My God, It’s Full of Stars! What You See When Your Eyes are Closed – Phosphenes


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!

Thanks to Wikipedia, and again, and Multiple Sclerosis Info, WiseGeek, MadSci, and MotiFake!   

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  1. When I was about 4 years old, I would spend hours and hours with my eyes closed, rubbing my eyelids and watching these screensavers!
    I remember also making other children do that… I don’t think they really cared, though 🙂

  2. I remember seeing them as a child. I thought there may of been something wrong with my eyes or something, I seemed to think they looked like Red, Green and Blue “sparkles”.
    Not something you hear anyone normally acknowledge or anything. I see them ALL the time. hell right now, overlayed on everything.

  3. I see them too. Ive seen them ever since i was a kid but only against plain backgrounds like it states above when there is lack of external stimuli, I used to get very worried and ended up having an eye examiation to be told everything was okay and nothing to worry about. Im glad i found this website cause it comforts me to know that im not the only one observant enough to experience this phenomenom. I also have one floater in my right eye not big its about the size of a midgie that has been slightly smudged i think of it as more of a friend and a reminder that im blessed with the gift of sight and i should enjoy it! I hardly see it anymore but it occosionally pops into my pupils line of sight to say hello. I hope anyone who reads this finds comfort through what i have said. 🙂

  4. I’ve been experiencing the phosphene effect my whole life.  Bored in class?  Stare at the pretty lights.  I’ve heard it may be an indicator of schiziophrenia.  Oh well!  

  5. Anybody still monitoring this post? I’d like to know more about consciously controlling phosphenes and their apparent role in the projection of unconscious neural activity (e.g. cultural symbolism and mathematical functions).

  6. I have a chronic illness called ME/CFS, plus severe Dysautonomia, which has left me bedridden for many years now. Six months into my illness, I developed a permanent visual hallucination, which is there when I close my eyes. It’s complex layers of colours, which end in semi circle shapes, which start off as green and as my eyes follow one layer down, they turn to green with orange or red and purple patches and becomes more patchy with holes and sparks everywhere and finally going red or dark purple, before my eyes will automatically open and seem to collect dots again, in order to create a new layer, which always seems to get thinner, as this process keeps occurring but another thing I have been able to see, which is even more bizarre, is that sometimes when I nap during the day, I can see that instead of my eyes trying to fix these gaps and holes in the layers, which I always see on the surface, once I feel I’m about to nod off to sleep, I see that my eyes start to travel deeply into the layer and this is where it gets very frightening because I can be aware of the whole thing. I see that I get sucked into some sort of vortex or wormhole and I can sometimes be travelling through the universe and then at other times I can see that I’m moving through the sky, or along a road where I’ll see a car, bus, people walking, I’ve even once seen another planet but I’ll always be in the wormhole, as all this happens and I can see because the wormhole is see through and it’s almost like I’m able to see some kind of process, which maybe I’m not supposed to be seeing.

    • I’m sorry to hear that spook but that is very insightful. I do not have an illness but at times when I close my eyes can see a blue aura wormhole type effect, pulsating circles sucking my mental in, doesn’t happen often but it’s what I see now and then when I close my eyes. I never allowed myself total submission to it because it takes me by surprise and I open my eyes an lose it.

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