What do You See When Your Eyes are Closed?


When I close my eyes I usually see a brief, fading afterimage of whatever I was looking at, then blobby darkness. If I’m engaging in default behavior, I guess my eyes have rolled up and I’m looking at the inside of the back of my forehead.

Contemplating the view, it doesn’t change much. I do not know if that’s because the view doesn’t actually change much. or if my brain just told other parts of itself, “lock status: unless we get some input, engage background simulation.” When my brain is not in its default state (whatever that is! allow me some hand-waving) I sometimes experience different things when my eyes are closed.

Recently, I spent a few nights doped very happily on opiates (specifically, 7m oxycodone with acetominophen) while I was waiting for Hermann, my kidney stone, to pass. During that time I noticed an interesting phenomenon; I first noticed it in the exam room off the ER when they gave me a nice jolt of morphine in my IV, to bring me down from the pain-cloud. When I closed my eyes, I saw: textured paper. It was lovely paper, kraft-paper colored but a bit more textured. It was in sharp focus and appeared to be about 12″ in front of my eyes. When I turned my head, the paper didn’t move – i.e.: it mapped to my visual field. If I turned my attention – I do not know if my eyes were actually moving in my head – to look around, the textured paper continued as a flat plane in all directions. The only part of it that wasn’t realistic was that it was all in focus and I know that my eyes aren’t that good; I’m in bifocal country.

At one point, a day or so later, I was dozing (still doped up!) and slowly came to consciousness with my eyes still closed; the paper was still there. It was a slightly different shade – lighter. But it was about the same distance and still in infinite focus.

Like this, except an infinite plane in sharp focus 12″ from my face

What do you see when your eyes are closed?

Back some years ago, I was experimenting with micro-dosing on “magic” mushrooms while I was about to go to sleep. At one point, with my eyes closed I saw what appeared to be spanish moss – a thick forest of it going on forever. I dozed back off to sleep and woke up later to respond to my bladder’s calls for relief, and noticed (without feeling surprised at all) that some of the furniture in my room and my hallway, had spanish moss growing on it. In the morning, of course, the spanish moss was gone.

no, not this

I should say, for the record, that I do not advocate the use of illegal drugs. I was something something neuroscience something so it’s OK. Besides, there’s probably some statute of limitations in effect, or fake news, or something. This is all hypothetical, anyway. And then there was the paisley. You know the little dots that pictures are made up of in newspapers? Roy Lichtenstein and all that? Well, my dad had sent me a few clippings from the New York Times (that is how we say “I love you” in the Ranum family) and they were lying on the bed and I was doing a bit of neuroscience with some nitrous oxide – then, I noticed that the pictures were made up of little dots but the sneaky artists at the New York Times had arranged them in tiny paisley patterns. That was remarkably clever of them! I realized that I was messed up, so I ignored the newspaper for a while and checked back about a half an hour later: still paisley. I sent myself a Trumpian text message reading something like: “Is the New York Times paisley?” and mind-wandered off to other things. The next morning, I checked my texts and there was a message from me to me, asking about the paisley – and, of course, the paisley was all in my head. What was interesting was how my brain apparently decided on paisley and persistently maintained that interpretation for some time. Why didn’t I get paisley one time and spanish moss the next? I believe that what this shows is that our brain does an interpretation of what it’s seeing and that interpretation involves our short-term memory; it’s sort of like a cached computation – there’s no point in going, “is that paisley?” again once it has decided it’s paisley it can just return the cached result immediately. In computing this is called cached computation or delayed computation with lazy update.

These sorts of experiences impact my philosophy of how humans experience things: I am much less comfortable with the “evidence” of my senses. It makes me realize the truth, that the reality we inhabit is a composite consensus of our brain and sub-systems.

Have any of you ever experienced overloading your consciousness to the point where the process that renders “you” into your reality goes away? I have had that happen a few times – under the extreme pain of a kidney stone, for one – and while profoundly stressed dealing with an emergency. I have also experienced while being a naughty person and engaging in too many tasks at once – specifically: driving on a highway while talking on a cell phone, and trying to find change for a tollbooth all at once – I noticed that my mind did not have the processing cycles necessary to “observe” me negotiating the exit-ramp to the tollbooth. It was as though I appeared there by magic. That experience was so unsettling that I mostly restrict myself to just driving and listening to podcasts. I did notice once that being pulled over by a cop made the podcast I was listening to literally disappear from my consciousness until the cop told me to turn my radio down.

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Here’s another thing: I suspect that the nerves that carry “I am hungry” and “I have to poop” signals to the brain are evolved out of the subsystem that carries pain signals. I noticed when I was on opiates that I simply did not get hungry (and at the end of the week I ended up with a serious constipation problem).

Back in the 90s I knew a fairly old-school computer programmer and he was telling me about drug experiences. Apparently he was on LSD one time – some very fine LSD – and he saw the tape. The endless punch-tape of the universal Turing machine: he saw it. For years afterward, that became a catch-phrase at the company where I worked: “I saw the tape” meant you had experienced a serious flash of profound cosmic enlightenment. After all, jesus and buddha are just subroutines coded into The Tape.

Comments

  1. says

    I remember being a passenger in my father’s then new VW Kombi camper driving across the Australian continent from south to north, back in 1974. The road was largely unmade for five hundred miles and father drove the corrugated stretches for hour after hour at around 10mph. Bink bonk bink bonk bink bonk went the van over the rocky waves. Even after we stopped for the night that procession of dimly lit road ripples paraded endlessly through my view regardless of having my eyes open or shut. It sure freaked me out and I vowed never to travel that far with the old fool again.

  2. says

    My own “eyes closed” experience has always seemed to me to be a null reference: it’s distinctly difference to, say, holding my hand close to my open eyes. It’s not blackness, or even darkly-lit eye socket, it’s just that vision is turned off.

    As for post-anaesthesia, I actually also saw textured paper. As I came to, it eventually faded into the texture of the ceiling – it was the same texture – but as I was first waking it was far more exaggerated, far closer, and far more textured than what was actually on the ceiling. Weird.

  3. says

    I have a tendency to see morphing patterns. Interestingly, there’s one pattern that keeps coming back. It’s something akin to a cylinder covered with hexagonal designs, spinning or shaking very quickly, positioned slightly to the right in my visual field. It’s not completely constant. I can focus on it and it appears reliably, but I lose it after a second or two. Then it takes a few seconds before I can get it back again.

    Since it’s so stable, I imagine it’s a result of some quirk of my brain’s visual center.

  4. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    When I am normal (for a given definition of normal, anyway), I just see darkness with, if it is light out, flecks of light grey and pink.

    Under the influence of narcotics, though . . .

    After my accident back in June, they gave me 45mg of morphine in the ambulance. Which barely took the edge off. After the shot, I closed my eyes and saw an unpatterned textured paper that was flowing in on itself in a toroid pattern. Opening my eyes, the roof of the ambulance was doing the same thing.

    At the hospital, they hit me with two shots of versed. And, with my eyes closed, the paper texture was similar, but it was now an interesting shade of light purple. Weird shit.

    During June and July, I was taking large, but decreasing, doses of oxycodone, I didn’t experience any weird closed-eye patterns. I did, however, experience significant chunks of time that didn’t exist. I am upstairs in bed. I am downstairs on the couch. No time has passed. Kinda freaked me out.

    As my dosages decreased, the number of these episodes also decreased, but not at the same rate. I think the last time this happened was in August, at which point I was only taking the oxies at night. I still take them occasionally (less than one per week) but have not had any more time shifts.

    Not sure if that is what you were looking for, but it is nice that someone else experienced the paper in the eyelids sensation.

  5. jazzlet says

    First night of holidays and first night home when I close my eyes I always see the blackness rushing towards me; we go places we can take the dogs so that usually means self-catering, up to a day’s drive away. Quite how my brain knows the blackness is rushing towards me I don’t know, it isn’t an awful feeling but it isn’t particulary relaxing either so I usually try to concentrate on a specific visual like walking through my safe wood. Otherwise it’s the after-images of whatever I was looking at when I closed my eyes. I don’t recall anything different the various times I’ve been given morphine, but should I need it again I will be checking what my brain does.

  6. jazzlet says

    Oh and the talking or texting on the phone in the car? More dangerous than most drunk driving, don’t do it folks.

  7. says

    Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?!@#4:
    45mg of morphine is 1 1/2 times a WWII battlefield dose. My friend Sazz got a battlefield dose when he was shot in the neck in Vietnam; he said he felt great. I’m not familiar with the details of your accident and (because I get wobbly from sympathetic reaction) I probably shouldn’t but whatever happened to you was some bad stuff, indeed. I’m glad to see you appear to be OK.

    I did, however, experience significant chunks of time that didn’t exist. I am upstairs in bed. I am downstairs on the couch. No time has passed. Kinda freaked me out.

    Yes! I had some of those on my minor dose, with the pain. What I believe is going on is that our “selves” are a process that our brains run – a sort of a monitoring loop that tells itself, as a byproduct of operation, that it’s a self and that you’re you and you have continuity of location and existence. If the brain is too drugged down or stressed out it may not be able to run that process, and you get drop-outs. That’s not the same as being unconscious, though. It’s more like being awareness-impaired.

    Disclaimer: The preceeding was not intended to be a statement of scientific fact.

    I closed my eyes and saw an unpatterned textured paper that was flowing in on itself in a toroid pattern.

    I am sure that was pretty unsettling.
    My paper was very stable – surreally so. And, yeah, it changed color a bit but not much.

    Ringo SINGS!

    Did that go through your mind when you were drugged up? I got stuck in a loop of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb when my jaw was broken and I was on Roxicet. I do not, however, recommend listening to the rest of The Wall if you’re kiting.

  8. says

    LykeX@#3:
    Since it’s so stable, I imagine it’s a result of some quirk of my brain’s visual center.

    I wish this stuff was understood better. It could be a memory! What if, when your brain is not sure what signal should be coming in off the visual system, it just reaches for a remembered default test pattern?

    (If someone says “I see a test pattern like from 1970s TV” I’m going to scream)

  9. says

    Lofty@#1:
    Even after we stopped for the night that procession of dimly lit road ripples paraded endlessly through my view regardless of having my eyes open or shut.

    If you look at a black and white pattern for 30-40 seconds, then close your eyes, you’ll see the inverse of it briefly as it fades. I believe the theory of what’s going on there is that our visual processing brain does a certain amount of “noise reduction” or “error cancellation” – so where you’re seeing solid black and white your brain is sort of noise-reducing it into a tighter tonal range; what you see when you close your eyes is the “mask”, basically.

    I wonder if what happened to you is that your brain was exposed to the ripplings for so long that your visual centers started trying to noise cancel it out – and when you closed your eyes, the cancellation became the signal against a zero background.

  10. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    Marcus:

    WARNING: DETAILS

    Fell down a ten-foot embankment, off a fifteen-foot retaining wall and landed on riprap in the shallow water on the bank of a small river. Four broken lumbar vertebrae, four ribs broken in at least seven places, massive haematoma left dorsal lumbar, bruised liver, spleen and kidney, two ruptured discs.

    END DETAILS*

    Did that go through your mind when you were drugged up?

    No, just misreading your title and free associating.

    I used to listen to The Wall while smoking weed. Large speakers, one on each side of my head as I lay on the floor.

    Ahhhh. Good times.

    (If someone says “I see a test pattern like from 1970s TV” I’m going to scream)

    Couldn’t be. Our brains evolved long before the invention of TV test patterns.

    * Luckily, this was on the job. And the fourth grade class was not down at the river yet.

  11. says

    Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?!@#11:
    Fell down a ten-foot embankment, off a fifteen-foot retaining wall and landed on riprap in the shallow water on the bank of a small river.

    OOoooowwwwwww….. Glad I’m sitting down. And glad you made it. If you’d hit your head… Aie. Not gonna go there.

    Couldn’t be. Our brains evolved long before the invention of TV test patterns.

    Mmmmmmaybe. But I was thinking “what if what we see is something we’re familiar with?” I.e.: what if our brains reached into our memories. We didn’t co-evolve with paper, either! Or paisley. I don’t see why our brains mightn’t go “well, we need something” and reach into our visual memory and pull out, I dunno, some Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
    It makes less sense to me to think that we’ve got inborn visual “hold” patterns than that they are memories.

    I wish we knew this stuff. I don’t keep super close tabs on what’s going on with neuroscience but I believe they are making good progress figuring out how our minds create the “theater” of consciousness and all the things “in” it. I haven’t found a good reference or summary of the whole thing, but it’s very interesting (for example, one thing I believe they are winkling out is how our brain coordinates events that are asynchronous, so that they appear to be synchronous.)

  12. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    If you’d hit your head… Aie. Not gonna go there.

    Not to worry. I’ve been going there in my head quite often. It has joined the olfactory hallucinations from 9-11 and the body memories and terrors of childhood. Why? I think I must hate myself.

    Oh, well. I am alive.

  13. Onamission5 says

    I noticed during my MRI several weeks ago that, with my eyes closed, the various sounds produced by the machine resulted in distinct colors. Some were shades of brilliant orange, some periwinkle, some yellow, overlapping and fading into each other. I focused on the pretty pretty colors as a means of keeping the urge to twitch and wriggle at bay, and to distract from claustrophobic anxiety.

  14. says

    Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?!@#13:
    I’ve been going there in my head quite often. It has joined the olfactory hallucinations from 9-11 and the body memories and terrors of childhood. Why? I think I must hate myself.

    Again, not trying to science without a license, but… Even when I was a psych undergrad in 1985, the effect of adrenaline on memory was well-known: if you’ve got a big dose of the “oh, shit” juice running in your bloodstream, you’re going to remember what happens better, and more vividly. Interestingly, some drugs amplify or block the effect: fentanyl destroys some people’s ability to shift memories from short-term to long-term, amphetamines increase it. That’s why some people report various effects when they are on various brain drugs (e.g.: Ritalin, which is an amphetamine) on withdrawal or while they are on it. When I was an undergrad, I crammed for my stats final on benzedrine – it was only a test-case of 1 instance, but I did very well on that exam and I still remember it clearly.

    Anyhow, the events you describe probably are particularly vivid memories because that’s how our brains appear to be wired to lay down memories especially well surrounding stressful, life-threatening, or scary situations. My suspicion (not being a neuroscientist or playing one on TV) is that it’s not that you hate yourself – it’s that you’ve over-learned these memories because they are very important to you and that’s quite natural.

    In 2000, I went into a turn much too fast in my Honda Del Sol, wiped out up the high side, flipped it into a field and hit a tree. Once again, I was insanely lucky and the only injury I suffered when the car’s roof came in on me was a 1/4″ deep piece of glass jammed into my arm – basically nothing in that situation. However, immediately afterward, I was stuck in a loop of the feeling of the steering getting mushy and the bank rushing up at me, then the horrible wrenching feeling as the car flipped. I could not get it out of my head. So, I went home and slugged back 5 shots of tequila, puked up, and passed out. When I came to, the next day, the alcohol had left a gentle blur over the entire experience. A year later, when my horse bucked me off onto my head and my mind was full of the sound of the vertebrae in my neck squeaking but not quite going “pop” I knew exactly what to do, and it worked.

    I am not recommending anything to you (and in your case, your memories are already deeply imprinted) – I’m sort of thinking out loud. But I have often wondered whether PTSD might be something that could be reduced in battlefield situations with a little bit of carefully administered fentanyl or rohypnol or ambien – any of the hypnotics that block short-to-long-term memory uptake.

    Related to that the US military is still handing out amphetamines (“go pills”) to pilots and special forces – essentially an amplifier for PTSD. And many people stand around wondering why so many veterans suffer from extremely vivid memories of horrible events. Sazz said that a lot of the LRRP guys were taking “bennies” – military issue benzedrine – and I thought that might be connected to “combat fatigue.” (What they called it at the time) Never mind the whole part about amphetamines inducing symptoms of paranoia and psychosis… It’s just the thing to hand out to combat troops.

  15. says

    Onamission5@#14:
    I noticed during my MRI several weeks ago that, with my eyes closed, the various sounds produced by the machine resulted in distinct colors.

    Interesting! Were you in pain/under anaesthesia?
    Synaesthesia?

  16. says

    What do I see when my eyes are closed?

    It varies, but usually one or two blobs of “light” that drift around. Sometimes they bounce off the edges of my vision, other times they just float on through.

    I’ve also seen dropping blocks after playing way too much Tetris.

    If I’m seeing my own personal laser light show, there’s a migraine on the way.

  17. Raucous Indignation says

    I would jump in here with some comment about your original post, but then I’d have to read through all the comments and I still have work to do. Bother.

  18. kestrel says

    @WMDKitty — Survivor, #17: Oh wow… do you get auras? I get auras with migraines. I have been told that not everyone does (gee, now I feel so special, don’t you?) and I also know that people who do get auras don’t experience them the same way. Mine make big rings of flickering color, the rings being made up of geometric shapes that fit together fairly well. I’ve painted pictures of them… and so have other aura experiencers and their pictures are real different from mine.

    When I close my eyes I see vague and faint lighter areas against a general dark background. These areas or spots move around a little.

    As far as getting in to another state, as a teenager I was able to hold very still and listen very carefully to the sound of a stream or waterfall so that it turned into individual notes of music. Later on had a similar experience driving in the dark in a snowstorm. I wondered then and wonder now if some people’s “religious experience” is something similar to that.

  19. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    if you’ve got a big dose of the “oh, shit” juice running in your bloodstream, you’re going to remember what happens better, and more vividly.

    The weird thing is, I remember other very stressful ‘oh, shit!’ moments quite clearly. This episode feels like there are large chunks of memory missing and the ones that are there feel like I am filling in the blanks with what I think probably happened rather than remembering what actually happened. A few parts stand out:

    — Realizing, as I waded down stream to get the net that I was trying to rescue (and realizing I was actually badly hurt), that the cigar in my mouth (a Parodi) was not only no longer lit, but it was soaked through and soggy.

    — Arguing with the 911 dispatcher about where I am. Yes, there really is a trail that passes under that bridge. No, I did not fall off the bridge, though I am under it.

    — Joking with the rescue workers who were standing crotch deep in cold water.

    — The ambulance crew removing my boots and hearing the water poor out onto the floor of the vehicle.

    Those are the clear memories. The rest of the memories feel unreal, almost like I am filling them in and assuming.

    fentanyl

    THAT’S the drug I was trying to remember. Not versed, fentanyl. They gave me two shots of that stuff in the trauma center and I was still in pain.

    =================

    Sorry about that. Typing things out, rather than discussing them in person, really seems to help and your OP about visions with closed eyes brought back some memories that I really needed to discuss (write out) to figure them out.

  20. says

    Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?!@#20:
    THAT’S the drug I was trying to remember. Not versed, fentanyl. They gave me two shots of that stuff in the trauma center and I was still in pain.

    I find fentanyl to be extremely disturbing stuff, because I have a notion that “I” am a real thing, and have continuity, etc. Let me explain: in 2015 a friend of mine’s husband died of pancreatic cancer and I had conversations with him and his anaesthetist while he was in the process of doing that. One of the things the anaesthetist let drop is that fentanyl doesn’t really do much for the pain – it just makes you not remember it. It especially works on visual memories, apparently. So there’s no psychological shock of remembering them cutting you open, and you seeing your own insides and screaming: they just let you scream because those memories will be deleted by the fentanyl. It’s a strange mercy, but it’s a mercy. My first wife had surgery back in (?)96 or so, and they did it under fentanyl. In the recovery room, she told me a joke that she apparently told the doctor which she thought was very funny. Then, a few minutes later, she told me the joke again. And again. 10 times. Because she was unable to retain even the short-term memory of telling me the joke 2 minutes ago. I started experimenting and when she told me the joke I’d go, “wait…” and I tell her the joke, and her eyes would get huge, “did you read my mind?” This lasted about an hour and then when she stopped telling me the joke I asked her if she remembered telling me a joke, and she said no. But that conversation stuck – it was like flipping a switch. As a person who thinks he has a “self” and has continuity of experience, fentanyl bothers me profoundly.

    One last thing about fentanyl: Michael Jackson died on fentanyl and popofol. I do not understand at all taking fentanyl recreationally. The idea of doing that, on purpose, tells me how far Jackson was gone and it says some really scary things about his head space at the time. Fentanyl is not a fun drug, it’s a delete button. There are opiate addicts (like Prince) who turn to fentanyl because it’s accessible and it’s an opiate and scratches that itch. But – recreation? No.

    I get sympathetic shock reactions when I think of other people’s pain, so I’m glad I’m sitting down, because I suspect that they gave you the fentanyl in the trauma center because they were going to do some things they didn’t want you to have to experience, that you needed to be awake for. I.e.: move this piece, “what do you feel?” that kind of thing. When I had my broken jaw in 2015, I believe the surgeon explored the range of motion of what was left of my mandible, while I was on fentanyl and I’m really glad I don’t remember that at all.

    Joking with the rescue workers who were standing crotch deep in cold water.

    Sazz told me he was joking with the rest of his squad while he was evac’ing back to the fire-base – and he had holes in his neck and back from 2 rounds out of an AK-47. He said that afterwards some of the guys in his squad thought he was a super cool customer because he thought the situation was amusing, and he said it was the morphine. I find that stuff scary, as well – the idea of being in combat and having someone doped up so their sense of humor kicks into overdrive – that’s like some kind of surrealist version of hell.

    This episode feels like there are large chunks of memory missing

    Can you map them to what drugs you were on at what times? I bet you’ll find there are big chunks missing around the fentanyl.

    Oh: other interesting thing about hypnotics and memory – it appears to block uptake of memory from before when the drug was taken. That’s why rohypnol and ambien are “date rape drugs” – the victim often doesn’t even remember taking the dose, even though they were straight-up conscious at the time.

    Typing things out, rather than discussing them in person, really seems to help and your OP about visions with closed eyes brought back some memories that I really needed to discuss (write out) to figure them out.

    I can’t speak for everyone in the commentariat, but if a blog has any use at all, it’s as a free space to discuss … whatever. So you’re welcome to. I wasn’t kidding about that it’s important for me to be sitting down – the way I broke my jaw in 2015 was because of a lot of blood and a crisis situation that made me go into shock. Because I was not in the mood to explain what happened, repeatedly, I did a mini-blog about it which went defunct after I was all back together. [mymouthwiredshut]

  21. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    because I suspect that they gave you the fentanyl in the trauma center because they were going to do some things they didn’t want you to have to experience, that you needed to be awake for.

    That makes sense. I remember some glimpses of what was going on as they tried to figure out how many organs I had damaged and whether surgery was necessary.

    He said that afterwards some of the guys in his squad thought he was a super cool customer because he thought the situation was amusing, and he said it was the morphine.

    Oh, that was long before the morphine. That was when they were trying to figure out how to get me out of the river and into an ambulance. Humour has always been my goto when scared, unconfortable, in pain, or any time I feel I need a defense against reality.

    Can you map them to what drugs you were on at what times? I bet you’ll find there are big chunks missing around the fentanyl.

    The gaps of which I am aware came before I was given any pain meds at all. The gaps are during and immediately after the accident.

    However, I do know that there are significant gaps while I was in the hospital, but those are gaps that are just gone. The gaps from the accident itself are incomplete gaps — gaps that I know are there because there are tantalizing hints that something is there (of course, there were tantalizing hints that something had been going on when I was a Cub Scout and, when I fully explored those hints and started to remember, really remember rather than remembering on the ‘scouts sucked’ level, things went bad (but I am doing better)). The gaps at the hospital are just absolutely blank spaces. Though I do remember the torus paper when I had my eyes closed. Or I think I do.

    it appears to block uptake of memory from before when the drug was taken.

    Okay, that could explain the gaps during the accident and extraction. Though it is not all gone, just big chunks almost missing.

  22. jazzlet says

    Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! @22
    There is also a natural mechanism that takes over in circumstances of physical danger. Basically all sensory inputs get routed through the amygdala first before being passed on to the conscious part of our brain, and in dangerous situations it takes emergency action without the information ever getting to your conscious brain. A good example of this that I experienced – a group of us were camping, several of us were sat around where one had the kettle on over a methylated spirits (meths) burner which sat in, essentially, a saucepan with supports for pans when the meths ran out. She re-filled the meths burner and in the process spilt some into the ‘saucepan’, so there is now a meths burner sat in a pool of meths, she tries to light the meths burner unsuccessfully so another friend intervenes, he succeeds then drops the lit lighter into the pool of meths there is a moment where the three adults all reach for the lighter and then pull back … next thing I know I’m at least ten foot away and a five foot ball of flaming meths is dying down. My amygdala analysed the input, decided the situation was dangerous and took over, moving me ten foot without my conscious mind having any idea of how I’d got to where I was. When I looked round the three adults and two children were similar distances away all going ‘WTF just happened?’ none of us hurt at all. The particular irony was that the guy who dropped the lighter was a chemistry lab tech responsible for the safe running of several teaching labs. He took the lighter with it’s neat hole punched in the base home and kept it next to his work space as a reminder not to be so f^cking stupid again.

    The amygdala is also though to be responsible for the sensation of de ja vu, as it gets all the inputs before the conscious brain so a part of our brain has seen exactly this before our conscious brain does, de ja vu is thought to be when the amygdala’s perception leaks through to the conscious brain.

    I hope that explanation makes sense.

  23. says

    jazzlet@#23:
    The amygdala is also though to be responsible for the sensation of de ja vu, as it gets all the inputs before the conscious brain so a part of our brain has seen exactly this before our conscious brain does, de ja vu is thought to be when the amygdala’s perception leaks through to the conscious brain.

    That totally makes sense!

    We are massively parallelized, and have parts of our brains that are quite capable of doing pretty complex tasks without our consciousness having to intervene; in fact it appears that to a large degree our consciousness is a monitoring loop that collects all the inputs from various subsystems and pats itself on the back going “yeah, I planned that.”

    There was a podcast episode on the Philosophy Bites podcast where a neuroscientist/philosopher was explaining that some forms of psychosis may be a result of the messaging to the control loop getting screwed up. Suppose my consciousness thinks it told my hand to pick up my coffee cup and have a sip, but then it forgets that it did that: suddenly my hand – all on its own raises my cup to my mouth! Oh My God, I am being remote-controlled by aliens! V.S. Ramachandran has done some TED talks in which he describes similar phenomena where the consciousness is not getting or sending correct messages and the whole distributed system convinces itself that something is horribly wrong like you have an itch on your missing hand.

    Edit: one of the really interesting parts of the distributed brain problem is how it handles asynchronous updates. Apparently it takes about 1/10 of a second for our visual centers to process a visual event, but it only takes 1/100 of a second to process an audible event. So, the events both reach our consciousness at different times, but the consciousness, which builds the mental theater of our experience, just pops them both in as they updates arrive, and connects the two and tells itself they arrived more or less simultaneously. Apparently this has been known to people for a long time, and it’s why sports contests use audible cues like a starter’s pistol, instead of visual cues.

  24. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    jazzlet:

    in dangerous situations it takes emergency action without the information ever getting to your conscious brain.

    For me, instances of extreme pain and/or stress and/or emergency usually trigger hyper-alertness and damn near perfect recall. For me, an accident or an emergency always feels like it is happening in slow motion — like the transmission between my brain and my body slipped the clutch and the brain is racing. I had been annoyed with myself, almost angry, that there were so many holes in my memories for that day. The explanations of what fentanyl does really clarify things.

    I’m still annoyed and angry at myself, just not for that incident anymore.

  25. says

    If you want some fun with memory holes, try ambien. I used to fly to Japan/Singapore a lot and I got a prescription (this was 90s) so I could simply delete the experience of the flight.

    That blew up rather spectacularly the time I boarded my flight, hit the ambien, and then the flight had problems and they deplaned us and we had to wait in the boarding area for ${unknown time}. The only way I knew that happened was the string of semi-coherent text messages from me to me, describing stuff like “its OK i told the flight attendant you were on hypnotics and they said they’d rouse you and get you on the plane in pre-board.” I even called myself “dude” so I know I was a mess.

    I have also had occasion to use ambien to knock myself down because of jet lag or travel stress. That can be surreal. One year I went to speak at AUSCERT on the Gold Coast and I got to the resort abd took an ambien. When I woke up the next day I had deleted the bus/train ride from Sydney and I had no idea where I was or how I got there. I had to reconstruct the situation using my iPhone calendar. I just knew I had an hour to get dressed and downstairs and do my keynote. THEN I discovered I didn’t know where I had put my glasses! I see badly enough that I can’t see them if I am not wearing them. There are all sorts of little things one does before going to bed that you remember in the morning – the ambien deletes all that.

    Terry Pratchett described alzheimers as feeling like there was a demon in your house moving things around. But it’s you. That’s what the ambien feels like. If I didn’t approach it as funny, it would be terrifying.

  26. kestrel says

    @ Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?!: Really sorry you went through that… that’s pretty awful. Your saying how you were missing chunks out of that day reminded me of a time I fell off a horse…

    The horse was startled and started to run very fast, and because he had also jumped sideways a good 10 feet or so, I was not on top of him as he took off. That was fine, I could have easily gotten back up on top, except that he noticed I was hanging on the side and “helpfully” he came to a sudden and complete stop, effectively plowing me into the ground head first at a fairly high speed. It was weird, though: my brain started telling itself a story as I was launched into the ground. It told itself that this had actually happened a long time ago and I was only remembering it, and that the whole thing was just no big deal. For that reason I can’t remember actually hitting the ground, or going into convulsions. I know I was having convulsions because my vision was jumping up and down and around, so I definitely was not just lying quietly on the ground, but my brain was just calmly telling itself that everything was just fine. The day did not improve much after that; the horse left immediately so I had to get up and walk back. I stayed conscience for that which was actually tremendously upsetting since my brain was sending me all manner of strange signals. But that was about all that I remember from that day; I suppose that could be considered normal in the case of concussion.

    Can’t speak about the drugs. Could never afford them.

  27. says

    kestrel@#27:
    my brain started telling itself a story as I was launched into the ground

    Wowwwwww… That’s interesting. Sorry about your accident, but…

    Iain Banks’ The Bridge is about this sort of chopped-up memory/experience kind of thing. I can’t say any more without risking a spoiler. It’s typical Banks: beautiful, weird, and very unsettling.

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