… Virtually all objects are cognitively innocent, or epsitemologically nonexistent, until an agent relates to them. If they are ignored (i.e. subjectively inhibited), they afford nothing. They have to matter for the agent in some way if they are to be discovered as affordances. It is quite important that an organism learns not to react to insignificant stimuli and to ignore most of what objects may potentially afford in the surroundings if attended to, but which are irrelevant for the present behavior. Our perception of our environment is constantly shifting with changing modes of how to cope with it; it undergoes cognitive transformation according to the agent’s attitudes, and also according to the slogan “different actors — different affordances.”
… Just as there is no naked eye, there is also no naïve body and no innocent hand. For instance, how a hairdresser sees hair depends on whether he has a comb or a pair of scissors in his hand. Much in the same way, how a painter sees a landscape depends on whether he is holding a pen or a paintbrush. His modes of depiction are defined by the sort of tools he has at his disposal. In other words, what hair or landscape afford, or rather what shapes manual perception, lies literally in the hands of a coiffure and painter and the tools they use.
… Eugene Gendlin talks about a space of behavior possibilities. “Objects are clusters of behavior possibilities. Many possible behaviors come with any object. The objects exist not just in locations but in the space of behavior possibilities. That is the behavior space in which we act and perceive.” On this approach, we begin to understand situations in terms of what we have “at hand” prior to any manifest purposefulness or deliberation. Space becomes “hand centered.” The implication of “seeing by the hand’s eye” is that it is possible to say: Not only do we see in order to act, but we also act in order to see.
… Manual perception, just like visual or auditory perception, helps discriminate the relevant from the accidental, the “meaningful” from the “invisible,” the “doable” from the “unhandy.” From a practical point of view, it recognizes the organism’s surroundings as touchable, graspable, gestured, movable, heavy, light, hard, soft, hot shaky, slippery, rough, wet, dry, filled, empty, warm, cold, smooth, round, edgy, thin, palpable, breakable, and so on, and the objects in it as ones that can be cut, closed, fixed, opened, pushed, pressed, pulled, raised, dropped, hit, squeezed, passed over, split, brought together, stapled, handed, and the like.
… The conclusion to this discussion of manual perception takes the form of the following hypotheses: The eye provides us with hints — scarce signals, fragmentary data — that the cognitive organism has to decipher not only in visual terms but also by consulting other instruments of practical understanding; optical stimuli often bypass conscious vision; mere light does not provide sufficient instructions to guide action; and manual perception enables the shift from what things look like to how can they become objects of “handing.”
We may thus conclude that hands are not faithful to the conscious mind (and we should be tremendously grateful that this is the case). Marc Jeannerod is straightforward on this point: “There is a great advantage of not being aware while you are doing something.” And, as he further explains: “In the conscious movement, the velocity is slower and accuracy is poorer.” In sum, “both the automaticity and the lack of consciousness of the motor process are essential attributes for behavior.”
Neither do our hands conform to appearances. They do not always trust what the eyes see and are not obedient servants to deliberation and volition. In a way, hands have a sort of “reason” of their own and often act independently of data provided by light and the eyes. Possessing such know-how, they can “see” in the dark, under the table, and behind the back, and can provide an intimate physical bond to our partner, among other things.
Thus, the habit of thought that favors the role of visual perception in action has a neglected but highly important counterpart: it is manual experience that significantly informs seeing. It therefore turns out that observation is largely derivation from deeds.
… the manual possesses imagination “in the fingers” that produces marvels the thinking mind could never fully preconceive and words can hardly express. It could well be “under the fingers” products emerge that stimulate thought and nourish imagination in a way that thought and imagination, by their own means alone, could never achieve. To say that is to imply that hands possess their own know-how and also a degree of autonomy that allows for action that is not under the surveillance of the conscious “self.” As such, our hands can be emancipated from actuality and “see” ahead of the presently given. Phenomenology already knows the phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty, for instance, says: “It is through my body that I go to the world, and tactile experience appears ‘ahead’ of me.”
… “Making comes before matching” — a dictum formulated by the historian of art Ernst Gombrich — is a perfect slogan to label a form of interaction even more basic than the one he is referring to (he primarily applies it to pictorial representation); in my usage, it is taken to account for all forms of transformation that recreate the “given” as the “taken” and remold the natural into the cultural.
Inspiration and imagination may be set in motion by unintended moves and spontaneous manipulations. “Trivial” manual interventions may trigger both commonsense behavior and artistic endeavors. “In fashioning … sketches, paintings, or sculptures we allow an often nebulous idea to initiate the creative process, which is further driven by the product that emerges under our hands.” Clearly, the eye can ‘take and make” only with the recourse to the embodied (and enhanded) agent (or maker), who becomes what he is by means of the mechanisms that constitute him.
… We are full-blooded makers, but we are not masters of what the making does to the mind. In our actions we change the current constellation of our surroundings; but doing in turn transforms the mental world of the doer, and that is the process on which the “self” has virtually no or little influence. In what we do, we permanently pattern our mental world in a way we cannot consciously monitor, modulate, or control. After the motto “learning transforms the learning device itself,” we can say that making transforms the makers themselves. We thus increasingly come to perceive ourselves as products of the process.
… What emerges on the canvas is as much a result of strictures and potentialities of the medium that the hand meets as it is an outcome of the painter’s “artistic vision.” A picture in the mind and a picture on the canvas are so different that it is only the common term that affiliates them. It is the hand that grants existence to the latter, and converts imagination into embodied (painted) image.
… What follows from the above discussion is that hands are not faithful to the purposive mind, nor are they obedient servants to what objects afford us; that vision provides hints for deciphering surroundings but does not prescribe modes of action upon it; that the ways of the hand bypass conscious agency, or, in other words, that manual enaction enables competent coping with the world without recourse to reflection. This is a tremendous mercy to the organism: it need not engage in contemplation at each and every instance of its behavior, and yet it can adapt to mundane situations with skillful ease.
… There are “reasons” known only to the body and knowledge uniquely “in the hands,” of which the conscious mind is often only a late eyewitness. This affirms the body as corporeal connoisseur on its own terms and the hands as the ultimate arbiter on doability.