Entoptic phenomenon

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For the archaeological term, see Entoptic phenomena (archaeology).

Entoptic phenomena (from Greek ἐντός "within" and ὀπτικός "visual") are visual effects whose source is within the eye itself. (Occasionally, these are called entopic phenomena, which is probably a typographical mistake.)

In Helmholtz's words; "Under suitable conditions light falling on the eye may render visible certain objects within the eye itself. These perceptions are called entoptical."

Entoptic images have a physical basis in the image cast upon the retina. Hence, they are different from optical illusions, which are perceptual effects that arise from interpretations of the image by the brain. Because entoptic images are caused by phenomena within the observer's own eye, they share one feature with optical illusions and hallucinations: the observer cannot share a direct and specific view of the phenomenon with others.

Helmholtz[1] comments on phenomena which could be seen easily by some observers, but could not be seen at all by others. This variance is not surprising because the specific aspects of the eye that produce these images are unique to each individual. Because of the variation between individuals, and the inability for two observers to share a nearly identical stimulus, these phenomena are unlike most visual sensations. They are also unlike most optical illusions which are produced by viewing a common stimulus. Yet, there is enough commonality between the main entoptic phenomena that their physical origin is now well-understood.

During the 1920s, some theosophists, unaware of the physical explanation, maintained that the moving spots seen in the blue field entoptic phenomenon were "vitality globules" related to the concept of prana in yoga.[2]

Some examples of entoptical effects include:

Floaters against a blue sky with cloud.
Floaters depiction
First person view of a Purkinje Tree while sitting in a slit lamp/biomicroscope
Purkinje Tree depiction

A phenomenon that could be entoptical if the eyelashes are considered to be part of the eye is seeing light diffracted through the eyelashes. The phenomenon appears as one or more light disks crossed by dark blurry lines (the shadows of the lashes) each having fringes of spectral colour. The disk shape is given by the circular aperture of the pupil.

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