Culture

TED Weekends hacks our senses

Neil Harbisson explains why he can hear color at TEDGlobal 2012. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Neil Harbisson explains why he can hear color at TEDGlobal 2012. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Does listening to music generate colors in your mind? Do bright, lively songs sound yellow or orange while darker, more somber ones sound dark blue and grey? Well, for artist Neil Harbisson, Neil Harbisson: I listen to color Neil Harbisson: I listen to color this happens the other way around. Colorblind since birth, Harbisson has sported an electronic eye since 2004 that fits over the top of his head and allows him to hear the color spectrum instead of see it.

“My head has turned into a music box,” he writes in an essay for TED Weekends on the Huffington Post. “I can hear the sky, I can listen to my mother’s eyes and I can hear rainbows.”

Harbisson is in a way a cyborg — he has created and extended his own senses. And yet, Harbisson says that his antenna has made him feel more in touch with nature than with robots.

Today’s edition of TED Weekends explores the idea of “Hacking Our Senses.” It includes a piece from Harbisson himself, plus three other interesting essays that explore new and colourful ways to understand the world around us. Below, read the openings of these essays to pique your interest.

Neil Harbisson: How a Colorblind Cyborg ‘Hears’ Color

“Since 2004, an antenna sticks out of my head that allows me to hear the color spectrum, from near infrared to near ultraviolet. My head has turned into a music box. I can hear the sky, I can listen to my mother’s eyes and I can hear rainbows.

I don’t feel that I’m using technology, I don’t feel that I’m wearing technology, I feel that I am technology. I don’t perceive my antenna as a device, I perceive it as a part of my body, I perceive it as an organ. I feel cyborg.”  Read on »

Chantal Sicile-Kira: It’s Not Easy Being Green: Living With Autism and Synthesia

“The recent discovery that my son Jeremy sees and feels emotions as colors has been a life changer. Until now, I only saw the difficulties associated with his living in a world that is too loud and too bright. I did not know about the beautiful, colorful portraits of people that he paints in his dreams.

In “I Listen to Color” Neil Harbisson describes how he translates sound into colorful portraits. In much the same way, Jeremy translates the emotions of people into portraits — only he does it in his sleep.” Read the full essay »

Ben Thomas: A Seemingly Insane Idea That Actually Struck Gold

“In April 2000, a bizarre research paper appeared in the pages of Nature, one of Britain’s oldest and most venerable scientific journals. In the paper, Mriganka Sur and his colleagues claimed they’d achieved success in a Frankensteinian experiment: They’d surgically re-wired the visual nerves of young ferrets into regions of the animals’ brains that usually process sound. As the ferrets matured, the paper said, their brains’ audio regions gradually took on the appearance and function of brain areas that deal with vision — even growing brand-new neural structures to process visual orientation. In other words, these ferrets’ brains had apparently learned not only to ‘hear’ light, but to generate visual perceptions of the sights their eyes ‘heard.’” Keep reading »