I recently had surgery on my right (dominant) hand. It is healing nicely and I expect a full recovery, with much less pain and discomfort than I had before. But for the last two weeks, in the process of healing, my thumb has been immobilized and wrapped to the tip. So for two weeks I have had no opposable thumb on my right hand.
Not having a thumb on your dominant hand is a big deal. Maybe the scientists are right, that humans are superior to apes because of our opposed thumb. I should add I don’t think we are superior—just smarter. But I digress.
Without the use of my right thumb I am stupider. Every little thing is a big deal. Scientist, and pickpockets for that matter, have shown that we humans do a poor job of multitasking. In fact, we can only keep track of a few things at one time. I believe that the unusual concentration I need to do simple things without a right thumb, slows down my thinking for everything else.
Maybe it was when I learned to type, or by habit later, but I always use my right thumb to hit the space bar. I can’t now. I can use my left thumb for the space bar, but it is a deliberate act, not something that happens automatically at the end of a word or sentence. I find it is faster and more natural to hit the space with my right (dominant) index finger than my left thumb.
I tried writing, i.e., printing, with my left hand, but that was a disaster. I am very right handed. I can slowly make letters composed of straight lines with my left hand and they are almost legible. Lower case letters, though, are another matter. For example, I find that I tend to make small letters that you normally make in one motion, like “e” and “r”, backwards. I think that says something about the way our brains work.
Even door knobs were a surprise. With my right hand I turn doorknobs clockwise. (Remember the right hand rule from math classes?) With my left hand, if I don’t think about it, I turn knobs counterclockwise. Likewise with a computer mouse, finding and clicking an object with my left hand is a jagged, herky-jerky process. Scientist claim there is no such thing as muscle memory, but there sure seems to be some sort of firmware in the nervous system that resists change.
This thinking led me to do a little research on our close cousins the apes. 10 out of 12 gorillas are right handed, which is close to the 85% to 90% right handedness in humans. But gibbons and orangutans tended to be left handed. And, in spite of what some scientists have said, many apes and other animals have nearly opposable thumbs, although they may not be able to contact the fleshy pads of the thumb to the fingers. I will hazard a guess that the idea of human superiority being due to the opposed thumb was a theory cooked up to prove that humans were superior, indeed apart and above all other animals. But we don’t believe that do we.
So, where does this leave me with my disabled right thumb? In a few days the splint will come off and I will again have a usable right thumb. In the meantime I can type—slowly and clumsily with many mistakes. And back to our kin the apes. Left alone (by us) they seem to get along fine with their less dexterous thumbs. And, if you watch the news at all, you might even question their inferiority to us humans.