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.
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.
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.
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.