Be my oasis in the desert!
October 18, 2012 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Looking for first-person accounts of, or other non-fiction writing about, the experience of seeing an oasis mirage in the desert.

I'm doing a bit of research about hallucinations of an oasis (water, etc) in the desert. I have done some searching but am having a hard time finding anything substantive on this topic (other than many delightful scenes from old episodes of Looney Tunes). Can you guys point me towards anything good? A first-person account, a scholarly article about the phenomenon, a scene from a documentary, etc?
posted by Mender to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

You realize you're conflating two different things, right? Hallucinations are a psychological phenomenon; your brain is making you think you see things that aren't there. A mirage is an naturally generated optical illusion caused by light being refracted by hot air, and you can even photograph it.

Have you ever driven on a highway on a hot day, and thought you saw a big puddle of water on the road ahead, but then it vanished when you got close? That was a mirage; the hot air above the road surface reflected the light to create the illusion. If someone is wandering in a desert, they could certainly see the same phenomenon on hot sand and believe it to be water. But the cartoon cliche of an oasis fully equipped with palm trees? That's either exaggeration or a hallucination brought on by exhaustion and dehydration.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:10 PM on October 18, 2012

I traveled extensively in the eastern Sahara a few years back and definitely experienced the mirage illusion of water as Faint of Butt (!!) describes. But I also had a more hallucinatory vision of lines of cars passing on a long, straight stretch of road. We were in the middle of nowhere, and it was definitely an interesting brain process that unfolded as I experienced the hallucination, gradually grew aware that it was a total misinterpretation of some visual cues, and then tried (and failed) to recreate the misinterpretation.

Also, long trips in the desert are awesome.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:39 PM on October 18, 2012

Here's Jared Diamond's first-person account of heat-induced hallucination (not mirage) from Guns, Germs, and Steel.
posted by pont at 3:32 PM on October 18, 2012

See also Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Wind, Sand, and Stars, which I think contains first-person accounts of both mirage and hallucination (certainly hallucination at least).
posted by pont at 3:35 PM on October 18, 2012

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