A technician explains measurements whilst a scientist explains observations.

Meditations: space in the dark

The experience that occurs in a dark room is especially interesting because the visual component is not due in any great measure to effects beyond the body.

There is considerable visual experience even in the dark with my eyes closed. This visual experience is a set of concurrent and hence simultaneous events that abut each other continuously. The principle events are slabs of grey-blackness. This continuous set of simultaneous events I call 'space', space being the conventional term for concurrent, simultaneous objects that is used in science and mathematics.

Whether I am in the dark or the light I hear whole sounds, not just the sound that is present at my physical ears - if a bird goes "tweet" I hear the whole "tweet", not "t" by itself then "w" by itself then "ee" by itself etc. Sounds are located within my experience at the apparent position of the object that produced them and are oriented from the past to the future. The space that contains these sounds is the same dark space that contains my vision.

Novel events produce "attention" in which a zone of events in the general direction of the novel event become more prominent, this occurs without the need for moving my eyes and is like looking without actually looking.

These observations about the sounds and feelings in my experience show that the space of my experience with my eyes closed is the same space as the perceptual space that occurs when my eyes are open. Perceptual space would appear to be a model space or 'virtual reality' in my brain. The space of my experience extends out in all directions from my head in experience though, as will be seen in the article Time and depth this outward extension is probably an extension in time.

The detailed observations are given below, if I sit in a dark room with my eyes closed I have the following experience.

Visual Experience

I have pulled the curtains, shut my eyes, turned my back on my computer and relaxed. You can do the same at intervals if you wish to check my observations. My immediate visual experience contains a deep blackness with occasional grey-black cloudy forms and very occasional tiny dots of dim light. The grey cloudy forms appear to project somewhere behind my eyes in that they and the blackness occupy a space that is in front of some viewing point. The blackness extends perhaps 60 degrees either side of the midline of my face and thirty or forty degrees above and below the level of my eyes. The angles and black surface form a short, flattened cone or solid angle with its apex somewhere in the position of my head. If I relax and roll my eyes slightly the deep blackness disappears and I am surrounded by grey-black in all directions, including behind my head. This dull, grey-black area extends out to where I imagine objects might lie if my eyes were open. If I attempt to observe the grey-blackness imaginary parts of the room around me appear in very dull outline but only in solid angles similar to those described for the experience that contained deep blackness. I do not need to divert my eyes to the parts of my experience that I observe in this fashion. To recap, if I try to look out through my eyes I have deep blackness in my experience, if I relax and roll my eyes slightly I have a dull grey-black all around and if I concentrate on a part of this grey-black then imaginary, dull outlines of the room appear in segments of the space.

I can deliberately populate the grey-black space with dull imagery (more on this in a separate article). If I observe my body (whilst keeping my closed eyes in a generally forward facing position) there is a very faint outline of my body that comes and goes with parts such as my hands, especially my wrists, becoming transiently prominent.

My visual experience with my eyes closed in a dark room is largely a set of concurrent and hence simultaneous events that range from black to grey that continuously abut each other, within this experience there are several imaginary and other phenomena as described above.

Musculo-skeletal experience

I went surfing a couple of days ago so my shoulders, below and to the rear of my head feel sore, within a few seconds this sensation in the shoulders is replaced by a soreness in my stomach muscles. The soreness in my shoulders is a band across my upper back so encompasses many concurrently present points. The replacement of the soreness in the shoulders with the soreness in my stomach occurs over about half a second and there is a pattern of alternation from shoulders to stomach and back again.

I am sitting in a chair, there being a gap in the chair of about 10 cm between the flat seat and the back. The parts of my body that contact the chair have areas of compressive feeling either as a generalised compressive feeling from the very top of my thighs to my shoulder blades or as an alternation of compressive feeling between the two contact areas of my rear end and back that takes about half a second to change from one site to another .

My feet are especially evident, there being a light compressive feeling on the soles and a slight feeling of spreading in both sets of toes. When my feet are together the compressive feeling is a single sheet of feeling at the location of the soles spanning both feet. If I imagine a movement of the toes a particular foot becomes isolated.

If I relax slightly almost any bilateral set of muscles in my legs and arms can be lightly preparing to contract. Again this alternation from one set of muscles to another takes about half a second to complete when it happens.

More about pain

It is now some weeks since I wrote the piece on "musculo-skeletal experience" above. The day before yesterday I dived to get a ball and injured my left shoulder. This provides an excellent opportunity to describe a lightly severe pain.

What is apparent immediately is that pain is an event of its own type in the same way as colours are not sounds or cutaneous sensations and sounds are not sights pain is pain.  It is its own quality.  It will become clear in the description below that pain is like any other sensory quality in the way it is positioned and extended.  It differs from most other qualities in that moderately severe pain is always accompanied by other events such as muscle tightness/weakness, autonomic nervous system activation etc. (this is not unique because a non-pain such as bitterness is accompanied by screwing up the face, bright light by blinking etc.).

I performed the following observations with my eyes closed and head facing forwards. When I raise the affected arm sideways there is a sharp pain around the shoulder joint that has a peak intensity for about 0.5 secs and then subsides to a fairly severe pain with a temporal profile similar to that of a continuous auditory tone. This is most severe as I lift the arm. It forms a zone of pain wrapped around the joint and centred slightly above it (2 to 3 cms). If I hold the arm at right angles to my body (my hand in front of my body) the pain slowly shifts over about 10 secs to include a tension in the left side of my neck, the original pain slightly above the joint moves into the joint and remains but is reduced to maybe two thirds its previous intensity. My left palm sweats slightly and the right palm sweats slightly less and my breathing has a tendency to occur in gasps. If I hold the arm in a forward direction there can be a loose ball of pain in the right angle between my upper arm and chest. When I focus on this ball of pain it can move into the shoulder joint. If I hold my arm for a minute or two in a flexed position with the hand pointing upwards the pain can appear around the ulna, near the elbow. If I hold the arm extended out in front then after about a minute the pain largely disappears but the side of my neck feels hot and tense and when I finally lower the arm there is a searing pain from the joint. These observations show that a fairly severe pain around the shoulder is poorly localised and has an extent or spread that can extend outside of the body and over a period of time different parts of the affected limb have pain. The spontaneous fluctuations of this reasonably severe pain occur over periods of minutes. Most intriguingly the pain has a definite form, being like a misshapen ball that is densest in the centre or a thin ellipse with the most severe pain in a line along the long axis. Having observed the pain it has ameliorated so that now, after ten minutes of observations, it is no longer lightly severe when I lift my arm although the action is still accompanied by stiffness in my neck, muscle weakness and sweating in my left palm.

The lightly severe pain reported here differs from the soreness reported in the previous section. I would use words like "sharp", "fiery", "agony" to describe the current pain. By comparison soreness is quite well located on and in the body. I have experienced other types of severe pain, including really severe pain and I sincerely hope that it will be some time before I experience these again! However, from what I recall they differ from the musculo-skeletal, light severity pain reported here, for instance really severe skeletal pain can virtually prevent movement, affecting the whole body and gut. Incidentally, I would not recommend observing a fairly severe pain in the manner described above, it will slow down your recovery - pain is there for a reason.

Notice that I have not considered the emotion reaction to pain and the motor reflexes that occur when some pains are experienced.  The emotional reaction, such as anxiety, to pain is almost unavoidable with severe pain but the report above was about moderate pain and was accompanied by autonomic reflexes and muscular stiffness and weakness but had little emotional effect.  I would avoid this moderate to severe pain because I know it is symptomatic of damage and I do not want to be damaged or extend the damage.  The autonomic reactions, such as the sweating and breathing changes,  are unpleasant and also lead me to avoid the pain.  Emotions may be discussed elsewhere in this blog.

Auditory experience

My immediate auditory experience is of a tick (from a clock) behind me. This tick is very clear and clearly positioned in the space behind my head about 2 metres away. There are bird calls to the right at a distance of many metres. The bird calls and the tick are at their locations (I do not hear the sounds in the centre of my experience such as in my head in my experience). The bird sounds stretch into the future - "tee deet" is not heard as if I am hearing it back through time from the present (ie: not as "teed eet"). I also hear the whole sound of each second or two of song rather than a succession of microsecond snatches or less. I can have all the sounds simultaneously in my experience but if I attend to one sound the other sounds tend to disappear. If I relax I can hear all the sounds, if I lightly attend to a sound my experience tends to contain the sounds at their locations in succession, if I strongly attend to a sound the other sounds become obscured.

These observations about the sounds in my experience show that the space of my experience with my eyes closed is the same space as the perceptual space that occurs when my eyes are open. Perceptual space would appear to be a model space in my brain.


When there is a novel sound it becomes prominent in my experience and a cone or solid angle of events in the direction of the sound is evident. Apart from the original sound, the events are largely visual and imaginary, for instance, when a bird makes the sound "chiaw" outside the window to my left my eyes stay pointing forward beneath closed lids but there is a crude disk of visual space in the direction of the bird sound that contains the very dull, grey outline of a tree and sky with a vague, ragged, black feather attached to a vague black shape. The vague imaginings depart within a few seconds of the end of the "chiaw".

I can "attend" to sounds (see article on decisions) and when I do so the experience is the same as the attention that occurs when a novel sound appears. "Attending" is the appearance of a prominent area of events at the end of a solid angle based near the centre of my head in my experience. Passive attending usually appears along with a novel event and active attending usually accompanies inner speech or anxiety.

If I actively attend to two sounds then two cones of favoured space appear but these can give way to one alternating cone or to a relaxed general space described earlier.

Maintaining attention is accompanied by a slight muscular tension in my face and can lead to a sort of battle with inner speech where words appear so that the zone of attention is focussed on a volume centred on my head and then a muscular tension appears in my body and the words are shut down so that the attention can resume. I use the words "mental effort" to describe this conflict.


  1. Thanks for these observations about your experiences of events in the dark. I claim that we are conscious if and only if we have an experience of *something somewhere*. The minimal level of consciousness (C1) is simply a sense of being within a volumetric surround. Any thoughts about this?

  2. Yes, I agree that experience is something somewhere. This results in experience "of" being a redundant term because the properties that belong to an item in experience are located along with it or placed elsewhere in the contemporaneous space of experience.

    I am pretty sure that the items in my experience are a creation of my brain, based on sense data, so the unconscious, creative part of my brain can imbue them with any properties that are useful and provoke contemporary reactions in other parts of my experience such as a "gut reaction" or create the appearance of a descriptive word such as "green" at the location occupied by inner speech (inner speech has roughly the same location as is occupied by my audible speech). So "experience of" is really "experience accompanying".

    The volumetric surround that you mention is the interesting part of experience. There is nothing at the true centre point because this is just a point. I am inclined to think that the volume of experience extends back in time because this is the case when it contains sense data or imaginings.

    To be honest I have never managed to get my experience free from at least some content, there is always a sound, a dark visual cone or a discomfort that provokes a small amount of attention.

    I can achieve a sort of oneness with the volumetric surround and this can be done even if there is sense data present. I suspect that this is what is meant by the "rapture" or "ecstacy" that can occur in meditation practice. Buddhists regard rapture as just one of the delusions that must be overcome. I agree with them, the joy that occurs is obviously a physiological state placed in experience by the non-conscious parts of my brain. However, despite the distracting joy, oneness with something that falls back in time is an interesting idea. I have not, as yet, got a good description of oneness because it is very hard to observe, the observational state seems to turn off the state of oneness, but I do not think it is impossible to describe it fully because nothing seems to occur in this state that is not located.