There are actually a number of things that can give such an odd
feeling. A simple one would be static charge. If you drag your feet on
the ground, you pick up a large excess of one charge. When you touch
something metal, the charge jumps out of you and you feel a shock.
Until you touch something, the extra charge sits all over the surface
of your body and make an electric field. When someone else approaches,
they will feel the charges in their body move with the electric field
of the other person. This usually comes from excess charges moving onto
hairs on our skin and pushing the hairs out from our body.
Another thing we feel is heat. People radiate heat because our
inside is warmer than the air around us (in general). When you get
close to someone else, you can sometimes feel the heat radiating off of
them. Likewise, sometimes you get close enough that the tiny hairs on
you body brush against their's. While the skin and touch sensors
haven't made contact, we can feel out hairs move a little.
One important thing about all of our senses is how they work with
changes. When our senses are stimulated by the same thing for a long
time, we don't notice them. For example, you probably don't notice the
sound of the fan on your computer because it hasn't changed for a
while. But if the fan were to shut off, you would notice that some
sound was missing. Our eyes work the same, if you stare at the wame
spot without blinking, the image starts to fade and go black. We don't
see this normally because our eyes shift constantly to change what we
see. The same works for touch. You probably don't notice the pants or
shirt you are wearing because they've been touching you skin for a
while. In that way, you can become acustom to external feelings so that
they appear to go away.
(republished on 07/18/06)