What If Our Hands Had 6 Fingers?


Credit: Hand image via Shutterstock; Editing credit: Life’s Little Mysteries

What If Our Hands Had 6 Fingers?

In this weekly series, Life’s Little Mysteries provides expert answers to challenging questions.

As incredible asِ our hands areِ — capable ofِ everythingِ from threading needles toِ splitting wooden boards — there’sِ noِ telling whetherِ theyِ areِ just right, orِ merelyِ good enough.
Would life beِ much betterِ or worse ifِ our hands hadِ evolved withِ sixِ fingers instead.
We couldِ strum moreِ complex musical instruments, type faster andِ grip objects moreِ firmly.

Homo numerate

Worldwide, mostِ humans count inِ blocks ofِ 10: weِ tally upِ toِ nineِ of somethingِ beforeِ shifting overِ to a newِ number column andِ starting againِ with oneِ (so thatِ eachِ column isِ worth 10 times theِ amount inِ the column toِ itsِ right).
This isِ a base-10 numeral system, andِ anthropologists believeِ we useِ itِ becauseِ we haveِ 10 fingers — evidenced byِ the fact thatِ the word digit, asِ well asِ its translation inِ many otherِ languages, refers toِ bothِ fingers andِ numerals.
If weِ hadِ six fingers onِ eachِ hand, Tabin saidِ we wouldِ surely haveِ adopted a base-12 system, whereِ theِ numbers wouldِ progress asِ follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, x, y, 10.

Rule of thumb?

Extra fingers frequently pop upِ asِ birth defects; it’sِ called polydactyly, andِ it’s a simple genetic error.
But natural selection hasِ not gripped ontoِ those extra fingers andِ made themِ permanent.
It’s a simple mathematical formula, derived fromِ rules forِ nodes inِ computer networks, thatِ predicts theِ optimal number ofِ limbs a body needsِ forِ connecting toِ theِ outsideِ world, based onِ itsِ size.