Hands really are our lives in a fundamental way
If I was involved with people’s hands, I was going to be involved with their lives. That’s just the simplest, most economical way to say it. For at least the group of people that I was dealing with, their hands weren’t just involved in their lives, their hands really were their life in a fundamental way.
My perspective on this material comes out of twenty years of working with people with hand problems. It was really over that period of time the accumulated both diversity and kind of central tendency of all of these stories that—out of all of this I was beginning to see that there was some kind of fundamental principle that had to be true for all of these stories to hang together as they did. So, that truth, to me as a clinician, was that if I was involved with people’s hands, I was going to be involved with their lives. That’s just the simplest, most economical way to say it. For at least the group of people that I was dealing with, their hands weren’t just involved in their lives, their hands really were their life in a fundamental way.
I think I began the book talking about the fact that when I showed videos of people with hand problems, I was astonished that somebody in the audience would faint, that they could be so emotionally connected with that truth, that it would really just completely knock them flat when they saw somebody who couldn’t do . . . And, these were not bloody, broken hands; these were hands that just weren’t functioning.
So, the first thing that seems to me to respond to this question of why do you think this is so important, this hand/brain stuff? It’s not so much hand/brain stuff. I’m a neurologist, so that’s kind of the platform from which I view things. You know, not in a limited way, I hope, not in a way that says this wonderful aphorism: “If the only thing you have is a hammer, then everything you see is going to look like a nail.” If you’re a neurologist, you can’t look at people without thinking about, well, what’s the brain got to do with this? In a certain way, I’m kind of a contrarian in that sense because I am not nearly as much interested in the brain as I am in the body. I see the brain as being very important to the operation of the body, but when you stand back and you talk about developmental issues and you talk about human behavior and intelligence, you’re really talking about the construction of a life that really draws on everything that the body offers. It draws on what people make of their own experiences, and that’s . . . So, to try to distill that point; it is that it doesn’t surprise me at all, as an neurologist who has dealt with people whose lives depend on their hands, that the hand is really fundamentally important in human development and how people develop, whether they happen to be ending up as people who really can’t get along without their hands in life.