“Can you imagine a color you’ve never seen?” Jeffrey Tibbetts asks, looking directly into the Skype camera. We would like to think that we can, of course, that our imaginations are limitless. But the answer, no matter how much we skirt around it, is actually “no.” However, Tibbetts insists that he himself can see another color. He, along with several friends, is part of a homegrown experiment where he has attempted to alter his vision to see in the infrared, which humans can’t usually see. The three experimenters have just completed a 25-day nutritional regimen and, as their bodies return to normal, they will continue to document their vision for the next two weeks. Very early results appear promising, albeit incomplete. But several experts in ophthalmology have doubts about the purpose and safety of the project, not to mention the validity of the results themselves.
People who want to improve how humans function span the full range of invasiveness, from gym rats who chug protein shakes to biohobbyists slicing open their flesh in basements. Tibbetts and his co-experimenter, Gabriel Licina, are solidly in between. The team spent six months reviewing previous studies to craft a nutritional protocol designed to modify their vision, bearing the mark of their backgrounds in human anatomy and molecular biology. But their acceptance of the risks reflects their rogue scientist attitude; test subjects who don’t follow the protocol, either through wrong vitamin dosage or improper diet, could go blind.
“I’ve always been interested in the ways we can enhance human beings, and the most available is pretty much our sensory systems,” Licina said. So the two began to study the literature on how to see in the infrared. Before the ubiquity of infrared goggles, military research projects dating back to the 1930s tested infrared vision in rats. After six months of research, Tibbetts and Licina decided on a tactic: regular doses of a vitamin over a series of months with the aim of letting their eyes make sense of light in longer wavelengths.