Tuesday, March 25, 2014

WHAT IS A HANDLE?



Is a knob a handle, or is it simply a knob as named? What is a handle? We use words thoughtlessly in one way, as it should be. Learning is the process of the transformation of the self-conscious into the unselfconscious, creating a zone of thoughtlessness that allows other more complex, more subtle matters to be entertained. Consider learning to play the piano or to ride a bike: experience becomes finer and richer, so that eventually one is able to play Beethoven with all of its intricacies and innuendos, and develop skills and stamina to ride in le Tour. With time and some wary rational reflection, familiar words often appear puzzling, as strangers. The experience is somewhat like the questioning of the spelling of a common word that suddenly appears doubtful when isolated by the query and enquiry. Why do we call anything a handle - indeed, a knob? What characteristics might something have to offer for it to be labelled a ‘handle’? The clue could obviously be in ‘hand’ - le; that it has something to do with the hand and the handling of things. ‘Handling’ is an interesting word that seems to be close to ‘handle,’ but it doesn’t help much with our question about the characteristics of a handle.







The dictionary frequently is a good place to start dismantling words: the ‘unpacking’ of the idea/concept is the latest jargon phrase for this analysis. The idea seems to hold the same sense as the unpacking of a parcel, to see what is inside. On ‘handle,’ the dictionary records an wide-ranging set of meanings that extends the simplistic notion of a physical hand:




HANDLE

handle

han·dle

  [han-dl]  Show IPA
noun
1.
a part of a thing made specifically to be grasped or held by the hand.
2.
that which may be held, seized, grasped, or taken advantage of in effecting a purpose: The clue was ahandle for solving the mystery.
3.
Slang.
a.
a person's name, especially the given name.
b.
a person's alias, nickname, or code name.
c.
a name or term by which something is known, described, or explained.
4.
the total amount wagered on an event, series of events, or for an entire season or seasons, as at agambling casino or in horse racing: The track handle for the day was over a million dollars.
5.
the total amount of money taken in by a business concern on one transaction, sale, event, or seriesof transactions, or during a specific period, especially by a theater, nightclub, sports arena, resorthotel, or the like.
verb (used with object), han·dled, han·dling.
8.
to touch, pick up, carry, or feel with the hand or hands; use the hands on; take hold of.
9.
to manage, deal with, or be responsible for: My wife handles the household accounts. This computerhandles all our billing.
10.
to use or employ, especially in a particular manner; manipulate: to handle color expertly in painting.
11.
to manage, direct, train, or control: to handle troops.
12.
to deal with (a subject, theme, argument, etc.): The poem handled the problem of instinct versusintellect.
verb (used without object), han·dled, han·dling.
15.
to behave or perform in a particular way when handled, directed, managed, etc.: The troops handledwell. The jet was handling poorly.
Idioms
16.
fly off the handle, Informal. to become very agitated or angry, especially without warning oradequate reason: I can't imagine why he flew off the handle like that.
17.
get / have a handle on, to acquire an understanding or knowledge of: Can you get a handle on whatyour new boss expects?
Origin: 
before 900;  (noun) Middle English handel, Old English hand ( e ) le,  derivative of hand; (v.) Middle Englishhandelen, Old English handlian  (cognate with German handlen, Old Norse hǫndla  to seize); derivative ofhand

Related forms
han·dle·a·ble, adjective
han·dle·a·bil·i·ty, noun
han·dle·less, adjective
o·ver·han·dle, verb (used with object), o·ver·han·dled, o·ver·han·dling.
pre·han·dle, verb (used with object), pre·han·dled, pre·han·dling.

Synonyms 
14. sell, vend, carry, market; hawk, peddle.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014. 
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 Link To handle
Collins
World English Dictionary
handle  (ˈhænd ə l) 

 n
1.
the part of a utensil, drawer, etc, designed to be held in order to move, use, or pick up the object
2.
( NZ ) a glass beer mug with a handle
3.
slang  a person's name or title
4.
a CB radio slang name for call sign
5.
an opportunity, reason, or excuse for doing something: his background served as a handle for theirmockery
6.
the quality, as of textiles, perceived by touching or feeling
7.
the total amount of a bet on a horse race or similar event
8.
informal fly off the handle  to become suddenly extremely angry

 vb
9.
to pick up and hold, move, or touch with the hands
10.
to operate or employ using the hands: the boy handled the reins well
11.
to have power or control over: my wife handles my investments
12.
to manage successfully: a secretary must be able to handle clients
13.
to discuss (a theme, subject, etc)
14.
to deal with or treat in a specified way: I was handled with great tact
15.
to trade or deal in (specified merchandise)
16.
( intr ) to react or respond in a specified way to operation or control: the car handles well on bends

[Old English; related to Old Saxon handlon  (vb), Old High German hantilla  towel]

'handleable

 adj

'handled

 adj

'handleless

 adj

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 
Cite This Source
Etymonline
Word Origin & History

handle 
O.E. handle, formed from hand in the sense of a tool in the way thimble was formed from thumb. The verbis O.E. handlian "to touch or move with the hands." Akin to O.N. höndla "th seize, capture," Dan. handle"to trade, deal," Ger. handeln "to bargain, trade." The commercial sense was weaker in
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper 
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Slang Dictionary

handle definition


1.            n. 
a person's name or nickname. (Western jargon and then citizens band radio.) :  My handle is Goober. Youcan call me Goob.
2.            n. 
a way of dealing with something; a grasp of a problem. :  As soon as I get a handle on this Wilson matter, I'llgive you a buzz.
Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.Fourth Edition. 
Copyright 2007. Published by McGraw-Hill Education. 
Cite This Source
FOLDOC
Computing Dictionary

handle definition


1.  A simple item of data that identifies a resource. For example, a Unix file handle identifies an open fileand associated data such as whether it was opened for read or write and the current read/write position.On the Macintosh, a handle is a pointer to a pointer to some dynamically-allocated memory. The extralevel of indirection allows on-the-fly memory compaction or garbage collection without invalidatingapplication program references to the allocated memory. 
2.  An alias used intended to conceal a user's true identity in an electronic message. The term is commonon Citizen's Band and other amateur radio but, in that context usually means the user's real name asFCC rules forbid concealing one's identity. 
Use of grandiose handles is characteristic of crackers, weenies, spods, and other lower forms of networklife; true hackers travel on their own reputations. 
Compare nick. 
[ Jargon File] 
3. domain handle. 
(2004-07-20) 

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org 
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases
handle
In addition to the idioms beginning with handle, also see fly off the handle; get a fix (handle) on.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin. 
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The complexity of the term is clearly exposed. The defined clarity of the diversity of contexts and meanings is a little surprising. While one might have thought of associating something like a drawer handle or a handle on a mug with the idea of the name, there are numerous other ways in which the word can hold meaning. Some of these seem to use the word as an analogy, or a metaphor in ordinary speech, adapting and expanding the sense of holding onto something with a handle: getting a grasp on things, anything. This usage, though interesting, can be put aside because the first question is asking about the form of a handle and any other designated properties that might be needed in an object or a section of it, for it to be categorized as the ‘handle’ part or portion.







While it is all about words and ideas, the phrase, ‘Getting a handle’ on some notion, does still help us understand some characteristic of the concept. It has to do with managing some idea, comprehending it, controlling it; doing something specific to or with it. In the sense of an object, the first two meanings seem to be the most inclusive:




1.
a part of a thing made specifically to be grasped by the hand.
2.
that which may be held, seized, grasped, or taken advantage of in effecting a purpose.




In the context of our considered drawer, one has to ask why a certain form of grip is called a ‘knob’ rather than a ‘handle’. What is a knob that it seems so different to a handle as to have a different name? If designers are to understand anything, they need to know about these differences because they could have significant implications beyond mere appearance.

Turning again to the dictionary for this ‘unpacking’, we read:

knob

knob

  [nob]  Show IPA
noun
1.
a projecting part, usually rounded, forming the handle of a door, drawer, or the like.
2.
a rounded lump or protuberance on the surface or at the end of something, as a knot on a tree trunk.
3.
Architecture . an ornamental boss, as of carved work.
4.
a rounded hill, mountain, or elevation on a ridge.
verb (used with object), knobbed, knob·bing.
5.
to produce a knob on.
6.
to furnish with a knob.
7.
(in stone cutting) to knock off (excess stone) preparatory to dressing; knobble; skiffle.
Origin: 
1350–1400; Middle English knobbe  < Middle Low German

Related forms
knob·like, adjective

Can be confused: knob, nob.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014. 
Cite This Source 
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 Link To knob
Collins
World English Dictionary
knob  (nɒb) 

 n
1.
a rounded projection from a surface, such as a lump on a tree trunk
2.
a handle of a door, drawer, etc, esp one that is rounded
3.
a round hill or knoll or morainic ridge
4.
taboo  ( Brit ) a slang word for penis
5.
informal  ( Brit ) and the same to you with knobs on , and the same to you with brass knobs on the same to you but even more so

 vb  , knobs , knobbing , knobbed
6.
( tr ) to supply or ornament with knobs
7.
( intr ) to form into a knob; bulge
8.
taboo  ( Brit ) to have sexual intercourse with (someone)

[C14: from Middle Low German knobbe  knot in wood; see knop ]

'knobby

 adj

'knoblike

 adj

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 
Cite This Source
Etymonline
Word Origin & History

knob 
1373, knobe, probably from a Scand. or Ger. source (cf. M.L.G. knobbe "knob," O.N. knyfill "short horn").Meaning "knoll, isolated round hill" is first recorded 1650, especially in U.S.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper 
Cite This Source
American Heritage
Science Dictionary
knob  (nŏb) Pronunciation Key  
A prominent, rounded hill or mountain. 
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. 
Cite This Source



Simply, a knob is a rounded protrusion; but the dictionary is useful in answering our question about the difference between a handle and a knob: a knob is ‘a handle of a door or drawer . . that is rounded.’




Ah, so a knob is just a rounded handle: it is a category of ‘handle’ - a type of handle. What other types might there be? ‘Grip’ is another word that might come under the broad spectrum of ‘handle’, as might ‘pull,’ ‘lever,’ ‘control’ and ‘switch.’ Think of a camera ‘grip’: a handle with specific form and texture to ensure the easy and certain handling of the equipment. Considering a ‘switch’ as a small handle that allows the on/off control does appear to take the idea to its limits, as switches are more operations for the ‘finger’ part of the hand rather than the ‘hand’ itself, although switches do allow for the total control of a situation.







So we get back to ‘handle.’ Generically it seems to be something for the hand to manage, to allow the intricate manipulation of some other item, article or idea. Handlebars on a bike tell the story. These are bars for the hands to control the vehicle. Door handles do likewise. They are critical to the safe, easy and comfortable operation of the swinging leaf, as the handlebars are on the operation of a bike.





When considered as a design item, it is the hand that is the primary reference for any handle form: the physical termination of the arms: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/what-is-design.html  The basic question is: what will the hand have to do in order to achieve the required outcome? How should form be shaped in order to allow this to occur? To understand the problem and its solution, one has to ask: How big is the hand? What is the physical operation of the hand? What are its characteristics and limits? What might accommodate its comfort? Hands are, after all, physical items - bones, tendons and skin. They move towards the item selected, to that part of it best shaped for the hand, in order to achieve a specific outcome. This might be lifting; it might be gripping; it could be twisting: maybe a bit of everything? There is a complicated sensing prior to any touching, after which matters gather greater complexity. Feel and fit are engaged in the one operation: the achievement of the purpose. So it is that the concept of ‘fitness for purpose’ has an immediate relevance, with the measure being rooted in the feeling and success of the outcome.





One might ask: with the exampled drawer, what form might a handle best take? This thought arises from the experience of using various kitchen drawers and cupboard handles. There are the ‘D’ handle forms that provide a projecting link in various shapes and sizes. There are the knobs; there are the recessed handles that have been routed into the face of the drawer as in Danish teak detailing; there is also the under-drawer recess bars in this field too, that offer a recess grip for the fingers to engage and pull. There are recessed grips that are surface-mounted too - pulls. ‘Pull’ is another ‘handle’ term: think of drawer pulls. These might be small handles or, indeed knobs, or other protrusions, D or otherwise, or recesses that allow the grip of the tug that is needed to establish motion, the withdrawal of the drawer from its boxed enclosure.










In all of these operations, the fingers play the critical part. So considering a ‘switch’ to be a handle may not be so extreme a concept. Indeed, what is a hand without fingers - a fist? Language intrigues with its intermeshing links and references. It is a little like computer programmes that offer numerous ways in which to achieve the same outcome. Can a fingerless hand open a drawer? There are the drawers that require a push before they open when one can then pull them out. These have no handles, but still require the hand to establish movement. A fist could achieve this outcome. This circumstance is a little like the difference between the key on the computer keyboard and the touch screen. There is a phantom handle or key involved: the hand, well, the finger, plays the same role but has a specifically designed object for the finger to engage with only in other circumstances.




So what might be the best form for a drawer handle, or are handles all ‘equal to the job’ as the colloquial saying goes? One has to go back to the qualities of the hand to consider this question. When the arms hanging loosely by the body, the hands dangle beside it, either parallel to the torso or at right angles to it. The alternatives are sometimes humourously noted as being the difference between man and monkey: man has his hands in the same plane as the arc of the swing of the arms, while the monkey has its hands in a knuckle-dragging location, like those of a swimmer moving in water, but inactively flagging. Still, it really makes little difference because when called into play, the wrist can manipulate the hand into various positions of rotation to suit the intent; this is its connective, universal motion. Consider raising the hand to the top drawer under a bench. The handle type will determine the required rotation. Recessed handles means the fingers must point up, or perhaps down, depending of the direction of the concealed lip; D handles offer an optional up or down grip depending on one’s habit, location or orientation; a knob means fingers must point forward ready to grasp and tug - or grip. ‘Grip’ is something that recessed handles never allow. These ask for a more delicate, precise fingertip relationship with the hand/body.






But which is the best approach? Maybe it is personal functional preference; or perhaps the choice has to do with one’s aesthetic predilection, selecting the appearance that one desires before the grip. There are various subtle differences involved. The D handle offers an invitation for the hand to manipulate the drawer without touching the fabric of the drawer, in the same way in which the handle of a suitcase allows its separate manipulation; whereas recessed handles make the hand guess at the concealed grip and make the hand touch what is a part of the shadowy fabric of the drawer, or to get very close to it. There is an intimacy here - one is asked to reach into unknown, unseen recesses. The knob is far more explicit. In this way it is like the D handle, but while the D handle frequently, but not always, allows the fingers to slide comfortably into a defined gap and to operate in concert with the easy effort of pulling the untouched withdrawing in free and open space, the recessed handles make one consider the fit of the fingers into the hidden space for pulling, and then to sense the unseen fit for fingers. Both of these finger pull operations are sought to be overcome by the push-the-drawer ‘automatic’ opening that means that the drawer itself has to be touched, anywhere. There is no definition of the location for this gesture that has a blindness even less certain than the recessed handle. The major differences in handle choices are highlighted when one has, say, sticky or wet fingers.




Drawers can allow for a flexibility in handle choices, by design as it were - one’s choice/preference - but mugs are another thing. Here handles perform the important role of allowing hot objects to be handled, lifted safely. Separation is critical, so the D form is the best. One sees L-shaped handle forms like little cantilevers, but rarely knobs on mugs. Knobs are specifically useful for pulling, not lifting. Sometimes, like drawers, mugs have no handles. Here other methods are used for separation, like the mug wrapped in a serviette; or, more recently, the double-walled mug that insulates itself. With these options, the shape of the mug becomes important, as it becomes, as it were, an integrated handle/mug form.









Materials play an important role here. On drawers, one has any choice of material for a D handle, but options are quickly reduced with recessed handles, depending of course, on the fashion of the day that will determine availability. Danish designers used teak for everything. Later, plastics became available for face and bottom recessed grips, and metal for lower recessed handle slots. Durability is the core here. On mugs, insulation is critical; more so on pots and pans where temperatures are much increased, and may have to survive oven temperatures: dishwashers too. Microwave usage is another complexity for designers to consider. Durability is important. The choices for our drawer example all need to consider their resilience. Danish teak develops a patina around the grip in a way that most D pulls (!) don’t.












Pots and pans are interesting. Lids often have knobs, while the pan itself has a handle grip projection to keep the hand away from the source of heat and to allow safe management of the pot when filled. With both lids and pots, extra insulation is frequently needed with the use of a kitchen cloth. This makes matters safer with respect to heat, but more awkward with considered manipulations that require some precision of control.







This is the world of the designer who has to ask what a handle should be? A designer needs to ask what anything/everything needs to be: c.f. Louis Kahn: ‘What does a house want to be?’





Cameras are interesting because the handle has become a part of the shaping of the whole object, like some mugs. Here separation is managed by textured grip surfaces applied to the main body where hands and face might touch. Bodies swell to allow for the mass to be gripped. Handles allow grip and pull; indeed, on a door, twist and turn too: it is their base nature.







Door handle design is much varied but is basically of two types - knobs and levers. These are doors with latches and locks. Doors otherwise use D handle forms for manipulation: pulls and pushes. For handle design it comes back to the hand. We know about the fit between the hand and the handle. Just recall the awkward torsion on the fingers with pretty twee grips on a china tea cup, and compare this to the easy balance and comfort of a handle designed for the ordinary hand, without the raised little finger.







Handles that form a part of the whole are interesting. Old Roman objects sometimes have fully integrated handles that are goosenecks or the like, in functional objects that resemble animals and birds. Such is their delight, like lizard D handles.







Objects today that are frequently handled, like mobile phones, have no handles. Like cameras, they are considered, if at all, as an object in a hand, with allowances made for finger manipulation – sometimes; sometimes not: one soon discovers awkwardness with the resulting RSI - repetitive strain injury. Good design overcomes such tensions and stresses; it accommodates these in its shaping and alignments.







So what is a handle? It is an object or a part of an object that is meant to be touched by the hand, to allow itself to be readily manipulated. Handles make an offering; they welcome touch; and having encouraged the meeting between body and object, they then need to fulfil their promise and make a fit between fingers, thumb and palm and the forces, stresses and thermal differences involved to ensure that the object can become an extension of the body. In summary, the handle extends mans’ possibilities. It is a critical thing in the matters of this world that allow us to participate in it in the way we do. A poorly designed handle limits all possibilities; indeed, hinders them not only with intolerable and unsafe stresses, but also with blisters, burns, cuts and abrasions.




Handles literally allow us to get a handle on the world in which we live. They allow us to share in its concepts and ideas - by design. The fundamental design object is the handle. Once we understand what a handle is and what it must be, and what it might be, we can then understand what it is that design is: the mediation between body and function: fitness for purpose - fitness and purpose. Sullivan called it ‘form follows function; function follows form.’ In the larger scale of spaces and places, design still involves the body that has to move through and into these spheres of living and participate in an ever more intimate involvement with objects and things on a finer and finer scale of connection and association, developing an ever more complex relationship between body, mind, feelings and senses all operating in concert - but this is no theatre for entertainment. The richness grows once one remembers that bodies have minds and feelings too. Design is never merely the manipulation of appearances, be these interesting or uniquely different. This remains only the manipulation of appearances for appearances sake, their unique differences, that involve egos too, that all seek style and an enhancement of reputation though blatant advertising: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/tensegrity-bridge.html  This is not design. We need to get a handle on matters so that the world can be enhanced rather than land-marked with special pieces created by pseudo geniuses.







If we think of design as the making of handles, then we might have a tangible guide to measure outcomes against, rather than merely assess the drama and difference. Consider, say, the use of an automobile: I walk up to it, reach for the door handle and open it. I pull the door open and slide in, sometimes using the overhead handle to assist. I adjust the seat by lifting the seat-adjust handle; I hold the steering wheel which is like the cars handle bars; I put the break on and put the clutch in - ‘foot’ handles; I change gears with the knob manipulation; I put on the air conditioning - knob; I adjust the air flow - lever handle; I switch the radio on - knob; I open the cover to the compartment - concealed handle; etc. etc. A car is an array of handles. In one way, everything is a handle, an array of handles. We participate in the world with our hands, our feet, our bodies. Consider the drinking glass: it is designed without a handles; it is the handle itself, as I pick it up. Likewise nearly everything we engage with - buttons; knobs; levels; pulls; handles; or integral shapes - these are ‘handles,’ places for the body to engage form and function. Architecture creates places for the body to engage, to feel, to experience: c.f. Rassmussen’s Experiencing Architecture. Design ‘handles’ and one designs for man. It is a principle that is easily extrapolated into say a chair - design for the body. There should be a place for the hand too. On the larger and more complex scale, all buildings are designed likewise, for the body and the finer interactions between body, space, place and detail - the feeling, thinking, sensing, moving body. Is anything designed that can ignore this? Is it that, if these matters are ignored, like the fallen tree in the forest that has not been seen or heard, it is not architecture, or building? Space and place and object needs to know and be experienced to truly be. Even style has its roots here, but it is the intimate coherence of the experience and outcome that enriches as design, not just distracting entertainment. Design is the accommodation of touch.







28 January 2015
An interesting report from The Sydney Morning Herald:
http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/humans-have-been-handy-for-longer-than-previously-thought-study-20150122-12vyhi.html


Humans have been handy for longer than previously thought, says study

Date
7 reading now

Science Editor





Precision grip: a modern human grasps a bone from an Australopithecus africanus' thumb. Photo: T.L. Kivell/M. Skinner

Humans have had the upper hand for longer than they realised.
New research has found the distinctly human ability to make a powerful grip and perform delicate and precise movements with the hand evolved 500,000 years earlier than previously thought.
These unique traits, setting us apart from our ape cousins, are thought to have developed around the time early humans climbed down from the trees and began using tools.
But the timing of this transition has been debated for decades.
Archaeologists studying the internal bone structure of the hands of an early African ancestor, previously not considered a toolmaker, have concluded the species, Australopithecus africanus, was likely a primitive handyman.
While several members of the Australopiths display human-like hand features, such as opposable thumbs, stone tools don't appear in the fossil record until about 2.6 million years ago.
This absence suggested the group, who lived about 500,000 years earlier, lacked the precision to hold objects and use them as tools.
Since the 1950s the younger Homo habilis was thought to be the first early human toolmaker.
Casting doubt on this long-standing assumption is the work of British archaeologist Matthew Skinner and his team, who examined the pattern of trabeculae – tiny tissue elements that act as beams, struts, or rods – in some of Australopithecus africanus hand bones.
These internal structures can infer whether the hand's owner was still climbing trees, or if their thumbs and fingers had evolved a more forceful opposition to take on more modern human-like behaviours such as gripping tools.
Their analysis, published in the journal Science, contends that a number of hominins had precision grips.
"We can now confidently assert that some Australopiths, like Australopithecus africanus, did indeed use stone tools as reflected in the way the internal structure of the bones of the hand is arranged," said archaeologist Darren Curnoe, who was not involved in the study.
Dr Curnoe, from the University of NSW, said this discovery would change how archaeologists viewed early African ancestors.
"They had a sophisticated material culture, which they must have relied upon to eek out a living on the challenging African savanna," he said.
"We can probably now think of sophisticated stone tool making and use as characteristic of most, if not all, members of our evolutionary group; as sorting us from all other apes well before the big human brain began to enlarge in our evolution; implying brain evolution was probably decoupled from the evolution of tools and at least material culture."

23 August 2015
For more on the hand see Richard Sennett The Craftsman Penguin Books London 2009 - p.151: Chapter 5 - THE HAND.
p.178:
This chapter has pursued in detail the idea of the unity of head and hand. . . . 
Concentration consummates a certain line of technical development in the hand.

It is interesting to note the strategy of the traditional craftsman: Having concentrated he set to work.

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