编者按:人类有听觉、视觉、触觉、味觉、嗅觉五种感官。近年来,科学家正在研究把人类的感官维度进一步扩大的可能性,而本文就是对目前相关成果的一个全面介绍。本文编译自《大西洋月刊》原题为“Beyond the Five Senses”的文章。

The world we experience is not the real world. It’s a mental construction, filtered through our physical senses. Which raises the question: How would our world change if we had new and different senses? Could they expand our universe?

我们所体验的世界并不是真实的世界。这是一种通过我们身体感官过滤过的精神构建。这也引发了一个问题:如果我们有新的,不同的感觉,我们的世界将被如何改变?它们能扩大我们的宇宙吗?

Technology has long been used to help people who have lost, or were born without, one of the five primary senses. More recently, researchers in the emerging field of “sensory enhancement” have begun developing tools to give people additional senses—ones that imitate those of other animals, or that add capabilities nature never imagined. Here’s how such devices could work, and how they might change what it means to be human.

长期以来,技术一直被用来帮助那些后天失去或先天丧失感官的人们。最近,研究人员又开始在“增强感官”的新兴领域跃跃欲试,他们力图给人类开发出一种额外的感官工具- 模仿其他动物的感官,或增加生命中尚不具备的功能。现在,让我们就这些设备是怎样工作的,以及它们将如何改变人类,做一简要介绍。

1 | 听力图片 Hearing Pictures

For decades, some deaf people have worn cochlear implants, which use electrode arrays to stimulate the auditory nerve inside the ear. Researchers are working on other technologies that could restore sight or touch to those who lack it. For the blind, cameras could trigger electrodes on the retina, on the optic nerve, or in the brain. For the paralyzed or people with prosthetic limbs, pressure pads on real or robotic hands could send touch feedback to the brain or to nerves in the arm.

几十年来,一些聋人佩戴着,使用电极阵列来刺激耳内听觉神经的人工耳蜗。研究人员正在研究可以帮助残疾人士恢复视力或触觉的技术。对于盲人,摄像机可以触发在视网膜,视神经或大脑中的电极。对于瘫痪或装假肢的人,通过真人或机器人手上的压力垫可以给大脑或手臂的神经发出触摸回馈。

Autistic people might even gain a stronger social sense. Last year, MIT researchers revealed the EQ-Radio, a device that bounces signals off people to detect their heart rate and breathing patterns. A yet-to-be-invented device might infer a target’s mood from those data and convey it to an autistic user—or anyone who wants to improve their emotional intuition.

自闭症患者甚至能获得更强的社会意识。去年,据麻省理工学院研究人员透露,EQ-Radio是一种能反映人类心率和呼吸模式的设备。 这是一个尚待发明的设备,它可能会从一些数据中推断出目标的情绪,并将其传递给自闭症用户,或是任何想要改善直觉情绪的人。

We can also substitute one sense for another. The brain is surprisingly adept at taking advantage of any pertinent information it receives, and can be trained to, for instance, “hear” images or “feel” sound. For the blind, a device called the BrainPort V100 connects a camera on a pair of glasses to a grid of electrodes on a person’s tongue. At first the effect just feels like tiny bubbles, but eventually users can learn to read stronger points of stimulation as bright pixels and weaker points as dark ones, and can form a mental picture.

我们也可以用一种感官来替代另一种感官。通过训练, 大脑会奇妙地利用其接收的任何相关信息,完成“听到”图像或“感觉”声音的任务。 对于盲人,一种被称为BrainPort V100的设备将一副眼镜上的相机连接到人舌头的电极上。 起初的效果只是感觉像是微小的气泡,但最终,用户可以学会把较强的刺激点看作是亮的像素,而弱一点的刺激则被当作是黑暗,以此来形成一个心里画面。

Somewhat similarly, a Dutch device called the vOICe (“Oh I see!”) uses a camera to create a soundscape that the vision-impaired wearer hears through headphones. To the uninitiated it sounds like bursts of static, but with training, people can discern images. Every second or so, the sound pans from left to right, using frequency to indicate an object’s height (the taller the object, the higher the pitch) and volume to indicate its brightness.

与此类似,一种被称为vOICe的荷兰设备(“哦我看到了”)使用相机创建出一个视障患者能够通过耳机听到音响风景的效果。 对于外行的人来说,它听起来像是打破了静态,但是通过训练,人们可以用它来辨别图像。 每隔一秒左右,声音从左到右上下移动,使用频率来指示物体的高度(物体越高,斜度越高),利用音量以指示其亮度。

For the deaf, David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, has developed a vest that turns sound into a pattern of vibrations on the torso. With practice, people can learn to use it to interpret speech and other sounds.

对于聋哑人士,斯坦福大学的神经科学家大卫·艾格曼(David Eagleman)开发了一种将声音变成躯干振动模式的背心。 通过实践,人们可以学会用它来分析言语和其他声音。

2 |从大自然中借鉴 Borrowing From Nature

Scientists are also exploring ways to add senses found elsewhere in the animal kingdom. For instance, a handheld device called the Bottlenose, built by amateur biohackers, uses ultrasound to detect the distance of objects, then vibrates the user’s finger at different frequencies, giving him or her echolocationOther devices provide the navigational sense of migratory birds: A company called feelSpace sells the naviBelt, a belt that points you in your desired direction by vibrating on your waist. Another company, Cyborg Nest, sells the North Sense, a device you can attach to your chest that vibrates when pointing north.

科学家们也在探索添加一些在动物王国中发现的其他感官。例如,由业余生物骇客构建的称为宽瓶的手持设备,它使用超声波来检测物体的距离,然后以不同的频率振动用户的手指,给其发出回声定位。其他设备则提供了类似候鸟的导航感官:一家名为feelSpace的公司销售naviBelt腰带,通过腰带的振动来引导你去你想要的方向。另一家称做Cyborg Nest的公司,销售一种可以附着在胸部的装置North Sense,当它指向北方时,该装置会振动。

In the future, cochlear implants could be tuned to pick up really low frequencies, such as those used by elephants, or really high ones, such as those used by dolphins. Bionic eyes could be built to allow humans to see ultraviolet rays (as butterflies, reindeer, dogs, and other animals can) and infrared light (as certain snakes, fish, and mosquitoes can).

未来,人工耳蜗植入物可以通过调节来获得像大象使用的,那些非常低的频率,或者像海豚使用的,那些非常高的频率。可以建造仿生眼睛以允许人类看到紫外线(如蝴蝶,驯鹿,狗和其他动物)以及红外光(如某些蛇,鱼和蚊子)。

Some researchers think we may eventually install a port in our brains that would allow us to swap in different sensors when we need them. “Maybe there’s a Swiss Army Knife of sensors that you carry with you,” says Rajesh P. N. Rao, the director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. You might rely on a distance sensor when climbing a mountain, then plug in night vision after dark.

一些研究人员认为我们可能最终会在大脑中安装一个端口,这样我们可以在需要的时候更换不同的传感器。国家科学基金会感觉神经工程中心主任Rajesh P. N. Rao说:“也许你会携带一把瑞士军刀的传感器。”爬山时,你可能会把它当作距离传感器,然后在黑夜,插入夜视功能。

3 | 感觉月亮震动 Sensing Moonquakes

We might also gain senses that no other animal has. The vibrating vest Eagleman created can be programmed to receive any input, not just sound. He says it could be used to monitor the stock market, or sentiment on Twitter, or the pitch and yaw of a drone, or one’s own vital signs. You could of course display these things on a computer screen, but our brains can’t attend to lots of visual details at once, Eagleman says. The body, on the other hand, is used to monitoring dozens of muscles just to keep us balanced, so would be more adept at handling multidimensional inputs.

我们也可能感受到其他动物没有的感觉。 大卫·艾格曼研制的振动背心,可以被设计为能接收任何输入信号,而不仅仅是声音。 他说该背心可以被用来监控股票市场,Twitter上的情绪,无人机的俯仰和偏航,或是自己的生命体征。 你当然可以在电脑屏幕上显示这些东西,但是我们的大脑不能一次就能看到大量的视觉细节,艾格曼说。 另一方面,我们的身体被用于监测几十块肌肉,以保持平衡,因此可以说,我们的身体更擅长处理多个方位的信号输入。

A cortical implant could also theoretically take in just about any type of information, which the brain could process as a new sense. “You can do whatever you want,” says Neil Harbisson, a “cyborg artist” who’s originally from Spain. “You can design a unique sense that is related to your interests or to your curiosity.”

理论上,皮质植入物也可以接收任何类型的信息,大脑可以将其作为新的感官来处理。 “你可以做任何你想要的,”Neil Harbisson,一个最初来自西班牙的“电子人”艺术家说。 “你可以设计出一种独特的感觉,这与你的兴趣或是你的好奇心有关。”

Harbisson was born seeing in gray scale. In 2004, he had an antenna surgically attached to his skull. The antenna has a camera at the end and vibrates at different frequencies, turning colors into sound. (He can also use the antenna to take phone calls and listen to music.) He plans to implant a band around his head with a warm spot that orbits every 24 hours, giving him a temporal organ. His friend and collaborator Moon Ribas has a wireless chip in her arm that vibrates when earthquakes occur anywhere in the world, giving her a seismic sense. She hopes to put vibrating implants in her feet that convey moonquakes.

Harbisson天生只能看到灰色图像。 在2004年,他通过手术将一个天线附着在他的头骨上。 天线后面有一个摄像头,并以不同的频率振动,将颜色变成声音。 (他也可以使用天线来打电话及听音乐)。他计划植入一个裹在头部的带子, 带子上的热点以24小时的周期转动,相当于给自己了一个时间感官。 他的朋友与合作伙伴Moon Ribas,在她的手臂上装有一个无线芯片,当地震发生在世界任何地方时,它都会振动,给她一个震感。 她希望将震动的植入物放植入到她的脚里,来传递月光震动。

But Bernd Fritzsch, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa, cautions that for every patch of neural real estate we dedicate to interpreting a new sense, we leave fewer neurons for processing the others. So with each sense we add, we’re also taking something away.

但爱荷华大学神经科学家伯恩德·弗里奇施(Bernd Fritzsch)警告说,我们每多使用一种神经元素来解释一种新感觉,就会剩下越来越少的神经元去处理其它的事情。 换言之,我们每增加一种感官的同时,我们也在拿掉一些东西。

4 |文学上的群体思维 Literal Groupthink

Perhaps we’ll even achieve that so-called sixth sense: ESP. Kevin Warwick, an engineer at Coventry University, in the U.K., wirelessly connected an electrode in his arm to one in his wife’s arm, so that wherever they were, they could feel when the other flexed a hand. Eagleman wants to take that idea one step further and wirelessly connect heart and sweat monitors on his wife and himself so they can sense each other’s moods.

也许有一天我们会实现所谓的第六感:ESP。英国考文垂大学工程师凯文·沃里克(Kevin Warwick)将他手臂上的一根电极与他妻子手臂中的电极无线连接起来,使得他们无论身在何处,都可以感觉到对方伸出的另一只手。艾格曼希望把这个想法进一步推进,他通过无线连接方式把他和他妻子的心脏与汗水监示器连接到一起,以便他们能感受到对方的心情。

Research by Rao shows that people can send yes/no messages telepathically: An EEG senses brain activity in the sender and another device applies magnetic pulses to the brain of the receiver. Eventually, we might have brain implants connected wirelessly. “This kind of communication might get over some of the limitations of language,” Rao says. It could help people share sensations or express thoughts that are hard to put into words, and enhance collaboration. “I think that will completely change how we are as humans,” Warwick says. “Telepathy is the future.” Indeed, Elon Musk recently started a company called Neuralink focused on connecting brains to computers; he says it could someday enable computer-mediated telepathy.

Rao的研究表明,人们可以通过心灵感应发送”是或否”的消息:脑电图可感知发送者的大脑活动,另一个设备则将磁脉冲发送到接收者的大脑。最终,我们可能会将人脑植入物通过无线的方式连接起来。 “这种沟通可能会克服一些语言上的局限性,”Rao说。它可以帮助人们分享感觉或表达难以通过语言来描述的想法,并加强人们之间的协作。 “我认为这将彻底改变人类,”沃里克说。 “感应是未来”。事实上,Elon Musk最近刚刚创立了一家名叫Neuralink的公司,专门从事将大脑与电脑连接起来的工作;他说有一天电脑介入的心灵感应可以实现。

Exactly how all this tinkering will change us remains to be seen. Harbisson says that gaining animals’ senses “would allow us to connect with nature and to other species in a more profound way.” But if shared senses connect us to other species, might sensation inequality pull people apart by creating new categories of haves and have-nots? We already struggle to agree on what’s real and what’s fake; that problem seems likely to get worse as technology creates new means of perception. “Society is stretched like an elastic band,” Warwick says. Radical sensory enhancement for some could stretch it even more. “The question is, does the elastic band break?”

这些研究将如何改变我们,还有待观察。哈比森说,获得动物的感官“将使我们能够以更深刻的方式与大自然及其他物种联系起来。”但是,这种将我们与其他物种连接起来的共享感觉,可能会加重人类的不平等,因为有些人拥有一些能力而另一些没有。我们已经很难判断什么是真实的,什么是虚幻的;当技术创造出新的感官时,这个问题可能会变得更糟。 “社会被拉伸得像条弹力带,”沃里克说。对某些人来说,一些激进的感官可能会被拉伸的更多。 “问题是,弹性带是否会有一天断裂呢?

重点词汇

  • sensory enhancement:感官增强

  • cochlear implants:人工耳蜗

  • retina:视网膜

  • ultrasound:超声波

  • cortical implant:皮质植入物

  • ESP:第六感(extrasensory perception)

  • telepathy:心灵感应

编译组出品。编辑:郝鹏程

在人类的五种感觉之外,科学家还在探索另外的可能性 | 双语阅读

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