Touched and touching: beyond neural evidence models

Touch something. Reach.

Grasp. Grope.

Use the quality of your hand to surround something.

Possess it.

Touch is always with you.


It is not experienced as a temporary state of sensorimotorism.

Most consciousness studies tend towards a positivist, deterministic model for research. They infer findings from non-material neural strata which is claimed to be representative of experience. This neural ‘evidence’, however, is only ever drawn from selective material data.

It is not my task to refute the consciousness corpus. I can only gesture towards a richer alternative that is already evidenced; does not need inventing.

Experience (the core of phenomenology) tells through written description. In this we can read structures that are already present; we do not need impose, nor ‘retro-fit’, structures that justify our per-existing narratives about things. Description from first-person experience shows the ‘how it is’ of our world.

A good example of this, in action, is Husserl’s phenomenological description of touch in §36, Ideen II. Husserl’s phenomenology does not specify the content of tactual perception. Husserl does not itemise what we perceive by the sense of touch. This is a very different method to our usual approach to touch. Representationists, for example, assume that “what needs to be explained is how we tactually perceive spatial properties” (Mattens 2009:118).

No. This is not “what needs to be explained”. In fact, there is nothing that “needs to be explained.” What we need is to perceive from a different stance, then we can be altered. I do not make this assertion in support of a mental determinism, but, instead, that if we structure the space of our body from an experiential perspective, we may find ourselves at the doorway of Janus with paths to modification, healing, alterity and understanding.


[Buy me a coffee]


**To complement the bibliographical resource “Phenomenology of Touch: An Ongoing Bibliography“, curated by Adam van Sertima, I offer these sources of phenomenological writing about touch; some are good, some are less so.


Al Saji, A., 2000. The Site of Affect in Husserl’s Phenomenology: Sensations and the Constitution of the Lived Body. Philosophy Today 44, pp. 51-59.

Al-Saji, A., 2010. Bodies and sensings: On the uses of Husserlian phenomenology for feminist theory. Continental Philosophy Review 43 (1), pp. 13-37.

Almog, M. 2016. From Husserl to Merleau-Ponty: On the Metamorphosis of a Philosophical Example. The European Legacy 21 (5-6), pp. 525-534.

Behnke, E. A., 2008. Interkinaesthetic Affectivity: A Phenomenological Approach. Continental Philosophy Review, Volume 41, pp. 143-161.

Bower, M. 2015. Developing open intersubjectivity: On the interpersonal shaping of experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14 (3), pp. 455-474.

Buytendik, F. J. J., 1973 [1961]. Pain. Westport(Connecticut): Greenwood.

Catena, M., 2005. Touch and the Constitution of the Thing in Husserl’ s Vorlesungen of 1907. Archivio di Storia Della Cultura 18.

Davila, M. E. A., 2013. From Hands to the Whole of the Body. Husserl’s Double Sensation in Thinking and Experience. Filozofia 68 (5), pp. 358-366.

Derrida, J., 2005. On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy. Standford: Standford University Press.

Gallagher, S., 1986. Hyletic Experience and the Lived Body. Husserl Studies, 3(2), pp. 131-166.

Gallagher, S., 2011. Embodiment and Phenomenal Qualities: An Enactive Interpretation. Philosophical Topics, 39(1), pp. 1-14.

Husserl, E., 2000 [1989]. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Second Book. Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Landgrebe, L., 1982. Der Phänomenologische Begriff der Erfahrung. In: Faktizität und Individuation. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, pp. 58-70.

Landgrebe, L., 1982. Faktizität und Individuation. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag.

Marcelle, D., 2011. The Phenomenological Problem of Sense Data in Perception: Aron Gurwitsch and Edmund Husserl on the Doctrine of Hyletic Data. Investigaciones Fenomenológicas: Anuario de la Sociedad Española de Fenomenología, Volume 8, pp. 61-76.

Mattens, F., 2009. Perception, Body, and the Sense of Touch: Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind. Husserl Studies, Volume 25, pp. 97–120.

Moran, D., 2010. Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on Embodied Experience. In: T. Nenon & P. Blosser, eds. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 175-195.

Rabanaque, L. R., 2003. Hyle, Genesis and Noema. Husserl Studies, 19(3), pp. 205-215.

Richardson, L., 2013. Bodily Sensation and Tactile Perception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86 (1), pp. 134-154.

Sawicki, M., 1997. Body, text and science : The literacy of investigative practices and the phenomenology of Edith Stein. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Sevenant, A., 2002. Love for the Mediate: Derrida’s Philosophy of Touching. Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 64, pp. 231-252.

Sheets-Johnstone, M., 2015. Embodiment on trial: a phenomenological investigation. Continental Philosophy Review 48 (1), pp. 23-39.

Welton, D., 2000. Touching Hands. Veritas 45, pp. 83-102.

Welton, D., 2005. Soft Smooth Hands Husserl’s Phenomenology of the Lived Body. In: Bernet, ed. Edmund Husserl: The Nexus of Phenomena: Intentionality, Perception, and Temporality. London: Routledge, pp. 172-191.

Zahavi, D., 1994. Husserl’s Phenomenology of the Body. Études Phénoménologiques, 10(19), pp. 63-84

Zahavi, D., 2012. Empathy and mirroring: Husserl and Gallese. In: Life, Subjectivity & Art. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 217-254.

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