Sense of touch

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The sense of touch (Latintactus) is one of the twelve physical senses of which Rudolf Steiner spoke in his theory of the senses. A distinction must be made between simple tactile perception, in which we only passively feel that we are being touched[1], and active and much more complex haptic perception (from the Greekἁπτός haptόs "tangible"), by means of which we specifically explore the objects of the external world through tactile "grasping". The sense of movement also plays an essential role in this. In 1892, the psychologist Max Dessoir coined the term haptics[2] for scientific research into the functions of the sense of touch.

The sense of touch is primarily directed towards the perception of the solid earth element. According to Rudolf Steiner, it only came into being during the evolution of the Earth and was not yet preformed at the earlier stages of world evolution.

„The sense of touch only developed with the mineral kingdom, but the mineral kingdom is a result of the earth's evolution. In the same sense in which we have developed the sense of touch on Earth through the mineral kingdom, it did not exist on the Old Moon; it had no sense there any more than the sense of life.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 120)

The sense of touch conveys through contact with the external world our I-feeling, above all in the inner experience associated with it, which must not be confused with the perception of the sense of I, which is directed towards an alien I facing us. Although the sense of touch is the most peripheral of all the senses, it ultimately conveys only inner experiences, which we have when we touch the outer world. Originally, we were not supposed to feel the outside world through the sense of touch at all, but only our I. As it were, our I was supposed to extend through the whole organism and feel it from the inside and thereby come to the I-experience. It is therefore a matter of experiencing our whole bodily form from within. Lucifer, however, diverted this perception to the outer world, whereby our I-experience (which must not be confused with the experience of the ego, in which the peculiarities of the astral body are acted out) became clouded and finally almost completely extinguished.

„Through what do we experience the I-consciousness during day-waking? Realise how this I-consciousness is actually connected with all outer perceptions and all outer experience. When we run our hand through the air like this, we feel nothing. At the moment when we bump into something, we feel something. But we actually feel our own experience, feel that which we experience through our fingers. When we push against the outside world, we become aware of our I. And in another sense, when we wake up, we actually become aware of our ego by submerging ourselves from sleep consciousness into our physical body, by colliding with our physical body. In this collision with the physical body, the I-consciousness is actually called before the soul.“ (Lit.:GA 174a, p. 86)

In the meantime, neuroscience has also recognised the importance of the perception of the body boundary for self-experience. The sense of movement also plays an essential role in this:

„This presupposes first of all that individuals have a direct reference to their own body, a so-called "core self", which allows them a very basic demarcation of their body from the outside world. In fact, this assumption is confirmed by research; Siegler even sees "compelling evidence that infants already possess a rudimentary conception of the self in the first months of life".[3] This core self results from the child's direct interaction with the environment. Crucial here is, on the one hand, the experience of being able to make something happen,[4] and on the other hand, the physical sensations that accompany one's own actions, for example, the tension of my muscles, the friction of clothes on the surface of the skin, the resistance of objects that stand in the way, and so on.“ (Lit.: Pauen, p. 148)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. E. H. Weber: Die Lehre vom Tastsinne und Gemeingefühle auf Versuche gegründet, Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn 1851
  2. Max Dessoir: Über den Hautsinn, Arch. f. Anat. u. Physiol., Physiol. Abt. 1892, S. 175–339.
  3. Siegler et al., p. 603
  4. ibid. p. 277ff.