Even if you haven’t actually heard the term “biohacking” so far, you’ve most likely encountered some form of it already. The form most present in media in the last years is the one that took shape in Silicon Valley, among the powerful tech CEOs like Jack Dorsey or Dave Asprey. They have invested significant amounts of money, experimenting with all sorts of supplements, diets, devices, and medical treatments in order to delay and hopefully reverse ageing, improve their bodies and minds functions.
Biohacking is a much wider domain that includes all sort of experiments done by amateur biologists at home or in improvized labs, tinkering with plants, bacteria or even animal DNA, or experiments with body implants, as for example the transhumanist or techno-progressivist movements.
Who are the biohackers
There are many groups of passionate people that work together, much like an open-source community, trying to understand and eventually control the code of life, the DNA. This is a fastly growing community, mainly due to the evolution of technology that lowered the costs of technology and the Internet that make collaboration across the globe so easy.
Not many years ago, one needed years of learning and access to very expensive lab equipment to be able to sequence a gene. Nowadays there are kits available that help you do this in a few days, for just a few dollars. More advanced equipment, that one needs in order to modify DNA is also accessible to the masses. There are also community hubs, like Berkeley Biolabs or Genspace, where you can become a member (for a certain fee) and use the equipment but also collaborate with other passionate members. Some are focused on the fun part of science, conducting all sorts of experiments out of curiosity, like making bacteria glow in the dark (some even attempting to make animals glow in the dark), or growing bacteria in strange but interesting formations in Petry dishes. Others are focused on solving the problems they encounter in life, like Kay Aull, who built a home lab and started studying what triggered her father’s haemochromatosis – she was able to isolate the faulty gene.
Experimenting with DNA raised concerns among authorities, especially military and intelligence agencies, that immediately think about bio-weapons. This type of research has nothing to do with the biohacking community, and anybody interested in testing dangerous pathogens, bacteria or viruses is a terrorist, not a biohacker.
The grinder community is focused on body and mind improvement and augmentation, through cybernetic devices and implants or through biochemicals designed to alter the body’s functionality. This is also quite a large family, encompassing smaller communities like transhumanism and techno-progressivism. The first group is focused on augmenting the body through cyber-implants in order to “greatly enhance the human intellect and physiology”. Techno-progressivism “is a stance of active support for the convergence of technological change and social change. Techno-progressives argue that technological developments can be profoundly empowering and emancipatory when they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities to ensure that their costs, risks and benefits are all fairly shared by the actual stakeholders to those developments”.
While I am thankful for the transhumanists who dedicate their time, efforts and, most importantly, their bodies for the advance of the field and progression of the human race, I think we are far away from a cyborg future. I love reading Sci-Fi books, and some depict very interesting universes, where humans become free of the physical body limitations, but I see it as it is for now: fiction.
I am very excited about better understanding and controlling of our bodies and minds, how they function and how they are influenced by the surrounding environment. Having an IT background, I take a similar approach and try to hack my body in order to function better. Just as the food and drinks you put in your body influence how you feel, the environment impacts your mood and state of the mind (think about how strongly you react to listening to music for example, or how you feel during a rainy day versus a warm sunny day).
I am trying to make sustainable changes to my lifestyle. These vary from exercising the mind (meditation, yoga, reading, practicing gratefulness) to diet changes, exercising, sleep optimization and pretty much anything I read or find out about that sounds promising and sounds like a possible good fit for me. I weight out the advantages and the effort required as much as possible, but in the end, I think that if I need to put a lot of sustained effort for a new habit or practice, I will eventually give up on it. Another important aspect regarding the changes I make is that I don’t try to quantify immediate results and benefits. I think it is more about the sum of them all, each change bringing its apport, and finding the right balance for you. Especially when things change for the better, they often go unnoticed. Think for example how often it happens to you to go to a room and realize you forgot why you went there, or to read a page and figure out you need to read it again because you have no idea what you just read. When these stop happening, it’s very likely you will not notice. If you go back to your old habits or something happens and you experience these again, it’s only then you realize they have been gone from your life.
There is no “one fits all” recipe, and each needs to experiment and look for things that fit best for him/her. Just like waking up extremely early in the morning is not for everybody (there are three main types of people when it comes to sleeping needs), certain foods can be great for some and at the same time be poisonous for others.
When it comes to gadgets and devices, I think there are a few basic ones like fitness/sleep trackers that offer a lot of information regarding your body for a fairly low price, but once you get a taste for biohacking you get to want more gadgets in order to obtain more information, help you train or even directly influence your body. I would mention here things from neuro-feedback devices, all sorts of light sources and lasers, magnetic and electric stimulators, cryotherapy equipment, etc.
Biohacking is a relatively new domain, but it is extremely exciting and has a fast-growing community around it. Since I stumbled upon the first books and sites about it, I knew I have to become part of this community. I started with small changes, and I keep taking steps in optimizing my mind and body. My life changed for the better, and I’m very excited about the future!