The scary stories told around the campfire often include people killed by a monstrous entity. Its image, imprinted on the victim's retina, drives the coroner out of their mind.

Has anyone ever researched that?

  • 2
    I was reading a book that described this as an "outdated superstition". This was in a historical novel set in 1895. Jul 20, 2012 at 20:27
  • It's been researched as trope in fiction, see jv.gilead.org.il/evans/optogram.html Jul 20, 2012 at 20:38
  • I thought this was tried and failed with the investigation into jack the ripper. With modern knowledge of how the eye works, what possible mechanism could be proposed? -1 for that and a lack of corroboration of notability.
    – matt_black
    Jul 21, 2012 at 0:25

1 Answer 1


The American College of Optometrists has a page on this alleged phenomenon, called "optograms". They claim that with chemical fixatives and immediate extraction of the retina, one can discern a rough image representing the last image exposed on the retina. This is vaguely plausible, since the formation of an image does induce chemical changes in the retina.

In the mid-17th Century, a Jesuit friar named Christopher Schiener did some experiments on frogs [Ref]; later Wilhelm Kühne (a physiologist of some repute) did similar experiments on rabbits.

The College go so far as to say:

The one and only case of a 'Human Optogram' is therefore that of Erhard Gustav Reif in November 1880....[H]e was executed by guillotine in the prison yard in the small German town of Bruchsal. His left eye was extracted within ten minutes of the sentence being carried out. Reif's optogram, some 4mm in height, does not survive, merely a simple sketch drawing taken from it.... It has a superficial resemblance to a guillotine blade although the victim's eyes were bandaged seconds before the blade fell. Possibly they are the steps he had to ascend shortly beforehand.

In 1975 a group of German scientists in Heidelberg reproduced the original rabbit research. It seems that they were able to produce rough images, but concluded that the technique had no forensic or scientific value.

  • 4
    Some of the images made in 1975 are available in the Encyclopedia of Optography (page 12-). They are hugely underwhelming - Pareidolia seems a much more plausible explanation.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 21, 2012 at 0:20
  • @Oddthinking Thanks for fixing the frog reference. It was Wilhelm Kühne who did the rabbit experiments. Jul 21, 2012 at 0:26

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