Biohackers Want to Make Your Life Better
We don't know if the biohacking craze is full of snake-oil salesmen or prophets. Probably a little of both.
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Sponsored by Dave Asprey and his media and performance-enhancement company, Bulletproof, the second annual Biohacking Conference last month attracted more than 500 registered attendees and numerous startups offering everything from intravenous vitamin cocktails and blue concoctions of ghee and MCT oil to in-home hyperbaric chambers and electrical muscle stimulators.
The goal? Use technology to hack your own biology and, in the process, become a better, faster, smarter, version of your former self.
Biohacking incorporates many things—quantified selfers, alternative health, technogeeks, data geeks, big-data geeks, Transhumanists, Libertarianism, Grinders, the punk ethos, the computer hacker ethos, bio-DIYers (think people sequencing their genomes in their garages), and all self-improvement dogma. The group includes wackos, forward thinkers—and undoubtedly the fittest and best-looking first adopters of any craze we’ve seen. The people at this three-day conference were lean without being ultramarathon-y lean, built but not bodybuilder bulky, and downright attractive. Kinda like the followers of Khan in that “Space Seed” episode of Star Trek. Beautiful people—but beautiful people who talked about poop.
“Biohacking is the art and science of changing the environment inside and outside yourself so you can perform at a level you want,” says Asprey, a 41-year-old Silicon Valley investor and tech entrepreneur who spent 15 years and over $300,000 to hack his own biology (in order to shave 100 off his 297 pounds and lift himself out of his “brain fog”). “It’s about owning your own body instead of it owning you.”
It’s a message that resonates with many people. At the Biohacking conference, people who’ve joined Asprey’s website, seen some of his 100+ podcasts, or drank his Bulletproof coffee (the “gateway drug,” as he calls it, to his burgeoning movement, and yes, it’s mighty tasty, in no small part because it’s required to have at least two tablespoons of butter in it), came from as far away as North Carolina, Philadelphia, Germany, Scotland, Montana, and Maine.
“I’m here to meet all the other wingnuts who are as weird as I am,” says Troy Angrignon, a Bay Area tech consultant. “This is three days of awesomeness. It’s high-performance everything. People here are lean and strong. But it’s a really specific sub-population. We’re weird. Because of that I don’t think it’ll take off. It’s too complicated for most people, it takes too much commitment. I’ve gone through 100 of Dave’s podcasts and I don’t understand 90 percent of it. And I’m into it all.”
Angrignon’s smart, funny, fit, perceptive, but he’s the exception when it comes to thinking about biohacking and Bulletproof’s future. “I don’t think it’s a fad at all,” says Brandon Routh, the strapping pre-Man of Steel Superman who happily and religiously drinks the coffee Kool-Aid every day (“The fat in it turned on my brain”). “It could be a fad for people if they don’t link on to the bigger picture. But it can’t help but keep growing.”
“Most communities I’ve been around define themselves by what they don’t do, by what they don’t want people doing, so they’re usually a bunch of don’ts,” says Daniel Vitalis, a compact, tatted-up, charismatic outsider who lives largely off-the-grid in the backwoods of Maine and who’s here to speak and market his Surthrival line of supplements.
And biohackers firmly believe that they—and the rest of us—are capable of doing plenty more. Mentally, physically. It doesn’t matter if you’re into Paleo or Crossfit, Quantified Self or neurofeedback, biohacking open-sources whatever information or data or theory it gets its glove-sensored hands on. As Asprey stressed to his audience during one of his daily talks, “This whole thing is about question marks. It’s not about judgments.”
Which is why he encourages opposing viewpoints. Biohackers always seek ways that will give them an edge, an opening to exploit. Even if it’s entirely antithetical to what they’ve been doing. (Neurosurgeon Dr. Jack Kruse, sporting a purple jacket, purple-framed eyeglasses, and a purple belt and who seemed to think that we humans came out of a hole in the bottom of the ocean off the coast of New Orleans, appeared to relish telling the rapt SRO crowd at his talk that everything they’d read and heard in the biohacking world was bullshit, useless. And then he dared them to follow him down his electromagnetic path.)
They’re openminded, curious, and, it seems, willing to try anything—from a 360-degree spin on the standup swing to trying on the gravity suit to taking a multivitamin injection in the ass. “It’s about awareness and self-experimentation,” says Los Angeles acupuncturist Dixie Wall as she lines up for one of Shine Natural Medicine’s butt shots.
“People here are throwin’ around a lotta brain,” says neuroscientist Tom Nugent, whose Austin-based company, Uncodin, offers a discrete biofeedback headband. And a lot of enthusiasm.
Still, as Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena, another Asprey invitee, baldly says while strolling through the conference’s exhibit room, “Eighty-five percent of this is snake oil. The other 15 percent is the-tip-of-the-spear meaningful and interesting, and interesting things can come out of it. We need things like this. As bullshit as some of it is. There’s so much we don’t understand about the human body. Or the brain.”
And so much to be gained—personally, collectively, financially—in trying to find out.