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July 2, 2003

Itch
Posted by Teresa at 11:10 PM *

The New York Times has an interesting summary of our current understanding of itching and scratching.

My own understanding is that some itches are God’s way of encouraging us to be nice to each other. I refer to that perpetually itchy spot in the upper middle of our backs, the one that only contortionists can scratch. Is there any other reason it should be so itchy? I can’t see one; and so I believe it itches so our loved ones can scratch it for us, to our intense gratification and delight.

Note: God isn’t strictly necessary for this conjecture to work. You could also say that the itchy spot between our shoulderblades is evolution’s way of reminding us that we’re happier when we cooperate.

Comments on Itch:
#1 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 12:04 AM:

That would explain why contortionists are so stand-offish. They can scratch their own itches.

Misanthropic sods.

#2 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 07:50 AM:

Here's my tip for the day. If you have a bug bite or rash that's driving you crazy because you can't scratch it without making it worse, scratch next to it. Scratching sets up nerve 'noise' that helps temporarily drown out the itch signals, and it works even if it's merely in close proximity to the source of the itch. Scratch with a finger on either side of the bite. It works for me.

#3 ::: lightnng ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 09:39 AM:

Was it a Heinlein story where people realized that a kid was telepathic because he always scratched exactly where it itched?

#4 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 09:50 AM:

lightning: Beyond This Horizon. Very early Heinlein (1941) and easier reading for it, although out of date in odd spots (my copy keeps referring to forty-eight human chromosomes). The kid is expected to be very bright, but the telepathy is unexpected. (The kid's refusal to play along with silly Rhine games is also unexpected by the characters and completely unsurprising in a ~4-year-old; you'd never know it from his later work, but somewhere Heinlein must have run into some real children.)

#5 ::: Larry Lurex ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 10:03 AM:

Perhaps that's why hermits always seem to live in caves: they are about the only places where you're guaranteed to get a rock about the right height.

People weren't meant to live alone though, our whole bodies were designed for interaction with others. From the very earliest times: you can't run as fast with only two legs. There need to be more of you about to defend the group from predators. Voices helped the group maintain cohesiveness, especially when their backs needed scratching.

#6 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 11:45 AM:

My own understanding is that some itches are God92s way of encouraging us to be nice to each other.

So, what does that mean for that similarly situated spot on your spine between your shoulderblades that you can never pop on your own?

That He wants you to let someone walk all over you?

And since He put our genitals so conveniently with reach... sorry.

#7 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 01:35 PM:

For this I may actually register with the NYT. I'm fascinated with the whole itching/scratching thing. I have a perennially itchy back. Not just the unreachable spot, the whole thing. This is true of almost all the women in my mother's family. I guess we're really friendly?

MKK

#8 ::: Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 02:04 PM:

On where to scratch--scratch on the skin that is towards your trunk (i.e., towards the spinal cord) from the itchy spot.

I was taught never to scratch anything I couldn't see--it might be a healing scab, or a potentially cancerous mole, or something else that shouldn't be scratched.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 03:15 PM:

Jeff Crook, my family does that for each other. We've all got that kind of spine. Patrick doesn't, but he's gotten pretty good at making mine fall back into line.

Best method I've found: Face each other. Put your arms around the other person just below the level of their shoulder blades, and clasp your hands. Bend over backwards. It's effective, gentle, doesn't require a lot of strength, and can be done in public.

#10 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 04:55 PM:

Face each other. Put your arms around the other person just below the level of their shoulder blades, and clasp your hands. Bend over backwards. It's effective, gentle, doesn't require a lot of strength, and can be done in public.

A lovely picture. In my family, we crush one another ineffectally. Was that your back? No, my rib.

But who bends over backwards? The popper or the poppee?

#11 ::: Paul Orwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2003, 09:58 PM:

I know you were just joking, but I actually think you are right! Of course, I am not an itchologist (or an icthyologist), but grooming of mates is a well known mechanism of communication of love in apes, so it is really not farfetched. I will leave the actual research (as opposed to my preferred form of half-assed guessing) as an exercise for the reader...

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 12:32 AM:

Jeff, it's the popper who bends over backward. There's no need for that much force, no matter how you do it.

Paul, I wasn't altogether joking, and I know about that particular primate behavior. There's no reason for that spot on our backs to be as itchy as it is; neither is there any reason I can see for it to feel as wonderful as it does when scratched. And yet it does.

#13 ::: Larry Lurex ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 06:49 AM:

C'mon people, let's admit it: it's great to scratch and all animals like doing it. Cows scratch against trees, squirrels scratch at lightning speed, lizards scratch. Snakes don't though. Maybe that's why they shed their skin? It just gets too darn itchy and then...off she comes.

#14 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2003, 07:17 AM:

How very odd. I would never have thought of myself as a contortionist, but I can scratch that itchy spot in the middle of my back without any great difficulty, though I admit it feels very good to have someone else do it, too.

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