Can you hear colours? I can not, like almost everyone else. But it is possible! On my way to the office I often listen to the BBC World Service. A few days ago I heard a program about a young artist who can hear colours. Neil Harbisson was born completely colourblind. When he was in college he met a cybernetics expert. Together they developed a sophisticated electronic gadget, which translates colours into tones projected into his skull. Different colours (spectral frequencies) were assigned unique tones (sound frequencies). Now Neil can hear colours. He even started to have colour dreams!
This treatment is called augmented perception. It is great to witness these benefits of technology. At the same time you don’t need to study Kantian Phenomenology or know anything about “qualia discussion” to realize that this procedure rises some intriguing epistemological questions. How do we know what we think we know? How do we perceive and think about the world? How do we form the mental image of the world? How is it shaped or distorted by the limitations of our senses, or our earlier experiences, our education, our socialisation, our language, our religion? How is our culture shaping, shrinking or expanding our understanding of the world?
This Sunday is called Transfiguration Sunday. The Gospel reading tells a story of three disciples whose perception of Jesus and their understanding of the world was suddenly and substantially transformed. It happened on a high mountain. High mountains have that strange ability. I know it because I personally experienced something like it last autumn on Mauna Loa (4,169 m./13,679 ft. above sea level). It was not a transfiguration vision, nor I could hear colours, it wasn’t supra natural experience, yet the barren, bleak environment of the high altitude lava fields offered me a captivating transformative experience.
The greatest gifts of Transfiguration Sunday are these epistemological questions mentioned earlier. Recognition, that our mundane perception is just one way of looking at the world. It is like one set of spectacles, there might be other, broader, different, truer, musical, emotional, colourfilled, always liberating ... perspectives. We will talk about it this Transfiguration/Epistemological Sunday.
|A hiker near the summit of Mauna Loa.|