Pontius Pilate washes his hands of guilt in the judgement of Christ. Image Source: Daily Bible Plan.
The hand is the most potent symbolic indicator of human ability, tool use and technology. Several cultures over thousands of years associate the hand with 'what you can control,' or 'what you can do' in a given set of circumstances. Hence, the hand is deeply associated with many concepts of fate and destiny.
Recent research from 2011 found that people unconsciously wash their hands when they believe they face bad luck. Similarly, they sense that washing their hands after a streak of good luck will make them lose their good luck. From Machines Like Us:
Then there is the superstitious art of palmistry, where your future fate is literally drawn in the lines in your hands. The practice arose from the arcane idea that the larger workings of the universe are literally imprinted into our bodies. Prevalent in ancient cultures from Tibet to the Mediterranean, palmistry is one of the oldest forms of attempting to see the future, or divination. Palmistry in China dates in the written record back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), although it extends through oral tradition back at least one thousand years before that.Do people believe good and bad luck can be washed away?
Yes, according to an advanced online publication in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that was co-authored by Rami Zwick, a University of California, Riverside marketing professor in the School of Business Administration.
Zwick, working with Alison Jing Xu of the University of Toronto, and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan, designed two experiments that showed risk taking depends on whether participants recalled a past episode of good or bad luck and whether they washed their hands before engaging in a risky decision making task. ...
[P]articipants were given a managerial decision task. Taking the role of a chief executive officer, they had to adopt or reject a product improvement recommendation based on two consequences of action.Under the first option, if they stayed with the existing product profits would remain at the current level, about $20 million per year.
Under the second option, the product was modified, but profits would depend on acceptance by consumers. Marketing research indicated there was a 75 percent chance of strong acceptance, which would result in an increase in profits to $24 million, but there was a 25 percent chance of weak acceptance, resulting in a drop in profits to $12 million.
The researchers found those who recalled an unlucky incident and cleaned their hands and those that recalled a lucky incident and didn't clean their hands were more likely to select the riskier option.
Of those who recalled an unlucky incident and cleaned their hands, 73 percent selected the riskier option, while only 36 percent who recalled an unlucky incident and didn't clean their hands picked the riskier option.
Of those who recalled a lucky incident, 77 percent who didn't clean their hands picked the riskier option, while only 35 percent who cleaned their hands selected the riskier option.
In the second experiment, students and staff from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where Zwick formerly taught, were given HK $100 (US$1 = HK$7.8) to gamble with. They were told this was "for real" money that they would keep at the end. Indeed, they were paid based on their decisions and luck.
The experimenters showed participants a pink ball and a green ball and placed them in a bag. Participants selected one of the colors as their "winning" color and blindly picked a ball from the bag. If they picked the winning color they won HK$50. If not, they lost HK$50. They repeated the task until they lost their HK$100, won an additional HK$100 or completed four rounds.
Next, an ostensibly unrelated product evaluation study served as a cover story for the hand-washing manipulation. Participants evaluated organic soap. Half were told to wash their hands with the soap. The other half were told not to use the soap.
Finally, participants did a second round of gambling. They received HK$50 and were told they could bet any amount from nothing to HK$50.It was the same game as last time, but with only one round.
Researchers found participants who had good luck in the initial round bet more money in the second round than participants who had bad luck.
However, participants who had bad luck in the first round bet more money in the second round if they washed their hands. The difference was an average of HK$31.15 versus HK$17.47.
In contrast, those who had good luck in the first round bet less money in the second round if they had washed their hands. The difference was an average of HK$28.08 versus HK$37.75.
"From left, before and after photos of a patient who underwent palm surgery to engrave an 'emperor’s line,' heralding great success and good fortune." Image Source: Shonan Beauty Clinic via The Daily Beast.
The emperor's line (覇王線) is a three-pronged fork on the palm. Image Source: Creatorz.
Palmistry, also known as chiromancy, is alive and well today. Daily Kos compared the palmistry of Obama's and McCain's hands during the 2008 American election. There are plenty of palmistry analyses of Obama's hands online, one of which notes he has a double life line. Palmistry experts have analyzed celebrities' photos in cases where stars' palms are exposed. See: Albert Einstein; Marilyn Monroe; Osama bin Laden; Prince Charles; Vladimir Putin; Kim Jong Un; Pope Francis; and Angela Merkel.
Several MSM news outlets carried a story this week from Japan, where people are getting plastic surgery to change the fate lines on their hands. From The Daily Beast:
In Japan, where palm reading remains one of the most popular means of fortune-telling, some people have figured out a way to change their fate. It’s a simple idea: change your palm, change the reading, and change your future. ...
Need some good fortune? Add a money-luck line and you might win the lottery or be promoted to vice president in your firm. For the smart shopper—one willing to undergo palm plastic surgery—the future isn’t what it used to be.
“Doctor, I want you to change my fate. Please change my palm.”
Even in Japan, where odd surgery requests are not unknown—like the man who had his penis removed and served it as a special dinner—Takaaki Matsuoka, a plastic surgeon at the Shonan Beauty Clinic’s Shinjuku branch, was taken aback. It was January 2011, and a female patient wanted her palm reformatted to bring her better luck. Matsuoka wasn’t sure he could do it.
He scoured medical journals until he found examples of such surgery being done in Korea, studied the methods, then confirmed with the patient what she wanted done, and performed the surgery for ￥100,00 ($1,000). It went well.
The surgery had to be performed with an electric scalpel—which burns the flesh, creating the scent of burnt hot dogs, and leaves a semipermanent scar.
“If you try to create a palm line with a laser, it heals, and it won’t leave a clear mark. You have to use the electric scalpel and make a shaky incision on purpose, because palm lines are never completely straight. If you don’t burn the skin and just use a plain scalpel, the lines don’t form. It’s not a difficult surgery, but it has to be done right.”
From January 2011 to May 2013, 37 palm plastic surgeries have been performed at the Shonan Beauty Clinic alone, 20 of them by Matsuoka. Several other clinics in Japan offer the surgery, but almost none of them advertise it. Word-of-mouth is more than enough. Shonan Beauty Clinic did advertise the service briefly, but couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Image Source: imgfave.
Nail Palmistry. Image Source: We Heart It.
Image Source: Life via We Heart It.
Is there some science behind all this mysticism and superstition? The superstition against left-handedness may have arisen from the fact that apes switch predominant handedness depending on what they are doing; chimps appear to be mainly left-handed for tool use. Meanwhile, humans are predominantly right-handed. Researchers suggest that human preferential handedness is related to cerebral lateralization arising from the evolution of speech; right-handedness corresponds to dominance of the left side of the brain; this sphere also connects to our understanding of time and action, logic and consequences:
While manual asymmetry may be unique to humans, cerebral asymmetry is not. Corballis reviews how animals as diverse as frogs, birds, mice, rats, gerbils and marmosets tend to show more reliance on their left hemispheres in producing and recognizing their species’ vocalizations. Even in humans, right-handed adults are more likely to show greater activity in their left cerebral hemispheres on language tasks. And the only situation in which chimpanzees show clear handedness is during pointing – when chimpanzees point, they tend to do so (around 2/3 of the time) with their right hands (some chimps have even been observed to point spontaneously in the wild, suggesting this behavior is not due merely to imitating humans.)
To explain handedness, Corballis constructs an elaborate argument about the evolution of language. According to his theory, communicative (as opposed to merely expressive) behavior began with bipedalism, freeing the hands for use in communication. Corballis argues that this communicative behavior may have slowly shifted towards facial movements, and that the final stages in the evolution of spoken language involved the addition of voicing to those “facial gestures.” Handedness emerged as vocalization was incorporated into manual gesture, extending the left-hemispheric dominance for communication into manual control.
Corballis argues that lateralization of speech may have emerged simply because the benefits of symmetrical neuronal organization are minimal when the output of the neural system is patterned in time rather than space – a hypothesis which relates to other theories of hemispheric lateralization, suggesting that the left hemisphere may be specialized for more rapid processing of temporally-patterned stimuli.
The video below on the evolution of the human hand over 1.8 million years suggests that perhaps palmistry retains some mythical or superstitious folk memory, or residual embedded intuition, about the process of evolution. There is a palmistry term for the so-called "simian crease, or fusing of the heart and head lines, [which] has special significance in that both emotional as well as reasoning nature have to be studied from this line alone."According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is "left-brained" is often said to be more logical, analytical and objective, while a person who is "right-brained" is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful and subjective.
In psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralization of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one has a basis in fact that has been dramatically distorted and exaggerated.
The right brain-left brain theory grew out of the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. While studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the corpus collosum (the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) could reduce or eliminate seizures.
However, these patients also experienced other symptoms after the communication pathway between the two sides of the brain was cut. For example, many split-brain patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed by the right side of the brain, but were able to name objects that were processed by the left-side of the brain. Based on this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled by the left-side of the brain.
Later research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. For example, recent research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together.
The Right BrainAccording to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:
- Recognizing faces
- Expressing emotions
- Reading emotions
The Left BrainThe left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:
- Critical thinking
The simian crease: "single transverse palmar crease in an adult." Image Source: Wiki.
"More common palmar creases in adults." Image Source: Wiki.
Evolution of the human hand: "This animation shows the evolution of the human hand from the first hominids 1800000 years ago to the present time." Video Source: Youtube.
For my previous posts on the symbolism of the hand, go here and here.