I am sure that we can say “get in touch with someone”, to mean figuratively that we are in good contact. Can I go further to use it more figuratively, e.g., to say that “my brother is not in touch with reality”, to mean that he is out of step with the reality? Reality may be an analogue of a person, but how about knowledge? Can I say “professor xx in China is in touch with the world’s most advanced researches in the field of xx”, or “this course will put xx in touch with the most advanced… ?

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    The first two examples, "get in touch with someone" and "my brother is out of touch with reality" are idiomatic. The latter two, "Professor XX.." and "This course will.." are not. You could use the idiom this way (especially in the case of the professor), but nobody does. It's more common to say something like "Professor XX is up to date on..." or "This course will bring you up to date on...", etc. – Dan Bron Jan 28 '15 at 15:48
  • I'd say that 'your brother has lost contact with reality'. Professor XX is in contact with/touch with researchers, or is knowledgeable on the most advanced researches. – user66974 Jan 28 '15 at 15:50
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    They're Metaphors. Practically the same metaphor, in fact, varying only in which concept is sustituted for the sense of touch. Get in touch with can mean either personal communication with a person (via language), or personal learning of some concept/fact/knowledge (via experience, possibly involving language). Those cover all the examples. For more details, consult Lakoff and Johnson. – John Lawler Jan 28 '15 at 19:23

All four of the OP's statements—

get in touch with someone

my brother is not in touch with reality

professor xx in China is in touch with the world’s most advanced research in the field of xx

this course will put xx in touch with the most advanced…

—would be readily understood by most English speakers as indicating a close physical or intellectual connection between the person who is "in touch" and the person or thing that he or she is in touch with. Nevertheless, the specific sense of the figurative language in some cases may differ. For example, "get in touch with someone" means essentially

communicate with someone—either in person or by phone, email, or another form of longer-distance communication.

In contrast, "my brother is not in touch with reality" means something like

my brother's behavior and thinking are not firmly grounded in good sense and a sound appreciation of everyday reality.

And "professor xx in China is in touch with the world’s most advanced research in the field of xx" indicates

professor xx in China is thoroughly informed of the world’s most advanced research in the field of xx.

And "this course will put xx in touch with the most advanced…" amounts to saying

this course will enable xx to become knowledgeable about the most advanced…

UPDATE: Distinguishing the meanings of different forms of 'in touch'

With regard to the request (in a comment below) by Kris for a source for the distinctions in meaning of "in touch" that I identified in the OP's various examples, the most useful reference I've been able to find is Christine Ammer, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1994) who views "be in touch," "get in touch," and "keep [or stay] in touch" as being distinct but related idioms. Here is Ammer's entry for "in touch":

in touch, be Also, be in touch with. Be in communication or contact (with), as in Be sure to be in touch once you've arrived, or Our representative is really in touch with her constituents. A related idiom is get in touch, meaning "initiate contact," as in We tried to get in touch with you but you were out of town, and keep or stay in touch, meaning "remain in communication or contact," as in With Jim stationed in Korea, it was hard to keep in touch, or Do stay in touch with us. This idiom transfers physical touch to communication. [Late 1800s]

  • Source? The what, why and why-not-something-else of it, please? – Kris Mar 25 '15 at 6:09
  • Sven, I had to comment, because the OP hasn't shown required background effort. – Kris Mar 25 '15 at 6:11
  • @Kris: I've added a reference to a dictionary of idioms that does a pretty good job of showing how the meanings of "in touch" are influenced by the preceding verb. I admit, though, that I was working from my own store of knowledge (or pseudo-knowledge) about "in touch" when answering the OP's question; so if you feel that the after-the-fact reference is inadequate, I can't claim to have marshaled any better authority in advance. – Sven Yargs Mar 25 '15 at 7:02
  • Sven, my point was that (to repeat) the OP was expected to do the homework. – Kris Mar 25 '15 at 9:09

My sister complains that her friends' parents are very "out of touch" meaning they're clueless about the ways, mindsets and goings-on of teen culture and modern times in general.

  • You sure got a point there. Try to provide a more substantial and well-support answer. – Kris Mar 25 '15 at 6:09

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