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Prisoner’s Cinema

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This unexplained phenomenon gets its name from the prisoners that have reported it in the past. Prisoners who are put in solitary confinement, with zero light, report seeing a “light show” of sorts, appearing out of the darkness. While most find it difficult to describe its form, some have reported the “cinema” lights forming human figures.

There are very few theories regarding the origin of this light, but the most accepted theories are psychological. Scientists hold the theory that it is the result of phosphenes, being an entoptic phenomenon of light being seen without light entering the eyes, and the psychological effects of extreme lack of light.

A scientist by the name of Oster once hypothesized in Scientific American that this phenomenon may be the cause of some “ghost” sightings. Showing that an individual spending a long amount of time in the dark, could be affected by Prisoner’s Cinema and see a human form.

Some people have suggested a connection between these strange lights and neolithic cave paintings. Such as this passage from Images from the underworld by Andrea J. Stone:

Another interesting study based on ethnographic models is Sundstrom’s (1990:289-292) view of one style of southern Black Hills rock art, the Pecked Abstract style as “phosphene art.” Phosphenes are phantom images seen under certain stressful conditions, mainly from light deprivation or during a hallucinatory state. …Sundstrom invokes the South American analogy based on a presumption of shamanic ritual practices…

While this particular phenomenon is still lacking a reliable first-hand account, we at Professor Elliot will be waiting to hear about it.


8 responses »

  1. Hi, I just wanted to tell you I tend to get this effect very often, even after a short time of being in darkness.. I kind of induce it with my mind sometimes, sometimes not. Sometimes I feel I can actually manipulate with what I see. Sometimes it’s just a swirling of (usually rather dull) colours. They are coloured, but not brightly. Still, they are perfectly distinctable from the actual environment or the background (which usually is the ceiling). At other times, the visual information turns into a more exact form, being combined with some pre-learned experience of mine – taking forms of things. Like it is said in many places, human beings often feature in those “movies”. And for me, they are alot like movies. Haven’t had a very detailed movie for a while, but I can tell you – they are quite astonishing. It’s like as you watched a cartoon, not believing it yourself. You know it is not real, but you still see it. You focus more, but you can still see it. There even is a plot to the story. You could write it down later, if you cared to. Though, so intensly I haven’t experienced it for a while. Another thing I sometimes like to play with, mixing it with the show of colours, is the Ganzfeld effect. That’s nothing paranormal, just a brain’s function which cuts out visual information that isn’t renewed. This, however, is good soil for the prisoner’s cinema effect. Sometimes you can mix all that with light phosphenes, which isn’t particularly interesting though. Pressurizing your eyes to induce pressure phosphenes helps a great deal to enhance the visual information sent to the visual cortex. I must say, though, that I only tried pressurizing after I read about pressure phosphenes, and remembered the effect from my childhood. The prisoner’s cinema thing I have experienced for much longer and I do not believe it could be caused by any of my own mechanical actions. But I like to play with my visual perception. I’d also like to say that I write you because you said there’s a lack of first-hand accounts. Well, a friend of mine has reporter similiar things. Don’t know about the Ganzfeld effect, but he reported having the same kind of thing (prisoner’s cinema) and also the ability to manipulate with it. Okay, It would be nice if you sent me any feedback (to my mail). If not, I hope it helps you, at least.

  2. Oh, and I’m 20 year old male from Northern-Eastern-Europe. European I’d say. If that helps (moar info = better academic ground).

  3. This is actually very helpful information. However the Professor does not actually study the information on his own. He enjoys researching into known facts to find the truth.

    Along those lines he would like to know the answers to a couple questions..

    You say that you are “from Northern-Eastern-Europe.” Are you still there or have you moved?

    When was the first time you experienced this effect? And under what circumstances?

  4. Not bad article, but I really miss that you didn’t express your opinion, but ok you just have different approach

  5. For several years I have been experiencing something like Prisoner’s cinema, but it only happens when I close my eyes. It starts out as swirls of color, and then I see something like a checkerboard made of small squares that pulses like a speaker on it’s highest setting. After the checkerboard fades, that’s when I start to see images. Mostly they are faces, contorted so much that they frighten me, but sometimes I’ll see an image from my past, like my childhood home, or even, strangely enough, a witch flying on a broom. That one happened in the middle of the afternoon, and it was just a flash. Sometimes the images are so disturbing that I have to open my eyes and wait for them to fade. Is this Prisoner’s Cinema, or is there another explanation for these ‘visions’? Thank you for your time.

    • Due to the fact that this phenomena is so unresearched (and I am not a psychologist or doctor) I cannot say at this time.

  6. Hello, my name is Kate and I used to experience this when I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 years old. I tried to explain it to my family and they thought I was just dreaming. It would happen at night while lying in bed before sleeping. I always had a hard time falling asleep and I would keep my eyes open because I wasn’t at all tired. The blackness of the dark room would get grainy, like a photograph with noise. Then it seemed that each of the little grains would move around with surrounding grains, making swooping, spinning and swirling shapes in the darkness. These swirls took on very dull colors that would change rapidly. I could “control” these swirls or at least direct them and make them dance around to entertain me. I never experienced the swirls taking more distinct forms like people or stories or anything, but I wonder if it is possible since they seemed to be easily manipulated.
    If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me! Glad to help.

  7. To Kate, that is what is known as a hypnagogia, it’s fairly common during the time when you are falling asleep but before you’re totally unconscious.

    As for Prisoner’s Cinema, I began to experience something very like this the first night after I was put on the anti-depressant Paxil during my teens. I went into my room and shut off the light even though I wasn’t sleepy, and sat down in my chair and stared into the darkest part of the room, and almost immediately began to perceive shapes made of light and color coalescing in front of me in layers (some would appear visually “closer” to me than others, which would be right near the walls). I saw quite clear images sometimes, but mostly sort of semi-fuzzy pictures, like they were trying to coalesce into concrete shapes but unable to do so completely. The most vivid one (real-life clear) that stands out the most is that I would see the Simpsons family (yes, the yellow cartoon people) wearing black pin-striped tuxedos with top-hats and tails, in a circular formation with their heads closest to the center, sort of like a windmill, slowly rotating around. I found that I could manipulate the images somewhat by focusing my eyes in various “layers” of the space in front of me (a very quick-acting version what you do when you look at a “Magic Eye” picture, to get the hidden shapes to show up, only without moving your face — I’ve always been able to do those without having to move my face close to the page, I just focus differently until the image shows up). I also found that if I jerked my body quickly over to the side, it took the visual plane over a full second to readjust to my new position, causing a ton of visual “tracers.” The strength of the phenomena faded a bit after I stopped taking anti-depressants, but it still happens to a slight degree in dark rooms if I am relaxed but fully awake. If I’m tired it just sort of looks like regular phosphenes (the stuff that you see when you rub your eyes pretty hard, like points of light in a black field, a black and white checkerboard-like pattern, moving orbs of color, etc), which I think is not all that abnormal.


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