This article originally appeared on i-D Spain.
If you could have a sixth sense, what would it be? Although it might seem unlikely, technology provides the opportunity to take our perceptions to another level, or even correct biological defects in our own senses. In today's world, things that sound like science fiction are now very tangible realities. In Spain, the Transpecies Society is an example of this. It's an association founded by Neil Harbisson, the first person in the world to be recognized as a cyborg by a government, Moon Ribas, and 22-year old artist Manel de Aguas. The latter is in the process of developing an artificial organ, Weather Sense, which will allow him to connect to the weather through his senses.
Within the Spanish cyborg community, Harbisson has an antenna that allows him to hear frequencies of the Earth’s light spectrum, Ribas has a sensor implanted in her arm that detects the Earth’s seismic movements, and Joe Dekni has machinery implanted in his cheekbones to feel the vibrations around him.
Manel prefers to be called a 'propioespecie,' which translates to 'from your own species,' and is a term used to define an individual who does not correspond to the biological definition of a human being. i-D talked to the artist about his new organ (which is installed in its second version, but not yet implanted), the cyborg philosophy, and the future of the species in order to learn more about this fascinating, yet controversial world.
Tell us about your new organ, Weather Sense. What’s it for?
It will allow me to perceive the temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure through sound conducted by my bone.
It’s not finished yet, but what will it be like when it is?
The atmosphere will sound inside my head, and depending on the atmospheric conditions in any given moment, I will have the experience of being submerged in one type of medium or another. As for the outer part, the organ will have an appearance inspired by the fins of flying fish, and I will implant a fin on each side of my head, at the same level as the temple bone in my skull.
Why did you choose this type of organ?
I have always felt a special connection to the rain, so when I found out that there was a way to feel this sense within me, I thought it would be good to create [an organ] that would connect me even more to rain, as well as other atmospheric phenomena. As for the shape of the organ, I have always been interested in marine species, both real and mythological, so the idea of creating a fin-shaped organ simply came from within.
Is it, in some way, an art form for you?
In my case, my life as 'propioespecie' will be my performance art — a piece with an indefinite duration in which I will perform my life as a non-human species, who is sensorially hyper-connected to the atmosphere. This piece is a response to the personal nonconformity that I feel towards the anthropocentrism of today's society, which puts human beings on the highest echelon of a false hierarchy of species, and also a response to the desire that I have to increase my environmental awareness. I feel that throughout my life I have not really been aware of the mistreatment the environment has been subjected to and the way that people continue to treat the planet. Sometimes the solution is in being who you want to be instead of being who you are.
How have your family and the people around you reacted to your decision to implant the organ?
Both my family and my social circles have responded well to my decision to implant the organ. In the beginning, everyone had a lot of questions about what was involved in implanting a new artificial organ, but over time, it has become a much more common subject than is spoken about naturally. I have always been a person with a desire to explore things outside of my comfort zone, and this is just another one of my explorations.
Have you come across anyone who criticizes this project or who tries to convince you not to do it? If that did happen, what would you say to them?
I have met people with very different opinions, although most of the comments have always turned out to be from a position of interest or curiosity. The few negative opinions that I have received directly have always turned out to be from people who already had a preconceived idea of the cyborg movement, and who see it as a movement that alienates people from their own nature and creates greater social hierarchical differences — where some are better than others because they have more implanted technology or less. Although in the end, these are just ideas that science fiction has created and people take them as a reference.
In my opinion, joining biology and technology within us is just another one of the ways we have today to live life, and the desire to add a new artificial organ or not may be something in our nature. We should all have the freedom to do whatever we want with our bodies and our minds, and today it’s still difficult to find doctors who want to implant new artificial organs, because there are still no clinics that contemplate this practice under an ethical principle.
On the other hand, I see that the fact that there are people with technological implants means that our society is becoming more and more diverse, and this is simply evidence that in the future we will be even more so; not just culturally, ethnically, or in terms of gender, but also at a species level. The problem is when diversities are observed in a hierarchical way and not in a horizontal way, which is what happens today, for example the millions of animals that die daily for human consumption. I hope that one day we will begin to understand that some of us are not better than others, we are just different.
In short, to the people who may oppose my project, I would ask them to please learn to respect the freedom we all have to modify our body and mind in the way we want, and learn to appreciate the richness of being able to be a more and more diverse society.
You maintain that the implantation of your new organ offers you another perception of life, in what way?
I believe that my new organ offers me the possibility to connect even more to the planet where I live, and perceive myself as part of the atmosphere, which would break down the boundaries between the individual and the environment, perhaps generating an increase in environmental awareness and more empathy for the environment.
In addition, the fact that I’ll become a non-human species can make me equate even more the relationship I feel between myself and a human individual, or myself and an individual of another species, allowing me to water down anthropocentric ideas that I may have absorbed throughout my life.
Is cyborg art the future of human progress?
I would say that it is one of the futures which society will coexist with, but not totally and absolutely. I think that cyborg art can generate a greater awareness of the environment and knowledge of ourselves, so I hope that in the future there will be many more people creating it. Today, we are bombarded with information from all sides, but we hardly experience anything first hand. We all know that the planet is dying, but no one really notices it. If we were able to perceive the melting of the poles, we would surely live with the feeling of having entered a state of countdown and perhaps we would react more than we do now.
Who makes up the Transpecies Society? Are there other types of communities within it besides cyborgs?
The Transpecies Society was created with the aim of giving voice to all kinds of non-human identities, so apart from cyborgs, it is also focused on own-species, otherkin, or other types of trans-species.
We have opened a new laboratory of new senses that is called Cyborg Foundation Labs (@cyborgfoundationlabs) and is run by our cyborg doctor Fenix Binario. The lab consists of a multidisciplinary team, where subjects such as design, philosophy, engineering, art, and medicine converge, and it is from this great transformation that a common discipline emerges: the creation of new senses and new cybernetic organs.
Have you considered implanting another organs in the future?
I have thought of a sense that allows me to perceive the the poles melting or the rising sea level in order to reinforce my climatic awareness, but at the moment they are only sketches in my head.