Sirens and psychoses

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tesseraktik
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Sirens and psychoses

Postby tesseraktik » Sat Oct 06, 2012 3:33 pm UTC

...or, Of Mermaids and Maniacs.

Hoping this is the right sub-forum for this; I'm looking to find out more about a particular type of psychosis.

Alright, so first, a confession:
Sometimes, when I'm alone on the deck of a ship, and particularly at night, I feel as though the sea is beckoning me to jump in. There are no audible or visual components, or really anything affecting the traditional "senses"; just a feeling.
It's not really a depressed thought (it happens regardless of whether I'm happy or sad) or a suicidal urge (my line of thinking is more or less "Huh, that's strangely tempting ... but I'd die, so I won't."), and it's not a strong enough urge that I think there's any risk I'll ever act upon it, but it's there, and it does cause me some discomfort.

The main reason I'm curious about this is that if I were a more superstitious person, and if I had been brought up believing in sirens and the like, I might be tempted to attribute this feeling to something like that (and, in fact, I've referred to it as "the mermaids' song").
So, I'm wondering if the accounts of sailors witnessing mermaids and the like may have been partially inspired or reinforced by sailors experiencing something similar to what I experience.

So, my question to you:

Has anybody heard of anything like this before?
Is there a name for it?
Can somebody point me towards some documentation of it?
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Spoiler:
++$_ wrote:What's a "degree"?

EDIT: I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently it's some ancient Babylonian unit for angles :/

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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Xanthir » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:59 pm UTC

I get the same feeling near cliff edges, which is why I avoid them. I don't know what might be the explanation for it, but it's non-harmful, so I don't worry about it.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Angua » Sat Oct 06, 2012 6:10 pm UTC

They came up in my boyfriend's psyche lecture. They are sort of like compulsions (he doesn't think they were formally given a name in the lecture) and are actually pretty common. Common themes include jumping off things, pushing people in front of trains, robbing banks and pulling alarms that say do not pull.

So long as you don't carry it out, the feeling that you want to do something you shouldn't do isn't abnormal. I get the jumping off things quite often. Someone in his lecture was pulling out IVs.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby tesseraktik » Sat Oct 06, 2012 6:35 pm UTC

Thanks for the input! I'm pretty sure we're talking about different things, though (though perhaps they are related):

These intrusive aggressive thoughts are indeed very common, and I experience them all the time, and sometimes they even involve jumping into the sea. However, they feel very different from what I described above. Most notably, these intrusive thoughts feel like compulsions from within, whereas "the mermaids' song" feels more like a calling from without; as though there really were something out there that wanted to draw me towards it. More like a hallucination than a compulsion.

It's hard to describe, but I suppose it's a bit like the love of your life waving towards you and asking you to come near ... except strip away all the physical aspects of that (such as vision and hearing), and just keep the emotional aspect.
ni'o mi nelci le zirpu sovmabrnornitorinku
Spoiler:
++$_ wrote:What's a "degree"?

EDIT: I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently it's some ancient Babylonian unit for angles :/

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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Xanthir » Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:48 pm UTC

I'd just write it off as "brains be crazy". The reality you experience is a constructed hallucination, anyway, based off of incomplete sensory data and a *lot* of extrapolation. Having small amounts of nonsensical sensory experiences isn't too abnormal.

For example, deja vu works like that - it appears to be caused by the brain improperly timestamping a memory that's just coming in, so that as soon as you start consciously thinking about it, your brain thinks that it's got a memory of the same thing happening in the past.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby tesseraktik » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:03 am UTC

Xanthir wrote:I'd just write it off as "brains be crazy". The reality you experience is a constructed hallucination, anyway, based off of incomplete sensory data and a *lot* of extrapolation. Having small amounts of nonsensical sensory experiences isn't too abnormal.

For example, deja vu works like that - it appears to be caused by the brain improperly timestamping a memory that's just coming in, so that as soon as you start consciously thinking about it, your brain thinks that it's got a memory of the same thing happening in the past.
Yeah, that's probably true; kind of like the way watching a scary movie can make you feel a monster's presence within your home, even after the movie's over.

Just figured that since this particular illusion kind of reminds me of stories of sailors jumping overboard to be with the mermaids, there might have been studies done on it.
That being said, much of that can probably be explained using "Brains be crazy. Doubly so for each year you spend at sea in squalid conditions." Plus, "Urban legends be urban legends. Even pre-urbanization.".
ni'o mi nelci le zirpu sovmabrnornitorinku
Spoiler:
++$_ wrote:What's a "degree"?

EDIT: I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently it's some ancient Babylonian unit for angles :/

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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby idobox » Mon Oct 08, 2012 11:07 am UTC

You're giving anthropic properties to an object that clearly doesn't have them. There's a name for that, but I don't remember it. And it's not surprising in our culture, where the sea is often assimilated/compared to a conscious being: think of all those small sentences "the sea is calm", "the sea took him", "the sea is a harsh mistress", "in love with ocean"...

Angua wrote:They came up in my boyfriend's psyche lecture. They are sort of like compulsions (he doesn't think they were formally given a name in the lecture) and are actually pretty common. Common themes include jumping off things, pushing people in front of trains, robbing banks and pulling alarms that say do not pull.

I remember reading that one hypothesis from evolutionary psychology (so a nice story with little to no proof). The idea was that jumping from branch to branch is scary, because you can fall and die, but necessary to survive, so risk taking was selected for, and led to the apparition of these pulsions to do dangerous things. That would explain why the jumping off a cliff and different sorts of aggressive behaviours are more common compulsions than other.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby AvatarIII » Mon Oct 08, 2012 1:23 pm UTC

Xanthir wrote:I get the same feeling near cliff edges, which is why I avoid them. I don't know what might be the explanation for it, but it's non-harmful, so I don't worry about it.


Same on any high up place really, I also have similar compulsions to throw my possessions into places they will be destroyed or irretrievable.

To be honest, I always assumed that these things were phobias.

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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Zamfir » Mon Oct 08, 2012 3:29 pm UTC

The origna post sounds sounds different than the phobia-related stuff. The OP doesn't mention fear, and presumably doesn't have a phobia related to the ocean. At least in my experience, phobia-related compulsions appear together with the phobia. A strong feeling if fear or disgust, and at the same time a compulsion to jump or cut myself or pick up the spider. But the OP described a compulsion together with a calm knowledge that it would be stupid, not a phobic fear from doing it.

I am not sure, but I might recognize the feeling of jumping in the sea. When it is dark or at least twilight, very quiet, and the ship is rocking slowly, i can feel like I should be floating in the waves myself. If that is the feeling the OP describes, then it is very different from my jump-of-the-cliff feeling. The latter feels like it would dangerous and painful, that's somehow part of the compulsion. While the become-part-the-waves feeling is peaceful, it ignores the cold and danger that I know would be part if it.

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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Xanthir » Mon Oct 08, 2012 4:56 pm UTC

Yeah, it doesn't sound like a phobia. My "jump off the cliff" impulse isn't fear-motivated - though I can get a touch of vertigo, as long as I deliberately avoid triggering it, I'm quite confident in high places. It sounds like the OP is similar. These are just simple intrusive thoughts.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby omgryebread » Mon Oct 08, 2012 6:10 pm UTC

tesseraktik wrote:Thanks for the input! I'm pretty sure we're talking about different things, though (though perhaps they are related):

These intrusive aggressive thoughts are indeed very common, and I experience them all the time, and sometimes they even involve jumping into the sea. However, they feel very different from what I described above. Most notably, these intrusive thoughts feel like compulsions from within, whereas "the mermaids' song" feels more like a calling from without; as though there really were something out there that wanted to draw me towards it. More like a hallucination than a compulsion.

It's hard to describe, but I suppose it's a bit like the love of your life waving towards you and asking you to come near ... except strip away all the physical aspects of that (such as vision and hearing), and just keep the emotional aspect.
I don't think this qualifies as a hallucination, since you're not actually sensing anything. I don't know if there's a specific word for feeling that intrusive thoughts are coming from outside your person, but I would guess that it could be called some type of delusion. Delusions of thoughts being implanted in one's brain are very common in those with psychosis; paranoid schizophrenics, for example.


I suspect things like this would contribute towards the belief in mermaids, along with more mundane explanations like making stuff up to get laid. (All kinds of mythical tales start to make some more sense when you think about the storyteller trying to impress the opposite gender.) Sailors back in the day were under not so great conditions. Nutritional deficiencies, isolation, and exhaustion can all cause psychotic symptoms. Psychotic symptoms are also certainly affected by cultural perceptions (this is why schizophrenic Christians see Jesus instead of hallucinating a conversation with Ahura Mazda), so a sailor who had heard of mermaids before might actually "see" a mermaid.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby dudiobugtron » Tue Oct 09, 2012 12:13 am UTC

idobox wrote:You're giving anthropic properties to an object that clearly doesn't have them. There's a name for that, but I don't remember it.

I think the word you're looking for is 'personification'. (Or maybe 'anthropomorphism'.)

That seems a bit different from what the OP is describing though, but I can see how it is linked.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Envelope Generator » Tue Oct 09, 2012 1:44 pm UTC

I experience these feelings too, but I haven't really minded them since encountering Kierkegaard's conceptualization:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Concept_of_Anxiety
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Dark Avorian » Tue Oct 09, 2012 7:26 pm UTC

This also seems similar to the somewhat creepier realizations "I could kill that person right now." Back when I had the chance to observe a couple surgeries within the operating room, I would often times realize that I could, in a few seconds, before anyone could have stopped me, basically killed the person on the table in their vulnerable state. It wasn't so much a compulsion as a morbid fantasy that I would never ever ever actually want to act out. See also: I'm in a car, I could (run that person over/careen off the side of the road) with a quick jerk of the wheel
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Xanthir » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:52 am UTC

Yup, those are all the same as what we've been describing - "aggressive intrusive thoughts".
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby Aelfyre » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:13 pm UTC

Xanthir wrote:Yeah, it doesn't sound like a phobia. My "jump off the cliff" impulse isn't fear-motivated - though I can get a touch of vertigo, as long as I deliberately avoid triggering it, I'm quite confident in high places. It sounds like the OP is similar. These are just simple intrusive thoughts.


My cliff edge experience is a physical sensation. Not so much a urge to jump as a.. I dunno.. kinda a tingling sensation in my legs.. almost as they are trying to paralyze themselves to keep me from doing it even tho I have no intention. I get the same sensation to a lesser extent even if I know there to be no danger, such as 40 floors up in a glass elevator with an inch of plexiglass between me and the fall.
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Re: Sirens and psychoses

Postby AvatarIII » Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:19 pm UTC

Aelfyre wrote:
Xanthir wrote:Yeah, it doesn't sound like a phobia. My "jump off the cliff" impulse isn't fear-motivated - though I can get a touch of vertigo, as long as I deliberately avoid triggering it, I'm quite confident in high places. It sounds like the OP is similar. These are just simple intrusive thoughts.


My cliff edge experience is a physical sensation. Not so much a urge to jump as a.. I dunno.. kinda a tingling sensation in my legs.. almost as they are trying to paralyze themselves to keep me from doing it even tho I have no intention. I get the same sensation to a lesser extent even if I know there to be no danger, such as 40 floors up in a glass elevator with an inch of plexiglass between me and the fall.


I get the same, to the point of physical pain in my feet and hands sometimes, also when I see other people in the situation in which I would feel those feelings, I get the same physical sensations. but that's only for heights.
for heights and everything else I consider to have a phobia of, I get compulsions mixed with what I call semi-affectionately "nam-flashbacks" which are quite vivid visual "simulations" of whatever it is I'm afraid of.


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