Friday, June 29, 2012

EYES WIDE SHUT – Seeing the Backs of My Eyelids

Our bodies are like microcosms of the earth; on us and in us are natural wonders every bit as incredible as trees, tides or tigers. They appeal to every one of the senses. And they're all there for the asking. In fact, some are so easy to find you can see them with your eyes closed.

Seeing with your eyes closed? Even in total darkness? If you've never done so, try this: when you go to bed tonight—after you’ve turned off the light and closed your eyes—look carefully at whatever it is your optic nerves are sending to your brain, and describe what you see. It’s not a trick question.


It's a field of vibrating points of color—like 
the "snow" one sees on a TV screen that's not 
receiving a program.

I'm not sure this is universal, but for me there’s definitely something there. It's usually a field of vibrating points of color—like the "snow" one sees on a TV screen that's not receiving a program. At other times it appears as a subtle, blotchy glow, ebbing and flowing like the hazy curtains of northern lights, ranging in color from shades of blue or green to reds, yellows and even tans.

So how does the eye—or the brain—perceive color, form and texture in total darkness? The scant research I’ve done points to something called phosphenes, luminous impressions caused by electrical, chemical or pressure stimulation of the retina. I guess I’m glad my phosphene images are as agreeably abstract as they are, because some people report seeing very specific, often eerie, images, including recognizable faces!

I've written here about floaters, those stringy little dark spots sliding oilily around on our fields of vision—most of us get them at some point in our lives. They're the shadows cast on the retina by tiny clumps of cells or of the gel inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like substance that fills the eye.


They're about the only sight for which the only way to get rid of them is to open your eyes!

What fascinates me about floaters is that they’re visible all the time, whether your eyes are open or shut. They're most prominent when you close your eyes and face a bright light—like the sun. When you open them, though, your vista gets so filled with light and images that you don’t notice the floaters. So, ironically, floaters are about the only sight for which the only way to get rid of them is to open your eyes! 

I can't ponder such conspiracies of brain and eye without thinking of optical illusions, those clever images clever people devise to fool the eye. Some make it look like something's moving which really isn't. Others seem to create impossible spacial relationships (think M.C. Escher). The effects are achieved through shapes, patterns or colors that confuse the eye.

Just the other day I came across this one involving eyes both open and closed. Stare at the red dot on the woman's nose for 30 seconds, then turn away, look at a plain surface and blink your eyes rapidly. Keep blinking; after a few seconds, the image of the woman will appear against the blank field, but with a surprising difference.


Do you see things you shouldn't really be able to see? Does that creep you out, or does it remind you, as it does me, just what wonders the human body and mind are? 

If you've experienced seeing things with eyes wide shut, how do you know you're actually seeing something and not just imagining it? Is there really any difference?

I and my small-but-appreciative following would love to hear 
from you!


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