December 28th, 2013

Snow gets in your eyes

How would we know if we see exactly the same way other people do? After all, we can’t step momentarily into someone else’s brain.

One of those visual differences among people appears to be the existence of something called “visual snow.” The condition is a seemingly-normal vision variant that does not represent pathology and has no particular meaning—and is something that (to the best of my recollection) I’ve had my entire life. It is also my unverifiable hunch that most if not all people have at least a small degree of it, although some may have it more intensely than others. However, those who are aware of having it might be people who pay more attention to detail and are more observant about their bodies and sensitive to gradations of perception.

So I actually think that visual snow may be very common. Perhaps even normal. But at any rate, it’s “normal” for me. The phenomenon is also somewhat of a figure/ground thing where attention can be a big part of it.

Here’s a video purporting to show what visual snow is like. I’d say that this is what it’s like in the worst of circumstances; just ramp it down quite a bit and you’ve got the idea:

This commenter at YouTube describes my story pretty well:

I’ve had this my whole life. I remember trying to explain it to my mom as a small child “what are all the zillions of little spots mommy?” She looked at me like I was crazy, so I never really brought it up again, even though I was always conscious of it. It wasn’t till I was an adult that I realized some other people see like me as well. In my case it doesn’t bother me… but I do wonder what normal vision is like sometimes.

Actually, it wasn’t until I was middle-aged that I realized that everyone didn’t see like that—or at least, didn’t describe their vision that way.

NOTE: The title of this post comes from this song:

45 Responses to “Snow gets in your eyes”

  1. Mr. Frank Says:


    Does the condition have any relationship to visual acuity as measured by a standard eye chart? Is it related to color blindness?

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Mr. Frank:

    “No” to both questions.

  3. Matt_SE Says:

    I’ve had something similar to this, but rarely and quite intermittently. Might be from other causes.

  4. vanderleun Says:

    Itried to watch that video but….. “We can do without the wet, lame and distracting guitar solo, thank you. Aural snow.”

  5. T Says:

    Why is it not reasonable to think that our chemical composition (which within certain ranges is distinct for each of us) should not cause two people to see the same red as a slightly different color as well as the slight unique deformiities in our eyes, or the distinct structure of our ears cause differences in how we perceive? We know that some people are more touch-sentitive than others (e.g., ticklish) why shouldn’t any sense be just as distinct?

    As you (Neo) point out above we can not enter another’s sensory experience and absolutely prove this, but the concept makes perfect sense. It points out the fact that we are, each of us, a distinct perceptual sensor of the reality around us and as such we all experience reality in subtley different ways.

    It brings a profound meaning to life, that we each uniquely draw meaning from our own unique perspective of the world around us, and it prompts an answer to the philospher’s question about a tree falling in the forest; would it make a sound if there was no one around to hear it? I opt for the answer “who cares if it did or not?” Without any creature to perceive it, sound or no sound is a meaningless construct. Likewise reality.

  6. Ymarsakar Says:

    Seeing spiritual energy as the japanese call it?

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    It brings a profound meaning to life, that we each uniquely draw meaning from our own unique perspective of the world around us, and it prompts an answer to the philospher’s question about a tree falling in the forest; would it make a sound if there was no one around to hear it?

    Quantum mechanics often studies phenomenon that only exists because an observer sees it working. When reaching through the Dirac Sea, one can even come to the hypothesis that reality can be shaped through will itself at certain levels of reality.

  8. DJMoore Says:

    I’m convinced that people do not see colors the same way, based on the observation that people have different color preferences.

    In the same way, nobody could like what happens in my mouth when I eat an olive. Therefore, olives taste different to me than to people who like olives.

  9. T Says:


    This is why I enjoy films like The Matrix and Inception which deal with (or at least represent) questions of reality and multiple realities.

    But back to the tree in the forest. IMO it also belies the eco-terrorists fanatical concern with an undisturbed nature. Without humans to give meaning to its reality, so what? The earth remains pristine? So what? It might as well be as barren as Mars

    The sciences are, of course, important because they allow us to understand the how and why of the universe around us. The arts and humanities are precisely those disciplines which allow us to explore the meaning of our unique relationship with that universe which the sciences uncover. Two sides of the same coin.

  10. T Says:


    . . . and even if olives would not taste different to someone else, there’s still the issue of some people liking the taste of an olive vs. those who do not. I, myself, am a martini w/ a twist guy. Again, it’s a unique perception of the world around us.

  11. Charles Says:

    What Vanderleun said – the video would have been better without that lame song. Now THAT was distracting.

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    T, the Japanese take on environmentalism is very different. It looks the same as many Gaians, but it isn’t.

    While I say the Japanese, this isn’t their national policy or religion. It’s more like how their individuals look at it from an artistic stand point.

    There’s this song that pretty much encapsulates what’s going on.

    It’s difficult to translate, since I think that is not the Japanese version. Or if it is, I cannot make out the words.

    I think the lyrics to the ending movie in Rewrite describes this well.

    “The boy and the girls wanted to know what lay beyond their little island.

    They used the trees from the forest to build a tower so high they could see the horizon in all directions.

    They achieved it while aiming for an unattainable dream.

    His feet were shaking. Was he brave enough. Now he stands at the peak.

    He could see far, far across the sea. He spotted a new world beyond it, like an illusion.

    How could they ever reach that place? The boy decided to build a boat, and cross the sea with it.

    They needed lots of wood for it, so they cut down the forest one tree at a time.

    Before long every tree on the island was reduced to a stump.

    But something was missing. They needed a mast to hold up the sail.

    Only one life remained. It was called the mother tree.

    They cut it down, and began their journey.

    He turned around to see the island shrinking behind. It looked as if something had ravaged it.

    We were that something. We who were born into this world. We who did our best to live.

    They traveled far, far across that sea. The wind filled their huge sail, leading them to the new world.

    Even if the end comes again someday, I want this to reach you.

    I want to connect this long, long journey to a hope for the future.”

    Any kind of creative or new vision, the Japanese sub cultures have provided in abundance. American Hollywood tends to tighten the collar on slaves to produce anything of significant artistic and creative vision.

    The Left is a death cult. Their view of protecting Gaia and the planet is consistent with the views and philosophy of a death cult. But if you notice how the lyrics and song goes, that isn’t a worship of death.

    That is a worship of life. That is, as spoken by the chief villain in Serenity, love (ai).

    Every child must go forth out into the world, and they do so by trampling over their mother. In return for that life born and the ability to make independent decisions, much hardship and resource drain has been put on the mother. To the point where she will die before her children. But what parent that loves their children, want to live longer than their child? A death cult perhaps? A death cult that says it is good to live long, so long as you don’t give birth to new life. Have an abortion, they say, it cuts back on medical issues.

    So this particular individual in the Japanese artistic culture is extending an obvious msg. An obvious msg if you read the VN. I wish to avoid spoiling it, but some things must be communicated. Here it comes.

    The planet Earth is dying due to a lack of resources and due to humanity’s resource drain.

    So, it comes to be that saving life on this planet Earth, requires going across the sea of infinity. If you apply that to the lyrics and the song, things should become very clear.

  13. M J R Says:


    For what it’s worth, I had never even heard of visual snow, much less experienced it, until reading your post.
    *Amendment*: I have never experienced it *consciously*, that I’m aware of, or that I can recall.

    However, the video mentions floaters. I’ve experienced them, and when I’ve become aware of them, I have found that awareness a little distracting.

    Guess we each have our very own personal thingies about us.

  14. M J R Says:

    “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” — *super* ballad by The Platters, one of many. You (neo) and I are of the same vintage.

  15. T Says:


    I wasn’t aware of this Japanese variation. It is fascinating, but I must admit, it’s going to take me several readings to really understand. Thanks.

    I get the idea of the parent dying and the children sailing off into their own world. I’m not yet sure, from what you’ve presented, how the idea of a death cult plays into this Japanese version instead of a natural life cycle (life–death–next generation life–death, ad infinitum). As I said, this is going to take me several readings unfamiliar as I am with Japanese culture. Thanks.

  16. Ira Says:

    “However, the video mentions floaters. I’ve experienced them, and when I’ve become aware of them, I have found that awareness a little distracting.”

    Creases and the like in vitreous humour that cause “floaters” can be seen by a doctor performing an eye examination.

  17. Promethea Says:

    Neo, now that you mentioned it and showed the video, I see snow everywhere. I’ve always seen it but never had a name for it, and it doesn’t bother me since it’s always part of the background.

    I also have tinnitus, but don’t generally notice it.

    BTW, does anyone reading this experience synesthesia? I do, and find it a fascinating topic.

  18. Tonawanda Says:

    In my radical reconstruction of what the educational system should teach, neurology would start to be taught in the first grade, in conjunction with logic.

    Every grade of teacher would be required to read all of Oliver Sacks.

    A classic of Western literature ought to be Sacks’ story about the woman who was born without depth perception. She did not know she lacked it until she figured it out in college.

    Then she consulted a person who instructed her how to train her eyes and her brain to acquire it.

    After training for some period, she walked out of a building into the falling snow and for the first time perceived depth.

    Beautiful even for a cynic, and instructive on every level.

  19. Tina Says:

    I first noticed as a little child (like 3 or 4) that when I close my eyes and look at my eyelids, I see the universe, filled with stars. It looks like the Milky Way. I don’t see it any other time, but I suppose it is similar to the phenomenon described – except that I’ve always connected it with God, and a sort of example of the macro reflected in the micro and vice versa.

    In terms of the physiology, I thought it might be just light filtering through my eyelids, like the way you can see through a woven cloth if you stretch it tight and beign it close to the eye. It is not something I ever spent much time wondering about, except to often, when I was young, (not so much now), go to sleep “star gazing” with my eyes closed!

    Interesting to know there is a name for it, but it is sad to think some people have problems with extreme versions of it. I never knew that.

  20. Beverly Says:

    Here’s a cool thing: Have any of you noticed, when your eyes are closed, that you will Very Occasionally (i.e., every few days or more) see a brilliant, tiny, red pinpoint flash?

    That, I’ve read, is a cosmic ray particle hitting one of your cone cells in the retina. IIRC, it also kills the cell, but fortunately most of us have millions of them.

  21. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Fascinating topic. I’ve wondered all my life whether the color that I call “blue” looks the same to another person who gives it that name. I may have started wondering about this because of a peculiarity in my vision that has always made what I see unknowably different from what others see — that is, I lack depth perception. I’ve never had it and wouldn’t have known I didn’t have it if decades of eye doctors hadn’t told me so, though it’s obvious to me that something must be different, as others can do things like hitting baseballs with bats that I couldn’t do if my life depended on it. I can’t fully imagine what it is that the rest of you see and call “depth” that I’m not perceiving. Hills look far away to me, apples look round. The eye doctors tell me that’s because I’ve learned this, not because I see it — but what is the added distance and roundness you see that I don’t? Mystifying!

    Perhaps not coincidentally, I have always loved to draw (the result of living in a two-dimensional world?) and am thus much in the habit of trying to notice the difference between what I think I see and what I actually need to see to create an image — trying to see past the distortions and presumptions that get in the way, like dirt on a window pane. But “visual snow”? Nope. I don’t see anything remotely like what’s in that video and had never heard of it before reading this post. Fascinating, though!

    Promethea, I think I do have a little synesthesia and, like Neo, I wonder if many people do but don’t always notice. I see shapes when I hear music — one tune might be jagged and angular, another all swooping curves — and associate colors with some words (Tuesday, for example, is definitely yellow.)

    Have never seen the cosmic ray red dot but I’m definitely going to start looking for it!

  22. Tonawanda Says:

    Mrs Whatsit: have you read the Oliver Sacks story on lack of depth perception (it is in An Anthropologist on Mars, if I remember correctly)?

    The subject of the true story met a doctor who taught her how to train herself to acquire depth.

    I realize you probably have heard it all from the docs.

  23. Jim Sullivan Says:


    I, too, experience Synesthesia, as does my father. Certain words or sounds, when spoken by others give me the sensation of a taste.

    I have been told my problems with simple arithmetic and numbers might be related. I have a difficult time with numbers, always have, and on the movie screen in my head, when I picture them, they shift around. But, I have no other learning issues. I have always told people, it seems like dyslexia with numbers.

    I can still only remember two phone numbers, the two I have known for 36 years.

  24. SteveH Says:

    When I think of a calendar in my mind it begins with the month of September and ends in August. I have no idea why my mind insist on partitioning it that way. Early school experience ingrained it?

    As a kid I was always marveled by the trick of closing an eye and touching the side of the eyeball with a finger, noticing that my vision perceived that touch to be on the opposite side of the eyeball. Somehow this trick circumvents our brain flipping images from the eye so we see the world right side up?

  25. SteveH Says:

    “”I can still only remember two phone numbers, the two I have known for 36 years.”"
    Jim Sullivan

    This is the age of speed dial. I now know my number and nobody elses. But I still remember several phone numbers from childhood.

  26. Jim Sullivan Says:


    Well, even better than speed dial, I have a wife and two children, so, I just hand them the phone. Let them dial. My two four year olds know more phone numbers than I do.

    I suppose having a cell phone might help. But I don’t own one, nor do I want to own one. Nothing but an electronic leash. I’ll have none of that.

  27. Doom Says:

    I see clearer than any photograph seems to be able to emulate. A trick to clear vision, for me, is not using it, mostly. I don’t see with my eyes most of the time I merely track movement, perhaps look for various details in very specific situations, such as writing this comment… I’ll trail with eyes and check spelling, grammar, whatnot.

    Have you ever tried not seeing while looking? I don’t know if you can learn this. I learned it to survive, then found it comfortable. It’s very good for combat and night, works fine in the day, unless you prefer to try to see everything. On the side though, my memory “pictures” are of much better quality than my general living vision. It seems my brain collects more detail than what I seem to consciously take in. I use that for reviewing, deciding my next move, and things like that. Very fast access, too.

    When I really want to see it all, in fine quality, I can though. That’s how I know cameras don’t match up.

    Then again, I’m crazy, so… :p

  28. Don Carlos Says:

    Anyone with visual snow also have fibromyalgia?

  29. Promethea Says:

    This is a fascinating thread with so many interesting comments.

    Think about it….if we were all together trying to tell about our personal receptor qualities, we would all be talking over each other. This is an interesting example of how talk on the internet can be much more informative than talk around a table.

    Doom @ 10:29 . . . you are a lucky guy. I’m a big fan of hyperrealism, and wish I could see and remember more details.

  30. Ymarsakar Says:

    I’m not yet sure, from what you’ve presented, how the idea of a death cult plays into this Japanese version instead of a natural life cycle (life–death–next generation life–death, ad infinitum). As I said, this is going to take me several readings unfamiliar as I am with Japanese culture.

    My premise is that the Left are death cults and what we should look for is a life cult.

  31. waitforit Says:

    I have had a few occasions of hyperrealism, I think. It has very much attenuated as I age. I didn’t know that’s what it is called. But, in college, sometimes solving a math or engineering problem, I could “see” the path and solution, but most of the times could not retain it long enough to write it down. It was like another self coming after was too slow.

    Nowadays, since there are no math or engineering problems, it happens when I’m reading. If I “try,” it never happens. Can’t force it. In fact, trying makes it very much worse, so bad that I can read a paragraph and have no memory or understanding at all. I’ll try and do it methodically but after the very first step have to go back.

    And there’s two types of speed reading. One, you know what you’re looking for and race through all the noise, or two, you pretty much see the whole page at once. The former I employ all the time; the latter has maybe happened a couple times my whole life. What happens more often is seeing one word out of a whole page then, incredibly, not being able to find it for quite a while. For some reason, a word like “matrix” or a name, will just pop out of a whole page.

    And poetry! Who can determine to write a poem about anything. Engineered poetry, which is most poetry, lacks the spark. You might get good at meter and rhythm and rhyme and even meaning; but a reader knows when the spark is there, even a little spark. True poetry is likely almost always an accident, a happy accident to be sure, but an un-looked for intersection between the subject and the eternal when the brain just works differently. And yet, the accident follows the form and does not precede it. So that practice helps and may generate the accident. The form is known, either learned or somehow just known, and the results when right, are beautiful, just like music, when the notes have form, is beauty.

    I think it’s related to a brain state: alpha waves v. beta waves or something. Are you one of those people who gets caught staring at nothing. Someone would wave their hand in front of you, say, “hello, McDuff, anyone at home?”

    But it is pleasant, that state, isn’t it?

  32. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Tonawanda, I did see that article, thanks — got very excited about it but then was told by an eye doctorthat it was unlikely to succeed for me. Still, this discussion prompted me to look up vision therapists who do this, and I just might call the one I found.

    Doom, I, too am jealous of your hyperrealism. Something a little bit like it has happened to me once or twice after long sessions of drawing or painting in color — suddenly all colors appeared richer, deeper, more vibrant and intense than normal. It didn’t last long but while it did, the world just shimmered with color. Sadly, I can’t make it happen at will.

  33. waitforit Says:

    Enlarge the portrait (expand the time frame) allowing the use of the same tools.

  34. waitforit Says:

    Listen at 23 minutes for how System 1 (fast thinking) created all our Obamots!

  35. Doom Says:


    Hyperrealism, eh? I had to look that up. As for obtaining it? I’m not sure all will, few will actually, but surviving the the ‘training’ is most of the trick. But, as you said, I am lucky. Trust me, stick with your ol’ regular eyes. Some of that hyperrealism really comes back to haunt.

  36. Ymarsakar Says:

    Just get enough adrenaline and endorphins pumped in ya by your glands and you’ll see something interesting. As for what, that’s harder to say.

  37. Perfesser Plum Says:

    Neo, visual snow seems closer to the way reality is—whatever ‘is’ means.

    Possibly your brain gives you a pointellist version of the wavicles of vision.

    Do you find yourself better able than most persons to “see” the spaces between leaves as being just as “real” as the leaves?

    Do you see what dancers are NOT doing as easily as you see what they ARE doing?

  38. Susanamantha Says:

    I am plagued by a plethora of floaters, mostly in my right eye. There is one particularly large bugger that skirts around the lower right quadrant. It is the only dark one. The others are nearly clear but they all interfere with reading, an activity I would hate to lose. If I close my right eye, I can read for a few more minutes. And yes, the eye doc can see them and she can give me no hope of a remedy.

  39. Promethea Says:

    Susanamantha @ 11:04 . . .

    Floaters are an affliction. I hope your doctor told you that sometimes they break up and go away. I wish you luck.

  40. Beverly Says:

    Too bad they can’t be broken up like gallstones with sonic waves. Floaters, I mean.

    I get just the “aura” (thank God, not the migraine headache) that precedes migraines. When I was 16, I was watching a football game on TV, when the quarterback threw the ball to … it just vanished in a grassy area! But the announcer was saying this RB had caught it, so: what??? I said something to my mother (who suffered terribly with sick migraines, even took Darvon for them), and she said, “Take two aspirin, FAST: that’s a scintillating sciatoma, a precurser to migraine!”

    For the next 20 minutes or so, I watched this strange scintillating spiral that started at the foveal focal point and spiraled out around my field of vision. Interestingly, wherever it was, my brain would use the adjoining area and just repeat that pattern to “fill in” the picture: e.g., the grass on the football field was “filled in” where the player was, because he was right under the aura.

    It grew for a while, then gradually contracted and vanished. Luckily, I didn’t get a headache at all. But I always race for the aspirin bottle when it strikes (had one on Thursday of last week). Biggest nuisance is that I can’t read when it’s at its height, since it starts right at the focal point of my field of vision.

    BTW, those tiny red pinpoints? I’ve only seen maybe six or seven in the last few months, and only at night: your eyes really need to be closed to catch it happening, and it needs to be in a central cone cell. But it’s really distinctive when you catch one. There goes a cosmic ray particle!

  41. Ymarsakar Says:

    No wonder the japanese have so many shows concerning Eye Jutsu powers and bloodlines.

  42. neo-neocon Says:


    I get the classic-type scintillating scotoma, too. I usually get a headache after, but it’s (knock wood) only a moderate headache rather than a severe one (my mother used to get the scotoma w/o the headache).

    The scotoma is quite a light show, isn’t it?

  43. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    I see only a few floaters occasionally now, but saw lots of them for a while following eye surgery as a small child, though I didn’t, at first, know what they were. My bedroom window looked out on a cemetery next door, and I surmised that those strange fleeting images — all of which seemed to rise upward from that cemetery as I gazed out my window, and then vanish in the sky — were the souls of dead people flying up to heaven. I told my parents about this with great excitement and conviction. I think they were a little freaked out before they figured out what I was really seeing and explained it to me.

  44. Tim Says:

    I’ve had visual snow all my life. I used to only notice it a night, now I see it all the time. Some of us with the “syndrome” also get after-images, problems with glare, cell-like floaters and poor night vision. I found out what it was called from a researcher/neuro by the name of Christoph Schankin. Thank you for bringing up the subject. Interesting blog.

  45. br549 Says:

    Wow. You must be reading my mail.
    Snow, floaters, and tinnitus that is as loud in my ears as a conversation. The tinnitus is four different high frequencies, plus one droning sound somewhere near 60 hertz that at times is very loud. My snow has colors that are very noticeable with my eyes closed and in a quiet setting, such as laying in bed drifting off to a technicolor sleep. I have had these things as long as I can remember. Though 61 now, I discovered I have ADHD at the age of 44. It certainly explained a lot of life long things as well. Rarely a dull moment.

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