interesting story about why, although he is a right-handed man, he masturbates with his left hand. It seems that at the age of fifteen or sixteen, after several years of doing so with his right hand, he became intoxicated by the unfamiliar and slightly unpredictable motions of his less finely-motor-skill-developed left hand. After making the switch, his left hand has become perfectly adept for masturbation, and he has never switched back.
This story came to mind this morning while listening to one of the best talks I have ever heard in my life, by Dr. Bence Olveczky, who studies how learning happens. The basic idea you get from this utter genius’s research is that, as animals learn new motor-skills through trial and error, we are initially not only very bad at them, but we are also very inconsistent every time we try. However, this inconsistency serves an essential function in our learning: by trying out a range of possible actions, we explore a wide range of different motions, and we only positively reinforce those motions which get us our reward better.
One of Dr. Olveczky’s sickest contributions to us drooling psychos in the scientific community has been to identify a region of the brain that actually injects the random noise in the songs of juvenile zebrafinches as they learn to sing their song - the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the nidopallium (LMAN), or as I call it, “el Man.” Normally, young birds sing a garbled, weird, inconsistent song that gets progressively closer to the song of their fathers, until the mature song crystallizes in the adult. However, when young birds have their LMAN fucking destroyed experimentally while learning, all of a sudden the normal variability in their pubescent song is shut off and they sing a completely consistent, albeit incorrect, song. So part of the circuit for song learning involves injecting stochastic noise into the naive behavior so you have some variation on which to select the good shit.
Point is - to learn something by trial and error, you have to have error first. Our stupid blundering attempts are what allow us to try out a range of possible behaviors and pick the best one. The implication, of course, is that we should be better at learning those things that we have more inherent error in our naive attempts at, and these dudes are about to drop a majorly sick pape about how humans learn much faster on tasks where there is more inherent error during the learning phase. BUT THAT HASN’T SEEN PEER REVIEW YET SO IT ISN’T OFFICIALLY SICK YET.
So I’m guessing that’s why this friend enjoyed learning to masturbate with his left hand so much. The left hand was untrained, producing lots of exciting errors, whereas the right hand was already strong from a lifetime of being a righty, thereby putting blinders up on a world of possible joy. From the bewildering array of erotic missteps and fuck-ups emanating from the left hand, the brain was able to only reinforce those particular motions which generated the particular “Je ne sais quoi” which lit his particular fire.
I hope that, in the future, all you readers out there in radio land will let yourselves do new things that you are currently extremely shitty at so that your incredible brains will be able to pick out the parts of your naivete most rewarding and thusly generate a new talent to bring you joy in your golden shower years.