Monday, June 30, 2014

The Modern Hand

When it first became commonplace to see people with cell phones I remember watching a students thumb moving fast over his little keypad and thinking how the space for thumb in his motor cortex must be growing. Like certain fingers on violin players, modern use of the thumb has moved into new territory. And the territory of the whole hand is developing a group of new behavior patterns reflecting how we now use technology. Since getting an iPad Mini there have been all kinds of new ways to caress the screen, most of which I’ve learned by experiment, just trying things, not descriptions in a manual. I’ve learned all the touch screen gestures of google earth by analogy to
actual movement. I’ve been charmed by the actions that are brand new to me, the gestures of magicians, making a screen disappear by pulling it in with spread fingers. The less intuitive gestures I’ve learned by accident, making a movement that causes something unexpected that can then be done on purpose later. As technology engages the whole body in a new repertoire of movements our brain will develop accordingly. We will strengthen the reasoning based on those movements. Those that worry that our machines will eventually out smart us are assuming we stay the same. The machines have changed us as they’ve developed and our foundation for ideas is much more sophisticated when the gestures of controlling technology keep us way ahead. Looking at a news story about the newest robots shows how far they have to go to achieve the sophisticated reasoning we experience based on the highly nuanced physical expression of striving and being. Our reasoning is based on our movements. That is where robots are most primitive.

It would be fascinating to compare brain scans of the motor cortex from the nineties to now. My hunch is that the hand area will have grown. An anthropological article called it the pinnacle of evolution and that in art the hand often represented the whole person. Jungian psychologists call them our wings and it’s agreed that they’re our tools for all creative expression. The development of the hand then is the instrument for transforming our highest powers. The hand can learn
to work as small as the eye can see. Surgeons work with microscopes and the hands can do their bidding even in such a small space. The use of touch screens develops small scale touch and opens a new realm of learning. Figuring out how to move the hands and fingers to accomplish
some goal could bring the challenge of games to the training of reasoning. The hands dance and our mind grows.

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