I’ve always been fascinated by the Homunculus, the artistic representation of our body based upon the amount of neural real estate in the brain allocated to different parts. You can see what one looks like on cognitive neuroscientist, Kevin Allan’s web page here. Looking at this artistic rendition, there’s little doubt about which body parts our brain thinks are most important to allocate resources to.
The Hands Have It
There’s also a famous experiment (Tranel, et al, 2000) by noted neuroscience researchers Daniel Tranel, Antoine Bechara and Antonio Damasio that is interesting for associated reasons. Using the “stacked” decks popularized in the Iowa Gambling Task decision-making experiments, they wired the hands of participants with electrodes to measure Galvanic Skin Response. At some point in the Gambling Task participants become consciously aware that two of the four decks they are playing with are stacked in their favor and two are stacked against them. However, what the Iowa researchers discovered is that GSR measurements indicated that a participant’s hands signaled which decks were stacked long before their conscious minds realized it! This would be a good awareness for professional card players to develop, I suspect. But it also has lots of implications for educating our children as well. How might we model early education to take optimal advantage of the “brains in our hands?”
Talk to the Hand
Neurologist Frank Wilson thought this question worthwhile enough to devote his whole career to answering it. He does a very comprehensive job in his book simply entitled The Hand. In graduate school, Arthur Hastings, my clinical hypnosis professor, introduced me to Applied Kinesiology and an elegant decision-making method that begins to make use of the wisdom in our hands. It works like this: in the moment, you designate one hand to represent “Yes” and the other to represent “No.” Next, you form a circle or “link” by touching each thumb and index finger together. After that, you form a two-link chain by inserting one thumb-index finger circle inside the other. Finally, you pose a Yes-No Question to your hands. For example, “Should I make the move to Whidbey Island?” Then you simply pull your fingers apart. The thumb-index fingers that remain connected – that is, that don’t give way in response – indicates your answer. Might this very simple method be one example we can use to begin teaching our kids to cultivate the wisdom in their own hands?
My friends, Elizabeth Bothwell and Todd Zimmerman have more advanced things that kids could begin learning early. They both are experts in hand analysis. As Elizabeth describes it “Hand analysis is an exploration of all aspects of the hand — shape, lines, fingers, and especially fingerprints — for the purpose of discerning human character, temperament, gifts, and individual life purpose. In our hands we see the imprint of our brains’ neural pathways and energies accumulated during a lifetime of experiences. Hand analysis is not predictive.” If you ever have Elizabeth or someone who has studied and deeply understands the “language” embodied in our hands give you a reading, you cannot help but come away convinced there is intelligence encoded there. Hand analysis, too, is something we can expose our children to and educate them about early. Might doing so begin to make even greater use of the neural real estate our Homunculus is already devoting to this resource? And who knows, one day Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner might add this as yet one more of his multiple intelligences; in which case, I’d have to hand it to him.
Tranel, D., Bechara, A., & Damasio, A.R. (2000). Decision making and the somatic marker hypothesis. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Ed.) The new cognitive neurosciences, Second Edition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.