Neil Harbisson is contemporary artist and cyborg activist who was born with a condition called achromatopsia, which caused him to have complete color blindness. Through the help of cyberneticist Adam Montandon, Harbisson now wears this prosthetic device called the “Eyeborg”. The Eyeborg is a device that detects and translates the spectrum of colors into sounds, essentially allowing Harbisson to “hear” the colors. Harbisson is the first person in the world to have an antenna that is implanted in his skull that allows him to have such perception. The spectrum that he can perceive is beyond what humans can see with their eyes, such as the infrared and ultraviolets. The way it works is the antenna attached to his head receives the light frequencies of the colours in front of him, and these senses are connected to a chip in the back of his head that transposes light frequencies to sound frequencies, then he sees colours through a method of bone conduction.
His change of perception of this reality has changed how he does daily tasks such as how he dresses. Instead of basing off his outfit on how he looks, he will dress based on how his clothes “sound”.
The idea that really intrigued me was the fact that our perception of reality is very limited, and there could be infinitely many ways and combination of ways to look at the reality that we are experiencing right now. And it made me think how adding or changing our perception of reality through devices like the Eyeborg can change how we act, develop new senses and instincts, and so forth.
His work also touches the subject of virtual reality as Adam Montandon states, “Conclusively, this project exists not in the software, or domain of so called ‘virtual’ reality, but in the reality of Neil’s perception of the world, unveiling, quite literally, an invisible architecture of energy.” This means if different people choose to have different perception of reality through cybernetic devices, people will literally have different and unique perception of reality, which could totally just be a virtual reality to others who does not have the particular device.
In one of the interviews, when the interviewer asked Harbisson how does he think cybernetics will transform design, art and fashion in the future, he answered, “The good thing about cybernetics is that it can allow you to have new senses. When you have a new sense, you can express yourself through it in a way that has never been explored before in fashion, architecture or any other type of art that exists. It’s about exploring whole new possibilities, new senses that you can express who you are.”
On the side note, Harbisson’s work reminded me of synaesthesia. Synesthesia is a “neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” So for example, someone with synesthesia will actually get sense of taste when they hear certain words, or some others will see certain colors when they hear a specific pitch.
Woongkee Min (Sean)