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5 Tactile Perception

What we normally mean by touch is a measured, focused pressure put onto an object. A different kind of tactile perception occurs when we lose direct contact with an object and still feel it. In those cases when we get the sense that we can "feel" beyond our fingertips, we are, in some unspecific way, recording not a physical object but the space between it and something else. A perfectly still object can perform an action on a space that it does not occupy in any normal sense. Without making any physical contact, a blind person can often feel the nearness of walls, larger trees or any other particularly massive object. This has been named "face vision" because it is the skin of the face, not the eyes, that recognises that an object is near. Presumably the receptive part of the body is the face because it is the only part of the body that is usually uncovered. The important thing is that the skin can record objects at a distance. Face vision functions most effectively when there is an obvious difference between our left side and our right side. We could say that face-vision is built on a kind of tactile parallax.


Sculptor Joel FisherOne of the team of the lizatori (sled men) who re-enact the ancient stone moving technique of moving large blocks of stone by hand and wooden rollers down the moutains of Carrara, Italy.  (See Film Gallery - Quarrying - La Lizzatura)


When driving a car or a truck, the driver can 'feel' within a fraction of an inch how much of a clearing there is when passing through a narrow gap. A bartender can pour, without measuring, a perfect ounce and a half of spirits. Our ability to expand boundaries of our bodies to include the tools we use, whether a large machine like a car or a hand tool, is nearly miraculous. We can touch our nose in complete darkness without ever putting a finger in our eye. We might wonder how our bodies can know so much.

Most people can activate, when needed, an internal clock. A parent seems to know if a young child is in trouble even when the child is relatively far away. Emotions and moods can be picked up with great precision even in the total absence of words, or with considerable distance. We recognise one person's face in the midst of a million urban faces, yet are unable to describe that face or even tell how we recognise it. We identify a silhouette of a particular individual at a great distance even when distance has obliterated all detail.

Perception of physical context depends on an accumulation of clues. The senses come together to perform a single task, providing each other with checks and balances. Sound can be particularly important in this mixture. An intriguing possibility is that chaotic and random background noise can help to sort out obscured information by providing multiple points of information. It is even likely that there is information embedded within such chaos. Everything in the world, animate or inanimate, tends to adapt to the context of its enclosing space. All activity has a finely tuned relationship to what surrounds it, responding by rhythm or frequency to environmental energy. Much of what we know about distant space is gathered by observing the behaviour of objects or particles surrounding any object of interest.

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