This semester, The Near-Sighted Monkey is spending a lot of time at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery hanging around scientists and thinking about how they use their hands and how we use our hands when we are trying to figure something out or explain something.
Does being able to write out a problem by hand have some advantage over typing it onto a screen? What is it? How does it differ?
Says the Near-Sighted Monkey about her first day at WID:
“There are white boards and markers every which way you look on the upper floors of the WID building and they are often covered with what look like long dense sentences — I don’t even know what to call them. Are they formulas? These sloping rows of hand-written shapes. They are beautiful. Straightforward un-self conscious calligraphy—- numbers over letters with tinier numbers next to them and then sudden epsilons and deltas and symbols I’ve never seen before like an equal sign drawn wiggly which I think means “pretty much equals”.
I could watch the people at WID draw their formulas out on white boards all day.
When I told one of the mathematicians I met how surprised I was to find people doing so much writing by hand, he told me he needs a pencil in his hand when he’s thinking. He said most of the mathematicians he knows are the same way. “
How can our hands help us think something out?