Eigengrau (German: “intrinsic gray”), also called Eigenlicht (“intrinsic light”), dark light, or brain gray, is the color seen by the eye in perfect darkness. Even in the absence of light, some action potentials are still sent along the optic nerve, causing the sensation of a uniform dark gray color. Eigengrau is perceived as lighter than a black object in normal lighting conditions, because contrast is more important to the visual system than absolute brightness. For example, the night sky looks darker than eigengrau because of the contrast provided by the stars. Researchers noticed early on that the shape of intensity-sensitivity curves could be explained by assuming that an intrinsic source of noise in the retina produces random events indistinguishable from those triggered by real photons. Later experiments on rod cells of Cane toads (Bufo marinus) showed that the frequency of these spontaneous events is strongly temperature-dependent, which implies that they are caused by the thermal isomerization of rhodopsin. In human rod cells, these events occur about once every 100 seconds on average, which, taking into account the number of rhodopsin molecules in a rod cell, implies that the half-life of a rhodopsin molecule is about 420 years. The indistinguishability of dark events from photon responses supports this explanation, because rhodopsin is at the input of the transduction chain. On the other hand, processes such as the spontaneous release of neurotransmitters cannot be completely ruled out.
Presumably, there exists a level where this phenomena would be indistinguishable from the Johnson noise coming off Molly’s opamps.
(⇒ via A Portland Ad for a Sensory Deprivation Tank Center)