What it Means to Be A Neurohacker


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This post originally appeared on neurohacker.com

Dr. Zachary Stein, philosopher of education and a research member of the Neurohacker Collective, begins a series on the ethics of neurohacking. This series is part of our commitment to engage our research community on the challenges and opportunities in the space.

On Neurohacking

As a philosopher and educator I am sometimes asked about my work with NHC and about the word neurohacking in particular. To my mind neurohacking means using the best of what is known about how the brain and mind work from all fields and disciplines in the service of realizing humanity’s deepest potentials, starting with self-realization and moving outward. Calling this kind of endeavor neurohacking is putting old wine in new casks—adding modern neuroscience to the ancient philosophical practice of seeking self-transformation in service to humanity. What the neurohacker does is focus on actualizing the next logical step of including psychology and neuroscience in the pantheon of inspirations and tools for a life dedicated to wisdom, love, and service. At its best neurohacking involves some of the key tasks of philosophy, such as phenomenology, reflective self-authorship, and the exploration of human potentials in self and relationship.

My colleagues who are dialectal critical realists would group neurohacking under what they call, “totalizing transformative depth-praxis” – an intentional transformation of human self- consciousness– “depth-praxis” – based on a comprehensive critical philosophy of mind-brain and culture-society. Fans of integral meta-theory would call it Integral Transformative Practice. My former colleagues at Harvard called it Mind, Brain, and Education, or educational neuroscience.

Of course, neurohacking is a term that draws on a computer metaphor. It is also a term originating in a particular time (2000s) and a particular place (Silicon Valley). It comes pre- loaded towards reductionism, hyper-masculinity, technocratic, scientistic, and empiricist readings. The term implies instrumental control and even a kind of cheating or shortcutting, wherein the hacker somehow benefits from outsmarting the normal order of things. When understood this way it can be seen as an ideological outgrowth of the simplistic medical models that dominate the healthcare industry, which make us think that a magic pharmacological bullet can be bought and mechanically inserted into the body as a quick fix. I’d like to see these connotations drop away from the term, which is part of mission of the NHC—to define neurohacking. Personally, I prefer organismic metaphors to computer metaphors when thinking about the mind and body. But neurohacking has a much nicer ring to it than “totalizing transformative depth- praxis,” for instance. Who would join a totalizing transformative depth-praxis collective?

You either hack your own mind and brain or they get hacked for you…

Truth is that when it comes to the use of neuroscience and psychology to transform human consciousness the train has already left the station. I’ve written a book about how psychology and neuroscience have long been used in the service of social control in schools. Advertisers have been using psychology since the birth of the field and use it even more now, as they help build psychometric backends that track your social networking activity to customize ad delivery. The governments and corporations that control large swaths of the mass media are also not ignorant of findings from the modern sciences of mind regarding the malleability of human preferences and perceptions. Tomorrow’s pioneers in the technologies of virtual and augmented reality are already consulting neuroscientists and psychologist in the design of future computer-brain interfaces. So you either neurohack yourself into autonomy or you get neurohacked into conformity, by the media, schools, psychiatry, advertising, or the emerging technologies of augmented and virtual reality.

However, if you are neurohacking to become smarter, or get better at your job, or find happiness, you are confusing means for ends. These are all aspects of one’s full humanity, parts which can be “improved” in isolation, but which must ultimately hang together in some kind of coherence with the rest of you. Make one of these an end-in- itself and you are confusing a fragment of yourself for the whole. The result will be negative externalities and diminishing returns from efforts. Get smarter and you may quit your job. Get better at your job and you may become unhappy. Tinkering with parts in the short run backfires. The neurohacker has his eye on the whole and the long run, not some sort run gain like “productivity.”

All this talk of “increasing productivity” begs the question of what exactly one is working to produce. Too much of the conversation surrounding biohacking and the human potential movement is about how to “get the competitive edge” or “unfair advantage”—both terms that assume one is playing a zero-sum game. Knowledge and practices that “upgrade” our body and mind should be used to liberate our capacities, freeing us to create new and better kinds of value, new forms of work and life, new social systems. We must not merely seek to harden ourselves to better function as cogs within the many dysfunctional social systems that surround us. Neurohacking must include a critical discourse on the ethics of self-instrumentalization. At times we all feel compelled to make our own body and mind into a kind of tool fit for social utility. We can mistakenly hack ourselves into a shape needed to be of service to ideals we would not choose in our better moments. This is a kind of counter-revolutionary co-optation of neurohacking’s potential—something that through the creation of the NHC we are intending to end.

The neurohacker’s commitment to self-authorship expands outward from the self and eventually touches on all aspects of culture and society. When neurohackers get together, say to form a collective, they need to remember the root of what they are doing and create a self-authoring organization. Indeed, with its penchant for commodification, gadgetry, and expensive ingestibles, neurohacking itself could be readily co-opted by largely commercial interests, and become only a small quirky branch of the pharmaceutical and medical technologies industries. Instead we must adopt post-corporatist ethos and design and empower each other through the dissemination of knowledge and best practices. Importantly, the best things in neurohacking are free, starting with your own brain, which is simply a good child of the universe. Meaningful and transformative relationships, mediation, and the natural world are abundant free of charge. Nutrition and exercise are incontestably the most basic elements of brain health, learning, and emotional well-being. Those elements of neurohacking that can be bought and sold, such as nutraceuticals, bio-feedback machines, or quantified-self apps—these ought to be carefully curated in light of an ethos that emphasizes benefits and value over profit and appearances. The post-corporatist ethos of NHC is without a doubt one of its most important features because it assures that we don’t confuse the goal of businesses (making money) with the goals of neurohacking (liberating human potential and self-authorship).

The body is politics. This notion is as old as civilization. The most basic right a human has is to the integrity of their own body. Neurohacking is rooted in each person’s right to sovereignty over their essential organismic integrity. Neurohackers declare independence from deficient systems providing inadequate healthcare and food. Neurohackers declare independence from simplistic and stigmatizing medical labels and industrial-era ontologies of (dis)embodiment. Neurohackers declare independence from the grip of industries that profit from human disease and are thus disincentivized from promoting human wellness. Neurohackers are a diverse group of DIY citizen scientists who are finding ways to free humanity from its current regimes of bio-power. Neurohackers are reclaiming the brain and mind from its cooptation as part of the push towards an increasing politicization, bureaucratization, and commodification of humanity’s biological substrate.

Dr. Stein serves as Chair of the Education Program at Meridian University and Academic Director of the activitst think tank at the Center for Integral Wisdom. He sits on the board of the Society for Consciousness Studies and is a Reseach Member of the Neurohacker Collective. Zak is also Co-Founder of Lectica Inc, a non-proft dedicated to using the science of learning to redesign standardized testing infrastructures. His book Social Justice and Educational Measurement (Routledge, 2016) looks at the injustices of contemporary high stakes testing and has been called “original and powerful… a work of genius… philosophy at its best.”  Zak’s second book, Education in the Anthropocene: Essays on Schools, Technology, and Society will be published in early 2017. For more see: www.zakstein.org

Using Psychedelics to Increase Performance and Reprogram the Mind/Brain Interface


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(this post originally appeared on Neurohacker Collective)

In a previous post, we discussed the value of nootropics as a tool in the neurohacker’s toolbox. They can help get us dialed in with laser focus and get things done. They can aid with concentration, learning, and memory. But productivity isn’t the only context for the human experience, and it would be sad if we shaped ourselves solely for the purpose of being more effective cogs in a machine.  Neurohacking is just as interested in getting better at asking “why” and “what” as in building capacity around “how”.

Enter, psychedelics, empathogens, entheogens and ‘plant medicines.’ Though many of these chemicals are currently schedule-1 drugs in many countries, humans have been using them for thousands of years for healing, self-inquiry and visioning into the nature of reality. In fact, some propose that the evolution of human consciousness itself was catalyzed by the use of mind-expanding substances discovered or concocted by early man.  If neurohacking is about upgrading the hardware our consciousness runs on, we would be remiss not to mention these technologies of altered states.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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? Continue reading

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



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


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



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