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View Full Version : The call of the void (The urge to jump from a precipice)


bldysabba
07-09-2012, 05:58 PM
When looking down over a steep drop, I often get an almost irresistible urge to jump . It's apparently common enough that the french even have a term for it - L’appel du vide, or the call of the void. What is the explanation for this phenomenon?

Blake
07-09-2012, 06:16 PM
In the distant past of our evolutionary journey toward our current state, we lived in trees. We leapt from tree to tree. There are even those who speculate that we may have something birdlike in our ancestral line. In which case, there may be some part of our mind that, when confronted with a void, expects to be able to leap out into it and even urges us to do so. So what you end up with is a conflict between a primitive, atavistic part of your mind which is saying "Jump!" and the more modern, rational part of your mind which is saying, "For Christ's sake, don't!" In fact, vertigo is explained by some not as the fear of falling, but as the temptation to jump!

No further commentary offered.

zoid
07-09-2012, 06:28 PM
You knew someone had to do it. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TeiSsJ3G_0)

Trinopus
07-09-2012, 06:28 PM
The explanation I've heard, and favor, is that our intelligence is built around modeling our situation and contemplating alternatives. We think about whether to ask Dolores to marry us, or whether to have the apple pie for dessert, or whether to use aftershave... At any given instant, we are looking down a lot of possible "alternate futures."

When you're standing at the edge of a high place, one of those possible futures is "I step forward." However, since we know that this would bring highly unfavorable consequences, our internal censor -- the part that keeps us from asking Dolores for oral sex, having an entire apple pie for dessert, or drinking the aftershave -- yells at us, "No way! That's terrible!"

We aren't really *tempted* to jump from the high place. We're just taking it into consideration, the way we do all our alternatives. Our minds are built to be flexible. We keep "jumping" in mind, just in case the Mir Space Laboratory comes crashing down upon us or a Gryphon suddenly pounces.

sitchensis
07-09-2012, 06:43 PM
I have a call to stick my hands into machines, like engines and chain saws. Never thought about jumping off a cliff.

pojimba
07-09-2012, 06:47 PM
I have a call to stick my hands into machines, like engines and chain saws. Never thought about jumping off a cliff.

Whuuuhhhhhhhhh?

greenslime1951
07-09-2012, 06:49 PM
If I found this urge recurring, I would make sure I was always wearing a hang glider in such situations.

DHMO
07-09-2012, 07:06 PM
A story about a woman whose husband worked at a Pickle Factory—

One day, her husband comes home and says, "Dear, for years at work I have had the powerful urge to stick my dick in the pickle slicer. Every day, when I walk past the pickle slicer, I get the compulsion to just stick it in. Well, today, I gave in and shoved my dick in the pickle slicer right there on the work floor."

The wife gasps, "Oh my God! What happened?"




"She and I both got fired."

:D

Patty O'Furniture
07-09-2012, 07:29 PM
This sounds like the imp of the perverse again.

Zsofia
07-10-2012, 12:56 PM
I have a call to stick my hands into machines, like engines and chain saws. Never thought about jumping off a cliff.
I have that too. Also, when holding something small and fragile and alive, like a bird or a mouse or something, I have the urge to squish it and am terrified that I will.

Rhythmdvl
07-10-2012, 01:24 PM
However, since we know that this would bring highly unfavorable consequences, our internal censor -- the part that keeps us from asking Dolores for oral sex... yells at us, "No way! That's terrible!"
You need to work on your example-picking skills.


I don't think it's as straightforward as contemplation of the possible. There are all sorts of possible actions that appear before us, even those with grave consequences, that do not have a similar call of the void. For example, when mashing stakes into the ground I never get the urge to crunch my thumb (YMMV). I presume this non-feeling differs from when sitchensis faces an industrial shredder or Zsophia juggles kittens. Perhaps it's the contemplation of the possible with some added element of desire.

(BTW, anyone else here think the thread was going to be about having to pee when visiting a library or bookstore?).

Mangetout
07-10-2012, 02:34 PM
The explanation I've heard, and favor, is that our intelligence is built around modeling our situation and contemplating alternatives. We think about whether to ask Dolores to marry us, or whether to have the apple pie for dessert, or whether to use aftershave... At any given instant, we are looking down a lot of possible "alternate futures."

I'd say the capability to perform 'What if...?' analysis is an absolute necessity for intelligence. IMO, sometimes it's consideration of possible futures, other times, it's like the brain is a committee comprising a spectrum of attitudes, ideas and opinions - and what's going on internally is analogous to debate.

Gagundathar
07-10-2012, 02:39 PM
This is from a somewhat parallel topic on 'Weird Urges':
Quite a few times in my life when I have approached the top of a long drop, I have had the urge to throw myself out into space. I probably have had this impulse for a long time.

I imagine it might have surfaced along with my desire to be Batman when I was but a lad. Yes, you and I know that Batman can't actually fly, but he always seemed to be able to fall a long way without being harmed. I figured it must be the cape. So, I donned my hat with flaps and pinned a towel around my neck. I climbed up the wooden fence and onto the roof over the carport. From there along the ridges to the very highest peak of the house. Stood there and leaped out to fall about 25 feet. Didn't die because my leap outward was interrupted by impact with the tall pine that grew right next to the house. I don't remember now whether that was a conscious decision or not. Slid down with minor damage to my jacket. Did not try this again. I think even then I knew I had gotten lucky.

But even now, when I stop the car along the Foothills Parkway I still feel the pull.
I get out and just stare out into the air to see the mountains and hear the wind blowing.
I don't really want to fall; Instead I wish I could just fly.

The Tao's Revenge
07-10-2012, 09:33 PM
Why doesn't "'What if...?' analysis" as an attractant apply to alternate threats? For example take an angry dog. I usually remember considering all the scenarios that end with parts of me in its mouth to avoid them. However I don't feel a strange urge to pet its snarling tongue. Nor an urge to roll around in a fire, or grab a downed power line.

I think its at a deeper and simpler level, depth perception. When you're looking straight down a chasm, you're looking at something that's visually right by your feet, yet parallaxed much farther away. That paradox has to play hell on some part of the brain.

As antidote, I don't have much, if any depth perception, and my reaction to heights always been every neuron screaming in unison "(Carefully!) back the fuck away you fucking idiot before you get us all killed you stupid, clumsy asshole. What the hell you even doing on this thing? I mean Jesus Titty Fucking Moses. Look how high it is, get the fuck down".

Rhythmdvl
07-10-2012, 10:58 PM
I think its at a deeper and simpler level, depth perception. When you're looking straight down a chasm, you're looking at something that's visually right by your feet, yet parallaxed much farther away. That paradox has to play hell on some part of the brain.

As antidote, I don't have much, if any depth perception, and my reaction to heights always been every neuron screaming in unison "(Carefully!) back the fuck away you fucking idiot before you get us all killed you stupid, clumsy asshole. What the hell you even doing on this thing? I mean Jesus Titty Fucking Moses. Look how high it is, get the fuck down".
Weird brain is weird. I've gone bungee jumping and sky diving several times (though never at the same time). In all cases, even after a few jumps, the former was always completely terrifying whereas the latter was surreally relaxing. Not that there wasn't a heap of anxiety associated with the first jump, but none of the terror associated with the height. I've always chalked it up to the visceral perception of distance. My monkeybrain understands what a few hundred feet drop is and could do to me. Above ten thousand feet, it has no evolutionary frame of reference.

gaffa
07-10-2012, 11:18 PM
Richard Preston wrote this article in the New Yorker (http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2007-08-13#folio=030) about Lesch–Nyhan syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesch%E2%80%93Nyhan_syndrome), a medical condition that causes self-injuring, including biting off fingers, lips and tongues.

Most people with it do not life very long.

Trinopus
07-10-2012, 11:45 PM
You need to work on your example-picking skills.

Grin! If you knew Dolores like I know Dolores...

I don't think it's as straightforward as contemplation of the possible. There are all sorts of possible actions that appear before us, even those with grave consequences, that do not have a similar call of the void. For example, when mashing stakes into the ground I never get the urge to crunch my thumb (YMMV). I presume this non-feeling differs from when sitchensis faces an industrial shredder or Zsophia juggles kittens. Perhaps it's the contemplation of the possible with some added element of desire.

Good point... When working with a hammer, I often have that weird "imp of the perverse" feeling about smashing my partner's thumb, but not my own.

(BTW, anyone else here think the thread was going to be about having to pee when visiting a library or bookstore?).

Whenever I see a sign that says "Void Where Prohibited," I have the strangest urge to comply with those instructions...

phreesh
07-11-2012, 12:23 AM
Is it possible to get back to the OP?

I have similar urges. For whatever reason, it's especially strong at malls with clear glass railings overlooking the first floor. I often spend a second or two vividly imagining myself clambering over the railing and jumping down.

I also have the urge to put my hands in dangerous places like fans and machinery, but not as often, probably because I don't encounter them as often.

I'm really curious if this is a thing. I always kind of thought I was weird.

Magicicada
07-11-2012, 08:18 PM
Well, if you're not good with heights, jumping is the quickest way out of the situation.

Beware of Doug
07-11-2012, 08:22 PM
I forget the name of the movie, but Jeff Bridges played a character who had this. After he realized he would never follow the urge to jump, he felt deep shame and had to start burying people alive to feel like a man again.

bldysabba
07-12-2012, 05:27 AM
No further commentary offered.

Is that because you agree with his explanation, or well, yknow, Douglas Adams.

Is it possible to get back to the OP?

I have similar urges. For whatever reason, it's especially strong at malls with clear glass railings overlooking the first floor. I often spend a second or two vividly imagining myself clambering over the railing and jumping down.

I also have the urge to put my hands in dangerous places like fans and machinery, but not as often, probably because I don't encounter them as often.

I'm really curious if this is a thing. I always kind of thought I was weird.

Yup, it's more than just an urge. There's a fairly vivid imaginary component, which often involves the step of throwing yourself off the edge, and imagining what the fall would be like (I know, I know. Nasty, brutish and short), but...

Well, if you're not good with heights, jumping is the quickest way out of the situation.

...it does not involve fear. Or at least anymore fear than is reasonable. I have no problem with heights at all.

Anne Neville
07-12-2012, 09:09 AM
When looking down over a steep drop, I often get an almost irresistible urge to jump . It's apparently common enough that the french even have a term for it - L’appel du vide, or the call of the void. What is the explanation for this phenomenon?

I am very afraid of being near a steep drop that I could jump over, because I get this feeling, and I don't like it at all.

Kamrusepas
07-12-2012, 02:13 PM
I have that too. Also, when holding something small and fragile and alive, like a bird or a mouse or something, I have the urge to squish it and am terrified that I will.

I relate to this so much. I also hate it when I'm faced with a number of fragile objects, like porcelain or glassware. I get a terrible to urge to crush them all.

I also deal with kittens from time to time, and holding them when they're small terrifies me. Mind you, I would never harm an animal, but when it's so small it fits in your hand... Guess it's my own power that frightens me.

Kevbo
07-13-2012, 04:46 PM
I have a call to stick my hands into machines, like engines and chain saws. Never thought about jumping off a cliff.


One place I worked, we used multi-megahertz ultrasonics to atomize liquids. When run in an open bath, the sound would cause water to form a stalagmite like structure with mist and drops of water coming off of it.

If you touched that cone of water with your finger, the sensation was remarkably close to hitting it with a hammer, and took nearly a minute to fade. Myself and all of my colleagues had at one time or another given in to our curiosity and discovered this first-hand. Interestingly NOBODY ever spoke of this until one evening in a pub over beers.

grama
07-13-2012, 05:26 PM
I often get that feeling when crossing streets with heavy traffic.

Simple Linctus
07-13-2012, 06:14 PM
I have this, the worst place I have it is in rail stations where it's tremendously difficult on occasion not to launch myself in front of trains - the faster they're going the harder it is.

My father has it too. I think it's part of the human condition.

Mahaloth
07-14-2012, 08:45 AM
This sounds like the imp of the perverse again.

This is what I came in to say. Here is the Wikipedia article on it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Imp_of_the_Perverse)

JKellyMap
07-14-2012, 09:49 AM
Grin! If you knew Dolores like I know Dolores...



I assumed you were invoking Nabokov.

Anyway, I like the explanation you gave. You could answer the objections that others have mentioned, by pointing out that the difference with jumping from a height is that the "effort-conequence" ratio is so astoundingly skewed, more even than sticking your hand in a woodchipper, or jumping in front of a bus, etc.

CC
07-14-2012, 11:21 AM
For me, the urge seems to be rooted in the very real and present sense of death and injury, which is usually ephemeral or unrealized. But when we're in one of the circumstances in which our demise is so clearly within reach, we find ourselves contemplating it, and, realizing that we are really that close to death - that it is actually at that moment within our power to actually die that type of death - we stun ourselves with that awareness. Obviously, at any time in our life, we could assemble the wherewithal to do away with ourselves, but we don't attend to those thoughts usually. Standing on the edge of a cliff, however, there it all is - within easy reach. And we freak at the incredible closeness and ease with which death could occur.

Washoe
07-14-2012, 01:39 PM
We had a thread about this a couple of years or so ago that got locked. The OP made the mistake of asking whether or not these types of thoughts were pathological. It set off the panic strobe on one of the mods’ desk, and the mod promptly locked it, thinking that the OP was asking for psychiatric advice. The OP got his panties in a bunch and called out the mod, and everybody kinda agreed with him and dogpiled the mod. Anyway, the best answer that came out of the whole affair is that this is OCD. It seems that we all carry around the software that causes it, but fortunately for 99% of us it never runs. But every once in a while it likes to run a little applet, and this is where these weird thoughts of self-harm come from. Apparently they’re ridiculously common, and they’re more prevalent in intelligent people.

Ruby
07-14-2012, 06:43 PM
I have the urge to drive into a tree occasionally. I never do, but the urge is peculiar and real.

rivulus
07-14-2012, 06:54 PM
Sometimes I feel an urge to escape. You know, when there is so much stuff going on in life that I could really use a break. Optimally, a vacation on a beach somewhere. But sometimes it pops up at the edge of a cliff. Not suicidal, just an urge to have total freedom for a couple of seconds.

The problem of the landing always squelches that idea.

Ike Witt
07-15-2012, 06:58 AM
Like just about everything else, this has been discussed (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=535083&).

Attack from the 3rd dimension
07-15-2012, 11:39 AM
This sounds like the imp of the perverse again.

No, she hasn't posted for ages.

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