Our shared limited options


Humans can only make so many stationary, single-hand signs with our five fingers. Thus it is inevitable that disparate groups of people develop different meanings for the same symbol, some of which I illustrate below:


Like our hands, human mouths can only make so many sounds. Thus, it is not uncommon for different languages to have shared sounds with very different meanings. Let’s call that intra-language homonyms or “false friends” as language learners call them. Some quick examples:

  • English fart / Polish “good luck”
  • English but / Polish “shoe”
  • English kiss / Swedish “pee”
  • English barf / Hindi “snow”
  • English gift / German “poison” / Swedish “married”

Martial Arts

Like hands, humans limbs have only so many possible movements — there are only so many ways to attack an opponent using our limbs. It is common for various martial arts to declare themselves as unique, yet sharing more methods than they are willing to admit. This is the result of either intentional borrowing or spontaneous, independent development from among a limited number of movement options.


Finally, a common theme of this blog: religious thinking. One of the main reasons I left the exclusive religion of my youth was exposure, while traveling and reading, to shared thinking between religions (though each religion thinks themselves unique) due to the limited dilemmas shared by all humans. Like hands, mouths and limbs each human mind experiences a common limited set of dilemmas. Each religion dresses their similar solutions in different myths and theological clothing:

  • Free Will
  • Suffering
  • Works vs Faith
  • Magic Words
  • Guaranteed Afterlife
  • and many more …


Because we do not often recognize our shared limited options, we are frequently and unnecessarily surprised by our overlaps. I could have gone further by exploring government types, sexual practices and more, but I think I’ve made my point without being too risky. Our insights are bound by the limitation of what sort of organism we are — a limitation we often forget.

Notes: Here are Wiki articles on single hand signs: List of gestures, Shaka symbol, OK gesture, Horn Sign. BTW, I was inspired to write this post because of one clue in the Vox crossword puzzle this week about Heavy Metal bands (the Horns sign) — ah, the internet rabbit holes. I am thankful to my son for editing my writing.


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