Research Project


Hand Mnemonics and Counting Skills: Reducing Uncertainty through Fate Computation

Dr. Stephanie Homola

As part of the joint project “Accounting for Uncertainty: Prediction and Planning in Asia’s History” sponsored by IKGF and MPIWG, I worked on a research project untitled “Hand mnemonics and counting skills: reducing uncertainty through fate computation”. Relying on examples of fate-prediction methods using hand mnemonics such as the “small liuren” method, my objective is to study hand mnemonics as a pattern of adaptation to a moving environment. In particular, I focus on the importance of the division operation in fate computation. I suggest to analyze the role of division as a cognitive pattern that aims at “reducing” and “simplifying” a complex environment to make it suitable for action. Discussions with other research fellows of this joint project led me to analyze two related key issues. The first one is “directories of actions”: in many cases, planning consists in listing every uncertain parameter and match each of them with an appropriate course of actions. The second is the tension between simplicity and complexity that appears both in predicting and planning: the construction of directories of actions must show a balance between complexity (include all the cases to represent reality) and simplicity (it must be limited to be useful). I exemplified these two key terms through excerpts of a divination handbook called "Bodhidharma’s Treasure of the Palm". In particular, I analyzed the textual form of this kind of “do-it-yourself” fate-prediction methods that are made of lists of prognostications.

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