Cyborgs breaking down boundaries -and building up new ones?


In the article ”I, Cyborg” Ellen Pearlman describes how Neil Harbisson by the use of a camera mounted on the top of his scull an directly connected to a chip implanted in his brain has got the ability to sense colors as sounds. Harbisson was born with achromotopsia, a congenital condition where cone cells in the eyes are unable to register color. This means that he sees the world only in black, white, and grey. In the beginning Harbisson just wanted to overcome his disability enabling him to distinguish between the red and blue marked tap with hot and cold water and to decipher the color-coded subway maps.

After several improvements Harbisson now masters all 360 colors that exist in a color wheel, The sonic frequencies of infrared and ultraviolet has been added to his repertoire. Which has given him the unusual ability to know if there is infrared sensors in a building, or if he faces a bad UV sunburn day.

With these extraordinary capabilities, Harbisson has started a series of creative projects: he painted a grand piano with different colored paints, and used the Eyeborg to play the frequencies. A “prepared” Pianoborg Concerto followed in which a computer was attached underneath a piano, and the Eyeborg sensor stationed above the piano keys. When a color was displayed to the sensor, the computer read the frequency and relayed it to the piano, which sounded the corresponding note. He turned color into voice performances. In 2004, he collaborated with singer and violinist Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir, part of the Icelandic group Amiina. She sang microtonal frequencies, while he painted pictures live on stage. He designed sound portraits of different people’s faces. He listened to variations of the colors of their skin tones, including minute variations between their eye pigmentation. Writing the notes down he transposed them, “sketching” Prince Charles, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Macy Gray and many more.

In my opinion the examples of cyborg art takes the discussion of consciousness to a new level, where you by the use of technology can have several conscious experiences of the same thing because the sensation of e.g. color can be translated into sound, taste, smell etc. -you will never be able to realize what it is like to be a bat – but you could hope for a better understanding

Through out the human evolution until now we have had an intellectual fellowship in the way we have perceived the world. Difference in language and culture has been an obstacle to understanding between human beings, in the future you will perhaps need to ad common understanding of notions as a further obstacle. On the other hand the breakdown of boundarys between human and animal could perhaps bring better understanding of the nature and mankind as part of it.

Pearlman, Ellen. I, Cyborg. PAJ (Baltimore, Md.) 37.2 01 May 2015: 84-90. Published for PAJ Publications by the Johns Hopkins University Press. 21 Nov 2016.

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2 Comments on "Cyborgs breaking down boundaries -and building up new ones?"

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Maja Tingberg Kruse
Hi Lars! Thanks for your reflections! I wonder if such technology that enables you to have new and simultanious sensual experiences, could be used to develop new ways to express and create art. Particularly in music, where composing require many years of training, perhaps it could be made more intuitive or accesible to more people if they could express their music in colors and imediately be able to listen to it. It might also be possible to listen to famous paintings and receive a whole other dimension that way. What do you think? Also I’m not sure what you mean… Read more »
Leon Human

Hi Lars. Thanks for this. I like the notion of breaking down’s co-variation with erecting new boundaries. The notion of ‘intellectual fellowship’ is nice. Whether it actually feels like something to be a bat is perhaps not settled by Nagel’s thought-experiment. I think Dennett denies it, saying that humans at least have the illusion of a Cartesian theatre, while animals do not, or let’s not assume that they do.
The actual example you use is inspiring, and new to me. ta