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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Scientists picked up signs of phosphene on Venus by using a technique called rotational spectroscopy. Rhett Allain, Wired, "Here's How You Can 'See' Molecules—on a Whole 'Nother Planet," 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, "Blind study participants 'see' shapes via electrodes: study," 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, "New technologies promise sharper artificial vision for blind people," 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, "New technologies promise sharper artificial vision for blind people," 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, "Scientists Demonstrate Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans," 29 Oct. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about phosphene

Time Traveler for phosphene

Time Traveler

The first known use of phosphene was in 1852

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about phosphene

Statistics for phosphene

Cite this Entry

“Phosphene.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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)

More from Merriam-Webster on phosphene Encyclopedia article about phosphene

Comments on phosphene

What made you want to look up phosphene? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!