Purkinje Patterns: Great Flickering Fingers – it’s the Dreamachine!

Purkinje Patterns: Great Flickering Fingers – it’s the Dreamachine!Here’s something for the Hawkwind crowd – how Barney amused himself: Gysin was the guy who taught Burroughs to do cut-ups. Here Gysin describes how he achieved another of Barney the Entertainer’s tricks.

Strange News

Key to Hallucinations Found

By Jen Palmares Meadows, Scientific Blogging

Almost fifty years ago, the beat poet Brion Gysin (1916 – 1986), described a visual hallucination that he experienced while riding a bus:

…Had a transcendental storm of colour visions today in the bus going to Marseille. We ran through a long avenue of trees and I closed my eyes against the setting sun. An overwhelming flood of intensely bright patterns in supernatural colours exploded behind my eyelids: a multidimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time. I was in a world of infinite number. The vision stopped abruptly as we left the trees. Was that a vision? What happened to me? (Brion Gysin, 21 December 1958)

Gysin, a writer and performance artist, though known for his discovery of the cut-up technique, which inspired writers like William S. Burroughs, was also the co-inventor (along with scientist Ian Sommerville) of the Dreamachine, a stroboscopic flicker device designed to be viewed with the eyes closed and produces visual stimuli.

At the end of his documentation, Gysin asks, “Was that a vision? What happened to me?”


According to Dominic ffytche of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and author of ‘The Hodology of Hallucinations,’ a study recently published in an issue of Cortex, “Fifty years on we are able to answer Gysin’s question.” Gysin’s hallucinations were quite similar to what Jan Purkinje (1787-1869), the father of contemporary neuroscience, experienced as a child.

“I stand in the bright sunlight with closed eyes and face the sun. Then I move my outstretched, somewhat separated, fingers up and down in front of the eyes, so that they are alternately illuminated and shaded. In addition to the uniform yellow-red that one expects with closed eyes, there appear beautiful regular figures that are initially difficult to define but slowly become clearer. When we continue to move the fingers, the figure becomes more complex and fills the whole visual field. (Purkinje, 1819)

When Purkinje moved his fingers, he simulated an effect similar to that of Gysin’s Dreamachine.