Getting ready to go to Paros for the summer means deciding what books to take. Considering the weight limits airlines allow for luggage, decision making is often a dilemma. One book that crossed the finishline is THE CASE FOR WORKING WITH YOUR HANDS by Matthew Crawford. The author defines himself as a philosopher as well as a mechanic. Therefore, the book has many references to repairing motorcycles that, to be honest, kinda made me yawn. However, there was much info regarding the importance of using your hands that I would like to share with you.
The preface hinted at the idea that working with your hands is good for you morally. Maybe this is a reference to the quote ”idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, a maxim which can be traced back to Chaucer’s “Tale of Melibee”. Moral: Keep yourself busy and you keep yourself out of trouble.
Crawford complains that technical trades are no longer available in public schools as they were in the past because the trend is towards herding young people towards college based careers–whether or not they’re adapted for them. The implication is that working with your hands is degrading. Could this attitude be promoted, in part, because the U.S. government makes so much money from student loans?
So what is the aftermath of such an attitude? For one, it’s created an economy based on consumerism which has no respect for manual skills such as mending and repairing.
When something breaks and needs to be fixed, it disrupts our state of self-absorption so, generally, we just throw it away and buy new. Consumerism is a form of dependency.
Mended fence, San Francisco
Reparation is a form of ethics.
Repairing keeps us from being self-referential. To fix something, we have to go beyond the self and enter into the way of thinking of one who repairs as opposed to one who creates. And this means, momentarily, stepping away from our ego.
When we try to repair something, we seek solutions – it either works or it doesn’t. There’s no room for theory. Thinking is no longer separated from doing. Doing leads to intuitive judgement, to tacit knowledge.
Another problem that’s been created is that we’ve lost manual competence. And thus a form of knowledge. Anaxagoras said: «It is by having hands that man is the most intelligent of animals». That’s why, in the time of Homer, sophia (wisdom) meant skill.
Hands make the world tangible. They help us interact with our surroundings. But they also provide a means of interacting with our own being. Working with our hands helps prevent self-alienation.
Working with our hands leads to the formation of neural pathways. They are created via repetition. We know best what we do regularly. This creates experience. Experience is knowledge, individual knowledge. Heidegger once said that the way we come to know a hammer is by using it and not by looking at it.
You can’t clone experience.
Children’s drawings: A field experiment, Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward, made in the 1970’s, had a group of children draw. Some children were rewarded with ribbons and gold stickers whereas others were not rewarded at all. Several weeks later, those who had been rewarded showed less interest in drawing whereas those not rewarded were still highly interested in drawing and had improved their drawing skills as well. The conclusion seems to be that drawing/doing is its own reward and that praise can dull the brain.
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