Biohacking, Human Evolution, and the Case for Radical Self-Improvement

Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

Most people want to improve themselves in some way. Whether it’s mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise, there is a very human-y thing in us that asks the question, “What next?”

It can drive us to consume, to always want the next, newest, shiniest toys and gadgets. A lot of people do this almost blindly. I certainly can relate to that. (I’ve been wanting a Nintendo Switch for ages, although I probably won’t get one anytime soon. It is what it is. But I digress.) We can also harness it to improve ourselves and help others do the same.

Tough philosophical questions that arise out of this kind of thinking, however. When people talk about “designer babies,” and other choice phrases in terms of wiping out illness and susceptibility to disease, it can sound like a good idea… if you don’t think about it for more than ten seconds.

If you start doing that sort of thing, customizing the genome to your liking, you have to draw the line somewhere. And there will be quarreling over where to draw the line. Spina bifida? Maybe, if it’s clear that a baby born with the condition would have a very brief, agonizing life outside the womb. Autism? I would suggest not. Leukemia? Rare blood disorders? Deadly allergies?

What about mental illness? Homosexuality? Being transgender? We don’t have any way to test for these things in utero, but that isn’t the point. If you start saying it’s okay to prune away at humanity for one reason or another, things are bound to get weird.

Which things are “bugs,” or afflictions, and which things are “features,” or qualities that make us diverse?

On the other hand, some people with mental illness might prefer it if they could turn off that particular kind of affliction within themselves. Queer people might see their diversity as more of a burden than anything else, depending on how their queerness has affected their lives. Some parents, to this day, still disown their children for it. Kids still get beat up at school for it. Certain groups would have us “pray the gay away,” and what have you.

In other words, this gets real sticky, real quick.

Let’s look at it from another angle.

In my opinion, it’s all about consent. Think about nootropics, for example. Also known as “smart drugs,” nootropics cover a wide array of substances, some more controversial than others.

Informed consent is hard to pin down, even when it comes to drugs that have been around a relatively long time, like penicillin. What “counts,” as informed consent can vary from person to person and from drug to drug, especially because we don’t know exactly how some drugs work. And there are plenty of diseases and conditions that we don’t fully understand, on top of that.

For all I know, the cocktail of antidepressants and other drugs I’m on, under the care of doctors, will give me Alzheimer’s or cancer. Each on its own may not be known to cause any such effect, but if we’re talking about a five- or six-way interaction? Impossible to predict.

Yet, I take them daily. Do you know why?

Because without them, I’d be an empty, dead-eyed husk of myself. I’d probably kill myself. That’s not to say I take any of this lightly, because I don’t. I just know that, even though I wouldn’t call myself a functional human person while I’m on these meds, the alternative, as I’ve experienced it, would be worse. By a lot.

I still feel that it could be done better, and not just for me.

A super-charged and highly personal example of that is a condition called ARFID: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It’s not very well understood, especially as it applies to adults, although I believe there are far more adults afflicted with it than previously anticipated.

The experience, for me, is one of being hungry, yet repulsed by most foods, all the time. The only things I’ve found that put even a small dent in the aggravation of it all are alcohol and weed. Alcohol, as most people know, frequently causes blackouts when taken in on an empty stomach. (It also kills brain cells and isn’t great for the liver.) Weed doesn’t have that effect, but it can be much more expensive. And although my state does have legal marijuana for medicinal purposes, I don’t have a medical card, and insurance won’t cover it.

In any case, neither of these substances is a cure. At best, it dampens things just enough to allow me to take in something that sets off my dopamine receptors, tending to be high in fat and/or sugar. At worst, I black out after about drink number two, and I wake up having consumed an unknown quantity of food. I then get to play detective as I’m cleaning up my messy kitchen and living room, often while hungover.

One time, I put English muffins in the toaster oven, forgot about them, and passed out drunk. When I woke up, they were fully blackened. Unrecognizable. I’m extremely fortunate that it didn’t start a fire.

Like I said, I believe it can be done better. How? Well, that’s the question.

I want a feeding tube, temporarily, so I can get my nutrition in order. The thought is that, once I get my energy and nutrients closer to where they ought to be, I could then figure out a better way to come at this thing.

But it turns out that talking a doctor into doing that is much harder than one might guess. Getting insurance coverage is a bit of a nightmare, too.

Not to suggest that I’m going to do this, or that anyone should, but I’ve been so frustrated (read: miserable) in this journey that I’ve seriously considered whether I should place my own nasogastric tube.

Once again: I’m not planning on actually doing it. And if you try it, you do so at your own risk; I will accept no responsibility for anyone who harms themselves trying, although if you do, let me know how it goes. I’d be curious on a scientific level. But I can understand the temptation, because I’ve been incredibly tempted, myself.

It might seem grisly that doing something like that would even cross my mind. Researching the ins and outs of self-administered nasogastric intubation isn’t what most people would call normal, is it?

Frustration leads people to strange places, and I have been incredibly frustrated with my relationship with food for the better part of two decades. Couple that with my frustration with the healthcare and insurance systems in the United States, and it starts to become clear: how much use do I have, really, for medical professionals who either don’t understand what I’m dealing with or who are too concerned with covering their own asses to do anything other than give me yet another pill?

Once again, I’m not telling anyone to perform a medical procedure on themselves, no matter how safe or easy the procedure may seem. Anything you do, you do at your own risk.

My interest is in biohacking and body modification. Improving my life, first, and then using what I learn to help others, if that’s possible.

It’s a fascinating and complex field, and it’s a field that’s difficult by nature to study, because you’re not supposed to be doing it. And because a lot of people don’t know how to take decent notes, or proper measurements, and they don’t have access to sterile environments or equipment. You also can’t be sure, if you’re using substances or equipment you got off the internet or from unofficial sources, how pure or impure or reliable or unreliable the compounds and equipment are…

…and oh, yeah, because you’re not supposed to be doing it.

But some people try because they’re curious. Or desperate. I’m in both groups. And there’s a very good reason why: I believe it can be done better.

By “it,” I mean my basic experience of existence. And I have to believe it can be done better. Otherwise, I’m liable to find a way to end that existence. I’m not ready to give up yet.

Not that I’ve got anything against folks who experiment with biohacking out of curiosity. Far from it; I deeply understand and appreciate curiosity as a scientific motivator. Also, lots of discoveries have been made by people tinkering on their own. Or as a consequence of an accident or mistake. You should know the risks — and remember that no one on the internet is telling you what to do, especially me. But if you gotta do what you gotta do, I can respect that.

I want to see the next stage of human evolution. I’m not sure it will ever come, but I’d like to see it. My prediction is that it won’t look anything like what any of us can predict or imagine at this point in our timeline. And yet, when we look back, we’ll be able to see it coming a mile away, in hindsight.

I just hope, whatever tech and knowledge are developed out of all of this, they’re used a lot more for good than for evil. I think that’s the best any of us can do: try our hardest to be good, decent people, who make the world better. That’s my goal in this life.

That’s pretty much my motivation for trying to get better, trying to find better ways to deal with my disorders and making myself better. If I make myself better, maybe I can help others become better, too.

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London Graves

London Graves

Queer vegan cryptid trying their best to survive late-stage capitalism while helping others do the same.