a digital library of Unitarian Universalist biographies, history, books, and media
the digital library of Unitarian Universalism
Home » Religion & Culture » The Hand, the Mind and the Eye

The Hand, the Mind and the Eye

Harvard Square Library exists solely on the basis of donations.  If you have benefitted from any of our materials, and/or if making Unitarian Universalist intellectual heritage materials widely available and free is a value to you, please donate whatever you can–every little bit helps: Donate 


Last week we talked about how the baby learned to use his thumb so that he could pick things up more easily. Have you ever stopped to think how many things your hand has learned to do? But the hand has not done this alone, for man has always had to learn to use his hand, which means that the hand and the mind must work together.

Sometimes it is the hand and the mind and the eye that have to work together. We call this by some big words that you might like to learn: we call it eye-hand coordination. Eye‑hand coordination means that the mind has helped the hand and the eye to work together. It was eye-hand coordination that finally made it possible for the baby to reach the thing he wanted to pick up, and then to grasp it between his thumb and his finger, and pick it up. Can you remember when you were first learning to write? Do you remember how tightly you held your pencil? Do you remember how tired your hand used to get? Can you remember how you made wavy lines that just wouldn’t seem to go where you wanted them to? But finally your mind helped your eye and your hand to work together, and now you can think a word you want to write, and your hand seems to write it for you without your having to think what you are going to do.

Can you remember when you first learned to play marbles or jacks? The marble didn’t always go where you thought you were shooting it, and you could only pick up the jacks until you got to two or three. But now you can make the marble go where you want it to, and some of you can play jacks so fast that you do not seem to be thinking how you are going to be doing it at all.

All your life you are going to be learning new things, and many of them are things that the mind and the hand, or the mind and the hand and the eye, will have to learn together. Perhaps you will learn to play the piano, or the trumpet or the recorder. Your fingers will have to learn to go to the right place to make the right sound. Or perhaps you will learn to typewrite, and your mind and your hand will work together again. Or you may learn to use some of the harder tools in your father’s shop, or you may learn to sew, or knit or crochet.

Always when you learn to do new things with your hands, you will be slow and clumsy at first and sometimes very discouraged. And then as your mind and your hand, or your mind and your hand and your eye learn to work together, the task will seem easier. Your mind must think or your hand cannot act.

We think this is how man first learned to make tools. For when you stop to think about it, tools are really only a way of making man’s handwork better. We do not know how primitive man first discovered that if he threw a stone it was as though his hand had suddenly become stronger and his arm longer. He may have thrown a stone many times before he knew what he had done. But at some time he came to know, and then he planned to use a stone to throw, a stone to break open a nut, or a stone with a sharp edge to help him cut down a tree. And when he knew and planned, he had invented tools. This was a great step forward. Was it the stone that made man stronger when he had discovered he could use it? Or was it the hand that held the stone that made him stronger? Or was it the mind that let him know that holding the stone was the important thing?

Things to Talk About and Do

  1. Would you like to prove to yourself how hard it is to teach your hand and mind to work together? Have some one hold a mirror so you can see your hand in it, and at the same time hold a cardboard over your hand so that you can see your hand only in the mirror. Take a piece of paper with a star drawn on it, and try to trace the star by looking in the mirror. Is it hard? How many times do you have to start over before you can get around the star without any trouble? When you are able to trace around the star without making mistakes you have learned a new eye‑hand coordination. It wasn’t easy, was it? Just as some people can jump higher than others, and some can run faster than others, you will find that some of you learn a new eye‑hand coordination more quickly than others.
  2. Look over the pictures you found at home and see how many you have of hands using tools to make themselves stronger, or able to reach further. Make a poster of these. If you forgot to look for pictures, or didn’t find any good pictures, you can draw your own.

Things to Do at Home

  1. Keep on looking for pictures of hands. See how many you can find of hands that are doing things.
  2. Look in books that you have at home and see if you can find any poems about hands.
  3. Try to teach your hands something new this week. Give them what we call a new skill.
  4. Teach your older brother or sister, or some neighbor how to learn the new eye‑hand coordination you learned today. Do older people seem to learn this more or less quickly than you do? Try it out on several people of different ages.