I'm looking for a word to describe something physical, something that you can tangibly and empirically feel, but cannot see, nor sense in any other way than touch, nor explain its imperceptibility. Does anyone have any ideas?

EDIT: If anyone can think of a single word for such a definition, that would be fantastic! :)

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    Well I certainly couldn't explain how something could be invisible even though I could feel it. And of course you can't be talking about things like wind or heat because those can be explained.
    – Jim
    Apr 16, 2014 at 6:30
  • @Jim Invisible only really implies the inability to see it, not the ability to feel it in contrast to the inability to see it. Apr 16, 2014 at 6:34
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    @user3002473- I agree, but you would have to agree that whatever it is you want to describe, would have to be invisible among other things. Perhaps a better description of what you are trying to describe is in order.
    – Jim
    Apr 16, 2014 at 6:37
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    @user867- Yes, but I can easily explain that kind of thing. OP says it can't be explained.
    – Jim
    Apr 16, 2014 at 14:15
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    Rather than jumping straight to asking for words to describe such a thing, could you perhaps start off by giving an example of it? I cannot think of any thing or concept that meets all your criteria, and it's hard to think of a word for something you can't even conceive of. Apr 26, 2014 at 2:20

8 Answers 8



Dependent on the type of limen, this fits:


as an adjective, means situated at a sensory threshold, hence barely perceptible. The absolute threshold is the lowest amount of sensation detectable by a sense organ.


noun: A threshold of response: point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to generate a response. ETYMOLOGY: From Latin limen (threshold). - http://wordsmith.org/words/limen.html

limen 1 n the smallest detectable sensation Synonyms: threshold

Type of: aesthesis, esthesis, sensation, sense datum, sense experience, sense impression an unelaborated elementary awareness of stimulation


My suggestion:

Tangible phantom

Tangible: perceptible by touch. "the atmosphere of neglect and abandonment was almost tangible"


  • a ghost. "a phantom who haunts lonely roads"
  • a figment of the imagination. "he tried to clear the phantoms from his head and grasp reality" synonyms: figment of the imagination, delusion, hallucination, illusion, chimera, vision, fantasy, mirage;

  • not real; illusory.

Some of the synonyms for phantom also works

  • There is a delete vote here - why?
    – mplungjan
    Aug 22, 2014 at 10:49

There's really nothing unusual about a thing that can be perceived by touch and by no other sensory experience.

Objects can be perceived variously by one or more, or none, of the sensory feelings. There are colorless, odorless and tasteless things that can still be 'felt' through other means.

Certain gases are highly corrosive and can cause an immediate sense of discomfort, yet cannot be "felt" by the senses.

A (hypothetical) substance can exist that can be felt by touch (tangible), yet not visible: The tangible.


Static electricity is invisible, odourless and noiseless but can be felt, both indirectly (it can make the hairs on your body rise) and directly (it gives you an electric shock when a sufficient potential difference exists between you and an adjacent object).

By the way, your question is self-contradictory: if you can feel something, it is not imperceptible.

  • I can explain static electricity.
    – Jim
    Apr 16, 2014 at 14:15

The wind is invisible, yet tangible.

It's invisible because it doesn't absorb light that we can see with our eyes. But it's also tangible because we can perceive it by the sense of touch, e.g. a morning breeze on one's cheeks.

tangible: capable of being touched; discernible by the touch; material or substantial.

  • Oui, mais we can see the leaves move and hear them rustle. And it can certainly be explained! Apr 18, 2014 at 11:27
  • @medica Sure. But those are due to wind action. The wind is invisible in itself, it's only visible by its interaction with things.
    – Elian
    Apr 18, 2014 at 11:42
  • @NG, fair enough! Apr 18, 2014 at 11:44

I would call them tactile qualia. Tactile means relating to the sense of touch, and qualia is a more general term for what you are asking that is not limited to the sense of touch, but could also be a smell, or a sight, or etc.

If you absolutely need a single word, I think the term qualia expresses the most important aspects of what you are after.

From Wikipedia:

Qualia is a term used in philosophy to refer to individual instances of conscious experience. The term derives from a Latin word meaning for "what sort" or "what kind." Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky.

Daniel Dennett identifies four properties that are commonly ascribed to qualia:

  • ineffable; that is, they cannot be communicated, or apprehended by any other means than direct experience.
  • intrinsic; that is, they are non-relational properties, which do not change depending on the experience's relation to other things.
  • private; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.

  • directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness; that is, to experience a quale is to know one experiences a quale, and to know all there is to know about that quale.



extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world.


Covert means secret or hidden. Soldiers might take part in a covert mission to infiltrate an enemy camp — and you might take part in a covert mission to steal your brother's leftover Halloween candy.

Covert is the opposite of overt, which means obvious, or in full view. Covert things are hidden, private, or stealthy.

  • Are you sure your answer is relevant to the question? Please explain how "covert" is connected to "something physical and inexplicable".
    – fev
    Jan 18, 2021 at 13:17

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