One of the enduring commonalities across most human societies is the belief that our eyes are a window into the immutable truth of the universe. Eyewitnesses are accorded special status in trials, despite repeated studies demonstrating how fallible such on-the-scene reports can be. The idea that sight conveys reality is enshrined in everything from dusty myths and sacred texts to modern-day cop shows. As a result, it’s equal parts unsettling and interesting when we get a glimpse of how fluid our shared capability of vision can be.
Former Air Force Officer and engineer Alek Komar has spent a considerable amount of time detailing how his color vision changed following major cataract surgery. Cataracts are known to have a detrimental effect on color perception, but in Komar’s case, he didn’t just regain his old acuity: The Crystalens implant he received has given him the ability to see into the ultraviolet spectrum. While friends and family were initially skeptical of such claims, Komar secured the help of an HP engineer with access to a Monochromator; a device capable of projecting light in 10nm wavelength increments. Test results confirmed his perception. Anecdotal evidence indicates that he’s not the only Crystalens patient to see ultraviolet wavelengths following the procedure.
Cases like Alek Komar demonstrate that humans can perceive ultraviolet light and are evidence of both the brain’s plasticity and the fantastic complexity of color processing. Ultraviolet rays are normally blocked by the eye’s lens; they aren’t ignored by the retina or somehow filtered out by the brain.