New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. He did his post-graduate work in British Object Relations at the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and has taught Self Psychology as part of his private practice. A long time meditator and poet, Mr. Kenney is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry, Where Roses Bloom. He strives to bring together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality in his work and is the author of a new book on those subjects entitled, The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity.

The Evolution of the Thumb

January 11, 2015

Something strange is going on with the thumb. If you have kids, or are around them at all, you have no doubt seen their thumbs tap dancing over the smallish smart phone keyboards like Fred Astaire on steroids — man they are flying! Look at how ambidextrous they are, how synchronized! While I peck away with my index finger one letter at a time, like a chicken eating seed, I wonder what is going on with their thumbs? Are they signaling an evolutionary leap for the human race?

For millennia the thumb has been the supporting player in what is largely the drama of the four fingers at the top of the hand. Of course babies don’t know this and as soon as they are able go directly to the thumb as a source of comfort. Thumb as mother, interesting. Otherwise, it seems the thumb, “don’t get no respect.”

If you were a clumsy fellow as a kid you probably heard someone close by utter those derisive words, “Oh, he’s all thumbs.” I was that kid and proved it during a short stint as a carpenter after college when my thumb was black and blue and hurt like hell. If you were bored, everyone knew it because you were probably, “twiddling your thumbs.” Not a star role by any means.

Of course there was a time when the thumbs up sign was a universally applied signal of all’s well. This friendly and optimistic gesture has mostly been replaced by the more aggressive index finger, signaling triumph: the status of number one and the defeat of all rivals. Of course the middle finger remains a constant in everyone’s vocabulary.

When the 60’s came along the thumb enjoyed renewed power through the practice of hitchhiking. Sadly, the world has become so dangerous that the hippies favorite form of car-pooling has all but disappeared. My thumb was far more competent on the road beckoning for a ride than holding a nail for the hammer to pound. My personal record was New York to San Francisco in four days, just in time for one hell of a party. Its claim to fame was hitchhiking across the Libyan desert solo.

In today’s world my thumb hits the space bar on the keyboard and not much else. But evolution isn’t looking to my hand for the next great move. No, it’s looking to those thumbs being raised on the keyboards of iPhones and Samsungs, not on a Steinway or Baldwin. But why?

The answer seems simple enough. The thumb came along for two important purposes: first to oppose, and second to grasp. And the development of the capacity to oppose and to grasp has been the signature accomplishment of the human being, which has elevated our species to ever-greater accomplishments and means of destruction. Remember the opening scene of 2001 A Space Odyssey?

Look around and it is pretty obvious our society is stuck in a posture of grasping. More! More! Everyone wants more. Grasping for wealth, food, sex, you name it. But the thumb, once the instrument of opposition and grasping, may be leading the way to saying, “Enough.” Letting go of our destructive ways begins with the thumb. With releasing. With saying, enough. Enough. We have enough. We are enough.

It seems to me that the thumb is once again central in an evolving chapter of human consciousness. It is perhaps heralding a departure from the era of opposition and the binary, dualistic ways of thinking that have defined history for millennia: this against that, either-or, black and white, my way or the highway. In other words, the thumb enabled people in organizing and maintaining systems of domination.

Perhaps what we are seeing when our precious teenagers tune us out and text their friends ad nauseam is the beginnings of a coordination of efforts to communicate. What if the thumb is leading the way to collaborative efforts not dominant ones? You may say I’m a dreamer.

I hope so. I’m cheering for the thumb, and all those texters whose thumbs are lightening quick and transporting us into the next generation of what we can be

As for my self, I still like a good game of thumb wrestling with my boys. I can usually beat them, even with my eyes closed, but I don’t do it to win, I do it for the giggles, and for the chance to dance thumb to thumb.

Be encouraged, thumbs up, and, as always,

Namaste,

Phil

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One Response

  1. Heather says:

    Odd. I have been thinking on thumbs lately…and my relationship with my own. I think it almost talks to me. “Remember dislocating me? Perhaps you should watch your step.” “I’m done for the day, perhaps you are too.” …and just lately I did a hand tracing craft with the kids and realized that THAT thumb, could have only been mine. I gave it to my mother, who loved it. A few months ago it hurt and a stranger at the library grabs my thumb and pulled it and it HURT. It also fixed the problem! Thumbs. Or the one thumb. My other thumb gets a free rude.
    Heads down, thumbs up, let’s play 7up!

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