Phenomenological Psychology

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Texture

March 2nd, 2007 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

“Texture” is a property of the interface between person and environment.  It resides at the outer edge of phenomena, as, when and how we apprehend them.  While surfaces can be touched, texture does not belong just to surfaces.  The experience of it is not exclusively tactile.  Music has texture, which is heard as the auditory canal receives acoustic vibrations emanating from sound-producing sources.  Works of visual and performing art have texture, which is seen as the retina is irradiated with light.  Food has texture, as do scents.  There are no clear boundaries between the ways in which we absorb texture.  They all interact to produce a coherent experiential whole.

We do not bring texture to the world.  Although humans are the only ones who can experience it as such, it is not an organizing principle or structure.  It is not a filter, or a permeable membrane, mediating our direct perceptions.  Texture has nothing to do with “sense data,” or “qualia,” or whether there is such a thing as the external world, or the mechanics (or neurophysiology) of perception.  Nor is it an intrinsic feature of objects, people or events (anything other than ourselves).

Rather, texture results from the collision between objects and us.  Objects (those characteristics of objects that impact us) continuously expand outwards, as we orient ourselves towards them.  This process also happens in reverse.  Texture does not depend on a particular stance we take vis-à-vis objects, or that objects impose on us.  Texture is situated precisely at the intersection where this encounter takes place.  It is the outer edge of the object bubble, as our sensory antennae anticipate and respond to it. 

Texture is not a cognitive experience.   It is not “intentional,” or intentionally directed.  It is not a “mental image,” or a “mental representation” of a thing to which texture can be attributed. 

Texture can be anomalous if it falls outside our zone of expectations.  If blindfolded, for example, we might be disposed to confuse a bowl of eyeballs with one containing peeled grapes.  Clarifying which is which will result in lack of resonance.  Even then, we do not necessarily notice it (though if we did, this would be when).  We simply experience it as different.  We react accordingly, typically, with approval or approbation.

Texture is spatial, in that it originates at the perimeters where it first develops.  It also is temporal, in that our experience of it lasts only an instant.  Feel, taste and smell are not texture.  They result from our on-going involvement with objects over time.  Texture, on the other hand, is moment-to-moment.  The frequency with which new textures unfold, and displace their predecessors, depends on the contour of the periphery.  A series of rapidly-substituted objects, for example, will result in the presentation of textures that are different from those presented by a single stationary object. 

This doesn’t involve complexities about the continuity of objects, and how we perceive them over time.  It all depends on the context in which texture is presented.  Motion picture film, for example, is projected at the rate of 25 frames per second.  Considered individually, each frame might comprise a separate textural opportunity.  We congeal them, however, into a coherent stream. 

Under such circumstances, texture more likely would appear with discontinuity, such as a sudden juxtaposition of images, or a jarring transition of scenes, or camera perspective.  There might be a loud explosion.  We are “surprised,” which might be defined as the sudden introduction of new, unanticipated textures.  None of these events occur frame-to-frame. 

One of the main reasons why film is impactful is because it disconnects our experience of texture.  A movie would be boring if it depicted events as they occurred, in real time, or from a single perspective.  Film is edited to collapse or expand time, or to present events as they occur from different points of view.  This results in a textural dissonance quite different from that experienced by our near ancestors as they hunted for game on the African veldt. 

We as mammals are not acclimated to this condensation and acceleration of images.  This is one of the reasons why experimental subjects frequently report vivid dreams after seeing a movie, as the central nervous system discharges the friction and static electricity it has accumulated.

Texture is described with adjectives.  Reflecting the vagueness of texture’s penumbra, these adjectives incompletely describe the texture-provoking event.  They capture different parts of it, in a way that is language- and context-dependent. 

Texture adjectives are not properly attributable to a single elongated experience, or a series of closely-related experiences.  Those are “evaluated” or “characterized” circumspectively, not “caught” or “captured” in the moment.  Thus, for example, a bite of food might be “crunchy,” whereas a meal might be “tasty.”  An image is “vivid,” not “captivating;” a sound, “loud” or “soft,” not harmonious.  Appropriate adjectives implicate the transient and fleeting experience of texture, as opposed to the languorous quality of engagement with that which texture proceeds. 

The facility with which one evaluates texture depends upon one’s skill, or mastery, of the texture-precipitating event.  Thus, an expert tennis player will be far more adept at evaluating the texture of the ball as it hits the racket, than a beginner.