Neil Harbisson. Life in Black & White & millions of colors

There are extraordinary people in this world. Extraordinary for their ability of storytelling, for how they connect with their audience because they have this gift making others hang on their lips. They make you want them to go on and on because their words are special. This is the case of Neil Harbisson. Extraordinary also because he is achromatopsic. And a cyborg.


An achromatopsich is someone who can only see in black and white, and a Cyborg is someone who has adapted his body to technology. Or, said in a different manner, someone who has introduced ectronic devises into his/her body to become able to interpret the world without limitations. Or even exceeding the ability of interpretation of reality of a regular person.


Neil sees colors through sound thanks to sensors attached to his crane and a small camera between his eyes (that even appears on his passport!). There is a funny anecdote of how the British government had to make an exception to the law about electronic devises in photographs in official documents.


Neil tells his story so naturally  that he makes his extraordinary ability seem something completely normal. However, we shouldn’t forget that in his eagerness to see the world in colors, just as the majority of people, he has become a person with an extraordinary intelligence.

He is even able to recognise colors like infrared and ultraviolet which aren’t visible to the human eye. He can even listen to colors in a completely dark room. He can even hear a remote control.


Can you imagine entering the drugstore section in a supermarket with a camera that recognises color? Or admiring an exposition about Frida Kahlo’s paintings? Why didn’t we think of the importance of colors in our lives earlier?


Neil is the president of the Cyborg Foundation, an organisation that promotes the use of technology in our bodies to achieve superior knowledge and cognitive states. Or, in Neil’s words, “our knowledge is driven by our senses, if we enhance our senses, we can enhance our knowledge“.


This means that we can obtain the ability that other species have long interiorized. In Neil’s case, he can hear, just like sharks, through his crane (thanks to the attached microchip).


After only 5 months of being a cyborg, he could actually feel how his brain had merged with the software and everything made perfect sense. He has 2 pictures on opposite sides at his office: each consists of hundreds of concentric coloured squares. One represents a speech Hitler gave and the other, much more vivid and beautiful one, a speech of Martin Luther King.


But these are just a few examples. When you listen to Neil you realise that the human ability to learn and exceed all known is unlimited. You realise that the world needed a color blind person to imagine it in color and make it the soundtrack of his life.


Due to the ability to innovate, create and succeed with the impossible is beyond black and white. Like dreaming.

Victor Fortunado

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