Visual Perception

The Stars In Your Eyes Are Called Phosphenes

Announcement: the Curiosity Podcast is finally here! Subscribe on iTunes here, Google Play Music here and add the RSS feed to your favorite podcast player. If you love it please consider leaving us a review.

Do you ever see spots when you rub your eyes? Those are called phosphenes, and they appear when your visual system is manipulated in some way. That includes rubbing or poking your eyes, and getting smacked in the back of the head—that jostles the occipital lobe, an important element of the visual system, and can make phosphenes or "stars" appear. So what exactly are these light-like spots we see? Some scientists think they're, well, light. According to a paper by hungarian scientist István Bókkon, all living organisms produce their own light. It's just the strength of the light particles, known as biophotons, that varies -- the biophoton emission in fireflies is much stronger than in humans, for instance. Although all of the atoms in your body produce biophotons, the overwhelming majority of the ones you see as phosphenes are emitted by atoms in the retina. Which is just as well, since it's your retina that's recognizing them as light in the first place. The more stimulation, the more biophotons your visual system produces. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

Share the knowledge!

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Phosphenes are the result of your visual system being fooled in some form or fashion. 00:34

  2. You can produce phosphenes by passing an electrical field by your occipital lobe or placing electrodes near your optic nerve. 01:31

  3. You see stars when someone hits you on the back of your head because that stimulates the occipital lobe. 02:14