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The Brendan O'Connor Show on Auti, Radio one with all care pharmacy discover a team that's always here to support you at all care, taking care of communities across Ireland.


Now, let's take our Sunday service now. Some of you listening, I know probably haven't felt human touch in a long time, and I think know that we're not allowed to do it in lots of situations where all realizing how important touch is to us. Well, I'm joined now on the line by renowned Irish philosopher Richard Karani, who currently teaches in Boston. And Richard's new book is called Touch Recovering Our Most Vital Sense. And it's about the importance of touch.


And it also explores how even before the pandemic happened, we were, if you will, losing touch with touch.


Richard, the book was written before covid-19 and lockdowns and social distancing and everything. But it really resonates so much more now, doesn't it, that touch is kind of forbidden, that it's become more and more dangerous and that we're living through our eyes and through sight more than ever.


Yes. Absolutely, I did write the book before before the pandemic, but I didn't finish proofing people the pandemic, so my publishers kept Columbia University Press asked me to do a post phase, which I did. And of course, it sort of changed very much with the anxieties of our time, because as Joni Mitchell says in a great song, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. And when we suddenly realized we weren't allowed to touch each other anymore, shake hands or hug or anything else, basic things, even turning the same doorknobs, you know, without putting on sanitizers, we realized in a way just how important touch has been for us and is for us and will always be for us.


But we've sort of taken it for granted. And I mean, it's an extraordinary thing that, you know, our skin is our is our largest organ in adult bodies. We carry 22 square feet of skin. You probably carry a bit more. Brenda, you're a big man, but it's a huge amount of of us and it's just such an important sense. And in the pandemic, you know, there is this phenomenon I'm sure you've heard about called Touch Hungar, where people just reach out for each other, but they can't they can't actually touch.


So they go on, they go online. And that provides connectivity and contact. And God knows, we probably wouldn't be talking now like this. I'm in Boston. You're in Dublin if it wasn't for that. So we have a lot to be thankful for, but it's not the same thing. And again, in the pandemic, you know, when people are dying, the thing they want most is the caretakers tells us is to touch and be touched.


And the tragedy of close family not being able to be with so many of them, it really strikes, strikes the heart. So that's something you've experienced yourself, I believe, is it?


Well, one of our daughter, Sarah, got covid. She she's living in Mexico. And when she came back, she was in quarantine and was had to go into the basement of the house here in Boston. And it was like having an illegal immigrant or a Jew during the Holocaust. You know, we just weren't allowed me to touch. And we were aware of just how important it is to hug people. And when it's gone, you you really, really miss it.


So, yeah, I think everybody's had a personal experience, whether it's an ill or elderly relative or a close family member or friend who one is who misses and one misses that, you know, that that basic basic elemental contact, which is which is touch. Yeah. Yeah. I thought it was interesting.


When you went into isolation in the days following lockdown, you found yourself visited by all these memories of touch from down the years and everything.


Yes, indeed, that's right. Just very early childhood memories even coming back, you know, being being sort of when I was sick, my mother putting her hand on my forehead, you know, my feverish forehead and just very, very early experiences of of of growing up and and and being being in a very as I was fortunate to be, you know, affectionate family where her touch was so important. We had three generations living in our house, my grandma, my mother, my parents, seven of our siblings, and then my sister's child.


So we had four generations and very close knit, very American family. So, you know, healing touch was very important. My grandfather, actually, from Ross Kobrin, was caught with the French doctor because he always shook hands with everybody we'd meet in the street. But he knew people say that the bedside manner was so, so important. And my brother Michael, who's palliative care doctor, working with the dying and covid patients, of course, now talks about the importance of of holding people's hands, holding their shoulders, their elbows as they're as they're as they're dying.


It's just a fundamental need. And indeed, he was very inspired by the French doctor who who in France, Professor Dominic Marnell, who says to all of his interns and students, he says it is forbidden for nurses, interns, students not to touch aging patients. In addition to clinically examining them, we should hold their hands for long periods. Now, that was before the pandemic, but it is absolutely fundamental how how central to healing touch is.


And, you know, just physiologically, since the pandemic, there are a lot of studies being done on touch prior to the pandemic. If you look at the statistics for every 20 studies of site, there was only one touch. We sort of took it for granted. But now, you know, people are coming up with these with these extraordinary medical facts that, you know, touch lowers blood pressure, helps with sleep and digestion, bolsters the immunity system, even had a basic level of our everyday being.


It's so important, so interesting then that had in the West certainly had displaced torture. So as the kind of as the critical sense that we we live through and I know in the book you you go back to the roots of this, and I think we trust our audience after 12 on a Sunday that their minds are open to a little bit of philosophy.


So explain to me about, ah, Plato and Aristotle and about the that site became the important sense. Yeah, OK, well, you know, as everybody probably does know, Plato and Aristotle go back to the very beginning of Western thought and Western civilization. The first psychologist, the first philosophers and Plato basically argued that man, Greek anthropos means the one who stands up, the one who reaches up and looks towards the skies.


In other words, the movement away from the quadrupeds and our interspecies sort of belonging with with the natural world towards our specific intelligence as human beings, as Homo sapiens.


For Plato was linked with sight because thighed could keep things at a distance, whereas Tuchis had brought us to closer to things you could see without being seen. You can stand back and look at something, you know, 100 yards away, a mile away with telescopes thousands of miles away. But when you touch your tangible and this double sensation is, the Greeks realized exposed us to others. And for Plato, this was too risky. So platonic locate we can use the trap is keeping people at a distance, whereas and giving us control of the environment.


So the AI rules supreme. Whereas Aristotle, I don't know whether you want me to come to him, actually said something different, although he lost the debate to Plato ultimately. Yeah. Which touches our most universal and our most philosophical sense, because for him the very fact that we're exposed to others when we touch that we are touchable were tangible, meant that we were encountering otherness, newness, strangeness, and we weren't closed up on ourselves as the eye can can enable us to do.


I mean, even digitally, we can connect with the world, but we're not touched by the world. We're not in touch with the world. But we have a supervisions, so to speak, where, as Aristotle said, it's precisely because touch makes us vulnerable to the other, that we actually question who and what we are and who and what the world is. So that for him meant that we are most intelligent to our touch because we're the most sensitive to otherness, that we're the most receptive to otherness.


Yeah. Those two questions. Yeah.


And of course, and connected I suppose as well. Anthony Connected is a thing that has kept coming up here over the last year.


Whenever you kind of whenever you talk to anyone around mental health or anything, it always comes back to to connection, you know, and I can see how space then the Enlightenment and everything is it's all about seeing birds, but that basic primal connection, isn't it?


And you talk also about how the body in a way, holds our scars, our experiences, our history, our traumas, that it's it's all in there. And that touches so important to to helping with that as well.


That's right. Well, there's a wonderful book by a colleague of mine here in Boston called The Body Keeps the Score. And a lot of work being done now in in trauma, you know, physical abuse, childhood trauma, war trauma and so on is revealing just how much we have a kind of memory that it's actually lodged in our unconscious, you know, sort of with Freud and so on. The the idea was almost that it was a mental psychic unconscious.


But actually the psyche is lodged in our body, in our bones and in our skin and in our blood. And a lot of the therapy that's being done now takes this very much into account. That touch is so important for for releasing and reliving and revisiting and ultimately redeeming these traumas. It's funny, I was watching something the other day, a podcast Monk for Monk with Simon Sleiman talking to Tony Bates of great Irish psychologist.


And a Tony was showing this young boy who was suffering from AIDS and he was healed and settled by holding a hand, you know, and as he held these two hands in his in his arms, the little boy who was about six or seven, and he said that he loved me and he was talking to the hands and they were settling and he was stroking their feathers. And you could see the healing, you know, just in his face, in in his in his whole physical allure.


And I think there are so many examples of this, of people being being healed. I had my own experience eight years ago of depression. And I found at the time that I was very lucky, not just by gardening, touch, touch, by going out and planting roots and plants and trees, but also with my dog, Bella, my sister in law, the horse. And there's a lot of equine therapy nowadays. People are greatly healed psychically and physically by close proximity.


Who two horses who are nearly all skin, by the way, apart from their hopes and their and their means, if you think about it, and dolphins, curiously enough, dogs, horses and dolphins have proved to be very important therapeutic animals. And of course, also, as anybody knows, who has been through depression and most most of us have at some point in some to some degree, you know, this is we can't read, we can't eat, we're not interested in anything.


We feel this incredible disconnection and loneliness. But there's a huge touch, hunger, you know, hunger to touch, to hug and be hugged by people. So whether it's touching the earth, touching animals, touching and being by loved ones, family and friends, it's so important to our psychic well-being.


You had a very wise friend who said to you at a particular point in your recovery, enough, talk back to the body. Yes, indeed, a very, very wise here in Dublin. Yeah, so get out, get out of the head.


Sometimes you're not going to think your way through everything and and just go with the body and trust that. That's right.


And I think one of the one of the failures of psychoanalysis for many years was that Freud, who began very much with the laying on of hands and so on, and he then turned psychology and psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and particularly into analysis. It became a very mental affair, what he called the talking cure. And God knows, we do need the talking cure and we need to understand things.


But it people have realized increasingly, and I won't go into all the attachment theories and so on, but that that the kind of the presence of two people in a room is absolutely crucial. I find this even I'm going slightly sideways here in pedagogy. And, you know, I teach online now like most teachers do.


But I also have a class in person, small graduate class. And just the difference for me and for the students with us being physically present to each other is so, so different from digital long distance online education, which God knows we're very, very lucky to have. It keeps the educational system going. But I think we all realize students as much as teachers, just how crucial being in physical proximity is.


Do I do people vibrate off each other in ways we don't understand, do you reckon, physically? Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's a whole body language that's very unconscious and tacit, but very operative. There was a wonderful experiment done in a number of years ago where they put a line of of Italian businessmen together with a line of Japanese businessmen in the middle of this sort of big atrium, and they it with a camera.


And by after half an hour, all the Japanese businessmen were backed up against the wall and all the Italians had gone from the middle of the room.




Because what was polite for a Japanese citizen and their culture was three foot three feet of distance is for the Italian. It was kind of six inches. And our bodies work like that. You know, we're picking up all kinds of signals without being consciously aware of it.


Yeah, no, listen, if we put aside the pandemic and the effect that that has had on Torchwood, obviously this kind of primacy of seizure over torture had been going on for for a long time.


And I guess a lot of it to do with the virtual worlds that we started living in.


You talk about this notion of excarnation that the phenomenon of the Internet, where we obsess about the body, put in increasingly disembodied ways.


Yes, yes, yes, yes. That's right. We've sort of left the the body behind. We see a brave new world. But this hyperconnectivity of the World Wide Web and marvelous it is. But we feel less and less with with touch. And the word digital is very interesting because originally, until today, digital can be your digital fingerprint. Digital means your finger. It's what touched the world and was the way in which the world touched you.


You know, you have even in the wonderful Sistine Chapel, the picture of Michelangelo's picture of Jarvi and Adam, you know, reaching out to touch each other, the two digits that were coming together. But now digital means coded the virtual code. And my argument is not against the virtual code. It's extraordinary, but that we need both. Whether we shouldn't lose the digital fingerprint as we move into the digital virtual world of technology, because as one philosopher puts it, put it, technology overcomes distance, but it doesn't bring newness and there's a difference.


Loneliness is one of the biggest symptoms of our current digital age. In fact, what I call the age of excarnation, because in spite of and for all our hyperconnectivity and that's wonderful. We can, as it were. Be in touch with people and events all over the world. There's a profound inner loneliness, a lack of contact and what I call tact.


And curiously, the experiments are showing that this sense of loneliness is even stronger with the millennials and the generation see the current upcoming generation. And so that's something I think to be observed and and a lot of our contemporary culture and the young people I teach this in class and my students are constantly educating me. But so many of contemporary films and TV series are picking up on this anxiety. You don't think of Westworld, that series cyborgs, and they relate to them, but the cyborgs can't relate back to them.


And so we can have dominion and mastery and manipulation, but it ultimately leads to tragedy. And then another one I'm thinking of Ex Machina, that that movie. I don't know whether you saw it.


Yeah. Fantastic movie with a fellow fellow called Man Donald Gleason, or at least the son of a decent who plays the main role. But there again, you see this relationship with sort of a perfect cyber being. But the inability to touch is the tragedy of both protagonists. And there are so many other films her, you know, with the the the operating system where the man falls in love with the operating system. And so our culture is picking this up.


And even curiously, our gaming industry, you know, there are a hundred and fifty which is earning one hundred and fifty billion a year. It's one of the highest grossing industries in the world and the virtual gaming industry. But even there now there are some of these video games like dead stranding and so on, where we're witnessing digital technology putting itself into question, not saying we should get rid of it, but saying if we go with it and we should go with it and it's our future, we mustn't leave touch behind.


We need both because as the term goes and not to use a big word, but we live in the Anthropocene, which were two and a half thousand years, has governed through technology, our world, and particularly with digital technology, the AI rules supreme.


It's what's called opto centrism, that centrism of the eye. And there's a call now, and I make it at the very end of the book for a symbiosis. Symbiosis is Greek word for working together with Inconel. And with our natural and animal world and with the climate crisis and ecological crisis, this is the most important moral question. How do we get back in touch with our lived animal, interspecies, earthly being, OK?


And I know that philosophers job really is to possibly ask the questions more than give us a straight answer.


But any say, if we take into account what covid as donors.


Well, in terms of of a making torch, so dangerous and scary for people who would be giving us that craving for it again. Where do you think we go from here when that is over and taking into account the broader development of the virtual world as well?


Yeah, I mean, who can who can foresee the future? I think the most important thing is that we've we've had a wake up call and that we've been brought back into touch with touch and the need for touch.


You'll become aware again of our of our touch, hunger and the fact that we can make it into the world and we shall depart. And the first since we develop in the womb is touch. And the last sense that goes is touch touches always on right. Even in sleep touches on where tangible. And the only two parts of our bodies that are not tactile and tangible are our nails and our hair.


So that if you're going past a beauty salon, you don't hear people screaming.


They're having their nails and their hair cut because not tactile or tangible, but the rest of us is. So I think, as I say, there's a huge wake up call here as there is not just, you know, in our personal human being through through covid, but climate wise, you know, as our former president, Mary Robinson, never ceases rightly to remind us, this is the most important moral problem of our age. And that's a call that's coming from outside of the human world.


So touch brings us into touch, not just with ourselves, but also with the non-human world, which we have utilized and manipulated at our peril and enabled us curiously to do that. Precisely because you can see without being seen, you can hear without being heard, you can taste without being tasted, but you can't touch without being touched or touchable. That's our fundamental vulnerability, the nakedness of our skin. And that's what keeps us human. Yeah.


Richard Plaisir has a lot to answer for, doesn't he? So it's time to finally throw off his yoke and get down and dirty again and reconnect with that. That we are we are an animal, too, I suppose, are creatures of the Earth.


And OK, Richard Karani, Charles Barkley, professor in philosophy at Boston College, thank you very much. And the book is called Touch Recovering Our Most Vital Sense. And Richard, recommend people get the book. Well, I would have said in the past in every good bookshop, but I don't know whether bookshops are open in Irish towns and cities at the moment, but I presume online. Back to the digital. Yeah.


OK, Richard, thanks a million. Great to talk to you. A great pleasure. Thank you. Bye bye.


Email Brendan Ottati Desai.