Through the use of a blog tracker that keeps track of statistics for visitors to this blog, I discovered that Wisdom of the Hands Blog is on the reading list for a philosophy course at North Park University in Chicago. Ironically, my wife and daughter and I were on the North Park Campus years ago when my daughter attended a two week long Northwestern University summer workshop. I assume the blog is listed for good reasons and not as an example of what not to write. In any case, there is an excellent Swedish restaurant right across the street—a memorable place for breakfast. And I welcome philosophers to read to their heart's content and have Swedish pastries and smoked salmon with your WiFi. I have a favorite quote from Jean Jacques Rousseau:
"Put a young man in a wood shop and his hands work to the benefit of his brain, and he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman."In a nutshell, when one's hands are engaged in seemingly repetitive tasks, the mind is neither numbed nor silent. Folks at work with their hands are often engaged in thought and thoughtfulness unapparent to the observer. Just as students in a lecture hall can be surreptitiously engaged in checking their face book pages, and the professor will not know whether they're listening, or the content of their minds and character prior to test time, the casual observer of a craftsman at work will know nothing of the inner workings of a craftsman's mind, unless he or she has taken time to make a major investment in the development of skill, and knows by extension the depths or complexities of a craftsman's thoughts.
Another important quality conveyed by Rousseau's quote is that of humility as an essential human value. The word only as used in reference to craftsmanship, should be a term applied with broad strokes to every human endeavor, but it is not. "Only a craftsman" conveys a sense of egolessness and lack of pretense that ought to be emulated in other things including philosophy and academia. But then the third point, which perhaps is most important to the Wisdom of the hands is Rousseau's description of the integral relationship between the hands and brain and all human knowledge.
Once again, the words of Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886, on the role of the hands in the process of discovery come to mind:
"It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand."The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and thereby finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and surrendered our human culture on the altar of stupidity.
The following video is one I found on the North Park University Philosophia web page describing the North Park University course Zen and Archery.
The course states:
Theory without practical skill is dangerous. But, we develop skills and practices, our bodies learn, and so we discover what we could not know otherwise. Practices shape the way our minds perceive, remember, and anticipate. That is, they teach us specific ways to pay attention or to stay alert. Our skills and practices shape us as profoundly as any product they may produce.Comenius (1592-1670) had something to say to all this philosophy:
In this class, we will practice shooting an arrow and writing an essay. We will think about these practices, along with several others, both for the sake of the practices themselves and for the sake of how those practices shape their practitioners.
"Theory," says Vives, "is easy and short, but has no result other than the gratification that it affords. Practice on the other hand, is difficult and prolix, but is of immense utility." Since this is so, we should diligently seek out a method by which the young may be easily led to the practical application of natural forces, which is to be found in the arts.Make, fix and create...