The artist Aaron Ross
has a great definition of phosphenes: "phantom images seen only in the mind's eye."
Phosphenes (literally "light that shines forth") are luminous, ephemeral
signposts marking the landscape of innerspace
. Several scientists have found that phosphenes have common features across cultural boundaries. Such findings point to a universal library of symbols.
A phosphene is a multicolored shape or pattern seen in the darkness, without external visual stimulation. Phosphenes can be seen with closed eyes or in a completely dark room with open eyes. Phosphenes
may appear as:
- exploding stars
- wispy clouds
- parallel lines
- wavy lines
- dotted lines
- spider webs
- dot patterns
- circles within circles
- thin meandering lines, like lightning
- geometric shapes, like triangles, squares, pentagons
- and so on.
They may swirl, pulse, superimpose, fragment, or morph into other images
If you have ever bumped your head and seen stars, those were phosphenes
. You can, however, stimulate the appearance of phosphenes
without hurting your head in the process. Hold your fingers over your closed eyelids and make very slow and gentle circular motions or apply very gentle pressure. When images begin appearing, remove your fingers, keep your eyes closed, and watch the visions. Having a tape recorder handy will allow you to describe out loud the colors, shapes, and other phenomena you witness. This information will be helpful later as you study the symbolic meaning of your visions.
Why does pressure on the eyeballs create phosphenes? Mathematician G. Bard Ermentrout
explains that the pressure inhibits signals from the retina, thereby encouraging the brain's cortex to fill the void. The brain begins firing spontaneously and creates hallucinatory patterns.
Phosphenes can also be seen under such conditions as:
- fever delirium
- sensory deprivation
- sweat lodges
- profound concentration
- medicinal herbs
- psychoactive drugs (such as LSD)
- food and water deprivation
- electrical and magnetic stimulation of the visual cortex
- strobe lights
- rhythmic movement
- migraine headaches
- trance states
- intense emotion
- crystal gazing
The behaviour of phosphenes seems to be uncontrollable by scientists. In 1994, vision researcher William H. Dobelle discovered that the phosphene lights flicker at a rate which seems unrelated to the cardiac pulse, breathing rate, or other physiologic functions.
Phosphene researcher and artist Lorena Babcock Moore
says that under the influence of drugs and other intense forms of stimulation, phosphenes become "more pronounced and the patterns (called entoptics) increase in complexity and may include flashes, spirals, circles, or zigzags that move in concentric circling, horizontal streaking, vertical falling, or scattering fragments. Motifs may overlap and transform into one another." However, Moore does not use intense methods for her own phosphene work. She prefers outdoor solitary drumming.
Distinct shapes are commonly seen in phosphenes. Phosphenes are said to be generated by the nervous system's intrinsic geometry.
Vivid, morphing colors are typical. Phosphenes typically change color in phases:
2. Bright green with a red halo expanding toward the center
3. Red with a blue halo expanding toward the center
5. Grey, faint afterimage
These inner visions have inspired artistic works throughout human history. In 1989, researcher Richard Bradley
applied the concept of phosphenes to European megalithic art. He attributed many mysterious cave drawings with the phosphene visions of the ancient artists. Art historian A. E. Iribas has traced the influence of phosphenes on such art as:
- the "childlike" art of Miro
- the psychedelic art of Michaux
- the surrealist art of Dali
- the mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism
- the architecture of temples
- alchemical imagery
- Hildegard von Bingen's illuminations
- the work of contemporary painters such as Onslow-Ford, Kupka, Kandinsky, av Klint, and others
In 1983, Qabala expert Philo Stone suggested that phosphenes are actually "sparks of pure energy, light perceived at the moment of its conversion into nervous-system information between the cornea and the brain. Thus, phosphenes may be the behavior of atomic particles as observed by the naked eye: the interface of two worlds, the normal and the nuclear -- the fourth dimension."
The French physician Francis Lefebure (1916-1988) experimented with a technique of combining a thought with a phosphene in order to transform the energy of light into mental energy. He believed that conscious phosphene work would stimulate memory, attention, intelligence, imagination, intuition, creativity, decision making, patience, perseverance, self confidence, dreaming, and the discovery of new dimensions. His technique involved stimulating phosphenes with a light source:
1. Sit in a darkened room.
2. Look at the bulb of a small pocket flashlight (non-halogen) for thirty seconds.
3. Turn off the light and, with open eyes, see the phosphene.
4. Place a thought inside the phosphene: "A thought of love, goodness, peace, wisdom, a thought dedicated to unhappy and unlucky people of the planet."
5. Keep both the phosphene and the thought for at least one minute, smiling throughout.
Let's close with our favorite appearance of phosphenes in literature, in which the colored lights are each worlds of their own: "[He] pressed his knuckles against his closed eyeballs. How they throbbed ... those eyeballs ... and what surprising shapes and colours those were, that appeared before his inner vision! ¶ With a sort of sullen curiosity he watched those floating geometric shapes — green and purple and violet. 'Each of these,' he thought, 'might be a world. Perhaps it is ...
and from the point of view of the Absolute just as important a world as this of ours!'" (John Cowper Powys, Wolf Solent
My name is Steven Roy, I live in Medford Oregon. This stuff rocks. I am 31 now when I was 27 I was in my uncles house, and quite manic. I was rubbing my eyes for about 2 hours straight. I loved the lights. I saw all phases of the phosphenes, and then everything went white. The white turned to clouds that seperated to reveal stars, space, christ, comets, earth, pyreamids, mermaids, tridents, and hyperspeed tracers, like star trek. I knew something was up, but then my phosphenes wouldn't go away, I started realising I was communicating witht them through my thoughts. I have been working as a succesfull psychic ever since. Not only that, I had to pass tests, and tasks, and rewire my brain, and my body started moving on its own as well. I am convinced that Francis Lefebure, was correct when believing that concious phosphene work, stimulates memory,intelligence, imagination, intuition, creativity, etc. I believe this because I went through it just like scool. Others think its cool, I am not your average psychic worker. I am not a religious person and do believe that the symbols I saw where in fact caused by phosphenes, and somehow were a bridge to establish my own belief system as an individual. If anyone else has had this experience, please let me know. I think this might be a way of completely opening up someones memory bank, because it happened to me. I went from a average Joe who was not happy with life, to a smart person with a new passion for life and learning in 3 months. I had to remember eveything that I could or I couldnt move onto the next phase. Just like the phosphenes, in phases. Anyway take care.
I learned about these early. I used to get on a swing at recess in elementary school and press on my eyes (my arms wrapped around the chains) to "see visions." I used that as a method of divination. Something about flying high on the swing and the sense of rushing through space in darkness made the images more dramatic. I got some of the other kids to do it. And then I had to see the school psychologist. So much for the spirit of inquisitiveness in the American educational system in the 1970s. I suppose I was the Timothy Leary of the playground set. Just, like, without any good drugs.