I listen to color
November 29, 2012 4:43 PM   Subscribe

An artist who was born with achromatopsia, a condition that prevents the cones in the retina from functioning and as a result the world is perceived in black, white, and grey. was fitted with a machine that enabled him to detect color through sound (an "eyeborg"). This artist, Neil Harbisson, describes what it is like to now perceive color in a Ted Talk "I listen to color"(Ted Talk) and a first-person description. Some of his art work includes a sonochromatic Portrait and music.

He also promotes the rights of both himself and others to have sensory extensions; the information as to how to build your own eyeborg detector is free.

He fought (and won) the right to wear the device in passport photos as part of his body.
posted by Wolfster (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
That TED Talk was both fascinating and delightful, thank you.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:01 PM on November 29, 2012

Yeah, the TED talk gets deep pretty quickly there.

It's interesting to think about how his perception, though augmented, still produces an experience that is isolated from the rest of humanity in a certain way.
posted by victory_laser at 5:50 PM on November 29, 2012

There's an interesting thing about the "sonochromatic Portrait" above - in the inline player it appears as monochrome "greyscale", but the YouTube thumbnail of the video shows a bit more colour.

Can anyone explain what is happening here?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:02 PM on November 29, 2012

I was going to ask the exact same thing...
posted by blurker at 9:21 PM on November 29, 2012

Can anyone explain what is happening here?

I thought the TED talk was pretty clear. He sees in greyscale; no colour at all. He has a brain implant connected to a camera thing he wears on his head. The camera reads colours and converts each one to a unique tone, which plays in his implant. He goes through the day basically hearing an electronic symphony of tones. He hears colours.

The sonochromatic portrait illustrates that: he's seeing in black and white, but the individial colours of a persons face, hair, etc, basically give them their own song.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:32 AM on November 30, 2012

The side effects of matching color to sound are interesting. Being a color-seeing person, I like matching blue and green with each other, for their similarity and proximity on the visual spectrum. Since he's using an audio schema to interpret his visual data, he's more fond of pink, blue, and yellow together, since his system maps those colors to the notes in the C major scale.
"I like listening to paintings by Andy Warhol, Joan Miró and Mark Rothko, because they all produce very clear notes. But Da Vinci, Velázquez and Munch sound disturbing. They paint with many shades of the same colour, so they produce notes that are too close together."
He's using a different set of rules than I am to look at these paintings, and that's fascinating.
posted by jPseudo at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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