Saturday, September 05, 2009


We take our hands for granted, while using them in thousands of discrete operations each day. We practice their facility upon miniature hand-held devices, our shoulders hunched tightly as our thumbs input 140 character tweets that pass through our thoughts and must be shared for some reason or other with others. Perhaps lacking anything tangible to share, we share what little we can in our relentless need to be noticed and acknowledged. What we have learned from metaphor (yesterday's post) is that while our hands may be nearly unconscious in our use of them, they are at the very core of our human conceptual framework and fundamental to our understanding of human culture and physical reality.
Jacob Bronowski suggested that the hands and their motions are the foundation of human conceptual development. He said the "hand is the cutting edge of the mind." One hand as shown above cuts and divides the known into its component parts.
Two hands together provide the concept of gathering and assembly. Cut or divide provides the intellectual framework for analysis, reducing things down to their basic intellectual component parts. Assembly as modeled by the human hands allows for the intellectual combining of small discrete notions into a larger whole. Gathering allows for disparate notions to be collected and examined for greater meaning. In the video, watch Bronowski's hands. You will find that they also tell a story, expressing emphasis, analysis and integration.

If you want to do woodworking, guess what? It is all about cutting, gathering and assembly, represented by these two Bronowski hand gestures. Now for today's test, find something that is not.

In addition, having fingers provides the foundation for counting and measuring, and as I will discuss tomorrow, all tools in current use have their foundation in the basic motions and facilities of our human hands. The following is more from Bronowski for your reading pleasure:
We are active; and indeed we know, as something more than a symbolic accident in the evolution of man, that it is the hand that drives the subsequent evolution of the brain. We find tools today made by man before he became man. Benjamin Franklin in 1778 called man a 'tool-making animal', and that is right.

I have described the hand when it uses a tool as an instrument of discovery; it is the theme of this essay. We see it every time a child learns to couple hand and tool together--to lace its shoes, to thread a needle, to fly a kite or play a penny whistle. With the practical action there goes another, namely finding pleasure in the action for its own sake--in the skill that one perfects, and perfects by being pleased with it. This at the bottom is responsible for every work of art, and science too: our poetic delight in what human beings do because they can do it. The most exciting thing about that is that the poetic use in the end has truly profound results.

The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Civilization is not a collection of finished artifacts, it is the elaboration of processes. In the end, the march of man is the refinement of the hand in action.

The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder.
In other words, if you want to create schools that are more meaningful for children and that awaken their passions for learning, use crafts, music, cooking and gardening to engage the children's hands.

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