Seeing patterns with eyes closed
February 14, 2008 § 5 Comments
Oliver Sacks has a fascinating piece in today’s NYTimes (titled Patterns, as a part of his NYTimes blog, Migranes, perspective on a headache). Oliver Sacks describes the visual auras he has suffered through his life as follows:
tiny branching lines, like twigs, or geometrical structures covering the entire visual field: lattices, checkerboards, cobwebs, and honeycombs. Sometimes there were more elaborate patterns, like Turkish carpets or complex mosaics; sometimes I saw scrolls and spirals, swirls and eddies; sometimes three-dimensional shapes like tiny pine cones or sea urchins.
He wonders “whether certain basic forms of geometric art, going back for tens of thousands of years, might also reflect the external expression of universal experiences…. Migraine-like patterns, so to speak, are seen not only in Islamic art, but in classical and medieval motifs, in Zapotec architecture, in the bark paintings of Aboriginal artists in Australia, in Acoma pottery, in Swazi basketry — in virtually every culture.”
Though I have never suffered from migraines, reading this article brought back to me memories from my childhood, seeing similar intricate, geometric patterns when I stared at a light with my eyes closed, or when I pressed against my closed eyes with my fingers or my palm. Not having a sense of scale to calibrate these images, I remember thinking of them either as being immense architectural designs from an alien civilization, or microscopic details of some complicated structure seen in extreme closeup. I often wondered why these patterns and designs would show up – and remember trying to draw them. Sadly any attempt to represent them on paper never captured their simmering dynamic nature. It is rather intriguing to think that these geometrical hallucinations “allow us to experience in ourselves not only a universal of neural functioning, but a universal of nature itself.”