Phosphenes and hypnagogic imagery

Many people don’t know exactly what phosphenes are, thus they don’t know if what they see with eyes closed are phosphenes or not; or even they have the feeling that they don’t see anything at all…

That’s the reason why I decided to do this little summary of what we can see, with eyes closed, in bed.

Chapter I: the phosphenes

First, we have to be conscious that there are different types of phosphenes: the phosphenes we are speaking about in this article are much weaker than those we get by retinal persistence after watching a light, or by pressing eyelids:

  1. I’m in my bed, it’s dark, I close my eyes. Damn, I see nothing! :eh:

Oh that’s normal, my eyes are closed! :content:

Or perhaps I see this:

There is a small blue spot at the center, with perhaps a small black dot in the middle: it’s the trace of the fovea which is a bit tired after all this day, and this blue spot tends to fade quickly.

  1. But in fact, do I really see nothing at all?

If I’m really careful, I notice in the dark sorts of small clouds which are a little clearer and tiny dots of light that appear and disappear: they are phosphenes. They are due to the interference on visual areas of the brain by other active areas beside. If I don’t even see this, it’s probably because I have no brain… :razz:

  1. If I pay attention to those clouds and those little dots, they become brighter and even a little colored:

  2. Sometimes, they move on their own and they rotate in circles or do a repetitive motion of translation, a bit like this:

This is because the visual cortex tries to accentuate contours as it does during the day when it defines the objects. And since it cannot do correctly its job because it’s all blurry, this gives almost anything. In fact, it creates an iterative function that takes as input the previous image and will eventually stabilize on a regular repetitive cycle. Here, it has been simulated with Photoshop and its “Sharpen Edges” filter: it already gives a rather correct result, with circles that are growing (although it doesn’t look perfectly-perfectly like what we see for true).

Sometimes these forms, when growing hap-hazardously, give the impression of vague black silhouettes suddenly moving towards you; there are some people who manage to get scared with them and even who tell scary stories to make babies cry :scared: (yes indeed! Don’t laugh cause I swear I’ve read lots of topics about this subject on paranormal forums :wink:).

Chapter 2: how hypnagogic imagery forms from phosphenes

Here’s now how phosphenes turn into hypnagogic imagery. The following observations are made from many years of… missed WILD’s! All this happens very quickly; usually it looks like the image appears suddenly and that it disappears as soon as you notice it.

When the relaxation is deep enough and you’re about to fall asleep, the following phenomenon occurs. At a moment, the attention is drawn towards an area in the field of phosphenes and it zooms in it:

At this point, we no longer pay attention to what’s around or beside, we only concentrate on the selected area:

In fact, this area is a big bunch of slightly colored phosphenes, some are lighter, others darker, but the fact that the attention is placed on them must accentuate contrasts and contours:

And then, it’s like a pareidolia or a Rorschach test, one sees an image in what is just a big mess:

Oh the beautiful castle! :smile:

Hypnagogic images are usually not very colorful. I have seen some of them with colors, but they are a bit washy. They give the feeling that they are projected in front of your eyes like on a movie screen, they are not really 3D like a dream. It’s easier to watch all this after a waking up in the night: the images last longer and you even may switch from the phosphenes to the image and vice versa. But as soon as you zoom out, you lose everything and you have to start back from the beginning. :sad:

Chapter III: zooming into phosphenes

This is the third and final chapter of the small phosphenes story. It’s about what we see (or at least what I see) when zooming in a phosphene.

We saw above that when falling asleep, the attention focuses automatically on an area of the visual field. This is pretty much the same but by doing it voluntarily: we choose an area which is a bit more enlightened than others, or where there are more small dots of light and we focus on it:

The first difficulty is that, to focus on the area, you have to not use your eyes! You must do it exactly as the attention does naturally, i.e. a “mind zooming” in the area you are interested in. Indeed, the phosphenes are not objects in front of your eyes, as in real life, but their image is in the brain. So if you move your eyes to follow a phosphene, well, the phosphenes field remains centered accordingly to your vision, hence the phosphene moves in the same time you move your eyes, and you’ll run after and will never catch it!

Thus, the most practical way is probably to select an area near the center of the visual field.

Once this area selected, you must keep your attention on it without zooming out and, after “a certain time” that can take several minutes, it begins to clear a bit more and some forms start to emerge. At first, they are still pretty flat:

But after a while, the forms take some relief and you can see the phosphenes as they were in volume. It looks like small crystals or small pieces of transparent planes which intersect in every direction.

This image is perhaps a little too “artistic”: for true, it’s often less nice and it looks more like something between the two last images.

The potential value of all this? It may potentially be used for a WILD method based on “zooming into phosphenes”. Now, should we have to see all this to practice this method? I don’t know at all, I never managed to WILD this way! :neutral: Theoretically, one should try to “enter” the phosphene (some authors speak about “opening” the phosphene), i.e. zooming more and more into a detail of the phosphene. After a while, the phosphene transforms in an image which can be entered in.

But in my opinion, this WILD technique is one of the hardest to implement. It requires a lot of training to be able to prevent the phosphenes to move, to see them in 3D, etc. In fact, if I’ve read three descriptions of this method, it seems that only their authors were able to do it. :bored: (One of these authors, Christian Bouchet, said it takes at least two weeks of training before managing to see fixed phosphenes in 3D. And yet, it’s not because we can see them that we are still arrived! :grin: )

Great guide that helped me understand everything I didn’t know about phosphenes and all these things. Very helpful, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

ya its a really interesting post. i really liked it. thx for posting it i didn’t know anything about phosphenes before.;

Great post!! I bet those that have trouble knowing what HI looks like will have little to no doubts left after reading this :wink: I vote this be moved to the article forum some day

Wow, that is fascinating! I will definitely work on focusing on phosphenes. I haven’t noticed phosphenes before, though. I usually see the colored clouds, but no dots.

To me, there is no “nothing” state. I either start with HI’s immediately or with phosphenes first, but I notice that HI’s are in different layer that phosphenes (like they are farther than phosphenes), so I would not say that HI’s form out of phosphenes. I think HI’s are standalone and indepedent. :razz:

Beat Doctor goes away to hypnagogia

Awesome post! :content: This explains the difference between Phosphenes and HI perfectly! I can never explain it well and this does the trick!

Nice post man thanks a lot :smile: you helped a lot of people here (including me :razz:)

Amazing post! Very explanatory. Where did you get those images!? That really impressed me! Good job :wink:

Again, I think this is wrong. It is not that you zoom into phosphenes, it is that HI’s form into dreams by themselves (you don’t have to zoom into them or whatever, you just have to stay aware).

Thanks everybody for your appreciation. :smile:

It would be a good idea. :wink:

I made them with Photoshop.

I agree on the fact that phosphenes and HI are like sort of two different layers. HI is not only formed from phosphenes, it’s quite as if inner images were projected onto the shapes drawn by phosphenes and that’s what I meant when saying “it’s like a pareidolia or a Rorschach test, one sees an image in what is just a big mess”.

As for the remaining, I’m sorry that you show so categorical, you should observe all this a little more. :content: The “automatical” zooming into an area of the phosphenes field has been observed not only by me yet by experimented WILD’ers and/or people who practice meditation like Florence Ghibellini (whom I was regularly corresponding with at a time) and Christian Bouchet. The “zooming into phosphenes” technique and its effects, which you just think wrong, has been practiced and described independently by at least two experimented WILD’ers which don’t know each other, Christian Bouchet and “Kalonek”. Moreover, I think that this technique had been described in astral literature before, by Robert Monroe under the name “phasing”.

You don’t actually zoom, yes that is true. But the HI’s form on the first black image there was. It just forms itself.

I believe “zooming” would better be described at concentrating. You can’t zoom in or out after all. When I attempt WILD’s (which never worked, must I say :neutral:) I see (with my closed eyes) exactly things like the first few images in the first post. If I am lost in my thought I sometimes realize that I actually was seeing what I was thinking of, in full images, colored ones ! But the very second I realize it, it automatically changes to the first blurry-dark image I started with :sad:.

Great photos, great guide, great job ! Thanks ! :wink:

I second your post mattias :cool_laugh: and I vote this to be moved to article too :content:

In addition to this article, and due to the discussion that followed about the relation between phosphenes and HI, I would like to add here some excerpts of a text I just found.

It has been written by Yves Delage in 1903 (the translation -sometimes summarizing- is mine). Yves Delage is a french zoologist who is also known for his interest in dreaming and particularly for having described lucid dreaming in 1920.

By explaining the phosphene/HI relation in a different way, this text may add to my article.

In this first excerpt, Delage describes what is an hypnagogic image:

“An object appears suddenly, generally the figure of a man or an animal, with a perfect accuracy of contour. The image has no frame and it is not surrounded by other objects depicting a background: it is isolated on a uniform, usually black background.”

In this second excerpt, Delage explains what may be observed when the HI disappears and the relation between HI and phosphenes. Delage refers to phosphenes as “entoptic lights”:

“When the hypnagogic image vanishes, the entoptic lights appear; by their compliance of color, position and distribution, the colored spots fits the position and color of the parts of the vanished image. It follows that entoptic lights can be the basis of hypnagogic images and that it is not necessary that they have a close resemblance with them. Now, far from it that the entoptic element makes the entire image: it is supplemented by a mental image which has the largest part in the constitution of the total image. The first is a vague outline, without contours, without details, while the second adds what is missing to the first in order to form a perfect representation of the object.”

This understanding can be usefully compared with the two illustrations at the end of chapter II, as well as comments about phosphenes and HI being sorts of two different layers.


Delage Yves (1903). La nature des images hypnagogiques et le rôle des lueurs entoptiques dans le rêve. Bulletin de l’Institut général psychologique, août-septembre 1903, p. 235-247.[/size]

Awesome article! I’ve known about phosphenes before, but I didn’t know they formed into HI.

Well I’m one of those people who has never"viewed" or “imagined” anything other than dreams its more like when I try to I am like thinking about viewing myself thinking to visualize something… it makes me mad… but if I can perform what you are saying I will be very happy! Thank you for posting this a lot of new information and great tips thanks

One time i was “watching” these hypnogogic imagery, and it was like a 90’s cartoon, there was a cartoon girl dancing, and i saw titles. I never saw any kind of text in hypnagogic images, and that was very interesting, but when i zoomed to this titles they were not some words, but rather different shapes. I was disappointed. (

Great Post! I will try to pay more attention to the images!

Thanks so much for setting this all down in detail. In my years of scattered and often aborted LDs and OBEs the appearance and recognition of phosphenes has always been one of the primary markers that I am about to enter into a lucid WILD experience. Until your article, I had never heard of phosphenes and had never analyzed exactly how important they are. The last two nights, I had two experiences where the phosphenes were definitely present just before and while entering into SP. One OBE lasted for 25 WPR minutes in total stability.

wow, so THATS what those swirling colors are! ever since i was little i have seen swirling colors whenever i close my eyes just like this and even with my eyes open in the dark, but oddly enough i to this day this still happens, even with my eyes open i can see it if its dark…weird.

its actually very intense and colorful for me, and my hypnagogic imagery is almost always in color. ever since i was little i have experienced seeing hypnagogic imagery and phosphenes easily, i used to stay awake for a while each night just staring at the phosphenes because it was so interesting, when i did this a few nights ago i had a lucid dream that night (probably just coincidence though) anyways i might just try zooming in on the phosphenes like you say to do, even if i don’t do a WILD it should still be interesting.

thanks for posting this, finally i have a name for what i have been seeing :smile: