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FRED FIRST: The Onset of RINGXiety and Other Communication Hallucinations

Goose Creek Meets Nameless Creek – Fred First.

Our expectations shape our experience. We know this at some level, and use it to teach our children to predict a good outcome on the first day of school.

“Have a positive attitude” and “look on the bright side” we tell them, knowing that a rose-colored attitude and expectation can make a difference in what kind of day they will have.

Prepay their confidence card, kinda.

“You’re going to feel a little pinch” the dentist tells us, to lower our expectations of pain. (I’m not falling for it!)

Predictions and expectations—conscious and not—have a stronger influence on everyday behavior than we might have thought, according to Andy Clark, a Professor of Cognitive Philosophy at the University of Sussex and author of “The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality.

“Strong enough predictions can make us hallucinate” Clark highlights early in the piece.

And here is where he got my attention with the example of “phantom vibration syndrome.” Oh no. I’m all in.


Phantom vibrations. It’s a THING! I thought it was just me. The phone, always in my left pants pocket, is vibrating. No, it’s not.

So what did I just feel? And on another instance, the phone is vibrating in my left pocket. I reached for it. It wasn’t there. Then I see it on the coffee table in front of me. What’s up with that?

I confess, this has happened several times. I dismissed it as a case of cutaneous miscommunication combined with a brain no longer under warranty. After all, and you can ask my age peers: Things fall apart at 75.

I clearly see objects that aren’t there (floaters, some that look like tardigrades). I hear things that aren’t there (tinnitus: but sometimes the crickets are real). So why shouldn’t I feel sensations on my skin that come from no physical source at all?

I’ll just not mention this to anyone, I thought—at least until things get worse. When I start having phone conversations with the invisible vibrating caller, we’ll seek professional help. (I may just wait for the White Coats to call me. By then, I might not even have to pick up the phone when they do!)

E pluribus unum: From the many, I am only one soul who is afflicted by tactile hallucinations. Solidarity, perpetually-plugged-in brothers and sisters.

Turns out that the “syndrome” has gotten a good bit of attention behind my back since my first smartphone (a Droid) in 2008. Who knew?


It seems I am not losing my mind, but granted, not fully in control of it, either. The condition is benign, I suppose, but there are caveats:

With regard to the so-what of this “syndrome” we find research topics titled…

Possible association between phantom vibration syndrome and occupational burnout

Prevalence and Pattern of Phantom Ringing and Phantom Vibration among Medical Interns and their Relationship with Smartphone Use and Perceived Stress

One researcher asks

“…should we be concerned about what our mind or body may be trying to tell us by the aggravating imaginary emanations from belts, pockets and even purses? Whether PVS is the result of physical nerve damage, a mental health issue, or both, this growing phenomenon seems to indicate that we may have crossed a line in this ‘always on’ society.”

And the conclusion from DermNet quoted above :

No cutaneous features of PVS have been identified in the research. However, PVS has been linked to some psycho-social symptoms such as: Anxiety. Over-vigilance. Psychological stress. Emotional disturbance. Do I have to pick one?

I’m curious. If you have had this experience, but like me, did not know this was a wide-spread experience; or if this is something you’ve been aware for like ever, please share in comments. I guess I should be happy it took 15 years of cell phone use to have my first pocket tingle just in the past few months of 2023.

Can you hear (or feel) me now?

Creek Sounds. Near flowing water, I always hear music, laughter or coffeehouse conversation if I let my mind expect it. It is a kind of intentional self-deception—acoustic pareidolia— the perception of shapes in clouds or the melodies of Vivaldi in a babbling creek. What do you hear sitting stream-side when you let your mind grow calm and receptive?

– Fred First is an author, naturalist, photographer watching Nature under siege since the first Earth Day. Cautiously hopeful. Writing to think it through. Thanks for joining me. Subscribe to My Substack HERE

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