phos·​phene | \ ˈfäs-ˌfēn How to pronounce phosphene (audio) \

Definition of phosphene

: an impression of light that occurs without light entering the eye and is usually caused by stimulation of the retina (as by pressure on the eyeball when the lid is closed) or by excitation of neurons in the visual system (as by transcranial magnetic stimulation) Early studies have demonstrated that direct electrical stimulation to neurons of the visual system will cause a subject to perceive points of light (phosphenes).— George Scarlatis

Phosphenes Is the Word You're Looking for

Phosphenes are the luminous floating stars, zigzags, swirls, spirals, squiggles, and other shapes that you see when closing your eyes tight and pressing them with your fingers. Basically, these phenomena occur when the cells of the retina are stimulated by rubbing or after a forceful sneeze, cough, or blow to the head. The word phosphene comes from the Greek words phōs (light) and phainein (to show). Phainein is also a contributing element in such words as diaphanous, emphasis, epiphany, and phenomenon, among others.

Examples of phosphene in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In one participant, simultaneous stimulation of five electrodes, each one associated with one discrete phosphene, triggered the illumination of two large phosphenes that did not coalesce into a letter or any other coherent form. Christof Koch, Scientific American, 10 May 2021 Scientists picked up signs of phosphene on Venus by using a technique called rotational spectroscopy. Rhett Allain, Wired, 26 Sep. 2020 But if multiple electrodes came online simultaneously, the individual phosphenes still appeared but did not come together as coherent shapes, Live Science wrote. Fox News, 15 May 2020 Argus II offers a relatively crude form of artificial vision; users see diffuse spots of light called phosphenes. Kelly Servick, Science | AAAS, 31 Oct. 2019 But at the meeting, Second Sight’s collaborators at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, presented evidence that the 60 electrodes could create phosphenes at more than 60 locations. Kelly Servick, Science | AAAS, 31 Oct. 2019 That magnetic pulse caused a flash of light (a phosphene) in the receiver’s visual field of the receiver as a cue to turn the block. Robert Martone, Scientific American, 29 Oct. 2019 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'phosphene.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of phosphene

1852, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for phosphene

International Scientific Vocabulary phos- + Greek phainein to show — more at fancy

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The first known use of phosphene was in 1852

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Cite this Entry

“Phosphene.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for phosphene


phos·​phene | \ ˈfäs-ˌfēn How to pronounce phosphene (audio) \

Medical Definition of phosphene

: a luminous impression that occurs when the retina undergoes nonluminous stimulation (as by pressure on the eyeball when the lid is closed)

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