Phantom vibrations and the Mind-Body Connection

By Joseph Holder on 28 Jun 2011 01:54 pm EDT

The Phantom Vibrate. If you don't use a holster to carry your BlackBerry or don't have the smartphone set to vibrate in the holster, chances are you haven't experienced this. Those who do holster their BlackBerry smartphones know what I'm talking about. It usually happens on one of two ways. Your "feel" your phone vibrate only to find that it hasn't. In fact, usually the BlackBerry isn't even in the holster. The other way is when you just know you have a message even though you haven't felt the smartphone vibrate or heard an alert tone.

The brain of Homo sapiens is an amazingly complex organ that allows us to make sense of the world around us. Our brains are plastic (not the stuff made from oil); the brain easily adapts to many situations. Take a look at that video up there. At about the 1:20 mark, the folks at Horizon talk about a device designed to add a sixth sense to humans.

A belt sewn with small vibrating motors is all it takes. The motors vibrate in response to the position of magnetic north. No matter which way the subject turned, the one motor pointing north would vibrate. The researchers had their subjects wear these belts every waking moment for six weeks. After a time, the subjects' brains incorporated the vibrations into a new sense; the subjects had a new sense of direction.

Those times when you know you have a message but didn't feel the phone vibrate or hear anything? It's probably due to something similar to this. The human brain is extremely adaptive. It's possible that our brains have adopted the vibrations of smartphones and have actually assimilated them into a new sense. New Message sense or something of the sort.

But what about the phantom vibrate? 

Take a look at this video, from same Horizon show, "Is Seeing Believing?" It really doesn't take all that much coaxing to get the brain to believe something not part of the body is a part of the body. In the experiment above, the subject's brain is tricked into believing a rubber arm is the subject's actual arm. When the fake limb is stuck by a hammer, the brain becomes quite confused and shocked. 

It's not that far out there to believe the brain has adopted your BlackBerry as a part of you. You wear your BlackBerry in its holster in the same spot nearly every day. Your mind becomes accustomed to those sensations and vibrations. When those sensations and vibrations disappear... the mind begins to make up stories. 

This is not that uncommon. Amputees can experience Phantom Limb Syndrome; patients have reported itching and other sensations coming from limbs that are no longer there. Sit in a very dark place long enough and the eyes begin to play tricks, creating splotches of color where very little light exists. Some claim that sensory deprivation chambers can send a person on a wild ride of self-discovery, created from the stories the mind creates.

Those who wear their smartphones can become connected to them mind and body. That's certainly not a bad thing. It simply means that we have adapted ourselves to our smartphones, incorporating them into our minds' map of our body. When you use something as often as you use your BlackBerry, it becomes a part of your life. Is it any wonder that your brain thinks it's part of your body as well?

Topics: Editorial

Reader comments

Phantom vibrations and the Mind-Body Connection


What an awesome editorial! The BBC video is hilarious but I can definitely imagine reacting to that hammer. Great work guys :)

wow and here I thought it was just me! glad to see I'm not going crazy when I feel my hip vibrate and my Berry isn't there

As much as I love Crackberry, this is the most interesting article I've read on here in a long time, which is saying a lot! Nicely tied in with the "phantom vibrate" sensation which I'm sure everyone can relate to, regardless if you're a BlackBerry user, Android user, or... what's that other one again? Lol.

I've already e-mailed this to my contact list and received more than a few thanks for sharing. Keep these coming!

OK, now to throw something even more odd into this. First off I've experienced "phantom Berry" myself. More so with thinking it's buzzed when really it hasn't (as opposed to "sensing" a message before it buzzes), but here's the wierd thing.

I used dumbphones for years before, in a hip holster. I don't recall ever having "Phantom Berry" sensations before I got an actual BB. And I remember when I went back to dumbphones it took a while for the "Phantom Berry" sensations to stop. Now that I'm getting back into BB's again, I wonder how long it will take to experience "Phantom Berry" again?

And please note, I haven't changed where I wear my phone (right hip) or my sound settings (usually either vibe or vibe+LOUD depending on my surroundings), so maybe there's something even more 'connected' about BB?

Anyone else experience this?

Wow!! This is a keeper. I agree with the others that this is a top notch story. Very, very interesting!

I don't know if anybody else has experienced this or not but, I kinda know that the phone is about to ring sometimes. I'll be doing a tune-up or watching TV and something in my head is like "grab the phone shawty" and before two seconds pass its going off. I even shook up a friend one time. This happened with my 8350i. I have had my 9780 since april and its only occured once so far. Anybody else have something like this happen to them?

Just thought I'd throw in my experience I've had phantom vibrations many times even when the phone is not in my pocket it was always on my thigh though since I've rarely worn a holster. So you can count us pocket guys in too. Lol

Glad to know that I'm not losing it already! I have had the phantom vibration issue going on for at least the last three years and really thought I was going nuts. I tend to get the mystery buzz after coming home from work (when I know full well that my phone is on the table and no longer on vibrate) and am winding down. It's enough to make ya fully believe that you are losing your marbles.

Got to love Horizon.

Probably one of the shows I miss most after moving to the US. Always finds some new perspective and explains it without giving you a headache !

They flipped the video so that when the YouTube copyright software reviews the video against a database of copyrighted shows it won't automatically flag/pull it.

Interesting experiment. I was reading an article on new scientist recently and apparently we have the genes that allows us to 'see' magnetism... however for some reason they don't seem to work. These genes were transferred into lab mice and became active. Interesting.

On the Phantom Note, I would say easily 80% of the time my mobile rings in the evenings when at home, I have a feeling it is a certain person, and it always is... yet I have no 'sense/feeling' anywhere else or at any other time of the day about who it is. Maybe it's something to do with a small room and being surrounded by lots of electrical signals, who knows Odd, but there you go! Not a particularly useful psychic gift admittedly! Now if I could tell what the lottery numbers where going to be before they were called that would be much more useful ;)