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No. 31: Jan-Feb 1984

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The Kaleidoscopic Brain

"It first hit me early in the morning of December 27, 1970. Suspended in the dreamy state just before waking and with my eyes still closed, I experienced an extraordinarily vivid visual image. Extending before me was an infinite array of diamond-shaped amber regions; each was filled with a regular pattern of black spade-like forms, all pointing straight up, or, in alternate diamonds, to the left. A latticework of delicately beveled edges, gleaming like polished gold, framed with diamonds. The whole array shimmered before me in perfect amber and gold splendor for what must have been several seconds."

This kind of geometrical visual experience occurs rarely to some people during "twilight" states just before falling asleep or waking. Direct pressure on the optic nerve produces similar geo meters' delights; so can drugs, fever, sleeplessness, and other altered states of consciousness. Migraine headaches, too, are often presaged by floating, semicircular fields of closely spaced parallel lines or bars arranged in zigzag patterns. This geometrical visual phenomenon may, like a berserk TV screen, be diagnostic and betray regularities in the brain's circuitry. The kaleidoscopic patterns seem to occur when imput signals from the eyes are weak or suspended, leaving the brain to generate its own "favorite" patterns.

(Shepard, Roger N.; "The Kaleidoscopic Brain," Psychology Today, 17:62, June 1983.)

Comment. But why the elaborate geometry? Could this apparently "built-in" pattern-generating capacity manifest itself in waking humans as an urge to describe the universe in terms of regular mathematical laws and geometric models?

Visual sensations induced during controlled intoxication with cocaine. Visual sensations induced during controlled intoxication with cocaine. (Illustration from Unfathomed Mind)

From Science Frontiers #31, JAN-FEB 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss