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Biologically extending human vision into the near-infrared: Initial success (experiment.com)
228 points by irollboozers on Aug 21, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

Link to the original Project Page, if (like me) you're playing catch up on the experiment:


Thank you for that link (it really helped)

There is anecdotal evidence that the since the proteins in the human lens become opaque (absorptive) in the near infrared (search: crystallin transmission spectrum); that patients who have had their lenses removed for cataract surgery see beyond both traditional limit ends (as the polymer lens replacement has a different transmission spectrum) ... so [semi-serious-only] perhaps it would be more efficacious to have one lens removed? (no lens over a snake's thermal pits etc)

Just providing one of those anecdotes: my father's cataract surgery extended his vision into the near ultraviolet. We discovered this when we walked past a window of a room containing a black light, and he remarked at the bright purple glow coming from within, whereas I could barely see it. Fascinating stuff.

Copy of a comment I made in a previous submission, a few hour ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8207152

Well, the data is very noisy. The main problem is that this data doesn't have a before/after comparison. Is the 850nm light visible now or it was always visible???

It's also very difficult to make a fair comparison. The room must be the same, the light sources must be the same (a new coffeepot with a small led can ruin the experiment, removing a coffeepot because it has recently broken can ruin the experiment).

For a preliminary experiment, the before-after comparison is enough. For a serious experiment you need many voluntaries, compare the before-after signals of them all at the same time in the same experimental conditions, and double blind testing.

There is a small possibility that they are measuring "excitement" instead of light. The subject hears that they are now going to test with very near infrared light. He got exited. They measure that. Perhaps the flash makes a slight sound, perhaps the light operator makes a slight sound. (Perhaps the 850nm flash makes a sound that the other flashes don't make?)

If you read the text, it tells you that the 850nm was always visible.

I reed the previous version of this URL. IIRC it has the same graphs, but the text was much shorter, and didn't explain that. Replace 850 with 950 in my comment. The article now says that 950nm was not visible, but they don't link to the graph.

This could certainly be possible. Jay Neitz did experiments on monkeys to cure colorblindness using gene therapy and was successful. [1] He has said that perhaps one day humans can have genes for more color receptors added to be able to see more colors as some birds do.

1. http://www.neitzvision.com/content/genetherapy.html

To see an extra color, i.e. to become tetrachromats, we would need a lot more than a dietary change, so this is an entirely new subject barely related to the original post.

To distinguish an extra color we would need a new type of cone cells with a different spectral response to the three types we already have (called L-, M- and S-cones). We could modify a subset of the existing cells or add new cells. If you modify the existing cells, you then need to teach the visual cortex that the signals coming from the modified cones indicate a new color. How would this be done? If you add new cone cells, you then need to add new neural pathway along the optic nerve and plug it into the visual cortex somehow. How would this be done?

On the other hand, the original experiment proposed to alter the availability of different types of vitamin A by dietary changes with the intention of modifying the spectral response of the existing photosensitive cells so that light of previously invisible wavelength would become visible. This does not increase the number of colors, but changes the range of wavelength corresponding to each color for the affected individual.

I haven't read it myself, but it's worth pointing out that research has claimed that there already are some humans with four types of cones.


That's a completely different mechanism than is being proposed here.

The blog linked in that post is a really fun read: http://www.komar.org/faq/colorado-cataract-surgery-crystalen...

It's funny that most of the jokes tend to revolve around becoming some sort of super hero. The stranger thing is that no one has pondered the potential cons having the ability to see beyond the spectrum. Or maybe I don't read enough comic books?

From Slashdot: "Seriously though, as someone who has a hearing range beyond the standard I sympathise with people forced to endure irritating stimuli that noone else notices and hence cares about. I remember having to leave a bar once because the tube was going on their old television; the high pitched screech was like nails down a blackboard. My girlfriend thought I was mad."

Wait, can not everyone hear that sound? It's not enough to bother me, but it's definitely noticeable.

A CRT TV will generally make a 15.7kHz squeal because of the flyback transformer. Not everyone can hear this high: between ages 20 and 40 most people lose hearing down from 20kHz to 10kHz.

In that topic I found the following quote to resonate strongly with me:

"I don’t want to be human. I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear X-rays, and I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly, because I have to — I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language, but I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine, and I can know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body. And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way."



That's how you do it.

I read something on imgur or here some days ago from a guy who could "see" some UV. He had to wear polarizing glasses because of headaches and had developed a fascination for violet objects.

Apparently the human retina can detect some UV wavelengths, but the UV light is normally blocked by the lens and does not reach the retina.

Some patients who have had replacement artificial lenses develop the ability to see some portion of the UV spectrum. My mum now has this - she had lens replacement last year and following that she mentioned that a lot of things appeared more purple in some circumstances - my brother did some research and found out about the UV detection.

Wikipedia has some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphakia

Older people who get operations for synthetic lens replacements often get to see in UV.

Younger patients get given lenses with coatings that block the UV as over time the UV can damage the retina, but they don't tend to bother with the elderly so as a bonus they get fatter rainbows.

By any chance, do you have a link to them?

It took some google search terms tweaking[0] but I found it: http://imgur.com/owXEe41 (sfw).

> I have 20/11 vision with a mutation that causes me to see a lower-band of UV. It overstimulates my ocular processing and causes migraines. I wear amber glass eye glasses with +.02 diopiter lenses to help reduce this problem. Because of this, I have an absolute obsession and facination with purple objects.

I remember the original poster participated in the comment section but (sigh) I don't know how to get there.

[0] site:imgur.com comment uv glasses headache

I guess you can solve that with some kind of (adapted) glasses, put a UV filter there and it should be ok.

I'd love to see the ERG readings for more experiments and before vs after at 950nm~

a lengthy discussion over on reddit about this: http://www.reddit.com/r/Futurology/comments/2e5wry/biohacker...

I seem to recall an article from some years back about someone using welding goggles with multiple layers of a specific blue filter on a very bright day and being able to see near-IR.. or something darn close to it.

I think you're thinking of this: http://amasci.com/amateur/irgoggl.html

It did take a bit for me to dig it up... I actually ended up having to use Google image search because I remember the guy talking about how trees looked. Without that I got a series of short uninteresting breathless YouTube videos on the topic and a whole bunch of contentless reblogging of said video that drowned out the original article.

My astronomy friends are into hard-core start gazing. One experiment was in La Palma island with near-perfect night sky at 8 000 feet. One guy could see 8.1 magnitude stars at 80% cases (independent stats). With oxygen and some training he would probably get to 8.5 magnitudes.

There are similar stories with sound etc. I think some people can see near infrared, it is just question of finding them.

What an interesting experiment. Could there be some basis, after all, to the urban legend that eating carrots improves night vision? Carotenes are "partly metabolized into Vitamin A" [1], but this experiment is skipping the precursors and going straight for what I assume are large and exclusive doses of Vitamin A. Can it really be that no one has tried this before?

Related and probably equally silly idea: I've always wanted a pair of sunglasses that could tune in to different EM spectra. How far are we from that? Night vision goggles are bulky because they need external power to do the frequency shifting, right?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot#Nutrition

The urban legend was mostly due to its use in WWII, to explain why the allied night fighters were so good. The fighters actually used radar, which was still top secret.

Yeah it's a consideration, but the mere use of an existing old wive's tale doesn't completely discount the possibility of there being some truth to it anyway...


"Much publicity has been given to the good effects of carrots on night vision and some newspapers have even begun to use the vegetable as a nickname for certain ace pilots. Actually, night-fighter pilots don't eat anymore carrots than day fighters do..." —LIFE June 23, 1941

(Not quite the same, but in a similar vein)

Thanks. Snopes has this:


"While carrots are a good source of vitamin A (which is important for healthy eyesight, skin, growth, and resisting infection), eating them won't improve vision. The purported link between carrots and markedly acute vision is a matter of lore, not of science. And it's lore of the deliberately manufactured type.

"In World War II, Britain's air ministry spread the word that a diet of these vegetables helped pilots see Nazi bombers attacking at night. That was a lie intended to cover the real matter of what was underpinning the Royal Air Force's successes: Airborne Interception Radar, also known as AI. The secret new system pinpointed some enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel.

"British Intelligence didn't want the Germans to find out about the superior new technology helping protect the nation, so they created a rumor to afford a somewhat plausible-sounding explanation for the sudden increase in bombers being shot down. News stories began appearing in the British press about extraordinary personnel manning the defenses, including Flight Lieutenant John Cunningham, an RAF pilot dubbed "Cats Eyes" on the basis of his exceptional night vision that allowed him to spot his prey in the dark. Cunningham's abilities were chalked up to his love of carrots. Further stories claimed RAF pilots were being fed goodly amounts of this root vegetable to foster similar abilities in them...."

That's an interesting form of disinformation. I've been known to employ somewhat similar tactics myself.

> I've been known to employ somewhat similar tactics myself.

How can we be sure?

The context involved a disagreement with someone else which grew to include a legal action.

Turns out I'd managed to access a significant trove of documents, admissible in court, strongly supporting my side's case.

I was in communication with several entities I suspected were communicating (directly or otherwise) with the opposing side, and while it was useful to communicate that we had significant information, detailing just what it was, or how it was obtained, was somewhat less so.

So the cover story we worked out was that we had deep connections to the black-hat online hacker community who were able to pull all kinds of random information out of the Net. Playing up the whole hacker mistique thing.

One consequence of this was opposing counsel strongly suspecting that the evidence we introduced wasn't admissible. They were rather surprised when it turned out to be very admissible. The fact that the opposing side's witnesses were shown to be markedly less than credible didn't help their side (and may have sabotaged their own case).

It was a vaguely satisfying aspect of an otherwise fairly unpleasant episode.

AFAIK vitamin A is poisonous in larger doses. In Finland they were worried at time that people might be getting to much of vitamin A. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypervitaminosis_A

Everything is poisonous at some dosage.


Edit: From this [1] non-scholarly source,

    "The median lethal dose (LD50 value) of vitamin A injected intramuscularly 
    in a water-miscible form in the young monkey is 0.6 mmol (168 mg) retinol/kg 
    body weight. Extrapolated to a 3-kg child and a 70-kg adult, the total LD50 
    dose would be 1.8 mmol (500 mg) and 41 mmol (11.8 g) respectively."
Also, it's teratogenic. Just like an innumerably many other chemicals we ingest daily.

[1] http://www.uta.edu/faculty/sawasthi/Lecture%20Notes%20Chem14...

Hence why Isotretinoin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotretinoin) is a restricted drug in many countries, although it is a vitamin A-like chemical that is used to clear up very severe acne. Women who are prescribed the drug in the UK have to provide proof that they are on a reliable form of contraception and are not pregnant when they collect each month's worth of pills. It causes severe birth defects.

Night vision uses the photoelectric effect to translate a few photons from the lens into a picture you can see. It doesn't change the frequency of incoming light - it absorbs it and transmits an electron. Basically you are carrying around something similar to an old style tv on your head.

Photoreceptor proteins, such as rhodopsin (typically the first GPCR [1] you'll study in a biochem undergrad program), each have different characteristic absorption spectra. But it's much more complex than that--each of these proteins exhibit different absorption spectra given different isomerizations and even different conformers [2] .

Here are some absorption spectra [3] of crystals of various rhodopsin isomers. I'm not sure if any of these are biologically relevant isomers, but it's interesting that these were not in solution. (I suppose that since they're membrane-bound GPCRs and might be difficult to study in solution? This isn't my field of study.)

Check out some bacterial absorption spectra [4]. Visual perception isn't limited to organisms with eyes. Or even eukaryotes, for that matter. It's actually pretty ancient [5].

On that note, pigment chemistry is pretty fascinating.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_protein-coupled_receptor The GPCR family is really cool. A ton of our sensory perception arises from class A GPCRs. Here's a really beautiful diagram of the 7 transmembrane regions of rhodopsin: http://physrev.physiology.org/content/physrev/81/4/1659/F1.l...

2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210271X13... Just to cite an instance, though this one isn't vision-related.

3. http://www.pnas.org/content/103/44/16123/F1.expansion.html

4. http://group.szbk.u-szeged.hu/ormosgroup/abs/abs.html

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaearhodopsin

The Japanese by contrast never developed truly effective airborne radar during WW2, so actually did select the pilots with the best night vision to fly their night fighters.

When is the flash on and when is it off in these plot? What would these plots look like in a control subject? Does the subject have any other indication of when the flashes are occurring?

I know that this isn't written to be read critically, but I don't know what the take-away is.

What's really cool is that this entire project was done for under $5k!

Through technological enhancement[1] or practice it seems that anyone can make an attempt at monitoring & responding too these frequencies.


Those plots really need labels.

> near-infrared

So, still red then?

No. "near-infrared" isn't a red color shade, in fact it's not normally visible at all. Near-infrared is what your media remote uses to control your TV and audio system. You really cannot see it.

Well, you can see the LED blinking if you look at it straight on, but I guess it may bleed into the visible spectrum.

That's pretty fascinating if you can see it. I just tried with three different remotes - and alas, I can't see a thing, no matter how hard I try.

All three give very bright flash when viewed via my Mac's camera (just launching Facetime with no call and pointing the remote to it).

Huh. No, I can definitely see it. I just looked at my HTC One's IR transmitter for the first time, without knowing where the LED is. It's pretty clearly on the right side of the lock button, just under it.

I don't have HTC One to make a comparison - but if you have some "vanilla" remotes laying around and can see the IR LEDs blink in all of them when active - then yeah, probably you do see into the IR and I don't!

Yeah, I just tried both TV remotes (one is just a Samsung remote). I can see all of them, but it's only a faint glow. Try it in a dark room, you should be able to see it.

Nope, I just tried and went into a pitch-black room with a remote control whose LED on the Mac camera looks very bright, and tried to look at it while activating the LED - nothing, not a blip, I can not see the IR LED with my eyes...

Huh, weird. I'm going to ask a few friends to see if they can see it, thanks.

I'm like the parent, I just can't see the common IR LEDs with the naked eye, not even faintly, not even in pitch darkness with the led 1cm from my eye. I think you just have a skill that we don't. Or maybe you just have IR leds with shorter wavelengths...

Hmm, this thread would suggest that many people can see it:


Security cameras with IR leds are pretty bright to me. I can easily tell when the IR leds are on. Have you noticed anything like that?

FWIW, from his Twitter profile [1]:

Astronaut, part-time dad, professional voice actor, F1 driver, liar.

[1] https://mobile.twitter.com/stavros

This is particularly relevant given that there's been a recent trend of interest in thermal imaging cameras... of course, the range of those is in much longer wavelengths.

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