The Middle Finger

This digit is a fine upstanding member of the manual community, with many beneficial uses, though it must be admitted that some dubious employment has been made of it. The Order has attempted to discourage such employment, and certainly we do not allow it among our membership. In any case, no prospective member of the Cult should be put off by any regrettable misuses of the fingers indulged in by those with little respect for our manual heritage. Devotees of the hand I salute you!

Travel

People say travel broadens the mind. But this is not quite accurate: theexperiences one has while traveling do the broadening, not the mere displacement of one’s body through space. But then it is the mental aspect that constitutes the benefit. And presumably this has to do with the richness and novelty of the experiences and thoughts that physical travel occasions. But couldn’t one have just such beneficial experiences and thoughts without physically moving? Couldn’t the mental adventure of travel be duplicated by staying put and adventuring mentally. It is said Kant never traveled from his home time of Konigsberg, but in fact he traveled very widely–in his own mind. Kant was a world traveler! Intellectual stimulation, or aesthetic experience, or moral refelction (and living), are all forms of mental travel. The dull-minded traveler learns little from hurtling through space, but the stationary thinker whose mind is free can learn an enormous amount. What broadens the mind is mind travel.

Clockwork Orange

Reading Martin Amis’s perceptive essay on Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange in today’s New York Times made me wonder about the influence of that novel on my novelBad Patches. Alex is a gleefully evil character who narrates his own depravity in unforgettable prose. My antihero Dave also narrates the less spectacular story of his merely poor character–in what I hope is pungently memorable prose. But Alex is no purebred yob: he is a passionate devotee of classical music, which works its way into his violent acts. The uneasy relationship between art and morality is disturbingly probed. Similarly my Dave is a visual artist, from whom we might expect loftier things–he is not just an outright selfish prick. Also Alex and Dave traffic in dark and dangerous humor, which also highlights the even more uneasy relationship between morality and humor. Was I writing another version of Clockwork Orange without being aware of it (Cockwork Blue)?

The Puzzle of Intelligence

Human intelligence–including complex language, advanced tool use, and elaborate social organization–is clearly among the most powerful adaptations ever to evolve on planet earth. So why is it unique to the human species? One would think that such a powerful set of traits would be extremely useful to almost any species, yet no others have evolved these traits. Why? In other words, why have evolved brains always been so small compared to ours? Why, say, have our primate relatives not evolved our level of intelligence? Suggestions welcome.

Dear Usain

On reflection, I may have been a bit hard on you yesterday. I realize we have something in common: we are both “athletic” legends. You performed the “double double” by winning those four races in successive Games. I have performed the “double triple” in the intellectual Olympic games. Yes Usain, my friend, you are not the greatest of all time–I am. What am I talking about, you ask. Well, in 2011 I performed the triple, by publishing three books more or less simultaneously (for full documentation see the Oxford University Press catalogue). But in 2012 I have performed another triple–with three books finished and in the works. So, Usain, you need to match that to catch me. I am surely the greatest philosophical sprinter of all time! (Admittedly, two of my events involved books already semi-completed, so I didn’t run from scratch, but technically I ran within the rules.)  You still have the relay but that’s just an anthology, not all your own work. So I hope you acknowldge your second-place status in future. (And no, I will not run the 400 meters.)

 

The Modesty of Usain Bolt

I was as thrilled as anyone to see Usain Bolt resoundingly win the 100 and 200 meters events. But is all the crowing and self-adulation really necessary? Why does he have keep calling himself a “legend” and the “greatest ever”? We all saw him do it. Since when did modesty become so passe? I much preferred the demeanor of David Rudisha who was also astounding in the 400 meters. There seems to be some strange insecurity in Bolt, and maybe a hint of paranoia. Congratulations, Usain–but cut the big-headed crap, please!

Hand Philosophy

The Manifesto is a tongue-in-cheek parody with a serious message. It is connected to work I am doing on the role of the hand in human evolution. This has been explored by paleoanthropologists but not by philosophers. Specifically, what is the role of the hand in the origin of language? Can we give a gradualist account of this by examining the hand as it evolved in early human history? Tool use plays an important part.

The Cult is for those who have been struck by the hand and see in it a proper object of wonder.

The Prehensionalist Manifesto

The Prehensionist Manifesto

(This document states the main tenets of the Cult of the Hand. All members of the cult are expected to conform to these principles. Formally, the cult is referred to as the Gripparian Order.)

We seek to promote greater hand consciousness

We advocate manual cultivation, arboreal therapy, and brachiation training

We believe in prehension science and are strict evolutionists

We preach hand reverence

We encourage hand intimacy, but not hand promiscuity

We are in the grip of the grip

We deplore hand neglect and hand repression

We thank nature for the gift of the hand

The thumb and forefinger are objects of special reverence

Our prophets are Charles Darwin, Charles Bell, and John Napier

We foster hand virtue

We think the hand is a thing of beauty

All hands are created equal

We contemplate the hand every day

We never take our hands for granted

We observe the hands of others

We prefer writing to speaking

We support an active hand life-style

All fingers are important

Hand communication is encouraged

We practice special secret hand greetings

We think the hand jive was cool

We leave casts of our hands after death

We worry about the decline of the hand in the modern world

We view tools as extensions of the hand

We classify species according to their prehensive profile

We regard the brain as secondary to the hand

We have intense hand discussions

We teach our children hand anatomy

We believe that pointing is profound

Hand exercise is mandatory

We do everything to avoid cold, numb hands

We believe that a flexible hand is a flexible mind

We regard the intellect as an extension of the hand

We tolerate pan-prehensionists but this is not official doctrine

We admire gibbons greatly

We sing praises to the hand

We favor eating with the hands

We esteem the feet because they are the platform of the hands

The muscles of the forearm are fascinating to us

We believe that anatomy is destiny

We regard the body as essentially prehensile

We regard speech as a fall from grace

We reserve a special compassion for those who have lost their hands

We are entranced by trees

We abhor “glad-handing”

We find hand holding extremely romantic

For us the hand has a halo around it

We view the mouth with some suspicion

We see nature as the Great Chain of Prehensive Being

We feel the foot is misunderstood

We collect hand trivia

We admire hand erudition

We disapprove of hand exhibitionism

Our central metaphor is the grip

At wedding ceremonies we say, “You may now hold the bride’s hand”

We have private hand gripping sessions

Shaking hands is taken very seriously

We feel a kinship with apes

Kissing the hand is permitted but not encouraged

Calling someone “handy” is a great compliment

We see no distinction of status between the power grip and the precision grip

We think philosophers have wrongly ignored the hand

In the beginning was the hand-deed

We despise the phrase “hand job”

We believe that capitalism has led to proletarian hand alienation

We think it is bad manners to grab things

We have long arguments about hand etiquette

We regard the hand as corruptible but not corrupt

We are ambivalent about gloves

We are a secular organization but we applaud hand worship in moderation

We support hand pride initiatives, but deplore hand vanity

We feel that musicians are basically good but at risk of hand abuse

We accept that man is nothing without his opposable thumb

We oppose hand oversimplification

We give out hand achievement prizes, especially to children

We invest in hand education

We believe the hand is more trustworthy than the tongue

We climb trees at weekends

We regard fingerprinting as an invasion of privacy

We are continually astonished by the hand

We do not permit hand plastic surgery, except for medical reasons

We are working to create a hand museum and university

One of our highest honors is to be designated a “Keeper of the Hand”

We wash our hands in a spirit of holiness

Violence with the hand leads to immediate expulsion from the Order

Anyone wishing to become a member must pass a simple test in pointing and gripping

We approve of prehensional meditation but it is not mandatory

We believe mind and body are united in the hand

We are a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving hand wellbeing globally

We do not favor one hand over the other

We believe that 10 is a special number

We are critical of thumb idolatry, though we understand it

We give our children names like Palm and Index and Grippa

We call Sunday Thumbday

We reject the term “pinkie”, preferring “precious”

We treat the back of the hand with the same respect as the front, though it has no name

We have an annual hand poetry prize

We repudiate all hand superstitions

We maintain that the hand is epistemologically fundamental

We love the words “squeeze” and “grasp”

We stage brachiation contests

“I grasp, therefore I am”

Some of us refrain from applause because it is a form of hand slapping

We are working on improving hand nomenclature

We engage in hand sensitivity training, sometimes involving animals

We are suspicious of conventional notions of hand beauty, such as slender fingers

We have convened a special commission to consider boxing and other martial arts

We envisage a hand utopia

We are ambivalent about card tricks

We feel that everyone should work on his or her power grip, no matter how elevated

We memorize hand figures of speech

We conduct remedial hand appreciation workshops for those who need them

Our official icon is a picture of the thumb-index circle

We dream of the platonic form of the hand

We are very careful with kitchen knives

We think Michelangelo was onto something in the Sistine Chapel

We are interested in hand anthropology but believe in hand universals

We have doctors dedicated only to hand ailments

We have special hand holidays and celebrations

We regard ourselves as the only sane cult in the world

We are impressed by the hand theme in the life of Jesus of Nazareth

For us divinity exists only at the tip of the arms

We esteem all forms of prehension but we reserve a special place for the manual kind

In the hand we glimpse the infinite

We believe we were created in the image of the hand

We reject the notion of an immaterial hand

Man is a manual animal, a res manipulans, a digital soul

But we also know that we must trim our nails

(Membership of the cult is open to all, as long as the above precepts are adhered to. No exceptions permitted. Good gripping!)