Why does the air always feel thick to me?
July 30, 2007 8:12 AM   Subscribe

The air feels thick to me, like it's more substantial than it really is. When I move, especially my head and arms, it feels like I'm leaving behind me a trail that's like a hollowed-out cavity of where that limb has just been. Felt like this since I was a child. So. WTF?

So when you move, you feel the air on your limbs. So far so normal. But for me, it's always felt thicker than that, like something solid, but barely there. As I've said, I get a strong sensation that I'm leaving a cavity trail behind me, and especially my limbs, as I move. What's more, different directions of movement create a different sensation. If I move my head forwards, or my arms outwards so that the backs of my hands are the leading side, I get one sort of sensation that I could describe as 'warm', 'smooth' or 'with the grain'. If the movement is with my open palms leading, or I move my head or body forward, I get a sensation that's more like 'cool' or 'against the grain'. It's sort of like stroking velvet - one way's smooth, the other's got a sort of soft friction to it.

This is an incredibly powerful sensation to me and generally there all the time.

Never discussed this with anyone, but I just got a big blast of the sensation whilst answering another question, so I just thought what the hell.

Any ideas? Remnant of an active childhood imagination? Arm hairs? Proprioception? To my knowledge I'm otherwise pretty sane and normal.
posted by dowcrag to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
maybe it's a form of synethesia (sp.)

the feeling of air rushing over your body creates an image in your mind. stranger things are possible, like people who taste colors and smell numbers etc.

I see red text on a dark background as being "above" the page for instance.
posted by spacefire at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2007

It does sound like synesthesia (but then synesthesia does cover quite a wide range of symptoms).

It does sound to me, though, as if you've been living the back story for an aerial superhero of some description ... but please don't act on this suggestion.
posted by Lionel d'Lion at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2007

Your description sounds like Mark Strand's poem Keeeping Things Whole:
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.
posted by nonane at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm confused how you would know that what you felt is not normal, since you've always felt this way. Is the feeling consistent or does it come and go? Have you been in areas with different humidity levels (the desert vs. the swamp)? does it feel different there?
posted by desjardins at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think the "normal" person has this sensation in water, because the water's mass produces more sensation on the skin than air does. We also get sensations similar to yours in high winds, or when we stick our arm out of a rapidly moving vehicle. So it sounds to me like you have an extreme sensitivity to the air movement over your skin.

So, how does it feel to you when moving in water?
posted by beagle at 9:16 AM on July 30, 2007

CrazyInsaneLeftFieldScienceFilter: Perhaps you are the first person to carve out an astral field of your daily movements?
posted by banannafish at 9:18 AM on July 30, 2007

I'm googling and reading a couple of things about cat whiskers and other examples of sensation thought body hair. The feeling of "with" and "against" the grain is probably because body hair has an orientation (it doesn't usually stick out perpendicularly), so passing air would either be going with the orientation or against it, producing different feelings. So I guess I'm going with arm hairs, one of your suggestions, couple with extremely sensitive nerve endings.
posted by beagle at 9:30 AM on July 30, 2007

OP here. Just a few replies:

lionel: I wish!

nonane, that's great - i'll save that and print it sometime. thank you.

beagle - I love being in water, and always have. swimming pool, sea, bath, shower, rain, the lot. Intensely so. And yes, you could say it's a more intense version of the same feeling. Your sensitivity idea could be on the money. I'm also extremely ticklish which might be related?
posted by dowcrag at 9:37 AM on July 30, 2007

Sounds like you have very sensitive nerve endings (plus perhaps a bit of synesthesia). Are you super-sensitive to touch, or is it just air?
posted by limeonaire at 11:11 AM on July 30, 2007

Interesting. I get this feeling temporarily whenever I've let my hair grow long (for me) and then shave my head; for about two hours, my head feels exactly as you describe.
posted by davejay at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2007

I used to feel this as a wee child back when I lived in the South. When thinking about it before, I attributed it to either the extreme humidity, or my being a very weird kid who liked to dissociate for fun because I wanted to grow up to be a levitating Buddhist monk. Or something.
posted by Gingersnap at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2007

Do you dance much?
I'm just curious as to if you were to do a few years of dance training or something like that, how/whether this would affect things, and whether it would be for better or worse.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:37 PM on July 30, 2007

Dammit. There is a famous bronze sculpture that captures this very concept: the wind/void left behind someone walking. Very dynamic, energetic piece. I can picture it in my mind, but can't remember the artist. Remember it being late 19th, early 20th century. Not Rodin or Brancusi (but maybe). Anyone?
posted by squink at 6:42 PM on July 30, 2007

squink, you must be thinking of Umberto Boccioni's "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space." I was thinking of the same sculpture.
posted by elricky at 9:57 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

OP again. You guys are great! Thanks for the sculpture link, elricky. I've known of that one for yeas, but I never knew what it was about.
posted by dowcrag at 12:45 AM on July 31, 2007

Seems like peripersonal space might be a relevant term here. I'm not really familiar with the science behind this one, and can't point you at any scholarly articles, but the subject is touched in this New York Times article, which seems to be freely accessible.
Neurons respond to both vision and touch in at least six brain areas. For example, a cell will fire when the right hand is touched, or when the person sees an object moving toward it. The closer the object, the faster the cell fires.

Such cells encode the space around the body, within arm's reach. It is as if you walked around in your own private soap bubble. But the brain also has cells to map space farther away.
Sometimes when I do manual work, such as washing dishes, in a space with objects lying loose within my hand's reach, I suddenly notice that my hand resists movement into a certain area, and only then do I become aware that I had left the bottle of dishwashing fluid standing at that spot, and if I flailed my hands in its direction, I would drop it to the floor. If I've understood correctly (and I haven't really read much at all, not even the NYT piece in its entirety), there are particular areas in the brain that keep account of objects in this peripersonal space.

Now, if you allow me to speculate, it might be that in your brain these areas have slightly unusual criteria for what an "object" is, with just plain air registering in along with soap bottles, frisbees and kittens.
posted by Anything at 4:27 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

By the way:
This so-called peripersonal space extends to arm's length; people with longer arms have a bigger peripersonal space. And when they use a tool, a rake, a joystick or an automobile, their body schema and peripersonal space expand to include it.
If you swing, say, a baseball bat or a wet towel or whatever, do you feel its "cavities" as well?
posted by Anything at 4:43 AM on July 31, 2007

OP: Anything, yes I do.
posted by dowcrag at 5:35 AM on July 31, 2007

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