No one really wants to get older, slower or weaker. But we’re human. Even if you slap a bunch of anti-wrinkle cream onto your face…there isn’t much you can do about aging…right? Well, a growing number of bio-engineers, neuroscientists and Silicon Valley disruptors say it’s possible to upgrade your body, just like you would a computer. These systems of self-optimization and life extension are called biohacks, and they’re not exactly new.
Here’s an example from a 2018 Atlantic article. The author had a newborn with difficult sleep patterns, so he, too, wanted to learn how to need less sleep.
Eventually, I researched polyphasic sleep, a trend among the kind of people who quantify every aspect of their nutrient intake. Taken to its extreme, the practice promised the magic I was looking for: Simply sleep for 20 minutes or so every few hours, and eventually you’ll only need two or three hours of sleep a day. Sleep would be conquered! In its place, productive bliss.
I never ended up attempting polyphasic sleep. Its daunting requirements seemed destined to interfere with any semblance of normal family life. But the siren song of the quick, easy fix through a simple behavioral change or chemical consumed continues to appeal to me, as it does to many others: In Silicon Valley, this subset of biohacking is as strong as ever. Often coupled with its pharmacological sibling of nootropics (chemicals for cognitive enhancement), this trend of attempting to reengineer and overclock one’s physiology promises to make your body faster, stronger, and better in nearly magical ways.
What’s behind this push to treat our genetic code like a computer program that can be hacked and modified to enhance performance? And are these practices a fantasy, and maybe even dangerous?