© 2000 Jamie Zawinski <>

There's a little black spot on the sun today.

I've got a ``floater'' in my left eye. It's not quite in the center, so when I try to look at it, I end up chasing it around the room. When it's really bright, and I pull my eye's focus all the way over to ``macro'' I can see it: it sometimes looks like a little piece of string, sometimes like a bundle of flat discs, like what the blood cells looked like in Fantastic Voyage.

I did some searching on the web, and the consensus seemed to be that these are usually nothing: it's gunk inside your eye, and people sometimes just get them. Usually they go away, but sometimes not. Oh, except sometimes, they mean you have a detached retina, and are screwed. Oh, and if your retina just detached all by itself, you know, without you getting hit in the head with a crowbar or something, then chances are your other eye will go out of warranty in the same way. Have a nice day!

So I probably ought to go see a doctor about it, but so far, the thought of dealing with my insurance company causes me more anxiety than potential blindness, so I'm still putting it off.

Anyway, this has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm seeing, and really paying attention to how this whole ``seeing'' thing works.

It's pretty fucking weird, you ever notice that?

There are all these other things that I see that aren't really there at all, that apparently Mr. Brain spends a lot of time editing out. There are the floaters, which I've seen before on occasion (this one is unusual in that it's just not going away.) Then there are the sparklies. They aren't around all the time, usually only when it's pretty bright. Then there are the discs, which look so much like cells that I keep wondering whether that's really what they are. I mean, cells are pretty small, can our eyes really focus that close? I dunno. Then there are the afterimages. On everything. Whatever I look at, if I look away, there's often a faint solarized sizzle left behind of the outline of the last thing I was looking at.

Then there's the seething, the texture. I think that's the strangest one, because it's always there. Stare at a white wall, what do you see? Smooth? Featureless? Not if your sight works like mine: keep watching it and it will start to boil. Let your mind wander and every part of it is in constant motion. There's no such thing as a smooth surface. There's no such thing as a still life.

The thing that I find fascinating about the texture is that it seems so much like looking at the infrastructure, like sitting too close to the TV and seeing the phosphor patches. Like slapping the side of the monitor and seeing the electron screen wiggle and shimmer. Like seeing the aliasing and JPEG artifacts in what used to look like a realistic computer image until you looked too closely. Like I've looked behind the curtain and seen the secret humming machines that make things go. The clockwork inside the bureaucrats, that kind of thing.

And that's just what I see with my eyes open! Close them, and it's a whole other lightshow, that seems mostly based on the seething and the sparklies. Plus mystery shadows, patches of light and dark that move around and don't seem to have any correlation to what's going on in the room outside the skin.

Is it like this for everybody? Or have I been tripping my entire life and just thought this was how it was supposed to work?

H. P. Lovecraft wrote a story called ``From Beyond'' about a man who built a machine that stimulated long-dormant sense organs and let us see things that were otherwise invisible to us. Part of it goes:

I think I know what he was talking about.

[ up ]