Human NIR Perception – the first project


Introduction and Summary

Prior to the nineteenth century, the only form of radiation known to man was the visible light by which we perceive our world. Today, we understand that the light we can see makes up less than one percent of one percent of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Orbiting satellites detect the Gamma rays and X-rays by which we learn about the universe. We transmit data as fluctuations in the amplitude and frequency of microwaves and radio waves, and yet none of these non-visible waves, as useful as they may be, elicit the psychological impact of a “pure” white or a “lusty” red. Humans are influenced by the very visceral responses we have to color, a fact well known by marketing agents and psychologists alike. Mankind’s understanding of the universe has grown exponentially; however we still speak of climbing up a mountain rather than away from the center of the earth. Men have flown far enough to appreciate the true shape of our home, our earth, but the anachronisms of up and down, sunset and sunrise, simply make more intuitive sense. Brahe’s astronomical charts and even images of Armstrong before a blue green sphere provide only a superficial understanding. A great divide remains between what we perceive to be real, and what we rationally conclude to be true. On an instinctual level, seeing remains believing.

Progress brings with it more complex problems than we’ve ever faced before. They are made more daunting by the fact that we can’t solve them heuristically. We lack an intuitive, instinctual sense of these new difficulties and thus argue if global warming is really even occurring. Were it possible to augment our ability to perceive, this might not be so. It’s not merely more data that we need. We need better ways, better faculties through which to interpret data. Imagine, for example, if we had eyes sensitive to a much broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Would it provide a more visceral way of comprehending that which we now only understand rationally? It’s a difficult question to answer, but one which Science for the Masses hopes to at least begin to explore. We’ve begun with perhaps the most important of human senses, vision, and believe we’ve found a means by which a human will be able to perceive more. This study intends to augment human vision to be sensitive to light in the near infrared spectrum, and measure how far into this spectrum sensitivity can be extended. Although this isn’t a fix to the environment, or a cure to modern plague, it will literally provide a new way of seeing the world with more innate significance than mere statistics and data tables.

Human vision works via a process called phototransduction. In this process, light enters the eye through the pupil, is focused by the lens, and strikes the retina. On the retina are billions of photoreceptive cells called rods and cones, and in these rods and cones are phototransductive compounds called photopigments. These pigments are the target of our project.


Color is not a physical property; it is merely the brain’s interpretation of different wavelengths of light. Human vision spans a visual spectrum of approximately 390-720nm. At the short end (390) is what we perceive as blue; at the long end (720) is red. This is nowhere near all light; in fact, it comprises less than an estimated 1% of 1% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The narrow range of light we can see is primarily a result of what wavelengths our photopigments are sensitive to; as an engineer would say, the pigments are the bottleneck.

Our pigments (photopsin in the cones, rhodopsin in the rods) are comprised of a protein complex called opsin, which is native to the eye, and retinal, a derivative of retinol, or vitamin A (A1). Not all animals with a visual pathway like ours use vitamin A in their pigments, however. Of interest to us, freshwater fish (along with some crustaceans & amphibians) use the pigment porphyropsin, which is composed of 3,4-dehydroretinol, also called vitamin A2, in conjunction with opsin. This photopigment has been shown to be sensitive to light of wavelengths up to 1400nm in some species, which is well into the near infrared range.

Our research has indicated that human beings are fully capable of using vitamin A2 to form our pigments; however, vitamin A1 has a 3-4x greater bioactivity as compared to A2. We believe this to be as a result of both cellular transport mechanisms having a greater affinity for A1, and competitive inhibition (for the layperson, “first come, first serve”).


The aim of the NIR visual perception pilot study is to exploit this opening in the human visual pathway in a brute force metabolic hack. The members of Science for the Masses and a handful of our collaborators will completely eliminate all retinoids and caretinoids (vitamin A and its provitamins) from our diets by switching to a special vitamin A deficient (VAD) blend of Soylent provided to us by special request. We will then supplement with two compounds: 3,4-dehydroretinol (A2) and retinoic acid (RA). Retinoic acid is a derivative of vitamin A which plays a critical role in gene transcription and a host of other systemic processes, and without which we would quickly fall ill and be forced to discontinue the pilot study. Unfortunately, RA has not been shown to synthesize from vitamin A2 in mammals; luckily, however, it appears that there is severely limited intraconvertibility between RA and vitamin A, if any, and so we don’t expect this additional supplementation to sabotage our attempts to hack the visual pathway.


Data collection will be facilitated via electroretinography (ERG). The subjects’ eyes will be dark-adjusted. Then, under a dim red light, corneal electrodes and ERG contact lens electrodes will be applied. The subjects will look through a viewport in a completely dark enclosure containing an array of NIR LEDs. The LEDs will be manually switched on and off by the test subjects at predetermined intervals. These intervals will be compared to the results of the ERG records, and data analysis will indicated whether the retinas of the subjects experienced any electrophysiological reaction to the NIR light, indicating a shift in the visual spectrum.



Won’t you be blinded by the heat from blood vessels in your eyes?


Background Whitepapers

Wald, George, “The Porphyropsin Visual System“, The Journal of General Physiology Vol. 22.6

Shantz, E.m., and J. H. Brinkman, “Biological activity of pure vitamin A2“, Journal of Biological Chemistry Vol. 183

Kawaguchi, Riki et al, “A membrane receptor for retinol binding protein mediates cellular uptake of vitamin A

Millard, Ernest B. Jr., and William S. McCann, “Effect of vitamin A2 on the red and blue threshold of fully dark adapted vision“, Journal of Applied Physiology Vol. 1

Yuem, K.J. et al, “Human plasma carotenoid response to the ingestion of controlled diets high in fruits and vegetables“, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 64

Shantz, E.M., “Isolation of pure vitamin A2“, Science Vol. 108.2807

Sun, Hui, “Membrane receptors and transporters involved in the function and transport of vitamin A and its derivatives“, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, Vol. 1821.1

Gerlach, T.H., and M.H. Zile, “Metabolism and secretion of retinol transport complex in acute renal failure“, Journal of Lipid Research, Vol. 32

Lamb, Adrian J. et al, “Induction of rapid, synchronous vitamin A deficiency in the rat“, Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 104.9

Barua, A.B. et al, “Structure and synthesis of naturally occurring anhydrovitamin A2“, Biochemical Journal, Vol. 177.3

Suzuki, Tastuo, and Sadao Miyata, “Substitution of porphyropsin for rhodopsin in mouse retina“, Experimental Eye Research, Vol. 46.2

Tee, E-Siong, and C.Y. Lee, Ph. D., “Carotenoids and retinoids in human nutrition“, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Vol. 31.1-2

36 thoughts on “Human NIR Perception – the first project”

  1. Even if you make changes to the way the eye perceives light, you still need the brain to adjust to those changes, in order to enhance the amount of information you recieve from your vision. I don’t think we can make our brains make those adjustments.

    1. @Gabriel- They have some more reference material that suggests when the brain receives new information it “creates” a way to process it.

      What I’m thinking is that the subjects will use the color Blue, or that the brain will take blue and “shift” it to the other end. I’m really interested in what happens to the female as hey tend to be more sensitive to nuances in color.

    2. In some tratments exist a delay of 1 to 4 months until the brain can adjust to new visual signal decodification

    3. I think it’s actually the opposite problem. If you were to successfully alter the Red receptors so that they also respond to NIR then the receiving neurons will simply interpret it as Red light. The experiment doesn’t alter the signalling mechanisms, just the frequency to which the cells respond. Unless there is some way to differentiate between Red and NIR no adjustment is required nor will you have the opportunity to adapt your perception. You simply won’t be able to tell Red and NIR apart … depending on how completely the R, G and B individuals cells were altered, you might end up being able to ONLY see NIR light. XD

      If only rods were affected your colour perception would not be altered but you would be able to see in the “dark” with NIR illumination.

      Again, no alteration to your visual processing is required or induced.

      As for leak over of NIR light sources, a decent bandpass filter is specified as transmitting less than 1/10,000th of the visible range while passing a very large fraction of light within it’s band. So it should be very easy to confirm or deny whether you are truly perceiving the NIR component by blocking the visible either at the source or by looking through the filter.

  2. Human eyes already have some sensitivity to the near IR. At least I know I do and so do some of my friends. When looking through an IR-pass filter in daylight and after some adaptation time (half a minute or so), one can clearly see as if the picture was taken though an IR camera. In particular, the IR fluorescence of chlorophyl is clearly noticeable.

    1. 720 or 830? 720 has enough leak in the RED spectrum that you’ll be able to see through it with enough ‘adaptation’ – you wont see crap when you look through a 830. The attenuation in the red is enough to make it black even after staring for minutes

    1. We’re pretty surprised that someone with Bryan’s qualifications was looking at our work. More so that he got so interested about a second hand report about preliminary results on a study not yet complete. Why he didn’t track back the material and instead chose to write in length about heat vision, we are unsure, but we are looking forward to hearing more from him.

      We’ll post the rest of our conversation with Bryan here later today, since that didn’t make it into the petapixel article today.

  3. ISTR being told they discovered in WWII that a small percentage of sailors could see in the very near infrared…They sometimes used infrared flashers to send signals between ships and there were a few sailors who could see them without looking through the special ‘scope.

    1. My son was tested by a professor at college and he appears to be able to see into the infrared spectrum. Do you have any more information on this?

  4. This is fantastic work. How soon before something like this becomes a product available for purchase – even as test subjects? Thank you for your efforts.

  5. Your picture of dehydroretinal (should end in -al) is wrong. It’s exactly the same picture as retinol except with the methyl groups written out.

    Very professional. Your chemistry skills scare me.

    1. No it isn’t. 3,4 dehydroretinal is missing two hydrogen atoms at the 3 and 4th carbon atoms of the carbon ring, which are replaced with a double bond between atom 3 and 4….look a little closer at the image.

  6. Fascinating work! At first it made me think of the color blindness gene therapy experiments that someone has already posted in comment. I have long wondered whether such a gene therapy could be designed, rather than replacing a missing cone type, to add an additional cone type with expanded range of wavelength detection. Your experiment description potentially describes why that might not work, if other ranges of detection are determined by limited pigments. but studies of photoreceptors in other creatures might provide additional avenues for research.

    Thinking more on your experiment, i also wonder if there might be a way to locally inhibit the Retinol or force the use of Dehydroretinol without having to restrict the diet. I expect the results of your study, should it prove successful, might encourage more research into methods of doing just that.

  7. I just stumbled upon Science for the Masses, and I after reading this among a few articles….I have absolutely fallen in-love with you guys. In the name of Science – Pioneer on!

      1. Link to said read through? I see the background white papers, but that’s it. I’m new to SFM, so it could be buried somewhere in the site I have yet to find, but a link in the main article would be useful.


        1. Ah, sorry about that. Read through meant read the posts on the blog. There are quite a few posts about how the project moved forward, the difficulties involved, and where we ended up.

    1. Oddly, the few people that I have talked to who make these claims have been pretty dismissive about work being done in these areas. They tend to already “know what they know” from personal ability or “years of training” and the conversations tend to go poorly.

  8. One small side note – IF there is an earth-like world orbiting Proxima Centauri, and IF humans ever go there, the infrared adaptation you propose would give them an major advantage in seeing without electro-mechanical devices. This is hypothesized due to Proxima being a red dwarf star, and the wavelengths coming from it are expected to be shifted to the red and infrared end of the light spectrum.

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