Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Counted on the fingers of one hand

I am enjoying the skill with which Prof. Anne Harrington handles descriptions of events and ideas connected to the powers of the mind to affect the body and health.  Her book "The Cure Within" deals with many aspects of what seems to me a slippery group of subjects.  

They can be political and economic.  If a group of people are convinced my voice, my touch, my shirt, my anything are helpful, healthy, curative, I am enabled to sell, command, swell with pride and importance.  I am impressed with her conceptual agility and her ability to focus on aspects in the history of mind that typify different slants and stances.  

At one point, she writes:

the American medical profession paid little attention to Lourdes. The few exceptions to this rule can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine (p. 110). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

I have developed a sensitivity to the expression "can be counted on the fingers of one hand."  Spoiler alert: it is here that I am entering Nerdville so if you have trouble with nerdiness, go do something else now.  The expression "can be counted on the fingers of one hand" is used to express low frequency, something rather rare.  Since most of us have five fingers on one hand, or four if you want to omit the thumb, the implication is that something has happened only 4 or 5 times or less.

But I recommend using some other word or expression.  See, the modern world runs on computers and computers work quite well on my thumbs.  Or, my ears.  Or, my eyes.  It is true that millions have done quite well with just the digits from 0 to 9.  But once we began serious work using only a 0 and a 1, in the famous binary system, we learned how far we can go with just two symbols.  

It is a rather new concept, a whole number system using just 0 and 1.  Here's a Google Ngram of the use of "binary numbers":

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