Re: [asa] Definition of Physical

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Sun Apr 19 2009 - 08:38:46 EDT

Touching may well be the most basic --point taken -- in the face of the
common skeptical adage: "seeing is believing". But, despite mirages
and other visual "trickery" such as hallucinations, I don't think you
can deprecate vision or the other senses so neatly beneath our tactile
perception. A photon hitting my retina (even if it be a photon from a
mirage) has every bit the realness as the wind I can feel "kicking back"
as I ride my bike. The only way that photon is not real is if, courtesy
of my own brain or biochemistry at the moment, I'm experiencing a
hallucination (or perhaps a dream while asleep). But if that is to be
considered a mark against the reliability of vision, then touch suffers
the same drawback. I'm told that somebody in the throes of drug
dependency withdrawal can have the tactile sensation that bugs are all
over their body, but their tactile sense is lying to them. I too, (in a
sober state), have under the power of suggestion thought I "felt" a bug
or spider on me, but discovered that my tactile sensory system had been
fooled. We might counter this by declaring that only corporately
experienced touch (we can ALL feel the same wind) should be granted
higher status; but then our other perceptions are likewise elevated by
the same capacity for verification. We can also ALL see the mirage over
the hot road and so know that the effect is quite real and physical.
Our only mistake would be in thinking the effect to be caused by water.
But our erroneous conclusion doesn't make the effect any less real.


Bill Powers wrote:
> I'd like to return to this question of what is meant by the physical.
> I have suggested that it, at least at one time, and ought to now have
> a phenomonological reference.
> Aristotle believed that the primary sense was that of touch. It seems
> that this is a good place to start. Our primordial sense of what is
> physical is that it is tangible. We can touch it and feel it. This
> seems to be what we all have meant by what is physical. Ghosts and
> spirits are not physical because we cannot feel them, even if we can
> see them. We may often speak of ideas as nonphysical for the same
> reason.
> Metaphorical extensions of physicality would follow from extended
> notions of touch. Note that this might be different from extended
> notions of seeing. We speak of seeing solar neutrinos because we
> believe we can observe them remotely.
> How are metaphorical extensions of seeing different from touching? I
> am reminded that it was once said (I can't remember who) that
> something is real if when you kick it, it kicks back. Such an idea
> appears close to the
> idea of touch, and hence to the idea of something being physical. I
> don't see the danger in an electric fence when we approach it. But
> when it kicks back, we are certain of it. Do we say, then, that
> something physical has hit us? We can see a mirage, but
> touching/tasting the water is convincing.
> Perhaps our very notion of an 'effect' is an extension of touching.
> It does seem to me that touching is considered more reliable than
> seeing. Thomas said that unless he could see and touch the wounds of
> Jesus, he would not believe. It is true that we rely upon both
> senses. But isn't it so that, even if blind, if we can touch
> something, we believe it real, and, for the sake of this discussion,
> physical.
> So I guess that's as far as I'll go at this late hour.
> The suggestion is to look for metaphorical extensions of touching,
> perhaps in contradistinction from that of seeing, which is what is
> more commonly done.
> bill

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Received on Sun Apr 19 08:39:12 2009

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