Sunday, December 08, 2013

How to count with your fingers?

No, this is not a post aimed at 3 years olds or younger.
What I do want to do is to list out the various ways people use their fingers while counting a number of points, typically not more than five. OK, some are deft enough to go on up to ten! Some to twelve too, but that is a special case which will be mentioned only as an aside.
How do I do it? When I start listing out, I clench my fist first and release my fingers in this order: pinky, ring, middle, index, and last, the thumb. I do not remember whether this is how my father used his fingers to count / list. I do not recall where I could have picked up this habit. Let that slide.
The counterpart sequence - the yin of the yang or vice versa – is to open with an open palm (facing the one who is listing or the listener as the situation demands) and close in the exact reverse order. But, I find this slightly inelegant as one is unable to use the thumb to close the pinky fully until the middle finger is closed. Oh, there is no loss of information, but in style it is lacking.
I have seen many people start off with their thumbs, opening out from a clenched fist and pointing up. Then, they proceed, index, middle, ring and last, the pinky. I have tried this way of doing things, but to no avail. As soon as I get to number four – for which the ring finger has to be opened, it demurs, at least to go full bloom. It waits for the pinky to join hands with, so to say. The counting process is stillborn till all the five fingers are opened up. Not very auspicious!
The reverse process, closing the thumb first, I have tried out and it is very easy without compromising aesthetics. But I have seen very few people doing this.
The process that can be best defined as the blunt razor of Occam (because it suborns the index finger on the other hand) is for the fingers of the opening hand to be pointed out or guided by the other index finger. Unnecessary or wasteful (there is no “unnecessary waste”).
Now, I come to the last, the one I mentioned at the beginning as an aside. I have seen this with many and I find it disconcerting, because the information is not passed on by visual means as is the case with all the others discussed thus far. In this, people start using their thumbs to mark off the knuckle folds as they verbally count, typically starting with the pinky-palm fold. On each finger, the thumb slides up the folds. The process has many things going for it. The limit is twelve per hand, as opposed to five in the others. The downside is the listener is not visually cued in to the process.
After having analyzed this simple process with multiple paths, I come to the conclusion, colored by my bias of self-interest, that my method is the most effective and efficient. Anyone contesting this assertion?
Come on, I am challenging you to a match of finger wrestling!

Raghuram Ekambaram


dsampath said...

i can count upto twenty in my sytem.start with left hand pinky,ring,index,pointer,thumb..then with the right hand folow the
same start closing right hand pinky,ring,index,pointer,thumb
and last the left hand pinky,ring,index,pointer,thumb
5+5+5+5=20 voila!!

Indian Satire said...

I do the same way as you but thinking of revolutionising counting with fingers by starting of with the middle finger :D

mandakolathur said...

DS Sir,

You are not only ambidexterous but also reversibly so! :)


mandakolathur said...

I am curious Balu. The method you want to adopt is the way balanced cantilever bridges are constructed!

On the other hand, you may also end up double counting your middle finger!