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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987