THE HAND by Frank R. Wilson

THE HAND

How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An extended synthesizing meditation on the human hand from Wilson (Tone Deaf and All Thumbs?, 1986). Green-thumbed, butter-fingered, hamfisted—whatever its talents (or lack thereof), the hand is more than a metaphor of humanness; it is, in Wilson’s estimation, a focal point in the fulfillment of life, in our cognitive architecture; it represents our chance to put our stamp on the world. Though there are no crashing breakthroughs into the ultimate mystery of the hand, into the exact pathways by which it affects our growth and thoughts and creativity, Wilson does show how very special the hand is through a summation—a quite literate one—of the theories of anatomists, philosophers, psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, and, of course, since they share his calling, neurologists, about its physiological evolution and cognitive linkages. He details where the hand came from and its repertoire of movements; its role in symbolic thought; a fascinating tour of the mechanics of arm/hand movement, complete with experiments for readers to perform that are highly enlightening; how the non-dominant hand frames, spatializes, the dominant hand’s activity. He is equally at ease discussing the work of Chomsky, the sublime talents of puppeteers, and the juggler’s visual jokery; he draws out the common thread among legerdemain, prestidigitation, and delicate surgery; he is particularly captivated by the knowing hand, one that is guided to automobile tinkering or playing the guitar or rock climbing at an early age. And he is frustrated with our inability to “apply systematically to individuals what we know from biology about the nature of human learning.” “Any theory of human intelligence which ignores the interdependence of hand and brain function . . . is grossly misleading and sterile.” The point is well made by Wilson in this ranging, anecdote-strewn, and engaging study. (b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: July 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-41249-2
Page count: 396pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998