Neil Harbisson is a British artist and musician who was born with blue/green colorblindness. So, when he was in college, he decided to remedy his monochromatism by building a device that allows him to recognize color by sound – and attaching it to his skull.
Now, the adventurous color theorist is the first legally recognized cyborg on the planet.
Harbisson has an antenna mounted on his head that picks up colors that his eyes cannot sense and interprets them into sound, which he can then recognize and decode through bone conduction. The software that performs this task – called eyeborg – operates wirelessly and allows him to sense ultraviolet and infrared light undetectable to mere humans.
In a recent interview with VICE‘s Noisey, Harbisson reflected on what this increased sensibility means to him as an artist. As he told interviewer Dan Wilkinson:
I felt like there was a lot of information that I was missing because color is used as a code and to describe everyday things; I was reminded constantly that I was missing this layer of life. In some cases it made me feel socially excluded because I didn’t understand much of the things that people were saying. If someone asked me if I had seen a man with blue eyes and brown hair, I wouldn’t know. It made me feel disconnected from everyone else.
The sensation is not synaesthetic but instead allows Harbisson to better appreciate how undifferentiated human senses truly are. “To me, there’s no difference between sound and sight, it’s just a union between what I hear and see,” he told Noisey, “If I listen to music or compose music, each note feels like a response or perception to colours. I can’t really compose music without thinking of color.”
Curiously, Harbisson’s increased robotization has not made him feel less natural. In fact, it’s brought him closer to nature. He claims that having an antenna and experiencing a wider spectrum of color bring him closer to insects, while having a more astute appreciation of sonic patterns brings him closer to whales and dolphins. “With this technology in my body I don’t feel closer to robots, I feel closer to animals,” he said.
Visit Noisey to read the full interview. Harbisson also discusses the merit of eyeborg and his transformation in a fascinating 2012 TED talk.
[Photo Credit: Studio Beat]