The haptic culture

by Ana Bazac

The touch is one of the five (human) senses pointed out by Aristotle. Some neuroscientists consider it the most important because of its power to develop emotions and sociality[1], but in fact once existent it is not about the competition between vision and touch[2], but about their harmonious manifestation giving the whole perception of life.

As every means to express one’s feelings and ideas[3], and as every type of activity, the human senses can also be vectors of good and bad intentions, ideas, values and ends. Not because of the intermediary means to enhance them: actually, no one gives to spectacles and hearing aids more importance than that to be necessary means, though first people consider them strange, as every prosthesis is felt at the beginning, and only in process of time are they “embodied”, i.e. felt by their brain as being parts of their bodies[4]; and no one blames them for seeing and hearing something unpleasant or even ugly.

But prostheses and artificial supplementary limbs[5] are instead of the natural organs, and people know that the evil, namely, the bad things and meanings are outside them. While artificial devices as writing and screens are tools outside them: so, tools not organs, and outside them.

The tools prolong the human forces; obviously, they are created by humans, and are considered not only necessary but also “neutral” according to the criterion of the results of their use. Only a bad pedagogy beats a bench because the child tripped and hit it. And no one blames a hammer when one made a clumsy move by hitting his fingers with the hammer instead of hitting the nail.

However, the meanings of the action of hitting the nail or of having a bench are “direct”, are in the head of humans, and they are aware of this. They are aware that they themselves think and create, giving meanings and behaving and creating according to these meanings. Just because they are aware do they not blame the hammer and the bench but their own clumsiness.


In the universe of tools, those representing meanings, which are not in the head of the listeners and viewers but are “in the tools”, are special. They re-present, so they transmit meanings of the outside world, and certainly the meanings “they choose”. People are aware that the writing and the screens re-present and do this only discretely, in different individual pictures. Consequently, the transmitted pictures of the world are “chosen”.

This was the pattern of Plato’s – or Socrates’ – argument against writing. Although the written words keep the memory of thoughts and discourses, they keep it in an ambiguous way, so the readers must interpret them. And since the interpretation varies according to the readers – and the temporal frames they are within – the writing keeps information but in a relative way. Language transmits ideas/internal discourses, while writing transmits the external discourses made by the instrumentality of language. This does not mean that writing does not communicate: both the language and writing have limits[6]. The problem is that the face to face discussion – actually, debate – allows the immediate correction of reasoning, because a discourse cannot be expressed without at least one of the participants knowing the truth[7]; while the writing cannot always communicate the truth. Therefore, the face to face discussion generates the truth, while the writing cannot do this, considers Plato/Socrates.

Moreover, the writing a) “will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory”; b) “Their trust in writing…will discourage the use of their own memory within them” – i.e. will discourage the effort to combat the received ideas with one’s own ideas; c) writing is consonant with “reminding” – that is, without forcing the mind to link and judge the ideas, one can only accommodate to the received ideas and perceive them as if they would be one’s own; and imagine what happens when the waved ideas – but, I should add, both in speech and in writing – are repeated; d) “you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem  to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise”[8].

It’s not the place to further analyse Plato’s contention. Nowadays we know that the above fit to both oral discourses – if they are not confronted in debates – written texts and painting. Actually, the means are never absolutely autonomous towards the reasons of their use, so towards the values and ends intended by those who use the means. Therefore, the inquiry about means, about their relative technical autonomy, cannot be separated from the values and ends they serve, and any conclusion relating only to the technical autonomy of means is incomplete.


Tools save our efforts, and the more sophisticated they are, the more they substitute more of our efforts. But it’s about physical efforts and simple, routine form intellectual ones as well. The question is: what for this substitution of physical and simple intellectual efforts is? In other words, would this substitution be benign for the human beings – beyond the efficacy of work with tools, of fulfilling the finer tasks of operation when assisted by robots, and of saving of matter, energy and, obviously, time? The benefit given by the most sophisticated tools is the enhancement of the human reason, the magnification of its instruments, logic and culture, as means of existence of the human being as such. This benefit is and must be visible all along in its whole life, as deployment of creativity, as accomplishment of its human potentiality to create and enjoy the choices, the good, the true and the beautiful which are the reason to be of human creation and choices. Since animals also use or even make tools[9] – and beyond the human self-consciousness, something that is more than the animal self-sentiment[10], as well as beyond the ability to imagine, to plan for future even though there is no a direct link between it and the present, and to transfer information via written language[11] – the peculiarity of the human conception of and relation with tools resides not in the complexity of human devices but in the values they save, which are the reason to be of humaneness as such[12].  Otherwise – so let us delight with a reductio ad absurdum – what is the telos of man? It certainly is “to recognise that his real and unique reality is his freely performed action on earth, down here and for the down here” (dans l’ici-bas et pour l’ici-bas)[13], however, for the sake of what?

The representative tools are not exception to this rule of substitution of efforts, but they also have another function: that to represent ideas and images, and to transmit, to spread them. Consequently, this function must subordinate to the human reason to be, too.


The digitisation of communication and the development of screen-haptic relations lead to what we could call a haptic culture. This is the culture of touching the screens in order to find texts, voice and images. The screens offer and transmit programmes of giving anyone lists (of people, products, places, moments, events, processes, phenomena, institutions), thus data and information according to the most different criteria and needs of the beneficiaries. Obviously, the lists are supplied to the users of screens according also to the criteria of providers, and the data and information themselves are selected by the providers as well. However, with all of these different types of criteria, the data and information are so huge and at hand[14] that the hypothesis of a haptic culture, following

  • the model of oral culture (represented in our Europe-centric information by Socrates),
  • the model of writen culture, with two sub-models – that of only manual fulfilment, the pre-Gutenberg one, and that of mechanical means of execution, the Gutenberg one –
  • the model of image culture, given by the pre-eminence of photography over text, by cinema and TV,

is not implausible.

Obviously, every model is a simplification and a reduction. It is an abstraction, thus it is not tantamount to the concrete object[15]. Provided that the real world is not confused with models, they are useful for the understanding.  Now, the criterion of the above models of culture is the representative means of information / culture transmission. And from the above models, only the oral culture involves the direct transmission. The other ones have different intermediary entities of transmission between people. In this respect, except the oral culture all the others are mediated, they are characterised by mediality: giving the symbolic sphere of social practice[16].

Remaining in the realm of the specificity of means, we can distinguish the haptic culture from the writing mediated one: the criterion is the easy way of reaching the data and information provided by the means carrying symbols and meanings. It’s difficult to write and read; it’s, certainly, easy to take photos and contemplate them, and to watch films and TV programmes. And: easier to touch the screens in order to enjoy all of these. But we also can distinguish the image culture from the haptic one: the former creates passive receivers (one can watch this photo, film or programme, or simply ignore them and thus deprive oneself from the information, meanings and pleasures generated by them; while the haptic one allows the infinite search of information, meanings and pleasures by a simple touch); the second creates relatively active receivers, because it is interactive. This is possible because screens themselves – actually, the programme of “infinite” supply of programmes, lists, data, information – are “active”, unlike the tools and machines which passively receive the command of the subjects. It seems that the screens respond, thus choose and are – how else? – benevolent, but sometimes trying and annoying,  to not say evil-disposed; anyway, they seem to come to meet the users.

Obviously, the haptic relationship with reality – or within reality – generates even more a new virtual reality and virtual mind[17], but not this important aspect is discussed here. The ontology of objects provided through screens facilitates the acquisition of an enormous amount of data and even of information, but is this simultaneous with its quality? Are all of these data and information useful for the development of creativity of people? And do they facilitate the understanding of the four types of causes emphasised by Aristotle, and thus their telos beyond their eventual direct efficiency? Do they develop the speech, the reading, the writing, the attention, the memory, the focus, the human interconnectedness, the logic, the sensitivity, the discernment and the critical spirit?


As we see, the above questions refer to the data and information/ culture, and not to the technical aspects of conveying means as such, or rather refer to their carrying capacity of these data and information. If so, we have to consider who posits the questions and why, in relation with what kind of receivers are they considered. The evaluation of data and information as such is connected with the presumptions regarding the receivers and with the values and scopes cherished by those who ask the questions: those whose questions can be heard, those who have the right to question[18].

 Over time the questions were posed as a critique of all media, from the standpoint of the previous culture. The above recall of Socrates’/Plato’s critique of writing is a famous model[19]. At the level of empirical description, the answers to the questions are conflicting related to both the trust in the new and richer horizons created by the availability of data and information and the rejection of this availability in the name of prudence in front of their shoddiness.

 Philosophically, the answer is that we cannot ignore that the negative manifestations are never a simple cancellation of things they negate, but always they include something of these things and they push to new negations, both positive and negative. Negation itself is a multi facets’ process; thus, the means of touching the screens is: a) never a /an absolute cancellation of the texts or the image, but a supplementary step to arrive to them, and to their meanings; b) a possible and transitory, but also definitive, wipe of texts and images by other ones chosen by the holder of programmes and power of selection of information and data; c) a possible reduction of speech, reading, writing, attention, memory, focus, logic, sensitivity, critical spirit; d) a development of speech, reading, writing, attention, memory, focus, logic, sensitivity, critical spirit; e) actually, a mixture of the above, leading to more resolute negations of the mixtures where every moment/negation is a bifurcation calling to new negations.  So, a), b), c), d), e) – together. But is philosophy only profound analysis and positing of the whole?


However, the critique of the haptic means of arriving to virtual images of reality is more disquiet that the anterior and present critique of mediation and mediated cultures; because the haptic means annul the effort required by the acquisition of knowledge. Before, the tools saved the human effort, thus channelling it toward critical thinking and action. Consequently, today people become more addicted to the haptic, multi mediated and virtual culture, thus lesser available to the means which develop the effort of critical thinking.

If there is no a coherent discourse – logical speech and writing – thoroughly followed and simultaneously analysed, rationally filtrated about the coherent bonds of things, there are no ideas somewhat clear about them. Surfing and chatting only about appearance, about phenomena, external to the universals without which there is no quest for truth and reasons, is an easy way to not arriving to knowledge and human sensitivity, i.e. responsibility, but to a permanent pastime that is destruction of time.

Yes, there are automation and the development of robots, the IT and AI programmes which make much easier and abundant the work and the research. But the haptic culture – acquisition of data and information by touching the screens – if it does not serve the work and research but only the filling of time, the entertainment, is their deformed counter-face. In the haptic easy culture, the truth, inherent to the work and research – and to the struggle, said Hegel, without which there is no movement, so existence/being as such – is substituted by the rarefaction of coherence, of reason.

This substitution, thus the victory of the haptic culture of generalised relativism over the “old fashioned” culture of knowledge – marked by historicity, of course – but having in its core the quest for telos and the verification by telos, can be described with the metaphor of “disappearance of the human as such at the end of history”. We glean from Alexandre Kojève’s important note in the second edition of his Lecture in 1938-1939: the annihilation of man as such signifies also the disappearance of the human Discourse (Logos) literally, because there would no longer be, in the animal that remains, any discursive knowledge of the world and the self[20].


However, the above constitute only a tendency. But how do we know this? We do not answer by showing that it is a metaphor / is represented by a metaphor. At the level of empirical rational /scientific analysis, we obviously relate the means to the ends provided by the providers of the means (the rulers of information, programmes and IT infrastructure). Accordingly, we arrive to causes of this tendency which lay outside the means as such.

But obviously, the inner causes of the means are considered as well. All, by mutually negating and composing the malign tendency described above; and all, by mutually negating and composing the dynamic unity of the malign and the benign tendency.

But then – and beyond the concrete scientific means of studying media literacy[21], of making the AI “more human”[22], and of description of phenomena based on a harsh methodological individualism where “the skills” specific to the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) should be learned but where these skills should serve the private profit logic and, if this function is not accomplished, those deprived by these skills are useless and…[23] – the analysis of relationships between the means of cultural transmission and the human ends, thus of negations occurring at both heads of these relationships and at the level of the process of the relationships, belongs to philosophy.

The Being is the concrete totality, and its truth is this concrete totality. Philosophy questions just the concrete world. The above remarks about the external and inner causes and means of the empirical tendencies we witness belong in fact to philosophy, namely, they reflect the epistemological tendency of convergence and integration of science and philosophy. Thus, philosophy focuses – and this is the reason of philosophical analysis of the above-mentioned relationships between the means of cultural transmission and the human ends – just on the questioning of phenomena visible in the human experiences: but not in a lifeless, retrospective frozen conceptual scheme[24], but in a vivid holiday of up-to-date reasoning. The touch seems to give everything and replaces memory, culture, human relationships, in a strange victory of the power of man to domesticate matter. This victory seems to confirm that the experience “is the form of objectivity”[25]. As if “everything that is real is rational, so it must be”[26].  But philosophy questions this phenomenon, the appearance of “this” rationality, by suggesting that it promotes a telos that is both external (as conceptual, spiritual, the whole of humanity’s spiritual acquisitions as logos) and internal to the human will, thus the objectivity as such is dialectical and historical, and thus more than it appears in our experiences. The Being is more than it appears to be, but the more is worldly. Therefore, “unless we (he) pay proper attention to philosophy we (he) will never be able to speak properly about anything”[27]. And the telos questioned and configured by philosophy helps us to surpass both the pessimism of our discouragement and the optimism of the technophile liberal democracy’s Only Truth.



[1] David J. Linden, Touch: The Science of the Hand, Heart, and Mind (2015), New York: Penguin Books, 2016; see also Gowrishankar Ganesh et al., “Two is better than one: Physical interactions improve motor performance in humans”, Scientific Reports, 4(1), 2014, p. 3824; and, for the problem of mirroring the others’ intentions, Atsushi. Takagi et al., “Physically interacting individuals estimate the partner’s goal to enhance their movements”, Nature Human Behaviour, Vol. 1, Issue 3, 2017, p. 0054.

[2] See Ana Bazac, “How Much is an Image Worth?”, Wisdom, 1 (10), 2018, pp. 12-29.

[3] We remember Esop’s fable of the tongue.

[4] Matthew R. Longo et al., “What is embodiment? A psychometric approach”, Cognition, Vol. 107, Issue 3, June 2008, pp. 978-998.

[5] Kohei Umezawa et al., “Bodily ownership of an independent supernumerary limb: an exploratory study”, Scientific Reports, 12, 2022, Article number: 2339.

[6] Plato, Phaedrus, in Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9, translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1925, 258d: “writing speeches is not in itself a disgrace… But the disgrace, I fancy, consists in speaking or writing not well, but disgracefully and badly”.

[7] Idem, 260e: “A real art of speaking, says the Laconian, which does not seize hold of truth, does not exist and never will”.

[8] Idem, 275a and b.

[9] See, with a representative bibliography.

[10] Alexandre Kojève, Introduction à la leture de Hegel (1947), Leçons sur la Phénoménologie de l’esprit, professées de 1933 à 1939 à l’École des Hautes Études, réunies et publiées par Raymond Queneau, Paris: Gallimard, 1997, p. 11.

[11] Thomas Suddendorf, The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals, New York: Basic Books, 2013.

[12] This reason is, certainly, on earth and not beyond it in an ideal world independent from the terrestrial life; and just because of this dependence of man on the earth he must strive for ends which achieve and fulfil his unique peculiarity, rationality. Accordingly, his ends relate to his species being: this is the reason of the categorical imperative. Since every human individual is the representative of the human species, the hypothetical imperatives related to concrete experiences must not infringe the humanity of any individual. If this infringement occurs, it means that some individuals treat other ones as if they would be another species.

[13] Alexandre Kojève, p. 75.

[14] We use Heidegger’s specification of being at hand, namely, not only Vorhandenheit, the presence-at-hand, but also Zuhandenheit, the readiness-to-hand of objects (Sein und Zeit (1927), Tübingen: Max Niemayer Verlag, 1967, § 14-24). For an interesting psychological test of transition from  ready-to-hand and unready-to-hand modes in interactions with tools, see Dobromir G. Dotov, Lin Nie, and Anthony Chemero, “A Demonstration of the Transition from Ready-to-Hand to Unready-to-Hand”, Plos One, 2010; 5(3): e9433.

[15] For example, we do not ignore the cave art that is already a mass medium, do we? See only D.L. Hoffmann et al., “U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neanderthal origin of Iberian cave art”, Science, 359 (6378), 2018, pp. 912—915; D.L. Hoffmann et al., “Data for Neanderthal art and symbolic behavior are reliable”,  Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2, 2018, pp. 1044–1045.

[16] Thomas A. Bauer, “Mediality: the cultural-symbolic sphere of social practice”, Galáxia (São Paulo), no. 46, e51775, 2021.

[17] See Mirela Roznoveanu, “The virtual mind”, Caietele Echinox, Literature in the Digital Age, 2011, volume 20,  Literature in the Digital Age.

[18] See Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist, Netocracy — The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism (2000), London: Pearson Education, 2002, where Informationalism is Post-Capitalism, the subject becomes virtual, the power (AB, domination-submission) continues to shepe social pyramids, and  manifest as “netocrats”, elite controlling the “consumtariat” of the lower levels of pyramids and imposing: AB: whose will? Are this class division and this horrible reduction of humans consonant with the telos of man?

[19] To this it’s worth to add Hegel’s consonant idea that the writing is only a recall, because it frozens a truth (Phenomenology of Spirit, chapter 1). Alexandre Kojève, op. cit., pp. 463, 464, further explains Hegel’s idea connected with the relation with error: the writing maintains the error in the inner core of reality, but man has a Janus face, he lives in error but at the same time embodies the truth.

[20] Alexandre Kojève, p. 436.

[21] See Pete Bennett, Julian McDougall, John Potter, The Uses of Media Literacy, London: Routledge, 2020; Sarah Jones, Steve Dawkins, Julian McDougall, Understanding Virtual Reality: Challenging Perspectives for Media Literacy and Education, Routledge, 2022; Media Literacy and Media Education Research Methods: A Handbook, Edited By Pierre Fastrez, Normand Landry, Routledge, 2023.

[22] Judea Pearl, “Seven Tools of Causal Inference, with Reflections on Machine Learning”, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 62, NO. 3, pp. 54-60.

[23] Harari: ‘If you want to make a country a colony, don’t send the tanks in. Just get the data out’, 31/01/2023,

[24] G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right (1820), Translated with Notes by T M Knox, London: Clarendon press, 1952. Here Preface translated by S W Dyde, 1896,, p. 8: “The owl of Minerva, takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering”.

[25] G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, III (Locke), Translated by E. S. Haldane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995, p. 303.

[26] It’s a paraphrase of Hegels’  mentioning of Plato’s principle and pivot of consciousness, philosophy and the real world movement, G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Preface, p. 6.

[27] Plato, Phaedrus, 261a.

The haptic culture

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