Why the World Needs Neurohacking Now

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this post originally appeared on Neurohacker Collective

 

Let’s face it – as anyone who is paying attention knows, we humans are in a bit of an ‘emergence through emergency’ scenario. Every day the people and institutions that we used to be able to rely on are falling apart; failing to do even a little part of their job. Yet, at the same time, every day, the world is getting more complex and harder to make sense of. This is getting serious – staying the course and hoping to muddle through isn’t going to do it.

Our options: evolve or die.

If we want to stay in the game, we’re going to need to seriously level up.

There are a lot of different ways that we could examine our situation. We can look at our energy infrastructure and the way that it interfaces with our ecology. We can look at the relationship between education and exponential technology. We can look at radically empowered individuals and their tension with legacies of injustice and oppression. Each one of these is a deep, rich challenge and they combine into a set of problems that is, well, above our current capacity.

To understand our perspective on this, we have to take a look at a bigger (and older) picture.

For all of our evolutionary history until very recently, we lived in relatively small geographic areas with a relatively small number of people, and our technological / industrial capability could only affect a relatively small portion of our world.

We evolved to be able to process at this kind of scale. For example, there is something called “The Dunbar Number” that reflects what appears to be the fact that our primate brain is only able to handle quality relationships with around 150 people. We evolved to live in bands and small tribes – and when we have to deal with more people than that, we are out of our element.

What this means is that we broadly seem to be limited to having empathy for people that we actually see and for taking responsibility where we can actually see and feel the effects. Where the consequences of our actions are distant – like where we can make purchases and then throw stuff out, or we don’t see the open pit mine where the stuff came from, or the landfill that it goes to, then we struggle to connect the dots.

In our modern world where many issues have profound complexity between many different financial interests and nation-states and cultures, we are really daunted. Yes, we have access to a level of information and technology that would have seemed like pure magic to folks even a few centuries ago. But as useful as it is, our contemporary technical prowess is a double edged sword.

Our always-on connected info lifestyle immerses us in a barrage of demands on our attention and processing power. Social media overwhelms us with the daily realities of war, brutality, and climate change – not to mention the demands of a social graph that is orders of magnitude larger than our Dunbar number. Put simply, our poor hominid brains are overwhelmed by the rate of information coming in and the level of stress it produces. Even at our best, we can’t make use of all this power.

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And, of course, we are not positioning ourselves to be at our best. Consider nutrition. Our tool using hunter-gatherer ancestors had access to food that provided a diversity of nutrients without really any toxicity in the environment – or at least a level of toxicity that we had been adapting to for millions of years. These days most of our food is produced, processed and transported in a in a complex soup of chemistry that we don’t come close to fully understanding. And even if we have the time and resources to try and only “eat healthy” – even this food is grown in minerally-depleted soil that leaves many of our known nutritional needs unmet.

Or consider pollution and our toxic lifestyle. High frequency EMFs are generated by all our wireless devices causing pollution-induced stress. We spend much of our time indoors, not getting enough vitamin D and breathing in a host of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from all of our modern building materials. Going back even farther, consider that the average mother in the United States has 136 different carcinogenic and neurotoxic petrochemicals in her breastmilk. We are born in struggle against the environment that our own power and desire has brought into being and, as a consequence, most of us end up living our day to day lives far below even our hunter-gatherer baseline.

So our situation is this: we need to seriously level up. We need to modify ourselves and our inputs to be able to respond effectively in the current environment. We need to ameliorate the downsides of modern technology and add more capacity to use that technology without creating even more “side effects”. This requires, at a minimum, coming to understand how to resource core nutrients; how to improve the functioning of our immune and detoxification systems; and how to improve our ability to deal with and process environmental and psychological stress.

And then we need to meaningfully improve the full spectrum of our information processing capabilities.

Like we said: evolve or die.

We call it Neurohacking.

The Neurohacker’s Toolbox: Nootropics

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this post originally appeared on Neurohacker Collective

Nootropics. You might have heard of them. The “limitless pill” that keeps Billionaires richer than you. The ‘smart drugs’ that students are taking to help jack up their hyperfocus (Vice). The cognitive enhancers that give corporate executives an ‘unfair advantage’. (Harvard Business Review). All very exciting. But as always, the media are way behind the curve. Yes, for the past few decades, cognitive enhancers were largely sketchy substances that people used to grasp at a short term edge at the expense of their health and wellbeing. But the days of dropping Adderall and Ritalin to pull an all-nighter are so 2010.

These days, nootropics are beginning to take their rightful place as a particularly powerful tool in the Neurohacker’s toolbox. After all, biochemistry is deeply foundational to neural function. Whether you are trying to fix the damage that is done to your nervous system by a stressful and toxic environment or support and enhance your neural functioning, getting the chemistry right is table-stakes. And we are starting to get good at getting it right. What’s changed?

A big part is that we are finally starting to apply complex systems science to psycho-neuro-pharmacology. The neural system is awesomely complex and old-fashioned reductionist science has a really hard time with complexity. Big Pharma spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to separate the effects of just a single molecule from placebo – and nootropics invariably show up as “stacks” of many different ingredients (ours, Qualia, currently has 42 separate synergistic ingredients). That kind of complex, multi pathway input requires a different methodology to understand well.

But, thanks to the efforts of a number of remarkable scientists, researchers and plain-old neurohackers, we are beginning to put together a “whole systems” model of how all the different parts of the human brain work together and how they mesh with the complex regulatory structures of the body. It’s going to take a lot more data and collaboration to dial this model in, but already we are empowered to design stacks that can meaningfully deliver on the promise of nootropics “to enhance the quality of subjective experience and protect the brain from injury while having extremely low toxicity and possessing very few side effects.”

Even the best of today’s noots only just barely scratch the surface. You might say that we are in the “Nokia 1100” phase of nootropics, and as better tools and more data come along, the leading thinkers in the space see a powerful future. For example, they are already beginning to look past biochemistry to the epigenome. Not only is the epigenome the code that runs much of your native biochemistry, we now know that experiences in life can be recorded in your epigenome and then passed onto future generations. There is every reason to believe that you are currently running epigenetic code that you inherited from your great-grandmother’s life experiences. And there is every reason to believe that the epigenome can be hacked – that the nootropics of the future can not only support and enhance our biochemistry, but can permanently change the epigenetic code that drives that biochemistry and that we pass onto our children.

We’ll dive into the possibilities in future posts, but for now, here are just a few resources to get you started in exploring this domain of neurohacking:

People

Steven Fowkesquorafacebookgoogle+youtubelinkedin
* Organic chemist who co-wrote the foundational book on Smart Drugs
* Founded the Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute
* Founded Project Wellbeing
* Related interests: Nutrition, Neurohacking/ Biohacking, Human Performance, Nano-tech

David Pearce@webmasterdavefacebook
* Wrote the online bible of nootropics at nootropics.com
* Founder of The Hedonistic Imperative, a project outlining how bioengineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life
* The Hedonistic Imperative Facebook public group
* The Abolitionist Project
* Related Interests: Philosophy of mind, Ethics, Transhumanism, AI

Joe Cohen@Selfhackedfacebook
* Authors the blog SelfHacked
* Embodies much of the neurohacker ethos; taking responsibility for his health & wellbeing and upgrading his experience through research and self-experimentation

Forums

Longecity: Brain Health@imminstfacebook
* Forum for discussing nootropic stacks and mental health
Reddit Forum Groups – Forum for discussing nootropics and cognitive enhancers
* r/Nootropics/@CognitvEnhancer , @Smart_Drugs, @Nootropix
* r/CognitiveEnhancement/
* r/DrugNerds@DrugNerds
Bluelight
* Forum for discussing nootropics and psychedelics

Informational Resources & Scientific Literature

Examine.com
* An independent encyclopedia on supplementation and nutrition.
PubMed
* Citations for biomedical literature
ConsumerLab.com
* Independent testing of health and nutrition products

Educational Blogs & Websites
Nootriment
* Research-backed content & reviews of effectiveness of supplements
Smarter Nootropics

Self Tracking Apps & Brain Training Programs
Cambridge Brain Sciences
TrackMyStack
StackDB.net
NootDB
Dual N-Back
Quantified Mind

Vendors / Suppliers
Ceretropic

What is Neurohacking?

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illustration by Kirsten Zirngibl

this post originally appeared on Neurohacker Collective

The term ‘hacker’ has its origins in computer programming subcultures from the ‘60s, and was used to describe people who wanted to take on hard problems in a spirit of playful exploration and a resistance to ‘unearned’ authority. Although the methods, means and intentions of hackers varied widely, all seemed to share a unique ethos that mixed a deep commitment to individual autonomy and agency with an equally deep commitment to collaboration and co-creation.

Over time, the concept of hacking has traveled far from its origins, finding its way into a number of domains like Biohacking, Consciousness Hacking, Flow Hacking and Life Hacking. Each is a kind of hacking because each shares this ‘hacker’s ethos’ and a commitment to using it to find the most effective ways to optimize the human experience.

We call the common thread that links these hacking communities together, ‘empowered responsibility.’ This notion expresses the dual recognition that we are no longer able to rely on external authorities to take care of us (in any domain) but through a combination of ubiquitous information, individual experimentation and open collaboration, we are increasingly empowered to take responsibility for ourselves.

In the Biohacking community, the spirit of empowered responsibility drives the process of optimizing one’s biological health and performance. Biohackers learn from each other how they can modify their nutrition, exercise, sleep, movement, and mindset to achieve the specific kind of well-being that they individually desire.

The Consciousness Hacking community takes empowered responsibility in using technology as a catalyst for psychological, emotional and spiritual flourishing. They utilize mindfulness techniques and biofeedback tools for self-exploration, taking personal responsibility for their conscious experience in this most individual of journeys.

Emerging from within and alongside these movements, we are observing the coalescence of a new and important domain: Neurohacking.

Whereas biohacking concentrates on the body, and consciousness hacking explores the inner experience, neurohacking is somewhere in the middle, focusing on the mind-brain interface – the intersection of neurology and consciousness. Specifically, neurohacking involves applying science and technology to influence the brain and body in order to optimize subjective experience.

The desired outcomes of neurohacking cover everything from focused productivity, to expanded creativity, more restful sleep, reduced anxiety, enhanced empathy, and anything else that contributes to the psychological well-being and emotional health of whole, thriving human beings.

The technologies of neurohacking run the gamut from chemical technologies like nootropics and entheogens, probiotics to support the gut-brain connection, bioelectrical technologies like neurofeedback and transcranial stimulation, photic therapies like low level laser therapy and all the way to embodied practices like somatics and meditation. So long as there is a scientifically accessible biological mechanism for effecting subjective experience, it belongs in the domain of neurohacking.

Of course, like all emergent phenomena, neurohacking didn’t just come from nowhere. For years there have been many movements and communities out there, playing in and pioneering some aspect of the neurohacking space.

Some of these domains include:

  • Nootropics
  • Entheogens
  • Microbiomics
  • Neurotechnology
  • Experiential Technology
  • Biohacking
  • Consciousness Hacking
  • Flow Hacking
  • Quantified Self
  • Transformative Technology
  • Calming Technology
  • Transcendence Technology
  • Positive Computing
  • Neuroethics
  • Transhumanism
  • Futurism
  • Positive Psychology

We propose that it is now timely and useful to perceive the commonality among these different movements and communities as shared aspects of Neurohacking. And in an effort to make these commonalities more visible and legible to each other, in the upcoming weeks we will take a deeper dive into each, highlight some notable people and projects in each space and explore the frontiers of the community from the point of view of Neurohacking.

In our next post, we will begin this exploration with the domain of Nootropics.

when the mind hijacks my flow state

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excerpt from field notes: “the battle of slave and sovereign is underway. what is this – day three of hell? i lost my focus, my muse, my creative edge. i’m stuck in an addictive pattern, my mind is spinning and traveling down well-worn pathways. i can feel that i’m no longer in flow. the curiosity & joy that was underlying this activity has been replaced with a burdensome drudgery. i’m “trying” to say the right thing, i’ve lost the thread of purpose underlying it. there was something that used to feel exciting about this….. what was it? i was in a position of self-authority, of creative flow. things felt effortless. now i’m running on some script, caught in a repetitive loop of thinking and/or behavior. even writing this now feels false. i feel a fear and panic that everything i’ve written so far was delusional. exposed, foolish. i need to switch gears. i need to disrupt the pattern. i need to relax. but the mindset that’s even trying to “figure out” how to break the pattern is the same one that’s creating it, so that won’t do. i need to transcend the mind’s limited viewpoint. i’m trapped in a limitation, and any logic within this frame is not going to work. 1/ the mind that got me here is not the mind that’s going to solve this 2/ move to a view that opens the possibility space i can actually feel the feeling of tunnel vision like a pressure on my temples that’s squeezing my view of reality into a narrow slice. i no longer feel connected to that spark, that essence, that feeling of “wholeness” that made things seem effortless. i’ve entered a state of separation. i can feel when it’s authentic creativity, being generated moment by moment, and i can tell when i’m forcing it, and it feels stale, regurgitated, uninspired. the mind that “tries” to be creative is slightly embarrassing. it wants to be clever & impactful, but its approach has no heart, and no matter how clear its message, it somehow doesn’t ring true. it despairs and feels frustration, & seems to hang on even tighter even as it acknowledges its own inefficacy. there’s a control pattern at play that’s preventing spontaneous creativity. the mind has an expectation of what it wants to do, and what the result is supposed to look like. it wants to manage the process. there can be no self-governance if the mind lays down those control structures.” *** Continue reading

what mental slavery looks like: repressive & reactive patterns

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a big part of my work over the past year has been to transition from an emotional and intellectual dependence on external authority to a strong sense of living life from an inner authority.

this was a challenge.

it was unclear to me what it would mean to not rely upon something outside myself for guidance or validation. frankly, it seemed like more accountability than i was prepared to handle. who could i blame for things not working if i was responsible for all my choices? what would it mean when i inevitably failed?

when the concept of responsibility was reframed for me as “response-ability,” a sense of enthusiasm and resolve began to replace what otherwise felt heavy and overwhelming.

in the simplest language, to be “response-able” is to have the ability to choose the way you respond to a situation.

seems straightforward enough. or is it? Continue reading

Constructing the New Narrative

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/eyes-of-the-imagination-omaste-witkowski.html

Constructing a New Narrative

We are in the process of trying to cultivate a new world. This is a daunting process and oftentimes it seems absurdly ill considered. Yet, reflection consistently indicates that it is our task whether we like it or no. And so . . .

The discussion thus far has identified the central importance of “sensemaking” to the formation of effective communities. In a (potentially futile) effort to break this massive task into bite sized pieces, I’ll try to separate it into a series of “smaller” posts. In the present post, I’ll try to quickly sketch out more fully the nature of sensemaking, how it develops and how it fails. In the next post, I’ll attempt to map out the parameters of what an optimal (or at least “much better”) sensemaking environment might look like. And then in the third, I’ll begin proposing concrete initiatives that have a reasonable chance of implementing some of this optimal sensemaking environment in the near term.

Continue reading

i am a consciousness with a society of personalities

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i used to identify with the competing voices in my head. i used to think the seat of my consciousness was in my thinking mind, and therefore that insane asylum of characters must be me. they represented all the conflicted forces within me.

some more in charge, others cowering and obeying. some told me what to do, some mercilessly beat me up, some sat in a defeated pile in the corner, some were children wistfully dreaming.

as i’ve traveled through the process of awakening, i started to bring sharper awareness to these entities. i wanted to get very clear about their patterns of behavior, the principles and beliefs they ran on, the emotions they triggered within me. i wanted to see who was in there running the show. Continue reading

on the forcing of willpower & the art of relaxation

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When embarking upon a journey to the unknown, it is wise to equip oneself with the tools to face the unexpected. To dig deep and locate the source of one’s inner strength, so that when a challenge arises, we may respond from our core: open, flexible, relaxed, and present.

There is a tendency in life, however, to lose touch with this place. We inadvertently take on other people’s stories, and behave as if we were a supporting character in their drama, instead of the lead in our own. In so doing, we lose our center of gravity.

It behooves us then to identify those stories and their origins, to understand the parts of us that are running on someone else’s script. When we can shine a light upon that, we create the possibility of moving past it and reclaiming ourselves.


*** Continue reading

journey towards a mythic life

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“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.” I said to the pixelated Japanese face at the other end of my Skype call. I could feel the strain in my voice as I struggled to mask the restlessness and frustration inside of me.

He looked back at me with an expression of compassionate amusement.
“You need to learn to live with the reality that you don’t know what to do next. And that you don’t know why you don’t know. Be with the not knowing. Make yourself the quest.” Continue reading

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