• Palmistry: Science or Pseudoscience?

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.


    Palmistry: Science or Pseudoscience?  by Shanshan Huang


    Palmistry, or what is also called chiromancy, is a kind of fortune telling through reading of lines in one’s hand. Based on archaeological evidence, wall paintings, and stories of Brahmanism, palmistry was very popular all the way back in ancient India. The foundation of palmistry is ancient Indians thought that they could discover potential energy, motivation of acts, advantage, disadvantage and so on from palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet. They marked different part of the foot and hand, based on the regularity to predict the future of a person, and used the lines to tell the fortunes. Later on, this kind of way to fortune tell spread to every part of the world, like China, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and finally, it became popular in Europe.

    In China, palmistry has a very long history. Around 3000 years ago, during the Zhou Dynasty, palmistry starts to be used by people; at the same time, other kinds of “philosophy” and pseudoscience are also introduced in China. These include the concept of Yin and Yang, the two opposing principles of the nature; five-phase theory which is doctrine of five elements; and the eight letter theory started forming during that time. When palmistry was developed, this kind of fortune telling mixed itself with these philosophies, making people more trustful of it’s truth. The theories of palmistry became more and more principled and expanded. “Yellow Emperor”, the first medical reference book in China has many entries on how to measuring disease by examining someone’s hands. However, the most complete palmistry monograph is from the Western Han era by XuFu. The book that he wrote on hands can be regarded as the most systematic physiognomy in all of ancient China. The experts after him in the area of physiognomy would only diagnose a person by using one portion of the hand.

    During Medieval times in Europe, it is said that many priests in the Church tried to practice palmistry. They were very curious how accurate palmistry could be. During this time, the fields of palmistry, astrology, geography and chemistry were the special sciences and were guarded by the church, meaning others could not as study them as they want. So they tried to collected all kinds of books of palmistry, and tried to control the spread of it. They criticized palmistry as witchcraft and the work of devil. But the spreading of palmistry still could not stopped, lots of people are burn to death because they tried to study the mystery of the palmistry. The Roma people (oftentimes called gypsies) during that time learned how to do palmistry and used it for living. More and more people just using palmistry to defraud so that they could got money from them. Palmistry became less trusted, but did not die out completely.

    Way to do Palmistry

    Because the thickness of the hand and the lines will change over time, it is claimed that you can also investigate the past and predict the future fortune through hand lines. A good hand line could make us prepared in advance to receive the good fortune, but in another hand, the bad hand patterns could let us to be know and prevent for the bad things to be happened. According to Zhang JinHua, the palmistry experts of Fengshui department, the Dean of Jiangxi School in China, palmistry could tell the health and luck fortune of human based on the hand’s shape, texture and color.

    Even in ancient times, people were using palmistry as a prediction method, that is, palmistry as physiognomy. Hands were considered representatives of the whole body, with the color and textures connected with the physical and also  spiritual health of the human. All parts of human are linked, and as the hand is the most sensitive and skillful organ on the body, it is seen to fulfill of mystery of human body.

    If you want to check your palm for a personal reading, the first step is to put palm as the center, and move through different signs (for example, the size and texture above the hands; palm branches go left, right or the different position of the braches) to analyze human talent, character, achievement, wealth ancestors, parents, spouses, children, circumstances and their trends.

    The location  one centimeter below the little finger can supposedly determine a person’s marital status, such as how old a person will be at his/her the first marriage or how old is when they begin cohabitation. The side of the palm tell one your spouse’s merits and how beautiful or ugly he/she is. Protruding parts of the thumb can be seen as spouse’s health condition, like a face’s shape, weight, height. The lower parts of the index finger can tell if a pregnant woman would have a boy or girl. And on and on and on it goes. But…

    Palmistry is totally pseudoscience!

    First, one of the thoughts underlying palmistry is that the finger print are unique for everybody, so if the finger print are different, it must mean that palms are unique. As such, these represent the different life of each human life and, if you know what you are doing, you can learn all about someone. Unfortunately, this means nothing. How could finger prints and palm lines represent one’s life? What is the mechanism behind this? What about the people who were burned and have no finger prints? What if you had a hand cut off? They would die because there is no life line present any more?

    Second of all, should you read the left hand or right hand? In ancient China, people prefer to read female’s left hand and male’s right hand. But this is because China is a country that thought women are inferior than men. Males are supposed to be worth more than female, especially in ancient China. Nowadays, the palmistry as using the theory of the hand of using more/writing is the hand that represent of your life. There are people who are right handed, also have people who are left handed, but there also people who can use both left hand and right hand to write, and most of time, different hands represented totally different or even opposite life. So which one of them would be true? Or what if neither of them make sense?

    In ancient China, people did not know about how we fool ourselves, how to use the scientific method to stop that, and did not know how to explain many different phenomenon, so they explain everything by the plan of the immortals. People want to control of their life, and they want to know if there is a plan or we called destiny, they want to follow the good one and change the bad one, that is how pseudoscience like palmistry became popular, by playing on all of our personal wishes.

    Category: PseudosciencePsychologySkepticismTeaching


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com
    • SmilodonsRetreat

      I read somewhere recently that people were having surgery to change the lines on their hand to have better fortunes.

      Ah here it is: http://www.medicaldaily.com/japanese-palm-surgeries-look-change-fate-adding-lines-hand-can-10-minutes-electric-scalpel-alter


      • O_o

        What the hell? That’s worse than the “graphologists” who say you can change your personality by changing how you write.

        • IvyBrown

          In 1934, John Dillinger burned his fingerprints off with acid. Roscoe Pitts had all of his fingers sutured to his chest for weeks in the 1940’s. Not only did they change the appearance of their fingers, but I bet they wrote differently afterward! Though I don’t think it changed their personalities since Dillinger was killed in a shoot-out later that year.
          The things some people will do… It’d be cheaper to go grab a hot oven rack than to pay a doctor to burn your hand for you.

    • Evelyn Stratmoen

      Sadly we see our old friend, confirmation bias, is up to his old tricks once again. Similar to astrology and dream analysis — you believe what you want to believe because it fits in with your current beliefs, not because it is legitimate nor evidence-based.

    • RankingEffects

      You can certainly gain information about someone’s life from their hands, but this has nothing to do with their “lines.” You can tell how much manual labor, or lack thereof, an individual has engaged in, for instance, and from this can make loose predictions about their life (e.g. the individual is hard-working). This essentially involves little more than framing vague approximations in such a way as create fit with personal stories. Perhaps this helps “make sense” of the world for some, but unfortunately, this “sense” is merely an illusion.

      • Thomas Taylor

        Often, people who have done masonry work for large portions of their lives will have very few lines on their palms. This is well known in the forensic community. I would suspect there are other lines of work that would cause this same issue, maybe someone that works with acid a lot or along those lines.

    • Bethany Barnett

      It’s interesting to think that people believe their lives are so set in stone that their futures can be predicted by reading the lines on someone’s hands. I guess people want to believe there is good fortune in anything.

    • ahuskey

      Well, it sounds science-y, right? Until the principles of science and evidenced based practices become recognized as a fundamental part of our society (i.e. the educational system), this type of ignorance will continue to defraud citizens. “All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have.” (Albert Einstein)

    • Dustin Belden

      In one meeting I had in China, I held up my hand, and everyone made a big sigh. That’s how prevalent the understanding of palmistry was in that region. Apparently, some line I had said I was going to be a very powerful man. I may have got a price decrease during that meeting, but I came away wondering how this type of belief became so prevalent in the area. Beliefs are so strong, in all parts of the world, its amazing.

    • vivianjingjing

      The palmistry is very similar to phrenology. Both of them is to understand people’s lives. The former is from hands, the later one is from the shape of skull.

    • CathlinaSmith

      I was in high school and had a teacher tell me my hand lines meant I was going to be very successful. At the time, I didn’t think much about it but now I am shocked that a teacher would spread that kind of nonsense. She also studied taro cards as well. I hope the educators in the future are more educated in real science. Great post!

    • JazzySmall

      The greatest evidence against palmistry is the fact that each person is unique. How can you methodically interpret different palms? Also, what happens if you cut your palm? Is a gash interpreted the same as a natural line?

    • fghani

      I am wondering how the Ancient Indians decided that they could discover “potential energy and motivation of acts” from the lines of a person’s palms or the soles of their feet. How did they decide? “Oh, these funny lines must mean something.”

    • dandymandyl

      This makes me think of dream interpretation in the way that you could go to a dozen different sources and get a dozen different answers.

    • John the Skywalker

      Looking at the information you presented….I came up with these replies based on “critical thinking”…assessing the possibilities.

      “What about the people who were burned and have no finger prints?”

      It simply means that their hand isn’t readable; it doesn’t mean that they have no personality. It’s like a “book” that can’t be read because the words are “smeared”…or…the page is “blank”. This is palm READING….right?

      “What if you had a hand cut off? They would die because there is no life line present any more?”

      It’s palm READING….there’s no implication of your life being IN your hands, but being interpreted through the hands. Does the nonexistence of a book imply that the words, ideas, concepts, and images don’t exist? If I burn the bible to ashes…does the existence of “John 3:16” no longer exist? It’s contents are gone as well? What about the memories of those that witnessed the passages? If the hand doesn’t exist….it just means that one MEDIUM in which the personality can be “read” doesn’t exist. The personality lives….how it’s expressed (form) is another matter.

      “There are people who are right handed, also have people who are left handed, but there also people who can use both left hand and right hand to write, and most of time, different hands represented totally different or even opposite life”

      In terms of ambidexterity, the “active” hand is the one you either shake with the most or you write with the most. Regardless…an adept palmist looks at both hands…not just one or the other. Just like an adept psychoanalyst will look at an individual using more theories than one. One hand reflects the active personality (the conscious/developed ego) and the other…the passive personality (the unconscious/inner child)

      I see a lot of talk about “evidence-based” science in the list….however, lets consider that at one point…there was a study claimed that too much “estrogen” in males meant homosexuality.

      When looking at university research (which most of this is based on)….keep in mind….that the tests are faulty themselves at times. Here we are criticizing a subject that we know nothing about….no books read…just a few copies and pastes from Wikipedia and a few other popular websites from the Google search engine…and viola….we know it all! If you can’t research it yourself….you’re only have an opinion that you borrowed from someone else.

      A true scholar keeps an open ended conclusion……(salutes)

      • It’s very different to say that, because a discredited study or three in a scientific field of study (discredited by other scientists, one must note) has occurred, that palm readings must be active. It is the collective weight of evidence, not any individual study, that scientists place their trust in.

        If you can point me to any legitimate scientific articles (meaning, published in peer reviewed journals of a high quality, or even just well-conducted research that uses tight controls) showing the effectiveness of palm reading in describing someone’s personality accurately (or prediction of a person’s future), I would be more than happy to look at them.

        Finally, psychoanalysis is an outdated, pseudoscientific view of personality and psychopathology, just so you know.