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Listening in Color

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Listening in Color

I really like documentaries, especially those about unique things or trivia. I’ve been watching a series on Netflix and came upon an exceptionally unique individual who caught my attention. His name is Neil Harbisson and he was born with achromatopsis. In simple terms, he was born severely colorblind. He only sees in grayscale. Seriously, it’s like watching the beginning of the Wizard of Oz 24 hours a day. (Yes, the beginning is in black and white. Go back and watch the opening scenes; it becomes color after the tornado.)

Neil wanted to do something about the lack of color in his world, so in 2003 he started working with doctors and a scientist to develop an electronic eye that detects color. It picks up on the light frequency and translates the color into sound. He had this implanted in his brain so he now actually listens to color. The eye looks, to me, like a single antenna coming from the back of his head and bending to his forehead. 

I became so intrigued, I looked him up on the internet and... hey, he did a Ted talk! So, I clicked on it and listened for the length of the talk, 9 minutes and 35 seconds. I was impressed. This man has got a great sense of humor!! I laughed with him all the way through his talk. 

Neil talked about getting dressed in the morning: “I used to dress in a way that looked good, now I dress in a way that sounds good. Today I am dressed in C major.” He made this statement as he drew attention to his yellow pants, blue shirt, and pink jacket. Honestly, I liked the combination.
“Supermarkets are like a night club,” he went on to say. He then continued with telling the audience that he especially enjoys the cleaning supply aisle because of all of the bright colors. 

Because colors show themselves in sounds and notes (music), he now listens to a voice and hears the color of the voice. Neil has become an artist and paints the sounds of the colors he hears. He showed pictures of how voices of different famous people look in color. His artwork is simply lovely. Makes me think about the phrase, ‘Your voice is like music to me ears’ — to him, it really is! 
When he listens to music, he hears it in color. He also said can hear the color of a person’s face and it has changed his perspective of beauty.

This got me wondering, when he describes people does he say something like, ‘His face was a C# but his clothes were a B minor?’ 

As I watched him talk, I was really struck by his presentation of confidence. The third eye he has on his head will certainly grab the attention of all of us. We might take a second or a third look, but when he looks back at us, what color and what notes does he hear? 

When we get to the bottom line, it seems to me everybody has something challenging in their lives. Neil took his challenge and developed an opportunity for himself. Frankly, I decided I am going to listen for the color of my challenges, how about you? 

You can hear Neil (in color) below.

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