What does it mean to feel uncanny?

What does it mean to feel uncanny? : Definition of uncanny 1a : seeming to have a supernatural character or origin : eerie , mysterious b : being beyond what is normal or expected : suggesting superhuman or supernatural powers an uncanny sense of direction 2 chiefly Scotland : severe, punishing

Read Detail Answer On What does it mean to feel uncanny?

Repliee Q2 is an uncannily lifelike robot, developed by roboticists at Osaka University It can mimic such human functions as blinking, breathing and speaking, with the ability to recognize and process speech and touch, and then respond in kind

The uncanny is thepsychological experience of something as not simply mysterious, but creepy, often in a strangely familiar way .[1] It may describe incidents where a familiar thing or event is encountered in an unsettling,eerie, or taboo context.[2][3]

Ernst Jentsch set out theconcept of the uncanny later elaborated on by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay Das Unheimliche, which explores the eeriness of dolls and waxworks.[4] For Freud, the uncanny locates the strangeness in theordinary.[3] Expanding on the idea, psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan wrote that the uncanny places us “in the field where we do not know how todistinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure”, resulting in an irreducible anxiety that gestures to the Real.[5] The concept has since been taken up by a variety of thinkers and theorists such as roboticist Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley[6] andJulia Kristeva’s concept of abjection.[citation needed]


German idealism[edit]

PhilosopherF. W J. In his late Philosophie der Mythologie from 1837, Schelling brought up the topic of the uncanny and proposed that the Homeric clarity was founded on a prior repression of the uncanny. [7]

InThe Will to Power manuscript, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche refers to nihilism as “the uncanniest of all guests” and, earlier, inOn the Genealogy of Morals he argues it is the “will to truth” that has destroyed the metaphysics that underpins the values of Western culture. Hence, he coins the phrase “European nihilism” to describe the condition that afflicts those Enlightenment ideals that seemingly holdstrong values yet undermine themselves.

Ernst Jentsch[edit]

Uncanniness was first explored psychologically by Ernst Jentsch in a 1906 essay, On the Psychology of theUncanny. Jentsch defines the Uncanny as: being a product of “…intellectual uncertainty; so that the uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one’s way about in. The better oriented in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it.”[4] Heexpands upon its use in fiction:

In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it upimmediately.[4]

Jentsch identifies German writer E. T. A. Hoffmann as a writer who uses uncanny effects in his work, focusing specifically on Hoffmann’s story “The Sandman” (“Der Sandmann”), which features a lifelike doll, Olympia.

Sigmund Freud[edit]

The concept of the Uncanny was later elaborated on and developed by SigmundFreud in his 1919 essay “The Uncanny”, which also draws on the work of Hoffmann (whom Freud refers to as the “unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature”). However, he criticizes Jentsch’s belief that Olympia is the central uncanny element in the story (“The Sandman”):

Icannot think – and I hope most readers of the story will agree with me – that the theme of the doll Olympia, who is to all appearances a living being, is by any means the only, or indeed the most important, element that must be held responsible for the quite unparalleled atmosphere of uncanniness evoked by the story.[4]

Instead, Freud draws on awholly different element of the story, namely, “the idea of being robbed of one’s eyes”, as the “more striking instance of uncanniness” in the tale.

Freud goes on, for the remainder of the essay, to identify uncanny effects that result from instances of “repetition of the same thing,” linking the concept to that of the repetitioncompulsion.[8] He includes incidents wherein one becomes lost and accidentally retraces one’s steps, and instances wherein random numbers recur, seemingly meaningfully (here Freud may be said to be prefiguring the concept that Jung would later refer to assynchronicity). He also discusses the uncanny nature of Otto Rank’s concept of the “double”.

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Freud specifically relates an aspect of the Uncanny derived from German etymology. By contrasting the German adjective unheimlich with its base word heimlich (“concealed, hidden, in secret”), heproposes that social taboo often yields an aura not only of pious reverence but even more so of horror and even disgust, as the taboo state of an item gives rise to the commonplace assumption that that which is hidden from public eye (cf. the eye or sight metaphor) must be a dangerous threat and even an abomination – especially if the concealed item is obviously or presumingly sexual in nature. Basically, the Uncanny is what unconsciously reminds us of our own Id, our forbidden and thus repressed impulses – especially when placed in a context of uncertainty that can remind one of infantile beliefs in the omnipotence of thought.[3] Such uncanny elements are perceived as threatening by our super-ego ridden with oedipal guilt as it fears symbolic castration by punishment for deviating from societal norms. Thus, the items and individuals that we project our own repressed impulses upon become a most uncanny threat to us, uncanny monsters and freaks akin to fairy-tale folk-devils, and subsequently often becomescapegoats we blame for all sorts of perceived miseries, calamities, and maladies.

What interests us most in this long extract is to find that among its different shades of meaning the word heimlich exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, unheimlich. What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich. […] In general we are reminded that the word heimlich is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without beingcontradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight. Unheimlich is customarily used, we are told, as the contrary only of the first signification of heimlich, and not of the second. […] On the other hand, we notice that Schelling says something which throws quite a new light on the concept of the Unheimlich, for which we were certainly not prepared. According to him,everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.


A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that anxiety about one’s eyes, the fear of going blind [as used as a central theme in “The Sandman”], is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated. The self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration – the only punishment that was adequatefor him by the lex talionis. […] All further doubts are removed when we learn the details of their ‘castration complex’ from the analysis of neurotic patients, and realize its immense importance in their mental life.[4]

After Freud, Jacques Lacan, in his 1962–1963 seminar “L’angoisse” (“Anxiety”), used the Unheimlich “via regia” to enter into the territory of Angst.[9] Lacan showed how the same image that seduces the subject, trapping him in the narcissistic impasse, may suddenly, by acontingency, show that it is dependent on something, some hidden object, and so the subject may grasp at the same time that he is not autonomous (5 December 1962). For example, and as a paradigm, Guy de Maupassant, in his story “Le Horla”, describes a man who suddenly may see his own back in the mirror. His back is there, but it is deprived of the gaze of the subject. It appears as a strangeobject, until he feels it is his own. There is no cognitive dissonance here, we rather cross all possible cognition, to find ourselves in the field where we do not know how to distinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure. And this is the signal of anxiety: the signal of the real, as irreducible to any signifier.


Hypothesizedemotional response of human subjects is plotted against anthropomorphism of a robot, following roboticist Masahiro Mori’s theory of the uncanny. The uncanny valley is the region of negative emotional response towards robots that seem “almost human”. Movement amplifies the emotional response.

This concept is closely related toJulia Kristeva’s concept of abjection, where one reacts adversely to something forcefully cast out of the symbolic order Abjection can be uncanny in that the observer can recognize something within the abject,possibly of what it was before it was ‘cast out’, yet be repulsed by what it is that caused it to be cast out to begin with Kristeva lays special emphasis on the uncanny return of the past abject with relation to the ‘uncanny stranger’ [10]

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Direct or metaphorical visual references and the uncanny share a common relationship, as noted by Sadeq Rahimi, which he explains in terms of fundamental ego development processes, specifically those outlined by Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage. Rahimi provides a wealth of evidence from a variety of contexts in order to show how themes and metaphors of vision, blindness, mirrors, and other optical tropes are frequently used to describe uncanny experiences. Additionally, he offers historical proof that the literary and psychological tradition from which the concept of “the uncanny” emerged was strongly influenced by ocular and specular themes and associations. Rahimi claims that cases of the uncanny, such as doubles, ghosts, dj vu, alter egos, split personhoods and self-alienations, phantoms, twins, living dolls, etc. They all have two things in common: they are variations on the theme of the doubling of the ego and they are closely related to visual tropes. [12].

Roboticist Masahiro Mori’s essay on human reactions to humanlike entities, Bukimi no Tani Genshō (Valley of Eeriness Phenomenon), describes the gap between familiar living people and their also familiar inanimate representations, such asdolls, puppets, mannequins, prosthetic hands, and android robots. The entities in the valley are between these two poles of common phenomena. Mori has stated that he made the observation independently of Jentsch and Freud,[13] though a link was forged by Reichardt and translators who rendered bukimi asuncanny.[14][15][16]


Canny is from the Anglo-Saxon root ken: “knowledge, understanding, or cognizance; mental perception: an idea beyond one’s ken.”[17] Thus the uncanny issomething outside one’s familiar knowledge or perceptions.

See also[edit]

  • Creepiness
  • Evileye
  • Liminality
  • Simulacrum



  • ^ Royle, p. 1.
  • ^Royle, p. vii.
  • ^ a b c D. Bate,Photography and Surrealism (2004) pp. 39–40.
  • ^ a b cd e Freud, Sigmund (1919).”Das Unheimliche”. Archived from the original on July 14,2011.
  • ^ Lacan, Jacques (2005).O Seminário, livro 10: A Angústia. Jorge Zahar Editor.
  • ^ Mori, M. (2012). Translated by MacDorman, K. F.; Kageki, Norri. “The Uncanny Valley”. IEEE Robotics and Automation. 19 (2): 98–100.doi:10.1109/MRA.2012.2192811.
  • ^ A.Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny (1993) p. 26
  • ^ N. Royle, The Uncanny (2003) p. 90
  • ^ A. Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny (1994) p. 224
  • ^ S. Beardsworth, Julia Kristeva (2012) pp. 189–92
  • ^ “Lacan: The Mirror Stage”. www.english.hawaii.edu. Retrieved2019-10-02.
  • ^Rahimi, S. (June 2013). “The ego, the ocular, and the uncanny: Why are metaphors of vision central in accounts of the uncanny?”. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Wiley-Blackwell. 94(3): 453–476. doi:10.1111/j.1745-8315.2012.00660.x. PMID 23781831.S2CID 10856256.
  • ^ Jochum, E.; Goldberg, K.: Cultivating the uncanny: The Telegarden and other oddities. In: Herath, D.; Kroos, C.; Stelarc (Hrsg.): Robots and art: Exploring an unlikely symbiosis. S. 149–175. Singapore 2015
  • ^ MacDorman, K. F.(2019). Masahiro Mori und das unheimliche Tal: Eine Retrospektive. In K. D. Haensch, L. Nelke, & M. Planitzer (Eds.), Uncanny interfaces (pp. 220–234). Hamburg, Germany: Textem. ISBN 978-3864852176doi:10.5281/zenodo.3226274
  • ^ Mori, M. (2019). Das unheimliche Tal (K. F. MacDorman & V. Schwind, trans.). In K. D. Haensch, L. Nelke, & M. Planitzer (Eds.), Uncannyinterfaces (pp. 212–219). Hamburg, Germany: Textem. ISBN 978-3864852176doi:10.5281/zenodo.3226987
  • ^ Reichardt, J. (1978). Human reactions to imitation humans, or Masahiro Mori’s Uncanny Valley. In Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction.New York: Penguin.
  • ^ “Definition of ken”.Dictionary.com.
  • Sources[edit]

    • Royle, Nicholas (2003). The Uncanny. Manchester University Press.ISBN 978-0-7190-5561-4.

    External links[edit]

    • The dictionary definition of uncanny at Wiktionary
    • Freud, ‘The Uncanny’

    Is uncanny a positive word? : If something is uncanny, it is so mysterious, strange, or unfamiliar that it seems supernatural If you hear strange music echoing through your attic, you might refer to it as positively uncanny
    What is a synonym for uncanny? : The words eerie and weird are common synonyms of uncanny. While all three words mean “mysteriously strange or fantastic,” uncanny implies disquieting strangeness or mysteriousness.
    Read Detail Answer On What is a synonym for uncanny?

    1 being beyond one’s powers to know, understand, or explain

    • a number of uncanny parallels in the lives of the twins who had been separated at birth

    • dark,
    • darkling,
    • fuzzy,
    • murky,
    • obscure,
    • shadowy,
    • vague
    • ambiguous,
    • equivocal
    • imponderable,
    • incomprehensible,
    • unfathomable,
    • unintelligible,
    • unsearchable
    • inexplicable,
    • unaccountable,
    • unexplainable
    • unanswerable,
    • unknowable
    • metaphysical,
    • mystical,
    • numinous,
    • supernatural
    • abstruse,
    • esoteric,
    • recondite
    • baffling,
    • befuddling,
    • bewildering,
    • confounding,
    • confusing,
    • disorienting,
    • mystifying,
    • perplexing,
    • puzzling

    • fathomable,
    • intelligible,
    • understandable
    • apparent,
    • clear,
    • evident,
    • manifest,
    • obvious,
    • open-and-shut,
    • palpable,
    • patent,
    • perspicuous,
    • plain,
    • straightforward,
    • transparent,
    • unambiguous,
    • unequivocal,
    • unmistakable

    2 being so extraordinary or abnormal as to suggest powers which violate the laws of nature

    • an uncanny gift for knowing when someone, no matter how distant, needed help

    • bizarre,
    • curious,
    • eerie
    • (also eery),
    • far-out,
    • funny,
    • grotesque,
    • kinky,
    • outlandish,
    • out-of-the-way,
    • outrageous,
    • outré,
    • peculiar,
    • quaint,
    • queer,
    • queerish,
    • quirky,
    • remarkable,
    • screwy,
    • strange,
    • wacky
    • (also whacky),
    • way-out,
    • weird,
    • wild
    • baffling,
    • bewildering,
    • confounding,
    • mystifying,
    • perplexing,
    • puzzling,
    • shocking
    • aberrant,
    • atypical,
    • fantastic
    • (also fantastical),
    • flaky,
    • freak,
    • freakish,
    • idiosyncratic,
    • marvelous
    • (or marvellous),
    • prodigious,
    • rare,
    • singular,
    • uncommon,
    • unique,
    • unnatural,
    • unusual,
    • unwonted
    • unconventional,
    • uncustomary,
    • unorthodox
    • conspicuous,
    • notable,
    • noticeable,
    • outstanding,
    • prominent,
    • salient,
    • striking
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    • average,
    • commonplace,
    • everyday,
    • garden,
    • ordinary,
    • prosaic,
    • routine,
    • run-of-the-mill,
    • typical,
    • unexceptional,
    • unremarkable,
    • usual,
    • workaday
    • expected,
    • familiar,
    • predictable
    • common,
    • customary,
    • frequent,
    • habitual,
    • regular,
    • wonted

    3 fearfully and mysteriously strange or fantastic

    • uncanny and unexpected shadows along the mountainsides

    • ghastly,
    • ghostlike,
    • ghostly,
    • ghoulish,
    • spectral
    • bizarre,
    • curious,
    • odd,
    • outlandish,
    • outré,
    • peculiar,
    • quaint,
    • queerish,
    • quirky
    • unaccustomed,
    • uncommon,
    • unusual
    • metaphysical,
    • preternatural,
    • supernatural
    • enigmatic
    • (also enigmatical),
    • inscrutable,
    • mysterious,
    • puzzling
    • dreadful,
    • fearsome,
    • horrible,
    • horrifying,
    • terrible,
    • terrifying

    • common,
    • commonplace,
    • everyday,
    • normal,
    • ordinary,
    • prosaic,
    • routine,
    • typical,
    • unexceptional,
    • unremarkable,
    • usual
    • natural
    • expected,
    • familiar,
    • predictable

    See the Dictionary Definition 

    How would you describe uncanny? : having or appearing to have a supernatural or unexplainable basis; being above and beyond what is usual or expected; exceptional: uncanny accuracy; a remarkable knack for spotting trouble. Unsettlingly strange sounds filled the house. mysterious; inspiring superstitious fear or dread.

    Additional Question — What does it mean to feel uncanny?

    Is uncanny a negative word?

    Meaning: Strange, eerie, and striking in an almost supernatural way; so precise as to seem not humanly possible. Pronunciation: n-k-n-ee Hear it! Notes: This word is now recognized as an orphan negative, which is the opposite of a word that no longer exists.

    What is example of uncanny?

    When someone resembles your spouse almost exactly, that is uncanny. mysterious or strange, particularly in a way that terrifies or unnerves; in a preternaturally strange, eerie, or weird way. Weird; strange; mysteriously unsettling.

    Why are we scared of the uncanny?

    Another hypothesis contends that the Uncanny Valley is brought on by an existential dread of being replaced by robots. This goes hand in hand with another notion that our expectations or norms of what humans and robots look like are violated when we see a robot that resembles us exactly but is obviously not human.

    What is it called when something looks human but isn t?

    A human appearance or behavior may, up to a point, make an artificial figure seem more familiar to viewers, according to the uncanny valley metaphor. Once the synthetic figure tries but fails to mimic a realistic human, the viewer’s sense of familiarity rapidly decreases into the uncanny valley.

    Why do we feel uncanny valley?

    Some of the brain areas close to the visual cortex, which deciphers visual images, tracked how human-like the images were, by changing their activity the more human-like an artificial agent became in a sense, creating a spectrum of ‘human-likeness’

    Why did humans evolve uncanny valley?

    By altering their activity the more humanlike an artificial agent became, certain brain regions close to the visual cortex, which decodes visual images, tracked how humanlike the images were, in effect creating a spectrum of “human-likeness.”

    Do animals feel the uncanny valley?

    Oct. 13, 2009, 11 a. m. The uncanny valley, a mysterious visual phenomenon that affects people, has a new interpretation thanks to research from Princeton University. Monkeys can also sense it, according to the scientists.

    How do I get out of uncanny valley?

    The uncanny valley can be avoided by adhering to a number of design principles, such as the idea that design elements should be realistically human. matching appearance, behavior, and ability to lessen conflict and uncertainty. Only use photorealistic texture in combination with human facial proportions.

    Is uncanny valley a survival instinct?

    For instance, Mori (1970/2012) proposed that the uncanny valley effect is a survival instinct, an unpleasant reaction to nearby threats like dead or ill bodies and dangerous animal species.

    Who created the uncanny valley theory?

    Although Mori first put forth the theory in 1970, formal empirical studies did not start until the middle of the twentieth century. Despite mixed results regarding the how and why of the valley’s occurrence, some research has supported its existence.

    Is Polar Express uncanny valley?

    The Polar Express experiences the infamously terrifying uncanny valley as it tries to portray the true emotions and facial expressions of a human character but settles for shoddy renders that convey nothing behind the actors’ vacant eyes.

    Dannie Jarrod

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