As much as I love light, I love to close my eyes and stare at the back of my eyelids. Have you ever noticed how amazing, how beautiful the events that occur are when you rub your eyes and notice the instant star and explosion show that occurs in your vision? I always imagine it as I’m looking into the birth of a universe – each time I stare at my eyelids I see little exploding stars that each take about 2-3 seconds to fully ignite, explode, and become part of the other stars waiting for me to focus my gaze on them. Try it, it’s a lot of fun! It is for me, at least. Perhaps I’m nutso. Still, AWESOME!
These little events are called entopic phenomena, meaning that they come directly from the eye itself. I’m pretty sure everyone’s experienced the most common form of entopic phenomena, eye floaters. Right?
Eye floaters, whether or not they have a sarcastic retort like the ones in Family Guy, are entopic phenomena.
The light that you see when you don’t see any light – whether it’s the random star birth and death that I see when I close my eyes, or if I rub my eyes, or any of a few things that trigger it for me – are called phosphenes. That word is from two greek words, phos (light) and phainein (to show), and goes to explain most of the “hey there is light in my vision but there’s no source” mysteries. The phrase “seeing stars,” like from getting whacked in the head or from being dizzy is phosphenic. When people are deprived of light for long periods of time, phosphenes occur in the person’s vision as well – this is referred to as “the prisoner’s cinema.” Isn’t that just creepy and horrible? Apparently phosphenes can occur through several methods, from strong magnetic fiends, to just rubbing your eyes, to reports of astronauts seeing them when exposed to radiation in space.
Here’s a good account of the Prisoner’s Cinema, which also happens apparently to truck drivers, pilots, and other folk who have to concentrate on something for very long periods of time:
It has been widely reported that prisoners confined to dark cells often see brilliant light displays, which is sometimes called the “prisoner’s cinema.” Truck drivers also see such displays after staring at snow-covered roads for long periods, and pilots may experience phosphenes, especially when they are flying alone at high altitudes with a cloudless sky. In fact, whenever there is a lack of external stimuli, these displays can appear. They can also be made at will by simply pressing your fingertips against closed eyelids. In addition, they can also be produced by an electrical shock. In fact, reportedly, it was high fashion in the eighteenth century to have a phosphene party. It is noted that Benjamin Franklin once took part in such an encounter where a circle of people holding hands would be shocked by a high-voltage electrostatic generator, so that phosphenes were created each time the circuit was completed or broken.
The earliest account of phosphenes is given by the Bohemian physiologist Johannes Purkinje in 1819. These subjective images are called phosphenes (from the Greek phos, light, and phainein, to show). Oster (1970) suggests that, because phosphenes originate within the eye and the brain, they are a perceptual phenomenon common to all mankind. The visual areas of the brain at the back of the head (occipital lobe) can also be stimulated to produce phosphenes.
I find these very fascinating, these entropic events. Do you have them? How would you describe them? Please, leave a message in the comments, I am very interested in your phosphene experiences!
Check out this beautiful video representation of phosphene events portrayed artistically. So pretty!