Implanting New Perspective
Bodyhacking. You’ve seen it in science fiction, heard it mentioned in popular media, and if you’re reading this article, probably investigated it more deeply through other avenues as well. Perhaps you are someone who has already experimented on yourself, welcoming a new age of human and technological integration. But even if you’ve only heard about it in the most cursory of ways, it might surprise you to learn that you’ve been a bodyhacker long before you heard the term. All of us are.
Allow me to explain.
Currently, popular understanding is that bodyhacking is a new exploration of the intersections of technology and optimization of the human experience, through physical integration of the two using medical and technological means. Looking closely at some common milestones of our lives, however, it can be seen that we have all been passive and active bodyhackers since birth.
Just a cursory examination of my own personal history revealed several instances of bodyhacking: wearing orthodontic appliances to adjust the position of my teeth, enrolling in athletics and physical therapy that emphasized foot articulation to correct improper gait, or being prescribed medications to help me focus better when performing tasks. In those situations I was a passive bodyhacker, my parents making decisions about my body for me, but bodyhack we did. My life was enhanced and augmented in innumerable ways by the edits those and other processes enacted, everything from being able to run normally today to being one of the millions of adults who now struggle with altered brain chemistry resulting from long-term prescription amphetamine use.
New ways of integrating emergent technology with the physical human body is bodyhacking, but so can be behavior modification or use of specific types of supplements. If the goal of bodyhacking is to improve different aspects of the human experience with technology, we need not assume that the technology be a physical device, nor that it is permanently integrated into our bodies to sustain those results. Essentially, bodyhacking is using any human technology to augment it in a beneficial way that defies it’s natural or inherent condition.
This defines not only bio monitoring sensors, magnets, and prosthetics as bodyhacks, but also psychological techniques, physiological conditioning, biological and cellular developments, and nutritional supplements. Athletes are bodyhackers. Emotionally distressed individuals who use cognitive behavior therapy techniques are bodyhackers. People who take everything from vitamin B to Piracetam are bodyhackers. Your morning cup of coffee is a bodyhack.
Embracing an understanding of bodyhacking as a descriptor for experiences that both pre-date current technology and broaden the scope of what bodyhacking is fosters more expansive and effective discourse. Though this idea is new, the experiences and perceptions it describes are not, and incorporating that understanding into what we mean when we say “bodyhack” allows us to examine philosophical impacts on society, culture, politics, and science more completely.
Consider an ethical concern of professionals in the medical field, who face increasing numbers of people desiring the right to replace functional limbs or organs with prosthetics. From a medical perspective, to do this is to do harm to a body in health, in defiance of their definition of wellness. This definition of wellness labels many processes in bodyhacking as unnecessary and unnatural, asserting they shouldn’t be allowed because of the complications they can create for patients.
What can change the talking points of such a debate is bringing into understanding this broader definition of not only what bodyhacking is, but what it has been: a process of intellectual evolution humans have been engaging in for millennia. It is harder to argue for what is or is not natural when we accept that “natural” is a mutable term, shifting along a spectrum we adjust as new taboos fall by the wayside to popular use. The same argument made against the dangers of elective prosthetic replacement was made against use of nutritional supplements, psychological techniques, and exercise.
And though along the way there were missteps and corrections, we as a species survived each new iteration of personal augmentation. That there should be checks and balances to these processes is undeniable, but the extreme position against voluntary prosthetic replacement is untenable once bodyhacking is defined as a spectrum of behavior inherent in the human condition.
It is important that it is viewed in this way. Not just because people should be free to experiment with their own bodies, not just because it is an intentional reflection of the evolutionary process that birthed us, but because our compulsion to bodyhack is part of the answer to the greatest question humankind has faced in our burgeoning self-awareness: Why are we here?
Though I am a mental health practitioner whose scientific background is largely informed by philosophers and psychologists, when it comes to matters of purpose I turn to the only man who has ever made an argument for an objective human purpose, a mission that we all share, that has really made sense to me:
“In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky” – Carl Sagan – Astrophysicist and Turtleneck Enthusiast
Sagan spoke to us as poet astronomer, revealing truth through the lens he had come to trust most in life, Science. As a species produced by adaptation, that developed scientific investigation and used knowledge from science to take control of our own adaptation, we have been acting in the pursuit of our purpose with every new discovery: to understand. Because we were powerfully motivated by our drive for survival, each new cure for disease, technique for longevity, physical or cognitive enhancement, and paradigm shift in the nature of humanity were often missed as a reminder that we are all part of a shared purpose.
Bodyhacking is not only a byproduct of that purpose, it is how we will fulfill it. In our investigations into the universe we have come up against obstacles that slow our exploration, from our limited visual range to the processing speed of a human mind. These bodies, grown to thrive in a world we are now reshaping, can hold us back from pursuing our purpose. It is in choosing to augment and adapt, to weave new understandings into our very being, that we become better researchers and explorers.
With this purpose, this task before us, it makes sense to acknowledge bodyhacking for what it is, an inherent condition of intentional human evolution. It makes sense to accept a broader understanding of how we hack, and what we use to do it. Most of all, it makes sense to boldly move toward an enlightened view of personal adaptation, because regardless of whether it is for survival or a purpose, it is irrefutably necessary.