Improving our capabilities as humans has been a drive that we've possessed since the beginning of time, and is at the core of our progression as a species. With the increased dissemination of information and the availability of technology, a new group of independent tinkerers has emerged who are experimenting on their own bodies, in the pursuit of becoming more than they are.
I spoke to Gabriel Licina (aka glims [http://forum.biohack.me/profile/glims]), one of the main heads over at biohack.me, the premier hub for this new movement to find out more. You may have seen him in the news recently with one of his recent experiments [http://io9.com/this-biohacker-used-eyedrops-to-give-himself-temporary-1694016390]. We talk about that and lots more below. Enjoy!
[N-] I guess my first question is about the terminology. I've seen people use different words, and I was wondering, is there any difference between the terms transhumanist, grinder and biohacker?
[GL] There's actually a fairly large difference. I can honestly say that a lot of transhumanists would take issues if you called them a Grinder ;) So, biohackers is a much more broad blanket term. It can mean anything from someone making peptides in a garage, to people who tell you how to "hack" your body by getting sleep. Transhumanists are a more futurist looking sort, though most people I hang out with think it's kind of silly. Lot's of sitting around. Talking about how once we're uploaded, these are the ethical concerns we have to start worrying about…. It's more of a philosophy than an actual practice.
Grinders are transhumanists who decided that they want to use the tools they have available to build their own future. This runs the gamut from people looking into life extension all the way to people who just want glow in the dark implants or tattoos. One of the things that really defines Grinders is there decision to actually do things. They're willing to take the risks to see if things work.
[N-] Thanks for clearing that up. So when did you first get involved in the movement, and what was your first physical alteration? What compelled you?
[GL] That's a weird question. I got my first tattoo when I was 19, that's a physical alteration, right? ;) But that was way before I started getting involved in all this. A few years back, as I was finishing up my degree (mol. bio) I realized that even tho I was working in a lab, I wasn't really taking these things and doing anything. It's one of the things that bums me out about academia, it's really out of touch with reality. I had always been excited about “the future” and transhumanism. I mean, who wants to die, right? You'd be surprised
So I started poking around. Basically looking for more people that were into being… more than they are. So I guess if you want to ask what compelled me, the answer to that is that I was fairly disappointed with the way things were turning out, with people, with the world, and so I started looking to find ways to change that. I've had a handful of implants, done some interesting supplements. It really isn't important. What's important is being involved in a culture of participation.
[N-] Yeah I never really thought of tattoos as physical alterations, but you're right. You mentioned that you have a scientific background. Do you think that's an important pre-requisite to performing experiments (at least safely), and isn't that potentially a significant barrier to more people participating?
[GL] It's beginning to become that thing. Sometimes when you want something, you need to help build it yourself. Lately we have had a lot of new people getting involved who have hard science backgrounds. Their knowledge coupled with the general enthusiasm and desire for action are really making things come together.
You don't need a college degree to perform experiments. You just need to do your background research and follow the scientific method. Anyone can be safe. There are books about safety, webpages. All you need to do is follow protocol.
[N-] How are your eyes doing after your recent experiment? For those who don't know, can you explain what the procedure was, what your goals were and how it turned out for you?
[GL] The procedure was to increase low light vision in a quick and easy way, using a chemical called Ce6. We did a lot of research about previous uses of the chemical, the risks involved, and what to expect, and then we made it into eyedrops. The chemical was absorbed into the eye and acted to increase vision in low light conditions. It turned out pretty well. We have some good preliminary data, and we're working on getting the hard quantifiable data that is so important in legitimate experimentation.
My eyes are totally fine. It's been over a month now. We didn't just randomly start throwing things in my eyes. We did lots of background work. I felt comfortable trying the experiment because I stand behind good research.
The preliminary write up along with references is on our page at - [http://scienceforthemasses.org/2015/03/25/a-review-on-night-enhancement-eyedrops-using-chlorin-e6/]
[N-] Fascinating stuff. There have been a few biohacking stories in the wires recently (mainly RFID implants), but this recent one of yours seems to have really captured peoples imaginations. Why do you think that is?
[GL] I think one reason is really just the black eyes in those pics [http://scienceforthemasses.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IMG_20150304_194737670.jpg]. Visually interesting. The other is just that being more than what we are… I dunno, I hate the terminology but people are really keen on super powers. What we did was a tweak, not a super power, but that's how people hear it in their heads.
I also want to think that we are in a position where people are wanting become more empowered. Science gets a lot of flak in this country. Maybe people are tired of having things handed to them. Maybe they want to make their own future.
[N-] Are there any biohacking projects (current or planned) that are exciting you right now?
[GL] Lots. Myostatin downregulation, Nerve Growth Factor for increased sensation, transdermal implants, new tools that us and other people are making. Then there's the things I'm super into, like bio remediation, and microbiome altering technology. There are lots of things to look forward to :)
[N-] Nice, it sounds like a vibrant scene! So if people want to get involved, they should head over to [biohack.me]. Are there any other sites/resources/people they should look into as well?
[GL] [biohack.me] is a good place to start. It has a reasonable entry level, which means that if you don't know what you are talking about, people help you instead of just getting all bent out of shape. Many things are redundant and weirdness pops up regularly, but at the core, it's a good group of people.