Thursday, May 28, 2009

When Your Eyes Are Closed, What Do You See?

I've drafted the eighth and final chapter of my book in progress (working title Perplexities of Consciousness). Chapters 4 and 7 are not yet in circulatable form. Like the other chapters, this chapter is written to be comprehensible in isolation. As usual, I welcome feedback, either by email or as comments on this post. Unlike the other seven chapters, this chapter is not based on a previously published article.

Here's an abstract:

This chapter raises a number of questions, not adequately addressed by any researcher to date, about what we see when our eyes are closed. In the historical literature, the question most frequently discussed was what we see when our eyes are closed in the dark (and so entirely or almost entirely deprived of light). In 1819, Purkinje, who was the first to write extensively about this, says he sees "wandering cloudy stripes" that shrink slowly toward the center of the field. Other later authors also say such stripes are commonly seen, but they differ about their characteristics. In 1897, for example, Scripture describes them as spreading violet rings. After Scripture, the cloudy stripes disappear from psychologists' reports. Other psychologists describe the darkened visual field as typically -- not just idiosyncratically, for themselves -- very nearly black (e.g., Fechner), mostly neutral gray (e.g., Hering), or bursting with color and shape (e.g., Ladd). I loaned beepers to five subjects and collected their reports about randomly sampled moments of experience with their eyes closed. Their reports were highly variable, and one subject denied ever having any visual experience at all (not even of blackness or grayness) in any of his samples. I also briefly discuss a few other issues: whether we can see through our eyelids, whether the closed-eye visual field is "cyclopean", whether the field is flat or has depth or distance, and whether we can control it directly by acts of will. The resolution of such questions, I suggest, will not be straightforward.

Thanks very much, by the way, to all the people who wrote about their eyes closed visual experience in response to my queries about it in earlier posts.


Fiona said...

I decided to google 'seeing through closed eyelids' and was shocked when I saw how many different experiences were being had. There did however seem to be 1 trend, being that most people found they had this experience when in a particularly relaxed state and many when attempting astral projection. My experience is somewhat different to this, I remember as a young child being convinced that I could see the reflection of my pupil on my eyelid if i looked a certain way with my eyes closed and applied slight pressure to my eye with my fingertip and I have always seen black images like collidascope ink splodges with either a redish or yellowish background when my eyes are closed; recently however (the last year or so) I have been having trouble falling asleep, my doctor says it is due to the inordinate amount of stress in my life and the grief I am currently suffering; this may be the case and the fact that I suffer from temperal mandibular joint disfunction would certainly further suggest that I am far from a relaxed state when going to bed.
When I close my eyes in the dark I see absolutely no difference between having them open and closed to the extent that i press my eyelids with my fingers to check that they are actually closed. I had wondered if it was an extreme case of retention of vision, but frankly am confused by the whole thing, my doctor and family think it is in my imagination. I found your article interesting to say the least and am going to buy your book, so cheers for spreading some light on the subject and making me feel less wierd.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the kind words, Fiona! As you say, I don't think you there's any need to be alarmed by your experience. Normal people report all sorts of different things!

Salt Lake City Real Estate said...

Ok, I have wondered what other people see when it is dark and their eyes are closed for some time. It has always interested me ... wondering if anyone has written about this experience. I see a dark, almost black field with some gray or lighter than black area. I also see often what I distinguish as a black circle, void of anything but black.

It seems similar to what one other person posted. However, I can percieve some degree of depth as well as can definitly know that what I am focused on in the dark is viewed by one opf my eyes or the other. Usually, the images are from my dominate left eye. I can at will switch the view to my right eye. The very dark black images are basically the same.

In my mind I am pretty sure that what I am viewing is not my imagaination but is really caused by stimulus to my eye from its surface in the are of normal vision.

Likewise, if I look at the sky and attempt to focus not on any object, but adjust the focus to close, I see things floating on the eye surface, rods dots with a visable outline but transparent. Again, I was able to distinguish which eye was see the images and also percieve depth that I could adjust my focus to bring a fuzzy image at a diffent distance into focus. These images could be best described as what one would see through a microscope.

I did discuss this with my optician several years ago and he confirmed that what I described sound like I was viewing matter floating either on the surface or inside my eye.

I later had a similar experience where I would see black specks. They were explained to me by an eye doctor as floating matter that had detached from the back of my eye and was floating around. They were distrating at first but have since disappeared or no longer a distraction.

When I started researching this question on Google, most of the references were about imagination of what people viewed. I wanted to have confimation and a discussion of what other people experienced similar to me. I knew it wasn't just specific to me. At least I thought I was not that "special".



Anonymous said...

Sometimes I see black and white or sepia photos of people from the past, groups of people I don't know. The other night I saw black globules moving (like a lava lamp) on a lavender background with a bright light like a bright moon in the background. Sometimes I see purple. I look forward to closing my eyes for sleep and wondering what will I see.

Lisa said...

Since I was a small child, I would lay awake in bed in my dark room and compare what I would see behind my eyelids to what I would see in the complete darkness. It never differed - and is still the same today - what I see is exactly like a snowy tv screen after the station has stopped airing - remember THOSE days?! :) I was speaking with my sister-in-law last week, and she experiences the same thing. She also experiences Synaesthesia (seeing letters with colors). I've asked others what they see at night - it's always "nothing" or "total blackness."

Ross Barton said...

Quite interesting stuff, I was surprised when I done some extensive googling on this that they're is not much scientific explanation, research or writings on this topic. All I got was a whole load of pop culture bull.

I see all kinds of things in the dark, closed eye and opened eye, and indeed in light as well (closed eye). I can see people moving around in spaces, rooms created, mechanisms kind of like lamps and cameras on walls, myself occasionally, an eye in my centre of vision, lots of different eyes, opening and closing, gaining and losing colour. The people (usually my friends) move in a kind of slow motion, but in a lot of detail. I feel very relaxed in this state and I'm interested to see what happens. I get this a lot more when I'm hungover, or after days of drinking. Sometimes I can feel my eyes shake, what I imagine is REM.

Anonymous said...

After going to bed but before falling asleep some nights I close my eyes and feel as though they are wide open. It's like the muscles in my eyes won't relax. During these times I see as though my eyes are open. I can see the room that I'm in perfectly. It took me a while to realize that even though I see the room, it's not the way the room really is. It's the room as my mind would make it. It's interesting when it happens because you really believe you can see through your eyelids, but it's just your body not ready to shut off and sleep yet. Upon waking and turning on the lights, I normally just see red and dots in my eyelids before my eyes open and adjust to the brightness. If I'm sick sometimes the red dots swirl in circles. Anyone else get these things happening to them?

Anonymous said...

For as long as I can remember, when I closed my eyes at night I could still see items in the room but they were like tv snow. I thought everyone saw this when they closed their eyes but I recently found out that was not the case. I had an experience when my eyes were closed where I vividly saw a flowing gloden sun rayish activity that engulfed my vision (hard to explain) but I watched this in awe and mentally questioned "what is this?" After the "sun" experience I could no longer see the way I previosly mentioned (snowy items in the room). Now when I close my eyes, I see blackness then a slow flowing purplish or blueish color as if it is coming from me going outward. I've had other strange experiences; flashing photos of people I do not know, watched scenes of things I've never seen before so it's not like recollection - I found myself watching a women from the Victorian era window shopping, a ballet scene and a man putting in blue carpet and a locker room scene surrounded in an oval lavender cloud. When these things happened I even asked myself "am I asleep/dreaming!" but I was awake trying to go to sleep. Also, I rarely remember my dreams but I have had lucid dreams recently and also while sleeping was talking to two silohette figures that seemed to be an inch from my face. I have no idea what that was, who they were or what they said to me but I felt I was supposed to be doing something related to the conversation. I could hear myself saying "I know, I know' I have to go now!" because my son was waking me and I could hear him as well. My son asked me what I was dreaming because my head was going back and forth and my eyes were rolled in my head and I was saying things he couldn't understand. This has all taken place over the past year and a half. I know, very strange, and these experiences are so out of the ordinary for me but I have no fear related to any of it. It's weird and I'd love to know what this is all about which is why I am searching for information now and days.

Anonymous said...

I had experienced seeing motionless and moving photographic images behind my closed eyes for years, it seemed to come quite naturally as a child - and considered it "normal" until I began to see accurate images of things that would later actually happen. Once I saw the detailed image of a room I had never seen before - and a few days later I visited a colleagues house for the first time and found myself in the exact room, everything was as it was in the image - the patterns on the wallpaper, the pictures, the furniture - every detail. This opened up a whole new world for me and I discovered that was once known as "clairvoyance" or "second sight" is this very same phenomena.

It definitely occurs in a state of mental relaxation. For me, there first appears a 'dark veil' in my path of vision. Just like viewing a magic-eye image, if you attune to your peripheral vision and see the 'depth' within it, lights start emerging and then from within the lights emerge amazing detailed photographic and/or motion scenes. Often these scenes depict places, people and events that are not familiar. Sometimes the people notice you and gather around you, othertimes they don't - depending on what you're viewing.

I then learned that with intention alone, I could see most things I wanted. I began seeing detailed, motion images of places around the world. They are so vivid that I could focus upon and describe every small detail - from the statue of liberty to the pyramids in Egypt.

After making the right connections, I learned to hold objects and receive photographic impressions from its past. Furthermore, I discovered that you don't even need to physically hold the object and can simply have the intention to receive impressions from it.

I don't identify as a clairvoyant or anything along those lines, (its a private affair and something I've toyed with for a number of years) and while this can be explained in arcane terminology, I also feel that it could possibly be explained by quantum physics. One thing it made me learn about life though, is that we can believe in theories and our own mentally created concepts to explain reality, but ultimately this is all in our mind - as a species we don't actually know anything and this existence is more unusual and profound than we actually realise.

Anyone who is experiencing this, I urge you to experiment with it and take it further.

DestroyerOfSense01 said...

I do not have much scientific knowledge or the like around this topic at least, but there is something I'd like to share. During meditation I can make two-digit numbers appear with my eyes closed. I usually see faint varieties of colors, but now I can control it to that extent at least whenever I close my eyes. The numbers are faint and they fade away within about a second, but there is no doubt they are there. It is not just me imagining the numbers. I would probably believe I was imagining them if I didn't actually see the color of the numbers. If you have any question email me at I hope this is of use to you.

Mani Singh said...

I have the same case or problem generally i know about it.Actually when i was young a very relegious person told me that you will see every kind of force and powers or spirits in future but i did not trust him perfectly but during my age when i tried to sleep then mostly i sees the objects in room in closed eyes sometimes i were thought that i am going to be mad but it was real not just only this and suppose during sleep if i want to see any place in closed eyes so that picture or view comes according my wish so it means i can see any place from anywhere but not every time its possible when do i sleep i know some peoples sees any men or women during closed eyes and when they open their eyes it does dissappear actually its a spiritual connectivity and its called third eye and not a real eye but its a inner eye the people who sees things in closed eyes are special.In indian relegious teachings there is a lot of explanation about this topic i am a relegious person i sees so many things it can be soul deity or evil things but i am not yet perfect to see the perfect views during my closed eyes and sometimes i sees the incredible views of universe means things that happens to me are unknown and incredible means its a gift from god use it to see the beautiful objects of nature here and beyond..One more thing for those who have this power should meditate daily with true heart then they shall see better in same case.

baroquemoonluver said...

I am glad I googled "what is it called when you can see scenes with your eyes closed?" I was thinking that no one else could see things. I have asked people what they see when their eyes are closed and they say nothing. Your eyes don't shut off, just like your hearing does not shut off. I don't see blackness, if fact I get a bit peeved because it is too bright. (I sleep in a dark room) I see many things, people I don't know in color. I see things like it is a movie, you are driving a car from the point of the driver. I never recognized a location until just the other night when it happened. I see space from the view of a person flying thru space it startles me and then I start to lose the vision but sometimes I can control it. I see a huge flying creature. Have not been able to see everything of the creature just it's wings flapping up and down. The other time I was asleep, I felt as if I was seeing things so clear that my eyes were open but then I realized I was sleeping(in a meditative state) and my eyes were closed. Like others have said I know it is spiritual and that I can Astral travel but I don't know if it is Astral traveling or another dimension.

David Hughes-Narborough said...

I decided to do a search for seeing through you eyelids, as I once nearly blacked out after having stood up to quickly and the blood rushed to my head. I was actually looking towards my brothers DVD collection when this happened and was amazed that I could see through my eyelids in as much detail as normal. It occured to me that this may be a confirmation that we are living in a holographic universe.

I have had numerous light body OBE experiences, and when this happens I find that my physical body is asleep with my eyes shut, but as i am in a light body double I can see though my eyelids and have felt the lids to check several times to confirm this.

There is another related experience that I believe is something anyone can do. Applying pressure to the eyes when shut, I can see clearly large spheres floating around that have a geodesic effect, which reminds me of pixellation on a computer, and wonder again if this is somehow related to being in a holographic reality. Thanks.

augusta marian said...

Wow. My heart is racing because I am so excited to have found this. I'd like to say more, but I find it difficult to comment from the keyboard of my phone.

Warren Evans said...

my name is warren evans and never in my life have I seen the images in my eyelids when i close them exept for the last 3 days I dont know if its do to so much stress that ive had in my life for the past 10 years or what ive read about the third eye awakening but ive only slept about 4 hours since this has staarted do to all the images i see when i close my eyelids from faces,trees, lakes,and much more but today i laid on my bed and saw a woman with black stringy hair at 1 moment she was beautifull and others her eyes turned almost evil with a distinc shine wich i couldnt stop trying to look in to the until i opened mine and every time i tried to close my eyes for atleast 30 minutes it was her doing the same thing hovering over my legs as i laid there each time it got more peacefull please somebody resond to this if it is a gift and can be controlled i dont waant to loose it i have had very pretty and interesting images ty

cyndabell said...

I just decided to google this to see if anyone else has had similar experiences and am happy to discover that I am not the only one.

Sometimes when I am going to sleep and my eyes are closed, I see moving images. at first, I thought the images were merely shapes, but then I realized that if I focused on them, the images turned into faces of people and animals and other things. I remembered one time my dad told me he used to see cartoons. I remember thinking that was kind of wierd, but now I see images that are more realistic than cartoons. More like a movie, but so far the images have been on such a dark background, that they are not completely clear. After reading what someone else wrote, maybe if I tried to focus on these images more closely, I could see them more clearly. I have been a little afraid of seeing scary things, which is why I haven't done so so far. I have had some paranormal experiences in my past that made me worry this might be something like that. Once, I saw demon faces when I was awake. My family and I lived in a house where we would here voices every morning and the clanking of dishes, etc. My little brother heard his name being repeated over and over in his room and was scared for a long time. strange things would happen as well... like once when a friend was spending the night, my stereo went on suddenly and my friend was scared and wanted to go home.

Anyway, thank you for this post. I find it very interesting to read about other's experiences.

Anonymous said...

Omg. I also see what you see when pressure is applied in a certain section on the lower eyelid while starring upwards. I thought I was the only one.

Anonymous said...

A couple of times I have been able to see detailed coloured images with my eyes closed in the dark I believe, and I can switch through them if I want to. The first time there was a lot.
The colour green was a lot- grass.
It was like they were mental pictures but I could them as if real.
It wasn't the kind you see when you rub your eyes, it was detailed mental images. At first it was not very detailed.

Anonymous said...

Since childhood I have a steady flow of color and b&w active images when my eyes are closed, such as people, scenery, architecture, machines, geometric designs. Some of the active images are longer, like watching a movie, while others last for several seconds.Colors and geometric designs are undescribable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your explanation bro, I can't believe how many people are out there that can do the same thing! Its awesome, I'm not as far along down the path as you but reading this has encouraged me to take this thing further and and see where it leads, so thanks. P.s I think its kinda funny cos the life I lead is entirely unfitting to this kind of thing, I'm sorta like a educated gangster type lol just goes ta show it doesn't matter who you are right? maybe we all get these gifts for a reason, I always thought it would be cool if I could use this thing to somehow find some better purpose in life

tom cruse said...

Listen to this shit... Craziest experience ever.. I'm an 18 year old kid and have always been fascinated by space and time. Yesterday as I was sitting on the couch just trying to fall asleep I began to wonder about what I saw when my eyes were closed.. I just felt there had to be something else there.. Anyways what I would do was find something in my vision such as a light or even odd structures and not look straight at it but straight foward.. If I look directly at it I lose sight of it. The figure would then began to flow in a beautiful variety of directions such as a leaf in the wind. I felt like I was seeing the flow of energy. That's the best way I could describe this. What amazed me significantly was when I found a very faint slinky like tunnel tube thing in my vision, and by just watching it In my vision, it led my vision down a 10 second path of flows and motions. I literally thought I was being sent through a wormhole. When I approached the end of it, I was shot out into open space where all that was visible was stars in space. It looked like I was out in open space just spinning around. I tried repeating this process after and noticed that I could tap into this space vision without any of the steps. All I had to do was close my eyes and look deep enough.