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Many myths have creatures like sirens who can use their voices to lure men to their deaths.

But is there any way a creature could exist in the real world that had that power? I don't just mean fooling animals by using scent or color to lure them in, I mean actually causing humans to approach without defending themselves.

The easiest thing to explain would be if the creature was able to lure unsuspecting humans into an ambush, the more varied and powerful the effect the better though. Ideally one of these sirens would be able to literally stop a fight and have everyone in it mindlessly approach the siren instead. I think that's unlikely but the goal is to get as close to that as possible.

This ability does not have to be gender specific, if it targeted all humans or even all animals that would be fine. Equally if it is gender or human specific that's also fine.

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I think the college male lure has long been "Like, oh my god, I am sooo drunk". – Samuel Feb 2 at 18:43
    
oooh science-based – Serban Tanasa Feb 2 at 18:47
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Did you mean to link to worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/tags/science-based/info ? – Tim B Feb 2 at 18:48
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Samuel has a good point, even if he intended it to be a joke. Sounds really don't need to be doing anything the least bit unusual to get humans to do things, that's just what language is. Your siren could just be an extremely good mimic. The sound of a child crying would do a fine job of luring some reasonable percentage into an ambush. – Saidoro Feb 2 at 19:37
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Actually music still does the trick. Walk through any big town pedestrian zone, there are sirens making noises to make you stop and listen and give them money. – RedSonja Feb 3 at 8:23
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Crying

Crying invokes a natural protection instinct in humans and animals alike; or, alternately, invokes the predator instinct of an easy lunch. Either way, mimicking the sound of a child crying is likely to draw the attention of either helpful or hungry marks. As long as there aren't many targets, it's unlikely to be detected, unless a whole gang approaches. Making "helpless" or "hurt" type noises is likely to bring food to your door, and has the added benefit of not being suspicious.

Being loud

Certain sounds have been shown to have a direct effect on human emotions and physical state: Infrasound, very low frequency sounds, can cause a sense of awe or unease, and certain higher frequencies can cause nausea, irritation, vertigo, and disorientation. While these sounds aren't songs, per se, simply finding the resonant frequency of your target and blasting them with sound waves would likely incapacitate them enough to not be a problem. With a good set of lungs, it wouldn't be hard to take down a human for a few minutes with disorienting ultrasonic bursts. Of course, while loud sound can quickly disable a person, the sound will carry. If using loud noise, especially low frequency noise, make sure your sirens can escape with their target quickly, before anyone else shows up. Survivors are not likely to equate such a creature with the sirens from legend, however.

Chemical help

The right combination of chemicals secreted by the siren could cause any number of effects, from lowered inhibitions to hallucinations. It may be that the siren's song is merely to draw the gaze if those affected by a chemical substance, such as pheromones; when the affected target hears a "siren song", they turn towards the siren, draw in by motions and sounds she makes. Survivors will only remember a beautiful song.

Technical interference

The sirens of myth and legend drew sailors to themselves by their siren call, drawing them towards rocks that smashed their ships. Our siren may do just that, only at a higher technology level than mere music. Instead, the siren mimics the "ping" of SONAR, confusing sensors into believing there is danger (or safety) where there is none. With their sensors confused, ships wouldn't be able to spot a floating island, and would wreck; the siren could then further damage the ship, eventually sinking it. The more advanced the ship, however, the more difficult this would be; failing could draw a lot of unwanted attention.

"Sound"

Not all sound we hear is actual sound; interfering with the brain can cause it to register sounds without those sounds actually being present. The right electromagnetic waves could produce the sensation of music, as well as stimulating the pleasure center of the brain; those affected would claim to have heard a hauntingly beautiful song, but one that they cannot reproduce. While under the influence of the "siren song", they would be in a dreamlike state, unlikely to fight or even notice their surroundings. Survivors may even be tempted to return and find the source of the beautiful music; wearing headphones or noise-cancelling devices wouldn't stop the music, either, meaning detection is very difficult.

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A Song

It is entirely possible for a song to be so breathtakingly beautiful and "pure" that anyone hearing it would be so moved as to be almost hypnotized. However, that song would serve only as a momentary distraction in the face of another important event.

For example, if hearing this beautiful song becomes associated with an "evil siren" lurking just around the corner waiting to feast on your bone marrow then people will quickly learn to turn around and run the heck away.

In order for people to become utterly hooked you'd have to somehow hypnotize, or better yet, drug them.

Drugging People For Fun & Profit

Consider that a drug which makes people simply forget about violence and embrace "love" already exists: ecstasy.

Now imagine a creature capable of releasing ecstasy-like pheromones. People within range would breathe these in without even knowing. While drugged they could experience wonderful (or horrifying) hallucinations, pleasant sensations, overwhelming feelings of guilt, or love, while also losing their decision making, and reasoning abilities etc. It's really your choice.

Why Not Both?

So now your victim is drugged and highly open to suggestion, but how do you draw them into your trap?

The pheromones can be accompanied by a "beautiful" (it could only seem so to the drugged person, while anyone else might find it to be a shudder-inducing, hungry-for-meat moan) song which serves to draw the drugged/hallucinating victim closer to the siren.

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Doing anything for fun and profit deserves a +1 – Draco18s Feb 2 at 20:31

So you know how sometimes songs get stuck in your head for hours, even if you've only heard a small snippet?

That's because some music creates patterns that resonance with our minds, and once started that pattern just bounces around in a loop.

A Siren is a creature that has a natural affinity for music, and can make musical patterns that are so in sync with brain activity that they shut down the higher reasoning centers, affecting the motor cortex directly.
By changing the pattern a Siren can cause an individual person to follow complex commands, or can cause a group of people to follow simple commands like "follow me", or "put down what you're holding", or "chill out".

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That is not at all an accurate description of how a tune gets stuck in your head.The mind has structures for dealing with sound, it's not bouncing around inside of your brain like a superball and hearing has nothing whatsoever to do with your head being any sort of resonant cavity. – Saidoro Feb 2 at 19:34
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@Saidoro I'm not talking about that kind of resonance. When you see or hear anything your brain sends signals zipping across (brain waves), triggering memories and stuff. Some music creates brain patterns that have resonance (as in wave frequency, not echo) that are more pleasurable than others. This is why there is mood music. In my example, by adjusting the music, the Siren could create resonance that dampens out some waves and enforces others. – AndyD273 Feb 2 at 19:51
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I prefer this reasoning. If there were a way to utilise the patterns and soundwaves to mess with a person's motor skills, you don't have to "distract" them. People in cars, airplanes, ships, etc would all be in danger of crashing their vehicles. The confusion and disorientation would make them easy prey, too. – The Anathema Feb 2 at 20:02
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@TheAnathema I kind of picture it as our crude attempts at music are a kid on a kazoo compared to this creatures Bach. And it might not actually be "music", just sound waves that cause the resonance it wants. This answer is inspired by an old sci-fi short story about a guy that uses a computer to create the perfect earworm, and ends up putting people in to coma's because the music disrupts all other thought, except one guy that's tone deaf and turns the music off. I'm desperately trying to find the title of the story :) – AndyD273 Feb 2 at 20:13
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@TheAnathema Found the story. It's "The Ultimate Melody" by Arthur C Clark. Here's a summary. – AndyD273 Feb 2 at 20:33

There's another approach you can take on the Siren song approach.

What if the siren simply produced a soundwave-song that was unbearable to humans? Something super high pitched, something to drive the humans in a certain direction - perhaps the direction of your other Siren friends, or dangerous rocks. They're not defending themselves, just avoiding something annoying/painful.

Basically, instead of luring the humans, you scare them into moving away from your voice - all you would have to do is reposition yourself such that you're between them and the open ocean, and they're between you and a rocky cliff (or some other similar hazard).

So the answer to your question, if we took the above approach, would probably be yes.

Since many creatures can produce sound of different wavelengths, one could potentially evolve to produce the wavelength required to drive humans/animals mad enough to run away from you (and to their deaths), or towards you (if they're already insane in the first place/they're just that curious).

And if you wanted to vary the power, just have your hell-sirens sing a lower volume and become a small annoyance instead of a piercing shriek-song.

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Wow, how brutal! That sounds like a horrible thing. However, I will tell you different animals here different sets of pitchs. Much like how your dog may start feeling agitated if it heres something outside of your hearing range. – Simple Art Feb 3 at 22:49

Any scent/pheromone that could produce a rohypnol like effect would be hugely effective in this.

One of the triggers to release Oxytocin is listening to soothing music. So a 'Sirens' song could easily help relax someone and put down their guard.

A hypnotic beat to the song might be used to further lower someones resistance, and add a in hypnotic dance and you might be able to seriously hold someones attention.

Then if you can add in some outside chemical warfare to further reduce conscious resistance it might work. Though without chemicals it might be hard to be fool proof, but no trap in the natural world is fool-proof, just successful enough.

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It would only work once.

Once word got around among humans that such a creature exists, and that its intent is fully malevolent, the full might and power of our technological civilization would be put to use against such creatures. Since the Sirens are necessarily intelligent, it would also be our first alien contact.

Hazmat clad-soldiers with stun guns would descend upon the shores with noise cancelling headphones on their ears blaring "Ride of the Valkyries" at 100 db.

The few sirens that survive this onslaught would be dragged to research laboratories and studied, filmed, vivisected; their minds stripped bare before the scientists.

Soon, we'd have siren-inspired pop culture and siren-based advertising, and counter-measures for those.

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what do stunt guns do? is that what movie directors use to shoot stunts? – Dragonrage Feb 2 at 20:17
    
I don't think this is that realistic. These isn't really magic or mythology, so the creatures don't have to be sentient. They could just be a new animal. – XandarTheZenon Feb 2 at 22:08

Sure you could, just use magic.

With magic, the song doesn't even need to sound that good. :D

Or maybe if we understood the human brain much better, we might find certain notes struck in a certain pattern affects neurons in cool hypnotic ways.

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I'm specifically looking for non-magical solutions here :) – Tim B Feb 3 at 13:29
    
@TimB Well, I tried. Sirens are usually "magical" though. – Simple Art Feb 3 at 22:32
    
Thanks for trying, but yeah I'm looking for scientifically plausible creatures that have the same ability as Siren's have in mythology. That's what the science-based tag was referring to although perhaps I should have mentioned it explicitly in the text too. – Tim B Feb 3 at 22:47

Another possibility : a parasite that infects most humans without them even knowing and that would draw them to sirens.

I am thinking about something that would work the same way Toxoplasma gondi does on a mice's brain. For more details on how and why this parasite works, see here Parasite that makes rodents lose fear of cats

In your world, a parasite of your creation could infect humans without visible symptoms and no effect on their health. It would only tamper with their brain so that they'd be attracted to any siren around. In order to stick with the legends of singing sirens, you can even choose to make the parasite "act" or "activate" only when its human carrier hears the sound of a siren.

If you need a few of your characters to resist the sirens' songs, this solution also allows you to scientifically explain it : for instance some people's genes might mute thus developing an enzyme that would destroy the parasite.

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That's a really neat solution, it also explains the evolution as assuming the sirens are part of the parasite's life cycle then humans are basically in an evolutionary arms race with the parasite to be not infected or resist the effects but the parasite has a far stronger imperative to be good at infecting people. – Tim B Apr 18 at 19:28

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