User talk:David Gerard/Motif of harmful sensation

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Articles for deletion This article was nominated for deletion on 3 October 2006. The result of the discussion was no consensus.

Mars Attacks[edit]

I removed the following line from the 1990s section:

While this movie is a comedy, the music piece in question cause's the heads of the Martians to pulsate and finally explode. The implication is that it is not the sensation of the music, but the physical properties of the sound that cause resonation and physical destruction.

In fiction...[edit]

In the In Fiction section, the article reads: "The horror films FeardotCom and Jisatsu Circle (2002) used a similar idea: an evil web site that kills those who view it after 48 hours have passed."

No such premise is found in Jisatsu Circle (there are two websites present on it, but they're not 'evil web sites that kill'). It is, however, similar to the idea of the movie Kairo, so I'm changing it...--many Revolutions 04:08, 6 May 2006 (UTC)

Chinese poem[edit]

About 40 years ago, I read about a poem, written in Chinese, which has caused at least 2 people to die, simply by reading it, and "getting caught up in the feeling". So apparently, truth is as strange as the fiction discussed in the article. Ancheta Wis 01:45, 21 Apr 2004 (UTC) N.B. I desire to know no more about this poem, such as its name, for some reason!

I left a question/info at Talk:The Funniest Joke in the World about an earlier version of the Monty Python sketch used as an example here. Glenn6502 01:53, 21 Apr 2004 (UTC)


I hope this doesn't qualify as a confession: The interest in this topic has been so strong that i was moved to do a Google test:

motif "harmful sensation"

I was shocked to read the "1 out of about 3" hits:

Did you know ... ...that the Monty Python joke-warfare sketch is an example of a motif of harmful sensation?

Now, i'm embarrassed anyway to see it on the Front page, but 1 hit...?

Folks, i knew i wanted to start the article; i didn't know the classic name for it; "Motif of harmful sensation" sounded like a good one; since there's so much interest, i thought i should see if it's the right name. But it ain't famous; it may even be original [shudder]. Should i put it on VfD as original research, before someone else embarasses me further by doing so? --Jerzy(t) 08:37, 2004 Apr 21 (UTC)

Well, Google can't always be the arbiter of what's original or not, because this may already be an established concept but you mighn't have the name wrong, or that it's an established concept but doesn't have a name. Heck, we've kept Exploding sheep ;)
I wouldn't put it on VfD if you're confident in the strength of this idea. How about Wikipedia:Requests for comment? Dysprosia 09:05, 21 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Science fiction story[edit]

Can anyone remember the (Larry Niven?) science fiction story where a piece of information causes whole civilizations to commit mass suicide, and the teams sent to investigate end up doing so as well?

Try Piers Anthony's Macroscope. Remember it well. (There is no fart like an old fart.) Tannin
Are you thinking of All the Myriad Ways? Tlogmer ( talk / contributions ) 23:35, 29 June 2006 (UTC)
I don't recall the title but I'm pretty sure it was one of the Draco's Tavern stories, probably one of the original five Draco's Tavern stories included in Limits. -- 19:33, 20 October 2006 (UTC)

Evil eye, curses[edit]

Perhaps we should mention the evil eye, and the deaths of people who hear a curse against them?


Could you rewrite the intro? I understood nothing until I read the examples.

More Examples?[edit]

(Jerzy(t) notes that an unsigned edit asked:)

Does Aristotle's Comoedia (the book that kills the reader in The Name of the Rose qualify? And the accuser that blames people of pronouncing the Name of God in Life of Brian and gets lapidated? And the ring in Lord of the Rings? And the cry of the banshee? And the brown note?

Item by item:
  • Does Aristotle's Comoedia (the book that kills the reader in The Name of the Rose qualify?
    • No, that was poison, not the mere sensation. But it is not an entirely unrelated motif.
  • And the accuser that blames people of pronouncing the Name of God in Life of Brian and gets lapidated?
    • No, that's not what they heard, but either an (inherantly) self-fatal action, or divine retribution for the (quasi-?)blasphemy of pronouncing the Tetragrammaton YHWH.
    • However,
      • Indy, at the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, tells her IIRC to close her eyes; the others, who don't have the benefit of the advice that is inspired by his specialized knowledge, get dead. Even tho it's not clear that that isn't retribution for the blasphemy of looking. (We're talking here about a Bastard who's probably mean enuf to punish you for rules you don't understand, since He's mean enuf to fire-and-brimstone two whole cities instead of sending an Angel of Death door to door so children can be spared.)
What about somebody's wife turned into a salt statue for looking back? -- Error 01:20, 22

How about in Chronicles of Narnia The Magician's Nephew they go into a world where the queen who was warring against her sister said a word that caused everything to die except her. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) .

Not exactly, as uttering the word was a magical curse. It wasn't hearing the word that killed all life, it was uttering the word. If hearing the word did it, it would fit. - BalthCat 05:18, 24 September 2006 (UTC)

Removed from article[edit]

I removed the following commented text that was originally hidden in the article (it appears here verbatim):

Researchers in Switzerland have discovered a [ hormone] called Oxytocin that when smelled, makes people more trusting. ... This is wrong; those researchers didn't "discover" Oxytocin (and it's spelled [[Switzerland]]). More specific information about their research should be merged with the [[Oxytocin]] article and then linked from here.

,-~R'lyehRising~-, 19:42, 13 May 2006 (UTC)

Explainable events[edit]

Are explainable events a part of this motif? I'm thinking in particular about the Andromedra Strain, and the epileptic seizure brought on. Is this really an example of the motif in action, as it is neither mysterious or universal? - Mr. Cat 22:42, 18 May 2006 (UTC)

Indigenous Australian traditions - Use of Language[edit]

The preferred name for the indigenous people of Australia is Aboriginal. It is used as a noun as well as an adjective. An Aboriginal Australian will say "I am an Aboriginal." They do not like the term Aborigine, which although correct, offends in the same way as some people of African origin are offended by Negro, also an anthopologically correct term. What is meant here is a designation of the race, not simply the adjective as in "They are aboriginal to Australia."

--Amandajm 06:12, 12 June 2006 (UTC)

Indigenous Australian traditions, generally[edit]

Though interesting, the new section on "Indigenous Australian traditions" is too broad for this article. It presents a number of items which are appropriate examples of the motif of harmful sensation, but it also includes a number of simple taboos, which are qualitatively different. In the interests of keeping this article well-defined (and not flooded with taboos of all kinds), I've removed parts of this section which are not related to the motif of harmful sensation.

The motif of harmful sensation, as defined in this article, is "the physical or mental damage that a person suffers merely by experiencing what should normally be a benign sensation." The key here is that the experience is a passive one -- the destructive or unhealthy influence acts upon the recipient without any transgression on the victim's part. The victim remains within the bounds of normal behavior (answering the telephone, watching a videotape, etc.), and has an experience which is normally a benign one ... however, the "benign" experience is, in fact, a malignant curse.

This is different than a taboo, which equates an unholy action (actively -doing- that which is explicitly forbidden) with retribution. The actor recognizes the taboo, wilfully breaks it, and is justly punished for his transgressions. In the society in which the taboo operates, this is obvious "justice" : an actor breaks the taboo and brings his own destruction. On the other hand, the motif of harmful sensation operates without "justice" whatsoever : the victim is simply exposed to an otherwise benign (and non-taboo) experience, and is struck down by the hidden curse.

To get back to the "Indigenous Australian traditions" section of the article : certain aspects of indigenous Australian traditions cited in this section do correspond with the motif of harmful sensation. For example : if it were simply the case that a woman who intentionally spies on a men's ceremony were cursed, a simple taboo would be in operation. However, as far as I can tell, women who see a men's ceremony -by accident- are harmed by the sight ... though arguably still an example of a taboo, I'll categorize this is as a (weak) example of the motif of harmful sensation.

Everything else in this section falls into one of two categories which are not part of the "motif of harmful sensation" : either a taboo which is wilfully broken by the victim, or a curse which is part of an extraordinary experience.

  • A woman handling a digeridoo is taboo in the indigenous Australian society : her direct and wilful transgression of the taboo causes her harm. If, for example, women were allowed to handle digeridoos but a -certain- digeridoo caused harm when handled by a woman, this might be an example of the motif of harmful sensation (harm caused by an otherwise non-taboo action).
  • The "evil eye" is, in fact, part of an extraordinary experience which combines intention (on the part of the caster) with a non-ordinary experience (a magical ritual). This is arguably not part of the motif of harmful sensation. I'll leave this in for now, though the introduction states that the motif of harmful sensation is related to (and therefore different than) the "evil eye". Another discussion should clarify this issue.
  • According to this section, Ayre's Rock is sacred to the Aboriginal people. This section seems to strongly indicate that it is a taboo place, which harms those who wilfully violate it. This is a taboo, not related to the motif of harmful sensation.
  • I'm not really sure where the last section is going, but the concept seems to be that a settlement was built on taboo grounds, and the people living in that area are cursed by the taboo. Fair enough; however, this is not related to the motif of harmful sensation.

Thoughts? If it's useful to include a section differentiating the motif of harmful sensation from taboos, I'd be glad to do it -- let me know if you all think that would be a useful addition to this page. Best, Docether 13:44, 12 June 2006 (UTC)

Gloomy Sunday[edit]

I'm removing this, as I did once before. I explained why in the talk page but it got cut out in some talk page edit massacre. (Perhaps by a newbie.) It was here. I still believe that it is out of place in this, as it is not an unusual thing for emotions such as sadness or happiness to be derived from song, poetry or art. It's not the same thing as The Ring or the Gorgons. - BalthCat 23:27, 9 July 2006 (UTC)

My introduction to this song was through the film Gloomy Sunday, which casts the song in a much more supernatural light, presumably following the urban legends which have proliferated. In the film, the song did not have lyrics at first, and it was simply a tune that caused a significant proportion of its listening audience to commit suicide. The song's composer wrote lyrics later, and the first time he heard them sung he shot himself a few seconds after. The film's suggestion was that the music was haunting because it seemed to be trying to speak some message to the listener; once the listener "heard" the message, they committed suicide. The fact that not everyone died was because the harmful "thing" was hidden, difficult to hear.
The question really seems to be does this belong under Urban Legends or under Fiction? The film probably provides the most fleshed-out version of the myth, but it departs in some major details from the urban legend and is openly fictitious. It's a well-known film with a strong cult following. It has played at a cinema in Auckland for over a year, which for Auckland is pretty phenomenal. I think it deserves some mention in this article... Fuzzypeg 02:29, 11 July 2006 (UTC)
Ah, see I have never seen the film. In the context of that film, which implies it was a supernatural effect, then I agree with inclusion if it's written in that context. But otherwise, sad songs aren't really the same thing. - BalthCat 00:02, 12 July 2006 (UTC)

Lovecraft's Mythos[edit]

The Mythos created by Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and others does indeed make a big deal of the viewing or hearing (normal sensations) of impossibile and unearthly beings and environments as detrimental to sanity. This is brought to solidity in the further development of the Mythos in roleplaying games in which the mere sight of Elder Gods requires a "sanity check" based on a "sanity" measurement or the character you are playing could conceivably slip further into madness. Lovecraft fills his works with the idea that unnatural sensation as well as knowledge, drive all who come in contact at least a little mad. - BalthCat 04:39, 10 September 2006 (UTC)

Motif Definition and Examples[edit]

Unless I am mistaken, the definition of this motif is at odds with many of the examples. The motif is defined as “the physical or mental damage that a person suffers merely by experiencing what should normally be a benign sensation.” If I understand this correctly, then an event must meet the following qualifications to be classified as an instance of this motif:

  • The subject is harmed by the very act of experiencing or perceiving, rather than by harm purposefully inflicted on him by somebody else.
  • The sensation is typically benign. That is, it is usually not normal or extraordinary, and the subject remains within the bounds of typical behavior when he experiences it.

If this is the case, then extraordinary experiences, such as viewing a deity, gorgon, or basilisk, or taboo experiences, like, say, a woman seeing “men’s business” among Aboriginals, would not qualify (how could seeing a gorgon ever “normally be a benign sensation”?). Furthermore, curses actively inflicted on the subject, such as the evil eye, Shiva’s eye beams, and Balor’s burning eye would not apply, as in these cases the harm is purposefully caused by a second party, rather than by the subject’s passive experience (the evil eye seems especially suspect to me, for the subject can be cursed by it without knowing or perceiving the curse).

Alternatively, maybe the motif’s definition is unclear. Based on the examples, perhaps the motif refers to the physical or mental damage a person suffers by the very act of perception, regardless of whether it is the perception of something extraordinary, taboo, or atypical. However, the evil eye and company would still not qualify (nor, for that matter, would most curses), since the harm is not caused by the subject’s experience but by another’s actions.

In an attempt to clarify things, I have tried researching this motif elsewhere, but I can’t find any real articles about it (practically everything is cribbed from this Wikipedia article), although there are a few uses of the term here and there. I have to wonder, then – is this motif elsewhere attested, or is this original research?

In any event, if anybody agrees with me and can offer further confirmation or insight, I’d be very interested in cleaning this article up a bit. But if others disagree with me or I am mistaken, I’m eager to better understand this.

All the best,

Mdcohn 21:02, 25 September 2006 (UTC)

Hi. Just a quick word about the subject before I hop to bed. I think that the definition needs to be shifted because clearly the problem is with the definition. If we scribble out the "benign sensation" part, all is well. Mostly. AdamDobay 22:46, 25 September 2006 (UTC)
No, removing "benign" would obliterate the concept, which is that supposedly "benign" sensation can cause harm. However I think that Mdcohn has confiremd this is OR. Some one will have to publish a book instead! I sense an AfD approaching. Now that that's out of the way: Questioning the hearing/seeing a god bit is valid but arguable. (Eyebeams and god lasers not included, they don't fit the concept.) The idea that seeing or hearing a god, while not normal, may overload or cause damage to a normal human fits the concept as does Lovecraft's "unearthly geometries" or music that drives a person mad. Those geometries, those musics, are obviously not normal either, as none of the entries in the article are. If they were, they wouldn't be notable. - BalthCat 03:44, 26 September 2006 (UTC)
My concern about looking at god, experiencing unearthly geometries, or viewing a gorgon is that such experiences are not normally benign sensations, in contrast with, say, reading a book (The King in Yellow) or seeing some flashing lights ("Electric Soldier Porygon"), both of which experiences are normally benign. The only thing that is normally benign about viewing a gorgon is that the act of seeing doesn't usually cause damage to the subject but does in the case of seeing a gorgon. But that fact alone is not sufficient; the cause of the sensation is at issue, not just the method of perception. Otherwise, looking into the sun and destroying one's retinas would qualify. It does not, of course, because looking into the sun is not normally a benign sensation. In any event, this little disagreement is moot, since I agree that this article should probably be deleted (unless, that is, somebody knows of some authentic literature on this subject). -Mdcohn 23:13, 26 September 2006 (UTC)
Seeing a mirror reflection or a photo of it would not cause the bad effect. It would be like looking at a drawing of it, which would be a benign sensation. In each case it is the raw sensation or perception that harms the viewer. Edison 17:50, 3 October 2006 (UTC)
I hate to belabor this point because doing so makes me feel very dense, but I feel that it is especially important since the article must now be cleaned up. You’re correct: seeing a photograph of a gorgon would not cause ill effects. But likewise, seeing a photograph of the sun would not cause ill effects. Why, then, does the gorgon fit the motif but seeing the sun does not? How is it that seeing a gorgon “should normally be a benign sensation”? Again, I would say that there is a problem with the definition – the difference between these two is not that one is normally a benign sensation and the other is not. The difference is that one is blinded by the sun because of the physical interactions between light and eye, whereas one is affected by the gorgon, the The King in Yellow, or Lovecraft’s geometries because the act of cognition has an extreme and harmful physical effect. Mdcohn 20:42, 11 October 2006 (UTC)
Mdcohn's suggestion points in the right direction, particularly since it defines the motif of harmful sensation more narrowly. One of the problems with the current definition is that it casts its net too broadly, including experiences which are more accurately classified under taboo or the evil eye. Obviously, we should remove any "examples" in the article which are more accurately classified under these other headings (for example, the eye of Balor). Perhaps : the motif of harmful sensation refers to sensory information, resulting from an experience not normally physically harmful, which becomes harmful or damaging as a result of the brain's attempt to process it. Or is that too pseudoscientific? -- Docether 13:48, 12 October 2006 (UTC)

I suggest that examples which fall under the following classes should be removed:

  • Ill consequences that are not induced by the sensation, even if induced as a result of the act of sensation. Example: If you peep at the goddess Artemis, and she gets angry and strikes you blind, you're harmed by her anger, not by the sensation of looking at her. (I agree with this point; I vote to strike Artemis from the list Kazuo Ishiguro (talk) 22:47, 4 August 2008 (UTC))
  • Harm that clearly comes from the medium of sensation, rather than the sensation itself. Example: A light bright enough to blind you is not a harmful sensation, even though you may experience some sensation from it. A car hitting you would certainly provide a tactile sensation but the harm is not coming from the tactile sensation. A more ambiguous case is the induction of epileptic seizures through lights flashing at particular frequencies; I would argue that this probably does fit the motif.
  • Harm inflicted by, rather than on, the receiver of the sensation. Example: If someone looks at you with the evil eye, they are receiving the sensation but you are the one harmed. There are enough examples of this that perhaps it should be discussed, but it should be discussed separately from sensations that themselves inflict harm -- either in a separate section of this article or in another article.

These are my thoughts on the matter. Any comments? -- Antaeus Feldspar 14:10, 13 October 2006 (UTC)

I generally agree with all three of your criteria for exclusion. I believe your first point rightly includes the violation of taboos. I do not think taboos should be included because, as you say, the ill effects are a punishment for or a side-effect of the sensation and are not concomitant with the sensation itself (whether the taboo was violated wittingly or unwittingly). Likewise, I agree with your second point, although I think that it may exclude "Electric Soldier Porygon": the harm is caused by the interaction between the brain and the flashing lights, not by the content of the animation and not by cognition. Or perhaps that is drawing too fine a line. I’m still not entirely sure about how to handle that one. I feel more strongly about your third point – the evil eye, and most curses for that matter, should most definitely be excluded. In fact, the evil eye is in some ways the opposite of the motif. In an instance of the motif of harmful sensation, one may incur harm by means of the passive sensation from looking; somehow, perception lowers one’s guard and leaves one open to harm. But when one uses the evil eye, one inflicts harm by means of the act of looking; somehow, the means of perception become means of casting a curse. It may be worth discussing very briefly simply because it is in contrast to the motif, but both cases exhibit different ways of regarding sight. In the former case, viewing is passive; when one looks, one receives. In the latter case, viewing is active, and one is producing rather than receiving. Also, your criteria fit well with Docether’s suggested revision to the definition, which I think may be right, or close to right. -Mdcohn 20:43, 13 October 2006 (UTC)

Not entirely fictional[edit]

I could be way off base here, but if you fainted or had a heart attack because of viewing something particularly startling like, say, a screamer animation, or saw an image of a gruesomely disfigured person unexpectedly, could this not be considered an example of motif of harmful sensation? Schprunkel 15:56, 14 January 2007 (UTC)

Hmm. The definiton is "the physical or mental damage that a person suffers merely by experiencing what should normally be a benign sensation." I guess that's a real life example, if you consider "normal" as the kind of people not prone to heart attacks. Kevin 04:26, 31 July 2007 (UTC)
I wouldn't say that kind of shock is normally a benign sensation. TCC (talk) (contribs) 07:09, 31 July 2007 (UTC)

Helpful page[edit]

I'd like to keep this page around. It helped me realize that I was hanging onto the phantom sensations of a former friend who betrayed me. Realizing that he had emotionally conditioned me to feel normal sensations as painful (or at least startling) has helped me immensely. It reminded me that the hypnotic power of suggestion is often a tool for those who play mind games. In the case of this one messed-up SOB, he had me reacting as if it was painful whenever someone casually brushed up against me. Before I met him, I never knew such things were possible, much less than I'd be sisceptible to them. --BlueNight 04:57, 11 June 2007 (UTC)

In fiction[edit]

The section "In fiction" is so stupidly large that I'm going to remove it entirely. Please work to restore some illustrative examples. --Tony Sidaway 00:39, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Please use {{split}} in future, otherwise big deletions just get reverted. Xanthoxyl 14:00, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

In fiction: A list of fiction containing the motif[edit]

This is (mostly) a subject of fiction. Alot of references were removed. Shouldn't there be a place for, or at least a reference to, the list of fiction containing the motif?

I understand the "In fiction:" section was big and disorganized, but isn't a big and disorganized list better than no list at all? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mosquit0 (talkcontribs) 00:25, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

There is already a place for a list of fiction and other material containing the motif, TV Tropes and Idoms; in this case, Citations there, as usual, aren't big on links or bibliography, but are always a good place to start. GeorgeTSLC (talk) 01:56, 30 March 2009 (UTC)

IRL example of restored sight[edit]

The Sidney Bradford example is not harmful sensation, because it was his psyche that caused his suicide, not any harmful image. Many people with restored vision see familiar things and are not driven to suicide. TMC1221 (talk) 18:24, 1 July 2008 (UTC)


This article, once interesting and informative, is now officially terrible. It reads like a mediocre undergraduate essay, and the first part (clearly written by a non-scientist) confuses the concepts of sensation and perception. There is more to MHS than "the evil eye" and seeing the face of god, yet most of the article is fixated on these instances. I think previous versions of this article have been far more relevant. Popular culture events are as important as droning on about the "evil eye" and letting the reader know that Dionysus was kangaroo'd about after his mum died, which, incidentally, has nothing whatsoever to do with MHS (other than the manner by which she died, and could be expressed in one sentence or bullet point, because it is hardly central to the concept of MHS; this is an example that comes from *mythology*, not CNN -- we do not need a play-by-play). Similarly, the nattering on about yoga and seeing the face of god is total filler; I would hate to think that whomever wrote that was trying to meet a word count, but that is how it reads. The concept of a god or gods is a debatable issue for many; the Wikipedia entry for MHS does not require recipes and spells for protecting oneself from accidentally looking at god, which is the direction this entry is taking. As a university professor, I would grade this undergrad essay at a low best. Revert! Revert! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:15, 15 December 2008 (UTC)

If you have information that could improve the article, feel free to add it or rewrite it. Or, at the very least, point out a version of the article you think is better. — The Hand That Feeds You:Bite 20:27, 15 December 2008 (UTC)