The felt sense of the other: contours of a sensorium


In this paper, I explore the phenomenon of a felt sense of the concrete other. Although the importance of this phenomenon is recognised in the contemporary discussion on intercorporeality, it has not been subjected to systematic phenomenological analysis. I argue that the felt sense of the other is an aspect of intercorporeal body memory in so far as it is a habituation to something like the concrete other’s expressive style. Because it is inherently a sensory phenomenon, I speak of an embodied sensorium of the other. I illustrate the phenomenon through contrasting case-vignettes taken from research in early parental bereavement. Based on this, I identify five modalities that outline the fundamental contours of a sensorium and specify that in their intermodal and synesthetic concretion they account for the felt sense of the other. Finally, I argue that the existential importance of the phenomenon is rooted in the distributed nature of my sense of self and self-familiarity. To illustrate this, I draw parallels between the felt sense of the concrete other and the felt sense of home and suggest that though there are also distinct differences between the two phenomena, they are rooted in the same underlying existential need for feeling-at-home in the world.

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  1. 1.

    Fuchs account is to a large extent overlapping with that of John Bowlby’s (1969) concept of “internal working models”. Internal working models refer to an internal system of representation, developed in an attachment context, that guides future social interactions with others in general. One significant difference between Bowlby’s framework and Fuchs understanding is, however, that Fuchs does not rely on a representational account of social understanding.

  2. 2.

    The cases are taken from my ongoing research in grief and bereavement. Specifically, the research design included a total of 20 informants who had suffered early parental bereavement between the age of 5–18. They were systematically selected with a current age dispersion between 20 and 50 years old to more accurately identify long term effects. Each informant was interviewed through a phenomenologically structured interview for a total of six to eight hours.

  3. 3.

    The importance of ontogeny should be evident from the particularities of the descriptions. Betty’s felt sense of her father is, e.g. rooted in her specific embodied mode of relating to her father (e.g. nose fits in his chest). Furthermore, the experience of looking at a picture is not identical in Betty and her mother. For a phenomenological account of ontogeny see (Allan Køster and Winther-Lindqvist 2018)

  4. 4.

    Merleau-Ponty (2012) specifies: ‘…the understanding of the gesture in achieved through the reciprocity between my intentions and the other person’s gesture, and between my gesture and the intentions which can be read in the other person’s behaviour. Everything happens as if the other person’s intention inhabited my body, or as if my intentions inhabited his body’ (pp. 190–192)

  5. 5.

    I have elsewhere provided a more detailed analysis of the complex process of maintaining a sensorium, particularly focusing on the importance of continued enactions, social scaffolding and material affordances (Allan Køster 2019). However, much more could be said about this complex phenomenon; particularly the role of imagination.

  6. 6.

    Physiotherapists and professional masseuses are, for instance, taught to keep a consistent touch, and to avoid letting go of the person’s body once they have initiated physical contact.

  7. 7.

    This is obviously different to infants and children. There is, for instance, extensive developmental research indicating strong components of both gustatory and olfactory dimensions in the relation between the infant and breast-feeding mother e.g. (Porter et al. 1983; Stern 2000 etc.).

  8. 8.

    Of course, I do not mean to imply that we, as such, cannot resonate with visual representations if there is no preceding embodied interaction with the concreteness of what it depicts. That would be a troubling and unrecognisable claim for the visual arts. However, there is a distinction here to be drawn between the abstract intentions of visual art and the personal aspect of relating to a familiar person. How the visual arts draw on personal, embodied experiences is a complex field in its own right. For a detailed investigation of this relation in regard to narrative see (Caracciolo 2014)

  9. 9.

    I have analysed the particular structure of existential suffering involved in the corrosion of body memories of significant other in the context of bereavement in detail in (Allan Køster 2019)

  10. 10.

    I have analysed the complex interplay of familiarity and alienness in the context of embodied selfhood in detail in (Allan Køster 2017b, 2017c)

  11. 11.

    The impetus for emphasising feelings of being-at-home in phenomenology is, of course, rooted in the later thought of Martin Heidegger, e.g. (Heidegger 2009). However, considering the particular focus and scope of this paper, I do not discuss complex role “Dwelling” [Wohnen] plays in later Heidegger.

  12. 12.

    Bachelard (1994) even suggests a separate psychological discipline for the systematic study of how the sense of home carries intimate lives called ‘topoanalysis’ (p. 8).

  13. 13.

    In a similar context, Fuchs (2018) remarks: ‘This is not to say that intimate relationships usually amount to a kind of fusion – the inappropriability of the other as other which Levinas (2011) has emphasized may well co-exist with a deep-felt connection on the intercorporeal level’ (Fuchs 2018, p. 47)


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Køster, A. The felt sense of the other: contours of a sensorium. Phenom Cogn Sci 20, 57–73 (2021).

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  • Intercorporeality
  • Sensorium
  • Body memory
  • Expressive style
  • Embodiment
  • Grief
  • Bereavement
  • Sense of self