Apr 01 2015

The Progress of Perception

Guest Post by Professor Howard Argus

I understand there are some nasty rumors out there about me and the prosthetics my lab has developed. I would like to put to rest any fears out there by relating this experience from my life, which will illustrate to everyone exactly why my work is so essential.

When I regained consciousness on the surgical table, feeling the string of the hospital gown pressing into my neck, all I could see at first was the motion of a purple figure leaning over me.

“Let me open my own eyes,” I managed to croak. “You didn’t have to force them.”

“Professor,” said the figure, a male voice, “your eyes haven’t opened since we put you out for surgery.”

I tried to move my eyelids, sending signals along the nerves which had once led to those muscles, and heard the plastic shutters over my new eyes open. The view of the figure above me was unaffected. “Incredible,” I said and blinked several times, hearing the whine of tiny motors and the click of plastic on plastic vibrate along my skull. “Cleaning the artificial mucus membranes doesn’t block my vision at all.”

I sat up on the operating table, but dizziness overwhelmed me. I felt a hand on my shoulder. The same voice said, “Slow down. There’s still a lot of anesthetic in your system.”

I moved my hands to my temples, trying to stop the spinning in my head from the outside, and I felt the bandages which covered the top half of my face. That’s when I knew the technology was working, because I could see right through those bandages. I did it. I was the first man on earth with real x-ray vision. Suck it, Superman.

“Incredible,” I repeated. “This is just… incredible. Did I say that already?” I laughed. “I knew higher resolution and telephoto zooming weren’t the limits of prosthetic eyes. I have real progress, and in less time than anyone believed was possible.”

The male voice asked, “Do you see this light?”

The question caught me off guard. I couldn’t find whatever he was asking about to decide whether I could see it or not. “Oh. Uh, I guess not,” I said.

He said, “I can’t tell if your pupils are dilating. We should take the bandage off and perform a full vision test.” That’s when I realized the voice must have belonged to my assistant, Jeremy.

I turned my head to find him, and everything moved. “Uh, maybe later,” I said, afraid I would topple over at any second.

“But I need that data for my thesis,” he whined. That was still more important to him than the thrill of innovation.

I remembered preparing to do the surgery in our lab, but I could see nothing familiar about my surroundings through the prototype eyes. I was somewhere apparently decorated completely in different shades of purple. I had to get my bearings, so I could get back to work. I said, “Jeremy, you still don’t understand that feeling…”

“You had to do it, didn’t you?” Another voice interrupted my thoughts, this one female. “How could you replace your eyes like this, without asking me first?” My wife’s voice was close by, but I wasn’t sure where.

Jeremy said, “Also, Professor, your wife insisted on coming into the lab.”

“Yes, thank you, Jeremy.” He could have warned me sooner.

“You promised to wait for a volunteer,” she accused me from somewhere very close now.

She was right, but volunteers for an experimental intracranial implant had been surprisingly hard to find. I had weighed my promise to her against all the progress to be made and created a compromise. “I did wait, dear.” I spread my arms, fighting through the dizziness to keep myself upright. “I am that volunteer.”

I felt a hand on my arm, and Jeremy warned me again about the anesthetic in my system. “You just had major surgery,” he said.

I laughed. “Have I taught you nothing? I can’t sit around recovering when there’s so much to do. Now that I know the way forward, I’ll be like a laser at work.”

My wife misunderstood me, as usual. “Wait, I thought this all worked with x-rays.”

I corrected her. “I meant, my focus will be like a laser, always moving forward.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of a shark,” said Jeremy, who should have at least pretended to understand.

“I’m advancing the capabilities of mankind,” I raised my voice to clarify. “Everything else is a distraction.”

The press may have libeled me, warned about the dangers of “radiation” used by the ocular implants. I assure you, dear reader, the emissions from my eyes are hardly dangerous to living tissue, at least no more than a dozen cell phones. People get medical x-rays all the time.

And my prosthetics give so much more information than one of those simple, static images. There is so much more depth — despite the tunnel vision, a side effect of aiming the emitters all in roughly the same direction.

What I see has more in common with how bats experience caves. The signals they use for perception also start from inside their heads, building a view of the world based on reflections. Mine is a kind of “ultraviolet echolocation,” where everything I see originates from myself.

Also, while I see a similar range of wavelengths to what most people call “visible light,” it turns out, everything that far out on the electromagnetic spectrum really is interpreted by the visual cortex as deep shades of purple, which are impossible to describe to anyone still using those outdated balls of vitreous they call eyes.

Once the press starts to experience my new eyes, I’m sure they’ll begin to see things my way, metaphorically as well as electromagnetically.

In the first few minutes of using them, I was already gaining more understanding of the world around me. I regained my spacial orientation by focusing on the rebar that reenforces the walls of our research facility. This was our lab, but I never knew that was there before. The implants showed me a framework to my life which had always been invisible to me.

I started to get off the surgical table. I wanted to explore, but my graduate student held me still, insisting again that we perform the vision and motor function tests.

I found the source of his voice at last and realized for the first time, his flesh was transparent.

I grabbed his face. Yes, that was Jeremy. I was sure of it. I’d know that bulbous nose anywhere, but his head was transformed. All I could see of it was his skull, which was a color I’ve come to call rurple.

My wife’s voice yelled, “Look at you, grabbing at his face like a blind man.”

“I’m not blind,” I said. I looked around the room for the source of that voice. “Nor am I deaf.” Everyone in the lab were skeletons. I knew where their faces should have been, but they were invisible. I could almost see the soft tissues of their faces, but they were faint, hovering around the solid core of their bodies like an optical illusion.

Lab policy requires them to wear ID badges. I spotted the metal clips which held those on, but I couldn’t read the badges. It was nerve-racking. Their color scheme was outside the range of my vision.

“How will we live if he’s like this?” my wife shouted, probably at Jeremy. “It wasn’t easy before. All he could ever see was his work. Now it’ll be even worse.”

I wanted to comfort her, to help calm myself. “I see you fine, dear. Here you are.” I faced the skeleton I was sure was her.

It shook its skull, speaking with Jeremy’s voice. “Uh, sorry, Professor.”

My wife said, “You don’t even recognize me.” She was close by.

I turned again, trying to find her, but I was lost. I’d never needed to think so hard about the layout of the lab before. I couldn’t quite remember what it looked like to my old eyes.

Then I saw, one of the skeletons had a crack in their shoulder blade, and I remembered my wife’s car accident from several years before. I reached out for that skeleton’s face, to identify them.

“Not going to happen,” they said. “Don’t you dare.” Yup, that was her.

“Your shoulder,” I said. “The physical therapy didn’t help at all.”

Her skeleton crossed its arms, a useless instinct to protect itself from my vision. “My shoulder?” she asked, her voice getting softer and reminding me of the shy, vulnerable girl I married so long ago. “Well, I suppose it still gets a bit sore from time to time.”

I looked around, spotting more wounds in the rest of the skeletons. I stared at the fractures in a once-broken arm. “What the hell happened there?”

“Well,” Jeremy’s voice launched into that boring story about his bungie jumping accident for the hundred and fiftieth time, but I ignored his words, saw through them to the larger point. Injuries leave a record of mistakes you can never undo.

I walked through the room, touring everyone’s fractures, breaks, prostheses and piercings — some in places I would never have seen otherwise. “I see your injuries,” I told them, “the strain, the wearing down of each life, physical evidence of the hardships of your pasts.”

I also saw the cell phones in their pockets and the change in their wallets. I saw the books in their bags, but I knew those had become as illegible to me as their badges. My breakthrough eyes can’t see ink at all.

I closed my eyes, trying to clear my mind of the view which frustrated and disappointed me, but the new plastic eyelids wouldn’t block anything out.

I covered my eyes, but even my own hands showed me a record of their age, the wear of the years on my joints. “My God. How will I sleep?” I asked in horror.

“You idealistic fool,” said my wife’s soft voice from the skeleton with the fractured shoulder blade. She wrapped her arms around me, and I felt the familiar press of her body. “You promised me things would change.”

I put my arms around her too, calming down at last. “Eileen, my darling, I’ve made so many changes, but I realize now how misguided I’ve been. I’ve spent too long overlooking where I was really needed. I haven’t seen things this clearly before. Nobody has.”

She looked at me, and for a moment, I could almost make out her expression. I felt like she was more hopeful than I could remember seeing her in years. “Thank God,” she said. “There’s more to life than eyes.”

“I know that now,” I said. “The focus of my research has been completely wrong.” I let go of her. “Jeremy! From now on, we’re working on bones. We have to pull out these weak things, replace them with stronger material that will stand up to life, that repairs perfectly.”

My wife said, “You can’t be serious.”

Jeremy said, “But my thesis is on eyes.”

I shook my head. “You’re starting a new thesis, kiddo. Out with the eyes, in with the bones. I can’t stand to look at these brittle twigs much longer.”

I looked around me for a pen, but I froze when I realized I wouldn’t be able to see the ink. “How will I write anything down?” I felt the pain of loss again.

Jeremy said something about a pencil, and I had a flash of insight.

“Yes,” I whirled to face who I thought his voice had came from. “Pencils have lead in them! Well, not anymore. Find ones that do. And I have to see who I’m working with. New rule: to work in the lab, everyone takes a barium meal.”

“That’s dangerous,” said my wife’s voice.

“That’s the price of progress,” was Jeremy’s answer.

I smiled. “So, my boy, I have taught you something after all.”

“Howard,” said my wife’s voice, “please take out those x-ray eyes.”

She never did see the world like I did. My new implants only left her even further behind.

“That would ruin all our research,” said Jeremy.

“Thank you, Jeremy,” I said. “Now, clear the lab. Get the barium meals. We have work to do.”

There you have it, the origin of my latest project. Now that I’ve made this statement to explain clearly why I created the osteoprosthetics, you can all understand my goal, to have every one of you surgically replace your whole skeletons.

I have. I love it. Jeremy did. He wrote a thesis on it, though publication is still pending.

The scientific community may have turned its back on us, and the press tries to paint me as some kind of madman, but I’ll get them to come around. I’m more focused than ever.

Jeremy and I are recruiting. Volunteers are still hard to come by, but I’ve always been one to go where others tell me not to tread, and I can see in darkness and through walls exactly when those who oppose me go to sleep at night.

When they awaken with new eyes and their old skeletons ripped out, they’ll be able to see like I do that their new bones are the future. Then they’ll thank me. Progress is inevitable. Nobody can stand in my way.

Again, I hope this essay helps alleviate any public concerns. Goodnight.

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