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In Defense of the Human Hand

Hands, those perfectly designed, balanced, flexible, coordinated, five-fingered extensions of the human arm, capable of grasping, lifting, cupping, holding, climbing, in use always, in some ways more expressive than words, a uniquely human body part, reflective of one’s innermost personality and persona. Hands can be used to heal, to soothe, to caress, to comfort, to instruct. Hands are what we engage to build, to rescue, to assist, to demonstrate, to pray. We are shaped and defined by our hands, with us from birth, that to which we owe our lives, fit, capable, and strong, agile, dexterous, and deft, our most essential physical presence we take for granted but could not live without.

“Behold the hands, how they promise, conjure, appeal, menace, pray, supplicate, refuse, beckon, interrogate, admire, confess, cringe, instruct, command, mock and what not besides, with a variation and multiplication of variation which makes the tongue envious.” ― Michel de Montaigne

Thinking is intimately tied to the hands. We learn through our hands. There’s a network of connected arteries and nerves––Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy has a cross-section of the distal phalanx with a description of “minute arteries” and “fine nerves”––but hands shape and guide our thoughts as well, probably in subtle, yet undiscovered ways. Think of the contour and configuration of your hands as a channel of influence, an undiscovered path, a means of control.

There’s probably a relationship between osteoarthritis of the hands and the onset of depression. Indeed, there’s medical literature to suggest a link: “Anxiety and depression are interrelated with pain and physical limitation, the two key OA [osteoarthritis] symptoms. Studies in our review have revealed that anxiety and depression can significantly impair QoL [quality of life] of patients by altering pain perception and functional capacity.”[1]

Fixate on the hand, meditate on its ways.  Think of ways to make verbal speech something “hand-like.” Think of ways to make a written phrase or sentence something “hand-formed.” Think of ways to make reasoning something “hand-measured.” Handwritten, hand-drawn, handcrafted––we instantly associate a special kind of quality to that which is linked to the hands. Orchestral music lends its magic in part because we know it originates from the hands. Professional athletes, artists, musicians, builders––the hands are their medium. Surgeons instinctively learn to protect their hands at all costs.

“The sophisticated function of the human hand with its more than 20 independent degrees-of-freedom (DOF), actuated by more than 30 muscles and aided by numerous proprioceptive and tactile sensors, remained for a long time far beyond the reach of any human technology…”[2]

Today’s male, dressed in suit and tie, is permitted to expose to public view only two areas of the human body––his face and hands. Everything else is covered in multiple layers of clothing. We do not require the wearing of gloves. We derive immediate security and serenity from seeing another’s hands––their mere presence inspires our trust and confidence. “We find only one tool, neither created nor invented, but perfect: the hand of man.”––Julio Ramón RibeyroMarginal Voices: Selected Stories. Our hands are as fundamental to us as language itself. In making sense of the world’s complexity, our minds can deceive us, but we can always depend on our hands.

[1] Anirudh SharmaPrtha KudesiaQian ShiRajiv Gandhi, Anxiety and depression in patients with osteoarthritis: impact and management challenges, Open Access Rheumatol. 2016; 8: 103–113. Published online 2016 Oct 31. doi:  10.2147/OARRR.S93516

[2] Helge Ritter, Robert Haschke, Hands, Dexterity, and the Brain, in Humanoid Robotics and Neuroscience: Science, Engineering and Society, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299038/



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