NATALIE ANGIER: You may think you’re pretty familiar with your hands. You may think you know them like the back of your hand. But as the following exercises derived from the latest hand research will reveal, your pair of bioengineering sensations still hold quite a few surprises up their sleeve.
• Make a fist with your nondominant hand, knuckle side up, and then try to extend each finger individually while keeping the other digits balled up tight. For which finger is it extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to comply?
• Now hold your hand palm up, fingers splayed straight out, and try curling your pinky inward without bending the knuckles of any other finger. Can you do it?
• Imagine you’re an expert pianist or touch-typist, working on your chosen keyboard. For every note or letter you strike, how many of your fingers will move?
• You’re at your desk and, without giving it much thought, you start reaching over for your water bottle, or your pen. What does your hand start doing long before it makes contact with the desired object?
And a high-five to our nearest nonhuman kin:
• What is the most important difference between a chimpanzee’s hands and our own? (a) the chimpanzee’s thumbs are not opposable; (b) the chimpanzee’s thumbs are shorter than ours; or (c) the chimpanzee’s thumbs are longer than ours.
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