The prisoner's cinema is a phenomenon reported by prisoners confined to dark cells and by others kept in darkness, voluntarily or not, for long periods of time. It has also been reported by truck drivers, pilots, and practitioners of intense meditation. Astronauts and other individuals who have been exposed to certain types of radiation have reported witnessing similar phenomena.
The "cinema" consists of a "light show" of various colors that appear out of the darkness. The light has a form, but those that have seen it find it difficult to describe. Sometimes, the cinema lights resolve into human or other figures.
Scientists believe that the cinema is a result of phosphenes combined with the psychological effects of prolonged exposure to darkness. Others have noted a connection between the form the lights take and neolithic cave paintings.
The pilot episode for the original Twilight Zone series; "Where Is Everybody?," depicts elaborate, fully realistic hallucinations by a test subject undergoing prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation as part of research into human space travel.
- Charles Bonnet syndrome
- Closed-eye hallucination
- Dark retreat
- Ganzfeld effect
- Isolation tank
- Sensory deprivation
- Demirchoglian, GG (1973). "On the effect of ionizing radiation upon the retina in man and animals". Life sciences and space research. 11: 281–294. PMID 12001957.
- Fugelsang, C; Narici L; Picozza P; Sannita WG (April 2006). "Phosphenes in low earth orbit: survey responses from 59 astronauts". Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 77 (4): 449–452. PMID 16676658.
- Walker, J. "The Amateur Scientist: About Phosphenes: patterns that appear when the eyes are closed". Scientific American. 244: 142–152.
- Murchie, Guy (1998). The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration in Science and Philosophy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 237. ISBN 0-395-95791-5.
- Stone, Andrea J. Images From the Underworld: Naj Tunich and the Tradition of Maya Cave Painting. University of Texas Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-292-75552-X.
- The opening sequence of the TV series Magic Shadows includes an artist's depiction of "prisoners cinema" illustrating its rapid succession of half-formed figures and images (from 0:38 to 0:49 in the linked video).
- Why does watching Phosphenes make me fall asleep? Salvatore Cullari, Lebanon Valley College