Pointing, twiddling, waving, measuring, flapping, swiping, many of us seem to talk with our hands, gesticulating while we chat, emphasizing what we are saying with every movement of our digits. But yesterday I read a sentence that gave a whole new meaning to what we do with our hands.
“We change our minds by moving our hands” was the statement I read made by Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow, of the Psychology Department of the University of Chicago, in an issue of the journal Cognitive Science. This short little sentence sums up what people mean by ’embodied cognition’, the idea that what we do with our bodies influence how and what we think.
This idea contradicts everything that Rene Descartes claimed in the 17th century when he said (I paraphrase here): the body is an entirely separate thing to the mind and soul. And, as we all know, the idea of a disembodied mind took off, dominating how the world viewed our inner workings.
But looking back – way back- to the good old philosophers like Socrates and Plato, they believed (like our modern day followers of ’embodied cognition’) that what is in the mind must be brought into the real world – thought must become reality.
So, when we have an idea, repeat something we have learned or even try to grasp a fleeting thought, by moving our hands, we are creating a non-verbal language, transcribing what are mind is thinking into movement, sometimes expressing something we don’t yet have the words for.
Basically what artists and inventors have been doing since the beginning of time, catching a thought by molding, painting, drawing, writing, sculpting, composing and creating something that is only in their mind – making their thoughts reality by moving their hands.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist
Saint Francis of Assisi