Missing hand, hook, and perceived risk [sociology of fables leaking into modern day perceptions]

Fables and fairy tales carry narratives whose symbolism swaps over into apparently secular perceptions [1]. In other words, even societies that claim to be educated, enlightened and secular typically risk to follow myths - unless they take very specific care to not get trapped there.


Arm amputees are pushed aside for reasons that make no (rational) sense, and we will get to that in just a moment. But far from the disability subject already, our modern day secularism can be shown to present as a mere superficiality; while (to just make a very prominent example) Christmas pulls economy both up (gift,  alcohol, food) and - probably to a significantly lesser degree - down (increased purchase returns with unsolicited product choices), the overall effect of a useless ritual (Christmas, that is) certainly does not diminish over the last 10 or 20 years [2]. So we clearly follow illogical rituals against all reason.


Rituals and semi-understood (or not at all understood) belief keep having a lot going for it, or so it appears. And since the amount, focus, type and expression, as well as all kinds of specifics pertaining to arm amputee discrimination exhibit so many irrational aspects, any *rational* background may fall short. There may be rational aspects as attempted through the field of sociology but it seems plausible that other mechanisms are at work here.

To this day, also the superstitious and discriminating belief that - as example - black race was inferior to the white race genetically divides nations across the globe, including self-proclaimed "secular" countries, none of which are free of narratives, violence, fable and fairy tale based thinking or wrongdoing - whereas biologists clearly stated long ago that "human race" is a social but not a biological construct.


With that we need to accept that old fairy tales govern us, to this day. Worse: the less we acknowledge, recognize and clarify it, the harder the grip these stories can - and will - have on us.

Still today, arm amputees rank low for reasons that defy even the understanding of disability as such. There is an extra element there, that cannot be overcome. Even the most advanced "bionic" prosthetic will not remedy this. Physical disability in terms of "not being able to perform just as well" coalesces with clear disfigurement which then coalesces with the perception of mental instability which then causes a degree of social stigma that has the capacity to then even get the hardest person to get down on their knees. One has to develop an eye to see through these vicious circles to break free. One benefits from not "being an amputee" any more as there is no room for development there.

Basically, we are looking into old myths. With deep seeded fears. They center around severed hands and around prosthetic hooks.

To this subject, Tokyo Gore Police - a movie - addresses body image issues with an absolutely absurd angle. Nevertheless, it definitely plays with these fears.

A current video game trailer takes these deep fears associated with severed hands to a full modern bloom: in it, people with prosthetic arms or legs mutate to become a collective danger to society.

@0:41 "What kind of madness has gripped the mechanically augmented people" (..) "This is an attack on humanity and the universal values that we share" (...) ".. consider the idea of segregation" (...) "The Czech republic adds its voice to a growing list of countries calling for a relocation of its augmented citizens" (...) "incident after incident after incident" (..) "you need to be afraid because they are coming for you" (..) "the segregation act" (...) "we lost everything - our dreams, our innocence...our humanity" (..) "THE MECHANICAL APARTHEID"


As that, severed hand legends also keep determining our realities beyond imagination. It is as if "we knew" - and yet, we abscond from reflection and insight.

More concisely, a missing hand, a stump, a prosthetic hook if not a prosthetic arm generally and very clearly indicate a perceived loss of humanity. With that, we already have amputee focused "soft" apartheid. This is a lived reality that cannot be fixed by idolizing gadgetry.


Psychologists and anthropologists generally define three traits that set humans apart from other creatures [1]:

  • use of symbolic language, use of symbols, symbols as a value; the hand (as much as the face) (on a purely symbolic level) plays a key role that is deeply integrated into the appearance, manipulation and interaction at once;
  • creation and use of tools; individuals with an absence of one or two hands clearly appear to be not nearly as efficient as they are ought to be;
  • we humans live in complex social organizations; arm amputation massively violates social norms, acts outside social normalcy.

On a pragmatic or practical level, really, the absence of part of an arm does not impede activities just by that much. The reasons for that are not the mildest bit functional - but a guy can change his car break pads without any arms, just to give an example.


Or cut his hedges.


Against that, the symbolic aspect of this handicap is devastating [link] because public perception - much of which is unreflected folklore, obviously - relates to these three traits in their perception of what makes us human.

Despite increased public appearances with arm amputees these still are a rare occurrence, *acceptance* is still far away. People do not go "so what".



In legends and stories, traded event descriptions and whatnot, deep rooted folklore runs up a list of content items that have managed to get itself catalogued [link]:

  • F167.7, handless people
  • F1002, silver hand used as if flesh
  • H57.4, recognition by missing hand
  • Q559.5.2, hand whithers as punishment
  • Q451.0.1, hand cut off as punishment
  • S161, mutilation / cut off hand
  • K437.2, hand used as charm by robber


With a missing hand or arm, or, with a hook, one risks to pose a risk to others because with three major traits that make us human being violated (above), if we are that fundamentally different from others as arm amputees, we pose a (social) risk to others.

For that reason, we - as arm amputees - are routinely treated as social outsiders or outcasts. A more comprehensive overview shows that to this day, today, this is an intricate problem.

Far away from that saga and fairy tale world, real arm amputees are as normal as other people; and despite considerable mutilation can be charming and social personalities; here, a victim of an explosion explains about his life with the handicap:


One particular everyday experience that we make is that narratives featuring "the disabled" typically conflate physical disability, mental disability and mental illness [1]. If not consciously then subconsciously.

As another example, characters on television or movies with an amputated limb usually perform criminal actions, they are monsters, and they are jealous of the able-bodied.


From that, motifs of instability and violence are constructed. To add, individuals with physical impairments are perceived, by society, as less functional and therefore treated as less human than the normal person.

As one example: I do follow news, and so yes, it is somewhat cool if a few years after a new product or design idea arrives someone lets me know about this new idea - as if I was generally unable to read or subscribe to RSS feeds - but I usually know this, or even wrote about this, or even participated in test series about that new technology; as example, I did participate in a few multi electrode tests, in two sensory feedback series, and so on. So despite me missing part of an arm and hand, I am not mentally disenfranchised. If others act as if I was, I even have a  pretty good idea about the turning point within their mental imagery where they went wrong.

According to the stereotype, we are not intelligent, we are not funny, and with that we definitely also lack intelligent humor or subtle variations thereof [1].


With that, amputees (including "the hook" variety) are seen as if they remove themselves from the whole of society (regardless of the fact that society expels or rejects them to begin with), and that makes them unsafe as they are not part of what is assumed to be the safety of civilization [1].

This perceived separation and loss of agency is an added aspect to what was already outlined above that creates characters that are, usually, regarded as comprehensively less human [1].

The Captain Hook fairy tale character is the archetype of that character.


Not all assumptions or fantasies are without correlate at least of some form. Phantom limb hands - as a neurological problem of amputees or people with traumatic or disease caused peripheral nerve damage - are far more common than phantom arms, feet or legs, according to neurologist Oliver Sacks; this is technically attributed to the relatively overwhelming presence of hands' hardwired neurologic importance to humans even outside of social and narrative conventions [1].

That indicates just how serious the hardwired presence of hands in our brains is generally, and it does correlate with significant issues on many levels in case of absence of one or both hands, on various levels [1].

Thinking behind folk belief and folk myth

Sagas, myths and beliefs typically follow their own "logic".

To understand what people "believe", it thus makes sense to look at some of the rules that govern our inner mystical devils that ultimately then risk to form systems of belief and behavior that differ so much from what a modern society hopes to be.

From "The Laws of Magic" (text excerpts from link, link):

For starters, magic is not, what it seems.

"Laws of magic" are consistent beliefs and rules. They are based on experience as old as thousands of years. They are used by practitioners to obtain desired results, and to make people believe in magic.

  • Law of Knowledge - with understanding comes control and power. The basis of this law is that understanding brings control. The more that is known about a subject, the easier it is to exercise control over it. Knowledge is power.
  • Law of Names - to be able to fully and truly name a phenomenon or entity will offer control and power. A relevant aspect is that names convey definitions. As so much power may reside within a true name, one my want to keep a true name secret.
  • Law of Association: if any two pattern have elements in common, the patterns interact "through" those common elements, and control of one pattern facilitates control of the other(s) depending (among other factors) upon the number of common elements involved.
    • Law of Similarity: having an accurate physical or mental representation of something facilitates control over it. This one is fairly obvious in its usage—having a model, picture, or other representation of your target (like a voodoo doll) gives you power to effect the target. Look alikes are alike.
    • Law of Contagion: objects or beings in physical contact with each other continue to interact after separation. Everyone you have ever touched has a magical link with you, though it is probably pretty weak unless the contact was intense and/or prolonged or repeated frequently. Magical power is contagious. Naturally, having a part of someone's body (nails, hair, spit, etc.) gives the best contagion link. This law states that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance even after physical contact has been severed.
  • The Law of Personification - any phenomenon may be considered to be alive and to have a personality—that is, to "be" an entity or being. Anything can be a person. Most weather mages personify the winds and the clouds, for example, and thus find focusing their magic on the atmosphere much easier to do. Reverse personification thus is also likely to prevail within magic law type "thinking".


The Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory greatly exemplifies a few Laws of Magic; text from (link):

This was a right hand of a murderer that was severed while the corpse was still hanging from the gallows. It was then used as a charm or in black magic practices after being magically preserved. It is also believed robbers often used the hand when breaking into buildings and homes.

Preferably the hand was cut off during the eclipse of the moon. Afterwards it was wrapped in a shroud, squeezed of blood and pickled for two weeks in an earthenware jar with salt, long peppers and saltpeter.


Then it was either dried in an oven with vervain, an herb believed to be able to ward off demands, or laid out to dry in the sun, desirably in the hot dog days of August. When the hand was ready, candles were fitted on it between the fingers.

These were called the "dead man's candles" were made from another murderer's fat, with the wick being made from his hair. Another method of curing the severed and dried hand was dip it in wax. After this process the fingers themselves could be lit.

The hand with burning candles or fingers was shocking when coming at people. It froze them in their tracks and rendered them speechless. Burglars lit the hand before entering homes. A warning sign was that if the thumb would not light it meant there was someone in the house who could not be charmed or made afraid.


It was believed once the hand was lit nothing but milk could extinguish it. Homeowners attempted to fight back. To combat the hand of glory all sorts of ointments were smeared on the thresholds. The compositions of these various ointments consisted of everything from the blood of screech owls, the fat of white hens, or the bowl of black cats. Perhaps these concoctions worked if they were slimy enough to trip up the burglars.

The hand of glory was linked to witches during the witch-hunt period. There are two noted incidences.

  • One, in 1588, of two German women, Nichel and Bessers, that were accused of witchcraft and exhuming corpses. They admitted poisoning helpless people after lighting the hands of glory to immobilize them.
  • John Fian, after being severely tortured during his witch trial in Scotland in 1590, confessed to using a hand of glory to break into a church where he performed a ceremony to the devil.

The term the "hand of glory" is believed to be derived from the French "main de glorie" or "mandrogore" and be related to the legends of the mandrake.

The mandrake plant was believed to grow under the gallows of the hanged man. Belief in the efficacy of the Hand of Glory persisted as late as 1831 in Ireland. It is described or mentioned in the chapter of "The Folk-lore of the Hand" in "The Hand of Destiny" by C. J. S. Thompson, London, 1932. The belief in the Hand of Glory was the subject of "The Nurses’ Story" one of the "Ingoldsby Legends" of Thomas Ingoldsby (Rev. Richard Braham, 1837).

There is a truly weird photo that exhibits a modern day Touch Bionics / Ossur ambassador "posing" at the 2016 Leipzig Orthopedic Technical trade fair, proudly showing "what is possible" with high tech silicone prosthetic fingers (photo (C) Touch Bionics / Ossur). Visually, seeing an amputee performing such "glory hand" variations by pushing prosthetic in his nostrils on an official representation mission may actually be seen as leaving a lasting disturbed impression. It is absolutely intriguing to see how representatives of "high tech" "prosthetic" "bionic" hands "represent" - but it may attract more cogent analysis to place such behavior within the myth and legend aspects of severed hands. "The lucky paw" is not a metaphor that comes to mind.

Hook hand / amputated hand legends

"The hook"

This very widely known story contains several variations (link); a predominant one is this: The night is dark.

Image (C) (website)


A young couple is at the local lover’s lane, far away from the town. As they sit in their car, listening to the radio and doing what young couples do, a flash comes across the radio! “A maniac killer has escaped from the mental ward of the local prison! Easily identifiable by his hook hand, this killer was last seen near Makeout Point! Lock your doors, and don’t leave the safety of your homes until this vicious killer has been apprehended!”


As the announcement cuts out, Barry White begins singing again on the radio. The girl is frightened by the announcement, but the boy wants to continue doing what young couples do. Finally, he is persuaded to leave, partly by the clear terror the girl is feeling, and partly by the metal-on-metal scraping sound he hears coming from his rear passenger-side fender.

Image (C) (website)


He quickly starts the car and pulls away, while the tires screech and kick up a spray of loose gravel. When they arrive at the girl’s house in town, the young man jumps out of the car to open the passenger door for his date. As he reaches for the young woman’s door, he notices a bloody metal hook hanging from the car door!




The study's author's [1] interpretation, drawn from this scholarship and the one hundred variants he has found, is that while scholarly interpretations of “The Hook” are likely to classify it as a gateway to discussing interpersonal and generational conflicts relating to sex, it's much more supportable to simply argue that the Hookman himself is a symbol of evil within the legend.

He represents not only the evil of inappropriate sex, but also a cultural distrust of the disabled. The hook itself becomes a pure symbol of danger - particularly to the surviving teenagers [1].


While neither disability nor villainy are contagious as defined by Frazer’s sympathetic magic or Pasteur’s cell theory, the analogous treatment in variants of “The Hook” and “The Boyfriend’s Death” that feature severed hands betray a cultural mistrust of the disabled through fear of contagion [1]. In fact, it is teenagers and some people that got older but stuck in puberty somehow tend to reflect teenager or puberty type body image issues all too intimately, and these people then also tend to confuse shape and imagined meaning with the effectively experienced and daily fact type of experience in a way that well established mature adults do. They even get the magic and mystic aspects wrong.

To exhibit a particular "hook angst" also in my own experience constitutes an emotion similar to body image issues one may have in puberty, but as one goes through the motions, as one grows out of puberty, it fades and disappears. An experience similar to the "hook angst" that I experienced myself was even more intense with the initial field tests of my "Red Hand" - but also, as it turned out, totally unfounded.

An adult with matured relations to society, body image, with a clear and sober view on what works and what does not, will not easily fall for these types of confusions. As adults, we are used to weighing our options with a differentiated approach. Conversely, matured adults with a seasoned and settled relation to disability, disfigurement and activity will proactively resort to rather functional prosthetic limbs such as TRS sports adapters or Hosmer hooks, rather than trying to maximize an anthropomorphic hand appearance over anything else, whatever the cost. Normally, one weights one against the other. Everything also has at least one cost function, and within the small domain of prosthetic arms, constraints are many and constraints are serious.

"Choking Doberman"

Despite legal discomfort with severed hands as a form of punishment, legends texts seem to suggest that on some unofficial level, people want to cut off a thief’s hand.


To fulfill the need for visceral justice, there is the “Choking Doberman” legend: One night a woman came home from work to find blood and shredded pieces of cloth all over the place. She called the police to investigate but they could not figure out what happened. A few days later, the woman’s dog, a Doberman Pincer, became very sick so she took it to the veterinarian. After a thorough check-up, nothing was found to be the matter, so the doctor decided to take some x-rays. In the dog’s stomach was found a human hand. It was the hand of the man who broke into the woman’s house which was very well-protected by the dog. (FOLK COLL 8a: Group 7, Box 22, Folder 15, [1].

"Smashed Hand" / "Nubs"

"Smashed Hands"

This young father had just purchased his first new 4X4 truck. He was so proud of it and always kept it clean. He came home one day for lunch and pulled his truck into the garage, out of the sun. His four-year-old son was in the garage pounding on a piece of wood. He said hello and went inside to eat a fast lunch. After a quick thirty-minute lunch, he kissed his wife goodbye and headed to the new truck in the garage. As he went to the garage door, he could hear his son still banging on the piece of wood. He thought how much fun he must be having. As he opened the door he was 37 stunned by what he saw. His son wasn’t pounding on a piece of wood, but on his new truck. He had walked all the way around it several times hanging his hammer into the freshly waxed paint. The father was outraged and without thinking he grabbed the hammer from his sons hands.


He started smashing his sons little hands, yelling at him, teaching him a lesson. The young child went into shock and the mother was too late to save her son from this terrible lesson. The father was out of his mind for those few split seconds, but he had smashed those little hands so badly they had to amputate them. (FOLK COLL 8a: Group 7, box 23, folder 19, [1].



I always heard that there were these old mines up in some canyon in Salt Lake where kids would go play, and one girl went there with her friends and they were playing around. So she accidentally gets run over by a mine cart, and it slices her arms off at the elbows and her legs at the knees, and leaves these little nubs.

But her parents were too grossed out and didn’t want people to see her, so they just left her there. So she sticks her nubs in the mud or something so they healed, and she learned how to scoot around 38 everywhere. She stayed alive because she stole food from people’s picnic baskets when they came to camp there. She was fine until winter came, and then she had no food. So there’s this starving little nub girl in the mountains, and I always heard that some boy scouts were camping and one of them wandered off...and she snagged him and killed him and ate him! (FOLK COLL 8a: Group 7, box 23, folder 13, [1].



The messages in “Nubs” are clear and harsh: children who act irresponsibly and play in dangerous places aren’t worthy of parental love, parents should keep an eye on their children or else horrible things could happen, society should care for the physically disabled or else the results may be tragic, and Boy Scouts make for some good eatin’.


Special attention should be paid to the idea that Nubs is unlovable because of her disability. That statement particularly reflects the idea that ties together this entire study: severed hands are representative of humanity. Because Nubs lost her arms and legs and has become disabled, her parents no longer value her. Once her hands are severed, she is no longer perceived as a human being [1].

The movies Robocop, Source Code and Johnny Got His Gun all investigate the question of humanity after limb loss from a movie plot viewpoint.


Teens, not adults, seem to be the ones that are smitten with "hook angst".

Puberty is the age where body image appears maximally disturbed and it is that age group that rejects hooks, or a stump or even a flesh colored prosthetic hand the most.

They seem to also reject other visually strong symbols in the context of prosthetic arm devices (link).

Teens are therefore, at least from view of the general public and obviously the teens themselves, particularly endangered by hooks. Pubescent boys and girls are the absolute target group for the Fear Of Hooks.

It does take grown men and women, that are not just using manual work as a label, but that are true manual workers, real adults, people that walk the walk, that see past the pansy boy angst, in order to approach upper limb difference from an angle where both sensible and practical prosthetic solution actually can be made to work.

How do insecurities related to the disabled body relate to insecurities experienced in puberty?

If there are parallels between body image problems of puberty and arm amputation then we expect there to be literature.

Amputation [bibcite=cash2012encyclopedia]: "In general, good psychosocial adjustment and physical recovery from amputation rely on patients having sufficient information about and access to medical care, rehabilitation services, and appropriate social support. The patient also needs to be equipped with effective coping strategies for emotional and physical concerns that arise. Proper management of psychological issues, particularly body image adaptation, is considered critical for these patients in order for them to become fully rehabilitated. Body image adaptation can be influenced by numerous factors, including developmental and demographic factors, physical and treatment-related factors, psychological factors, and social factors." (..) The loss of a hand or an arm is typically experienced as being more devastating to body image adaptation and overall adjustment than the loss of a lower extremity. This is because arms and hands are integral to activities of daily living, occupational functioning, and leisure activities. They also play a large role in social communication (e.g., using gestures to express emotions and waving) as well as the expression of affection." (..) "Individuals who experience phantom limb pain experience greater feelings of despair and withdrawal, more symptoms of depression, decreased participation in social activities and satisfaction with social relationships, more medical complications, poorer health-related quality of life, and general difficulty with adjustment to amputation." (..) "Prosthetics in particular are aimed at restoring physical functioning in a way that is aesthetically acceptable. However, these devices, along with other recommended techniques, such as performing activities at a slower pace and/or adopting alternative postures, can be viewed negatively by individuals who experience amputation. These devices are often viewed as being symbolic of being disabled, old, incapable, or unattractive. Being unable to move one’s body in a smooth, connected fashion can change how a person is viewed by others and how the person perceives and experiences his or her own physical appearance and functioning. These changes can lead to body image disturbances, which in turn can be related to nonadherence to treatments such as physical therapy regimens or refusal to use the assistive devices. However, there is also evidence that while individuals with amputations who are awaiting a prosthesis experience greater activity limitations, social discomfort, low self-esteem, as well as anxiety and depression compared to non-affected individuals, these problems diminish after delivery of the prosthesis. Prostheses also appear to help individuals engage in more activities that reveal their body in social settings (e.g., at a fitness center or pool) and to feel more at ease in doing so. There is evidence that high levels of satisfaction with prostheses, including satisfaction with both functional and aesthetic aspects, are associated with lower levels of body image disturbance. However, successful body image adaptation may require a focus on function rather than on aesthetic form. Individuals who struggle with their altered appearance and who have difficulty accepting the need for a prosthesis or assistive device may require help with challenging negative assumptions about these devices and integrating them into their body image. Satisfaction with the functional aspects of a prosthesis is important as this may assist an individual with resumption of leisure and occupational activities, which in turn can contribute to positive body image adaptation."

It truly appears to be an issue that arm amputees - in order to deal with their body image issues - may need to

  • focus on functional aspects rather than the aesthetic form in relation to prostheses, and satisfaction with functional aspects is particularly important with prosthetic solutions, whereas those that keep focusing on anthropomorphic aspects may not find easy relief from their body image issues;
  • however, body image adaptation ultimately does not seen to require a prosthetic arm, but much rather, dedicated care regarding physical and treatment-related factors, psychological factors, and social factors.

Puberty [bibcite=cash2012encyclopedia]: "The results from McCabe and colleagues prevention program implemented among 8- to 12-year-old boys and girls indicated that even at this young age, boys demonstrated a greater focus on their muscles and girls demonstrated a greater focus on their weight. Boys placed a higher level of importance on their muscles and were more dissatisfied with their muscles than girls, and girls were more dissatisfied with their weight than boys. Further, although there was no increase in muscle importance across grade level, girls placed a greater importance on their weight with increasing age. These results are consistent with previous studies that have demonstrated gender differences in the focus of body image concerns. The higher focus on muscles among boys would suggest that they may have already picked up the sociocultural messages for boys regarding the ideal body type of a muscular body form." (...) "The importance of the role of BMI, cultural and sociocultural influences in shaping body image, and strategies to both lose weight and increase muscles are a cause for concern. It is important that prevention programs focus on alerting boys to the sociocultural pressures on them to achieve the ideal body for their sex. In this way, boys will be better equipped to detect these messages, and analyze the type of influence that they may have on their feelings about their body, as well as strategies they adopt to alter their body. In this way, boys will be better able to neutralize the impact of the messages, and adopt a healthier body image. In addition, these programs need to equip them with strategies to ensure they engage in eating and exercise behaviors that are conducive to good health, rather than the pursuit of an unattainable body that is endorsed by society as the ideal body form."

Summarizing amputation and puberty related body image issues:

What is so mysterious about the hook?

The hook on the car door raises one particular question: why did the maniac try to use his less dexterous hand to open the door? From [1] we learn that only two variants specified that the killer had hooks for both hands. So really the hook-man could have opened the door using his own hand. The use of the hook to open the door could be explained in part by the imbalance of which hand had been removed; if the killer was right handed in the first place, as most people are, the habit would be to use the right hand to open the car door. (..) Magic could provide another explanation of why the titular character is using his titular appendage despite a lack of fine motor skills. Two variants of The Hook silently invoke Frazer’s law of sympathetic magic. In one, an outcast from the nearby town fashions crude prosthetic for his maimed son from a meat hook. The other version recounts that an owner of a meatpacking plant killed his partner, removed his own hand as an act of contrition, and now inhabits the plant with a meat hook as a replacement. In both of these texts, the amputee is described as crazy because they kill for reasons that are never explained. Frazer’s law states that folk understandings of magic are driven by ideas of contagion and homeopathy (1913, 117). The rule of contagion states that things that were once in contact are always in contact, whereas the rule of homeopathy states that things resemble one another. Since the hooks were once used to hang meat, the hooks themselves could drive the inhuman acts these men commit. The hooks could gently resonate with a desire to be buried within meat, inside meat, in meat once again, and since human flesh may be seen as relatively similar to a side of beef, they could magically encourage the poor amputees to commit horrible acts. The Hookman could be using a meat hook to open car doors because the hook is the evil part of the body, the one that drives them to kill. If the men were otherwise resistant to the idea, the only option the “sentient” hook might have is to try to open the door itself.

The hook as human enhancement

In real life, the answer why one would try to pry a door, a box, anything, open by using the hook is sky clear: because the hook is a great tool for that. To a surprising extent it exceeds the capabilities of a human hand:

  • handling hot, fried or boiling food, grills, pans or pots "as is";
  • turning meat on the grill "as is";
  • rip open package, envelope, parcel, packaged food, "as is";
  • type long and hard and precise on keyboards without carpal tunnel's syndrome;
  • very strong and precise and hard precision grip "as is";
  • powerful tool for defending oneself;
  • etc.

The list goes on, and it is quite clear that in comparison with the type of advantage that so-called blades - prosthetic running legs - have over conventional prosthetic legs (or also, human legs), the advantages of a prosthetic hook go technically further, they are varied far more widely and have far greater every day advantages.

Prosthetic blade type legs do one thing well (and one thing only) - running. And only because one single guy managed to get these energy saving items to run fast enough, everyone calls that "human enhancement".

Hooks do a lot more, a lot longer and along a far wider application scale - but other than scare stories we do not get a single nod from the "human enhancement" crowd. From a pure technical viewpoint, one could see a prosthetic hook - particularly when attached to a really well built body powered arm - as a far greater threat to the un-enhanced non-disabled human body not along the axis of injury only but along the dimension of grip, exposure (chemical, thermal, ..) and extension type performance. And yet - no one, ever, so far, has made that observation! You had to come here to read that.

Human enhancement, autonomy *or* control?

It is this moment, where we are struck with the insight that the deep fear, the deepest insecurity may not come from facing someone that has lost a piece of an arm, or, seeing a person that has suffered an arm amputation.

Normally, these moments are just totally ambivalent - there are bad aspects, but there are good aspects too (e.g., I was basically cured from the tumorous growths in my hand, and that alone still is a source of great joy and peace of mind for me). So really, a normal reaction may just be to be a bit confused.

But people have a more raw and unrefined type of fear of arm amputees, particularly with hooks. Arm amputees may want to wear prosthetic arms just to hide.

Really, these fears must relate to something else, and fears that prevail, fears that persist, usually target a more stable issue than ambiguous aspects of a disfiguring disability.

Here, it is most likely the fear of autonomy running wild. An amputee with a hook basically constitutes a unit similar to a knife thrower, similar to the murderous protagonist in "No Country for Old Men" - no outside interference, no normalization of the range or scope of activities, is in place and the threat is pointed, metallic and appears very immediate, close and where applicable fast and unforgiving.

That amputee must obviously be "on the lose" in the eyes of a frightful unreflected public, as one particular important visual clue - the hook does not look like a hand - seems to prove that this particular amputee does not bow to societal normality any more.

To violate a social norm on first sight is a big no no.

Functionally however, a very tightly and robustly constructed body powered arm is the ultimate action machine that you would want (were you not fear driven) and that you would need to kick real butt, and in order to get that autonomy, that also means that you can and will be autonomous, that you will have to be responsible, and you will end up with situations were you will be seen as a full human with all the consequences.

Since I followed the path to "come across as competent" (and responsible) also as part of a first impression, wearing a hook certainly boosts competence a lot; cash register clerks stopped offering to pack my bags a long time ago.

But society dislikes amputees that are autonomous, truly autonomous, even though funnily enough these are often the happier people. Society (through the values they breathe and live - media, bioethicists, insurance policies, research) provide this particular prosthetic solution (i.e., body powered arms with full scope of action, with a hook and massively tweaked parts) with an unprecedented obstructive hateful passive-aggressive hostility that is unheard of in other domains such as eyewear (no one openly drags down people that prefer optical frames over contact lenses) or motorized transport.

So the fear of an autonomous arm amputee must run wild and affect many people, and in particular, researchers and prosthetists.

With a myoelectric arm, no one has to fear that the arm amputee runs wild - at least, from visual clues others get; these amputees provide visual clues of a striking absence of range of action and reduced aspects of motion that seems to put others at ease. Their shape outline seems more human, because the myoelectric arm looks more "anatomic".

The interesting thing there is that in my anecdotal experience, hook wearing people (and folks wearing no prosthesis) seem to dominate in the domain of manual / blue collar type jobs, they are the ones that can and do take responsibility, they are the ones with blossoming family lives; (at least with regard to unilateral below elbow amputation); myoelectric arms usually denote far more insecurities and to no surprise, there seem to be not that many casual or even superficial acquaintances of arm amputees with myoelectric - particularly "bionic" - arms that actually manage to pull their weight in a blue collar domain and that, work wise, kick real butt. One reason certainly is that even after just sitting in the office for a day, wearing a myoelectric arm will basically damage my arm stump (#voightkampff).

In essence, this fear seems to occur usually during first encounters as it occurs in public space. It is not clear how it later gets replaced by contempt. So "bionic" arm wearers appear to pose no danger to society, but hell, they cannot even open a bag of popcorn well. During a Touchbionics iLimb workshop, when discussing how to change a bike tire, the company product ambassador advised to take the wheel to the shop to get the tire changed - so all things considered, "bionic" arm wearers are also better consumers, buy more services, spend more money on others so they are more social. With a "bionic" arm you do not have to fear that you have to take actual work, hard work, or true representation into your hand(s) - because, what *can* you do!

You are totally elsewhere in relation to responsibilities, manual proficiency, reliability, control and autonomy as a hook wearing individual. There you can, but then you must. Totally different vibe.

So really, as a person that flaunts their disability with a hosed arm, or a functional prosthetic gripper, you will want to develop the personal skills that puts others at ease, or, that stops others from objectifying you real fast, or, that takes the focus off the obvious focus of disability / handicap. If you learn these, you may invariably grow up a bit more.

Conversely, if you are still in the early stages of denial, or cannot get out of the "must have hand back" part, then of course, the only remedy is participation with the current media circus - and at this moment that means to wear a 3D-printed hand as a child, or a "bionic" hand if you are older. However, a lot of puppetry must be mastered in order to not be handicapped even more wearing on of these "bionic" hands. New paradigms of "bionic" hands may take years to master and even then, these hands still are weak, make weird noises and provide unreliable control paradigms and unreliable grips. Not to forget the ultra fragile gloves.

If you want to take full control over your own bodily and manual motions and activities however, then you want a far more powerful device than a weak gadget; you want independence, versatility and true support; you want orthopedic balance and bi-manual leverage in heavy duty situations.

Ultimately it is a very simple question of others' respect to accept that, and if they work in the prosthetic industries, to fully support that type of direction.

Do others respect my autonomy and independence, and do they provide solutions for that lifestyle?

Not all prosthetic companies offer actual help there; some are obstructive (I can provide mail correspondence with Otto Bock or Ossur to interested parties on request). But many others, may I name Centri (Sweden), Hosmer, TRS, Brugg Drahtseil AG, as examples, provide great support in the direction of amputee centered autonomy and independence. There even are a few researchers, that see an amputee as a person that can be asked questions, whose answers are taken seriously. Even that exists.

Control however is the key focus and number one priority of robotics (not of prosthetics - there, control is a number two priority after autonomy - which is why reliability and care / maintenance free operation are so relevant for amputees but not for roboticists). Only myoelectric hands can be controlled in a more complex sense; and whereas amputees first and foremost require orthopedic balance and job integration (far more so than individual five finger control being a top priority), military robotics research (such as the DARPA with their DEKA arm, or the DLR with an absolutely impressive array of robotic hands for space / remote manipulation) really need robot hand type grippers to be controlled with subtlety, and there, sensory feedback is very important whereas the service interval can be quite short.

And so we can conclude that behind a societal force to drive "bionic" hands really may be a military robot hand application for reasons we may not fully understand right now that does everything to instrumentalize arm amputees to help them troubleshoot and improve "bionic" hands. In order to exploit amputees - disenfranchised people may need to be exploited, at least as far as the view of army research is concerned - the less stable, less mature, less adult people that have more body image issues are then tricked into spending as much personal resources as they can to help pushing the "cyborg", "bionic" hype into reality.

A long time ago I agreed with a friend that our abilities to navigate First Person Shooter figures in virtual multi-player games would probably be of essence for a future army - and it appears that this type of immersion is exactly what is required for the future. Then, the prosthetic or robotic hand is used as extension of a pilot that is remote but wired up. Then, noninvasive but time critical controls - such as motion sensors and ultra sound, less so invasive electrodes or myoelectric skin signals - will provide real time controls to a humanoid looking robot soldier. There, faster is better.

What then can be seen as very unethical is the cross-labeling of robot army research as "rehabilitation research for prosthetic arms", as it draws off research funds from health and disability related domains to defense domains.

So one key question to ask is, whether control or autonomy is the priority. Usually though, asking that question verbally is unnecessary as this can be seen at once when checking the equipment.

Putting the "bionic" obsession into place

Authors that cite Oscar Pistorius in conjunction with "bionic" or "enhancement" abound - but no one realized that the actual performance of a prosthetic hook exceeding a hand's capabilities (and if only with regard to selected applications) was already there since around 100 years. And it is not just that bioethicists lack insight. Robotics or other "prosthetic arm" researchers as well may be tempted too much to try to work with Dead Horse paradigms.


How can we ever expect them to really improve the current situation if they do not even truly understand the last 70 years of upper extremity prosthetics, the last decades of myths and legends and what drives us away from rational solutions?

Why are robotics engineers not actual providers of technical solutions (their arms get rejected more than they are accepted) but descendants of the quintessential village shaman, the dancing priests, that retold us old traded down stories and sagas and fairy tales, possibly after consuming hallucinogenics?

We have to assume that to some people, the narratives of these missing or severed hands present with a clear override signal (related to deep symbolism and meaning) over rational thought. Not everyone is equally susceptible to these fairy tales though, and admitting this can be painful: no rational person will easily admit to not doing their homework, researching their field, trying to really understand. No rational researcher will, in any attempt to present themselves as mentally sane, come up with a prosthetic arm's competition (such as the "Cybathlon") that - without clear reason - does *not* allow amputees with no prosthetic arm or with a hook to compete as well. When they claim they want to further rehabilitation, where is the freestyle class that goes for the jugular?

It is the thing that everyday life, jobs, work at home, sports and hobbies, all have it that arm amputees run the exact same race as everyone else, every day, week by week, month by month. The "bionic" hand class - iLimb, as example - is not really that good as they claim; one workshop where the company ambassadors explained to us that even when changing a bike tire was better done by taking the wheel to the shop (!) and so even without touching one of these, the arm of one of the key users was red and worn out. So, absolutely no chance to survive in a blue collar job with an iLimb or such. Insurances are not a bit better - they rather pay for an 80 000 CHF prosthetic arm that achieves just about nothing for everyday real life compared to an 18 000 CHF once-and-for-all surgery that is truly efficient and that does away with the need for prosthetics. So what is it, deep down, makes these apparently rational people so afraid of the prosthetic hook, of the disfigured but very functional disabled arm, that many of them refuse to develop real solutions further, but instead, ride the dead horse of myoelectric arms? Why is an anthropomorphic puppet valued higher than a disfigured action figure that actually kicks butt? Why is an unarmed arm amputee so scary that robotics "prosthetic arms" researchers need to test their ideas outside any real world scenario? Is it maybe also, that the riddles of mechanical prosthetic arms- i.e., Bowden cables on flexible bodies - pose mentally very hard-to-solve riddles (they do though; and looking at current body powered arms they remain unsolved)?

In short: why is it that still today, some people simply stop thinking rationally once they encounter "hook prostheses" that are really scary in just one domain: the fairy tale domain? What happens that some adults get stuck there? What requirements are we looking for in the affected individuals? After all, we now need to address disturbances and peculiarities within the "belief" domain. What can research about "psychiatry and religion" tell us? How can we get this strategic vehicle of "prosthetic arm research" - that is quite clearly stuck in an overly anthropomorphic obsession with mostly useless gadgets - un-stuck, so that new and ground breaking prosthetic arms and grippers can see a more functional path of development? How can we avoid researchers building their own irrational dream world where "bionic" prosthetic arms massively under-perform, cause their representatives to fail the #voightkampff test and get back on that path of educated, enlightened and rational thinking where we ant people that claim to be, say, technical, and, educated?

And it is not that academic research in 2016 that seems to reside fully under the spell of "the hook man horror" has it easy - academic research also had to wait until 1991 for the Catholic Church to "rehabilitate" Galileo Galilei. Now, you all forgive me here for being straight forward - I just do not think I can wait for 500 years.

Concluding remarks

I do pray for a secular future - but that does not mean we cannot afford ourselves a very hard, deep and unforgiving look into the epistemological aspects of "reasoning" of the anti-hook league (link). As we see here, there is not so much "reason" as there is pubescent fear based on ancient myths, tales of magic and folklore type horror narratives.

Analogies can be revealing. With the same thinking required to productively avoid prosthetic hooks the way they are avoided these days, one could seriously and "rationally" try to build and construct a Santa Claus sleigh that flies - after all that is also a dream, just a tale, a fidget of our imagination.

Summarizing we have these opposites collide:

 Seen from view of a rational user of prosthetic arms
Good: body powered arm

Key criteria: useful, cool, affordable, low on upkeep, best balance between cost and benefit, best temperature range,  robust function around the clock, reliable, proponents pass the #voightkampff test

Bad: myoelectric arm

Key criteria: useless, a real drag with wrong center of balance, all but affordable, extreme on upkeep, worst balance between cost and benefit, very sensitive regarding temperature range,  unreliable function for up to a few hours a day, not reliable, proponents fail at #voightkampff test

Bad: body powered arm

Key criteria: not anthropomorphic, does not run on batteries

Side aspects without relevance: useful, cool, affordable, low on upkeep, best balance between cost and benefit, best temperature range,  robust function around the clock, reliable, proponents pass the #voightkampff test

Good: myoelectric arm

Key criteria: anthropomorphic, runs on batteries

Side aspects without relevance: useless, a real drag with wrong center of balance, all but affordable, extreme on upkeep, worst balance between cost and benefit, very sensitive regarding temperature range,  unreliable function for up to a few hours a day, not reliable, proponents fail at #voightkampff test

 Seen from view of Helsana and other health insurances (link), seen from view of contemporary non-disabled society, and robotic or bioethical researchers

If one then follows the Sherlock Holmes train of thought (rule out all rational aspects and the irrational ones will remain as only rational answer) we will invariably be able to trouble shoot this dark corner of society.

[1] S. White, "Severed Hands as Symbols of Humanity in Legend and Popular Narratives," , 2014.
  title={Severed Hands as Symbols of Humanity in Legend and Popular Narratives},
  author={White, Scott},
[2] E. Basker, "'Twas four weeks before Christmas: Retail sales and the length of the Christmas shopping season," Economics Letters, vol. 89, iss. 3, pp. 317-322, 2005.
  title={'Twas four weeks before Christmas: Retail sales and the length of the Christmas shopping season},
  author={Basker, Emek},
  journal={Economics Letters},

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: swisswuff.ch - Missing hand, hook, and perceived risk [sociology of fables leaking into modern day perceptions]; published 30/05/2016, 22:40; URL: https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=4681.

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1653033113, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{swisswuff.ch - Missing hand, hook, and perceived risk [sociology of fables leaking into modern day perceptions]}}, month = {May}, year = {2016}, url = {https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=4681} }