Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘color blindness


 Are you listening to colors?

I was born with a rare visual condition called achromatopsia, which is total color blindness.

I’ve never seen color, and I don’t know what color looks like, because I come from a grayscale world.

To me, the sky is always gray, flowers are always gray, and television is still in black and white.

0:32 But, since the age of 21, instead of seeing color, I can hear color.

In 2003, I started a project with computer scientist Adam Montandon, and the result, with further collaborations with Peter Kese from Slovenia and Matias Lizana from Barcelona, is this electronic eye.

It’s a color sensor that detects the color frequency in front of me — (Frequency sounds) — and sends this frequency to a chip installed at the back of my head, and I hear the color in front of me through the bone, through bone conduction.

 For example, if I have, like — This is the sound of purple. (Frequency sounds) For example, this is the sound of grass. (Frequency sounds) This is red, like TED. (Frequency sounds) This is the sound of a dirty sock. (Laughter) Which is like yellow, this one.

1:35 So I’ve been hearing color all the time for 8  years, since 2004.

I find it completely normal now to hear color all the time. At the start, though, I had to memorize the names you give for each color, so I had to memorize the notes, but after some time, all this information became a perception. I didn’t have to think about the notes. And after some time, this perception became a feeling. I started to have favorite colors, and I started to dream in colors.

2:03 I started to dream in color is when I felt that the software and my brain had united, because in my dreams, it was my brain creating electronic sounds. It wasn’t the software, so that’s when I started to feel like a cyborg. It’s when I started to feel that the cybernetic device was no longer a device. It had become a part of my body, an extension of my senses, and after some time, it even became a part of my official image.

2:35 This is my passport from 2004.

You’re not allowed to appear on U.K. passports with electronic equipment, but I insisted to the passport office that what they were seeing was actually a new part of my body, an extension of my brain, and they finally accepted me to appear with the passport photo.

2:54 So, life has changed dramatically since I hear color, because color is almost everywhere, so the biggest change for example is going to an art gallery.

I can listen to a Picasso, for example. So it’s like I’m going to a concert hall, because I can listen to the paintings. And supermarkets, I find this is very shocking, it’s very, very attractive to walk along a supermarket. It’s like going to a nightclub. It’s full of different melodies. (Laughter) Yeah. Especially the aisle with cleaning products. It’s just fabulous. (Laughter)

3:29 Also, the way I dress has changed. Before, I used to dress in a way that it looked good. Now I dress in a way that it sounds good. (Laughter)

3:43 So today I’m dressed in C major, so it’s quite a happy chord. If I had to go to a funeral, though, I would dress in B minor, which would be turquoise, purple and orange. 

4:02 The way I look at food has changed, because now I can display the food on a plate, so I can eat my favorite song. (Laughter)

So depending on how I display it, I can hear and I can compose music with food.

So imagine a restaurant where we can have, like, Lady Gaga salads as starters. (Laughter) I mean, this would get teenagers to eat their vegetables, probably. And also, some Rachmaninov piano concertos as main dishes, and some Bjork or Madonna desserts, that would be a very exciting restaurant where you can actually eat songs.

4:38 The way I perceive beauty has changed, because when I look at someone, I hear their face, so someone might look very beautiful but sound terrible. (Laughter)

And it might happen the opposite, the other way around. So I really enjoy creating, like, sound portraits of people.

Instead of drawing someone’s face, like drawing the shape, I point at them with the eye and I write down the different notes I hear, and then I create sound portraits. Here’s some faces.

5:09 (Musical chords)


5:27 Some people, I would never relate, but they sound similar. Prince Charles has some similarities with Nicole Kidman. They have similar sound of eyes.

5:35 So you relate people that you wouldn’t relate, and you can actually also create concerts by looking at the audience faces.

So I connect the eye, and then I play the audience’s faces. The good thing about this is, if the concert doesn’t sound good, it’s their fault. It’s not my fault, because — (Laughter)

5:53 And so another thing that happens is that I started having this secondary effect that normal sounds started to become color.

I heard a telephone tone, and it felt green because it sounded just like the color green. The BBC beeps, they sound turquoise, and listening to Mozart became a yellow experience,

6:16 so I started to paint music and paint people’s voices, because people’s voices have frequencies that I relate to color.

6:24 And here’s some music translated into color. For example, Mozart, “Queen of the Night,” looks like this. (Music) Very yellow and very colorful, because there’s many different frequencies. (Music) And this is a completely different song. (Music) It’s Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” (Laughter) (Music) It is very pink and very yellow.

6:54 So, also voices, I can transform speeches into color, for example, these are two very well-known speeches. One of them is Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream,” and the other one is Hitler. And I like to exhibit these paintings in the exhibition halls without labels, and then I ask people, “Which one do you prefer?” And most people change their preference when I tell them that the one on the left is Hitler and the one on the right is Martin Luther King.

7:26  I got to a point when I was able to perceive 360 colors, just like human vision. I was able to differentiate all the degrees of the color wheel. But then, I just thought that this human vision wasn’t good enough. There’s many, many more colors around us that we cannot perceive, but that electronic eyes can perceive.

So I decided to continue extending my color senses, and I added infrared and I added ultraviolet to the color-to-sound scale, so now I can hear colors that the human eye cannot perceive.

8:02 For example, perceiving infrared is good because you can actually detect if there’s movement detectors in a room. I can hear if someone points at me with a remote control.

And the good thing about perceiving ultraviolet is that you can hear if it’s a good day or a bad day to sunbathe, because ultraviolet is a dangerous color, a color that can actually kill us, so I think we should all have this wish to perceive things that we cannot perceive.

8:30 That’s why, two years ago, I created the Cyborg Foundation, which is a foundation that tries to help people become a cyborg, tries to encourage people to extend their senses by using technology as part of the body.

8:43 We should all think that knowledge comes from our senses, so if we extend our senses, we will consequently extend our knowledge.

I think life will be much more exciting when we stop creating applications for mobile phones and we start creating applications for our own body.

I think this will be a big, big change that we will see during this century.

9:05 So I do encourage you all to think about which senses you’d like to extend. I would encourage you to become a cyborg. You won’t be alone. Thank you. 

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared this  link.
Artist Neil Harbisson was born completely color blind, but these days a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to…|By Neil Harbisson


Human Factors in Engineering (Article #40, Written in April 2, 2006)

Experimentation: Natural sciences versus people’s behavior sciences

This article is intended to compare the kinds of controlled experiments that are applied by scientists in physical natural phenomena and those developed by scientists dealing with the behavior of people, or employing human participants in the experiments.

Although the physical sciences, such as all the branches in physics, chemistry, and engineering…, used controlled experimentations long time ago to develop the huge body of knowledge on the natural phenomena, it was the social and psychological sciences that tried to develop the appropriate and complex statistical modeling packages in order to study the more complex and more varied human behaviors.

It appears that the restricted and countable number of variables in studying the physical natural phenomena, and their relative lack of variability with time, did not encourage the physical scientists to contemplate sophisticated statistical models for their controlled experiments, or even to teaching the design of experiments in the engineering curriculum.

Before we expand on the variability of human behaviors, it might be more appropriate to analyze the most critical difference in the two sciences. Knowing that any concept is synonymous with the corresponding necessary set of operations, in order to be able to measure it scientifically in experiments, we can understand the big leap forward of the body of knowledge in natural sciences compared to the social and psychological sciences.

Whereas the physical scientists can define the concepts of force, moment, power and the like through the relationships of measurable variables based on length, time, and mass, the scientists investigating human behaviors have to surmount that hurdle (of accurate measurements) before seriously contemplating to measure human concepts.

Human behavior and the cognitive concepts of attitudes, mental abilities, and moods, problem solving mechanisms, perception, and the like cannot be measured scientifically until sets of operations are agreed on, for each one of these concepts, through the study of human activities or the things that people do while performing a valid task or a set of purposeful tasks.

For example, saying that color blindness is a deficiency that confuses colors will not cut it:

1. what is needed are a set of instances that could define this illness such as what exactly are the colors of the spectrum with mixtures of two primary colors can a protanope (color blind individual) match that are different from normal people

2.   Will the subject confuse a blue-green color with white or gray?

3. Will he confuse red, orange, yellow, yellow-green, and green when suitable brightness and saturations of these colors are used, and has reduced visibility in the red end of the spectrum?

Two decades ago, the air force in the USA contracted out groups of psychologists and human factors professionals to specifically establish a set of operations that could be submitted to potential airplane fighters in order to measure and evaluate their capabilities for the mental and perception workload needed for the job. This set of 12 operations measuring short term memory capacity, reaction times, computational abilities, attention span, and types of errors committed in each operation is the kind of hurdles that the study of human behavior have to surmount.

The operationism of a single human concept may be a life project for a group of scientists that require secure and continuing funding from concerned parties who have vested interests in thorough study of the concept.  It is obvious that a few fundamental and limited human concepts will enjoy deeper and more complete investigations than others.

May be because the physical scientists did not face the problems of establishing sets of operations that the method of controlled experimentations was not deemed essential enough to rigorously teach in high school programs, and ultimately failed to initiate the students to the experimental methods.  Until recently, when social sciences made significant in roads into the educational programs.

This lack of early initiation of students to experimental methodology might also be the main reason why rational thinking and the experimental mind is not that widespread throughout all societies, and are just confined to the privileged who could afford higher educations at select universities.

Physical scientists rely on equipments to objectively observe and measure, the more the equipments are precise the more accurate are the data.  The scientists of human behavior have to rely on people’s responses and observations.

For example, it has been proven that:

1. man is not a good observer of complex events; even when viewers are forewarned that they are to see a movie about a crime and that that are to answer questions about details later the accuracy of the observers are very low.

2. Man is unable to be an objective recorder of the events that transpire because he gets involved in the scene actions.

3. Man has a very narrow range of attention and barely can satisfactorily attend to a couple of stimuli. This observation deficiency is compounded by our sensory differences and illusions; for example, one in sixteen is color blind, many suffer from tone deafness, taste blindness and so on.

4. Man does not think of himself objectively but rather has convictions, feelings, and explanations based on very restricted experiences, hearsays, memories and he tends to generalize and develop a set of beliefs concerning the operation of the mind.

5. Man usually expects to see and then see what he wants to see and hardly deviates from his beliefs, and sometimes even when faced with facts.  For example, many scientists have overlooked obvious data because they clanged to their hypotheses and theories.

6. Man has to generate an abundance of reliable information and assimilate them before he could eliminate a few systematic biases that he acquired from previous generations and his personal experiences.  Consequently, experimenting with people is more complex and more difficult than the physical scientists or engineers have to cope with.

First, there are no design drawings for people’s mind and behavior as engineers are familiar with because the structure of human organisms is approximately delineated and the mechanisms are imperfectly understood.

Second, people vastly differ in anthropometric dimensions, cognitive abilities, sensory capabilities, motor abilities, personalities, and attitudes.  Thus, the challenge of variability is different from physics where phenomena behave in stable fashions, are countable, and can be controlled with minimal management.

Third, people change with time; they change in dimensions, abilities and skills as well as from moment to moment attributable to boredom, fatigue, lapse of attention, interactions among people and with the environment.  People deficiencies in senses, physical abilities and cognitive capabilities changes with time and thus, the techniques of selecting subjects have to account for the differences in age, gender, specific deficiencies, training, educational levels, communication skills, and incentives to participate in an experiment.

Fourth, the world is constantly changing and systems used by people are changing accordingly.  Thus, interfaces for designing jobs, operations and environment have to be revisited frequently to account for new behavior and trends.

Fifth, everyone feels that he is an expert about human behavior, on the basis of common sense acquired from life and specific experiences and we tend to generalize our feelings to all kinds of human behaviors but not so expert in the fundamentals of natural sciences such as physics or chemistry.

We think that we have convictions concerning the effects of sleep, dreams, age, and fatigue; we believe that we are rather good judges of people’s motives, we have explanations for people’s good memories and abilities, and we have strong positions on the relative influence of nature and nurture in shaping people’s behavior.  Consequently, the expertise of psychologists and human factors professionals are not viewed as based on science.

Six, physical scientists may enjoy the possibility of “testing to destruction” of prototypes or the materials under study, a luxury that experiments on people forbid or are impossible to do outside the safety range allowed by moral standards, laws, and regulations.  Research on people has to circumvent this major difficulty by using dummies, animals, or willing subjects thoroughly aware and educated to the dangers of the procedures.

Seventh, research on people is regulated by privacy laws and concepts such as consciousness, mental images, fatigue, and motives are highly personal experiences and not open to public inspection while science must be a public affair and repeatable by other researchers.




February 2023

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