Hands connect to thought

Mind the Hand

April 14, 2010

in design,innovate

The single most powerfully unique characteristic of the human anatomy is the hand. When our ancient ancestors went from travel by tree to walking, dramatic brain cognition changes began. We then started to use our hands to build, engineer, plant, spear, and more importantly, communicate and problem solve via art and non-verbal gesturing. This adaptation in transportation had spectacular implications in nearly every facet of our function and progress to date.

Yet, the way we teach our children and then operate as adults has long since divorced itself from this critical like to human intelligence.  By using our hands as passive instruments and not as an active means to coordinate evocative meaning and continued exploration, we limit our cognitive capacity and quality of thought. Conversely, the artist, musician, and tinkerer have fused personal desire, time and complexity of learning with the movement, emotion and thought.  And this is what trains and drives a deep connection to actualizing ideas and the ability to clearly, effectively communicate them.  That’s passion.

NASA, Boeing and others have discovered this and use literal ‘hands-on experience’ to narrow job applicant pools. If you have not employed your hands to worked on cars (model aircraft, etc…) or use them in life to build and create, you don’t get hired. Not everyone wants to work in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (I would be thrilled to just take a tour), but the skill of ‘thinking with your hands’ is a universal benefit to practically any career.  You know what to do, folks, go get busy : )

Great books about the hand/mind connection:

- Frank Wilson’s, The Hand
- Milton Glaser’s, Drawing is Thinking
- Susan Goldin-Meadow’s, Hearing Gesture (which is also important reading if you are designing for touch)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Anil Pinto April 15, 2010 at 12:29 am

Excellent article.

Catto April 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Hey Now Sara,

Just reading your blog for the first time, very nice some good content.

Thx 4 the info,

Janet Klein May 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Just musing on certain blindspots in contemporary culture and your article and references are just the thing. I will pass it on. May I quote you? I am designing something to share with others regarding mindful use of resources, things are made with skill and care, perhaps aided with technology but still largely made by hand.

Is there a word to describe modern proprioception in the use of mouse, stylus and other tools which are utilized without looking at the hand, but used while looking at a screen? (as opposed to eye-hand coordination)

(Obviously something other than eye-hand coordination.

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