I attended Christina’s inaugural professorial lecture at UEA on 30th October 2018, a really well-pitched event which began by acknowledging the seminal work of Sir Charles Bell, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design (London: William Picketing, 1837) and the groundbreaking contributions of C B Wynn-Parry and Guy Pulvertaft and the context provided by the British Society for Surgery of the Hand (BSSH) and British Association of Hand Therapists (BAHT).
The sense of touch is essential for emotional development. The hand is seen as an extension of the brain: Descartes called the hand the ‘outer mind’ while Maria Montessori declared that ‘The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence’. Her promotion of hands-on learning has influenced education globally.
The connection between the hand and the brain is perhaps most vividly shown in the image of the sensory homunculus which shows the relative size of the parts of the body according to a neurological gauge of the proportions of the brain used for their respective motor or sensory functions. Where a hand is missing, the relevant part of the brain shrinks. Blind people who rely on touch in place of sight have more developed parts of their brains related to touch than neurotypical people. Percussionist Evelyn Glennie is deaf so she relies on vibratory touch to ‘feel’ sound. US author and activist Helen Keller was deaf-blind and used touch to read braille. They exemplify how touch can compensate for the loss of other senses, however Professor Erik Moberg (1905-93), a leading hand surgeon, described a hand without sensation as blind.
|From ‘Touch and Pain’ edited by R. Biswas-Diener, E. Diener. In Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign IL: DEF Publishers, 2013.|
Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energised by his mind and will, can influence the state of his own health.