Neurohacking is the colloquial term for (usually personal or 'DIY') neuroengineering. It is a form of biohacking (qv) focusing on the brain and CNS. Strictly speaking it is any method of manipulating or interfering with the structure and/or function of neurons for improvement or repair.
Seeking a Definition for Neurohacking...?
Rather than giving you one strict definition, which is never the truth for everyone, we asked group members: “How would you explain what neurohacking is, and why do you do it?” The comments below are their replies:
“I see neurohacking simply as neuroscience-based self-improvement, and I do it to narrow the gap between the life I have and the life I want.”
“Neurohacking teaches you how your brain works and how you can improve your mood and health. For me it was a way to repair some problems because I got rid of migraine and backaches by learning one of the first things, the relaxation response. Then I got into biofeedback because that way I didn’t need tablets for blood pressure because I can control it. I notice that my confidence has got better as well.”
“Neurohacking is about ways of keeping your mind healthy and your brain performing at its best. I do it for maintaining and improving my mental health and partly to avoid decline with age, the same reasons I go to the gym for health of my body.
Why have a fit healthy body and a weak confused mind?”
“Neurohacking helps you to understand yourself. When doing NH you can go beyond "I must have got out of bed on the wrong side" way of thinking and figure out which side exactly is better to get out of bed on.”
“The Matrix had me. Neurohacking was the Red pill.”
“Neurohacking is changing your mind by changing your brain chemistry and learning how to control these states and work with them. Sometimes we humans do this just for fun, but it is what shamans have been doing since ages past. I like experimenting with drugs and methods of changing perception. I’m also interested in intelligence augmentation or as I would call it the pursuit of Wisdom and enhancing our creativity and imagination, basically expanding all the frontiers of our minds, working with nature and our biology.”
"Neurohacking is… The act of evolving from a simple lab-rat to a pandimensional being."
"Self-Help gone right."
"Trying to keep the fragile balance required to be a sturdy human being."
“To me, neurohacking begins with the acknowledgement that you are your bodybrain. From there, it's just a system of practical advice designed to reground yourself in the physical and mental capabilities that you were born with. It's not 'hacking' in the sense of overclocking, but in the sense of 'lifting the hood, understanding what's going on, and making obvious and natural improvements'. It's open-source and voluntary.”
"The culmination of millenia old philosophy, psychology, physiology and more, in one little red pill. The fastest means to achieve the most valuable human resource: Freedom. Why do I do it? There is no way not to do it, I only get it (right)." (Marcos Rojas)
For me, neurohacking (the concept as it has evolved for me, as a part of this forum), is simply having some knowledge and techniques for improving the functioning of my body/mind/emotions, to improve the overall quality of my life, including longevity, health/vitality, mental functioning, emotional balance, as well as interpersonal communication, cooperative ventures, including art, music, poetry/prose/ songwriting, etc., and even on-line discussion.
For me, knowing things and learning things are not the ultimate achievements in my life, however they can help me to create a much better foundation and framework, (or matrix) for what I do value most. ( a synergy of physical emotional, mental and spiritual growth or evolution of consciousness, interaction/communication, and expression.)”
“Neurohacking is the 'practical' to the 'theory' of neuroscience. Neuroscience gives you knowledge as facts about the brain and mind and intelligence. Neurohacking gives you knowledge as ability to use that information to improve yourself.”
“Neurohacking is another word for 'entelechy' for me –that means learning how to do the most beneficial things for the good of intelligence, and that has fulfilled me personally as well. I have always been interested in how intelligence works. The more I learn, the more interested I get. I now see NH as a path to imaginative creativity in all things, interactions and relationships. I am hoping to learn enough to start running workshops and courses in the future.”
“I would say that neurohacking is having a conscious awareness of the forces shaping your consciousness, and consciously altering those forces in order to improve the interaction between your consciousness and the outside world. Neurohacking is inherently recursive, since the system doing the altering is also the system being altered, and I would say that any form of 'self-improvement' that has that feature probably qualifies as a neurohacking technique.”
“Neurohacking is just like computer hacking –you change the system to do something better, to perform better, or sometimes to stop someone doing something nasty to you. I’m interested in "Artificial Intelligence" and biotechnology stuff like mind/brain-computer interface and uploading, virtual reality. Intelligence is like the most important thing that humans (and machines) have access to, but most of them don’t really even have a clue what it is and what it can do.”
"Hacking is often associated with the quest for efficiency, expanding the concept to the ultimate machine, our own brains, seems to encompass much more than just brain efficiency, since the brain can assimilate the real world and expand its domain over it. True freedom of choice is impossible without knowing the full spectrum of your choices.
Expanding your mind is a requirement to fit that spectrum in, and start to glance its magnificence.
NGI = Natural General Intelligence. (contrasting with the search for AGI)”
"Neurohacking is any act of intentionally altering/modifying your bodybrain state resulting in either temporary or long-term effects. The primary goal of NH is developing a bodybrain in full health with access to all it's functions in all networks, and in the process repairing any pre-existing damage and building the potential for experiencing an extraordinary life."
“There’s a formal definition of Neurohacking (NH) here:
I like being able to learn the latest discoveries about intelligence and discuss it. My reasons are various: intellectually & scientific interest, improving my intelligence and to keep my mind sharp as I get older, personally because the “relief” at being free from anxiety and really feeling personal power in my life has made me a much happier person and my life much happier (and much better organized!) I can only describe the process as like ‘stepping out of a cloud’ and it’s a clear day.”
“Neurohacking for me is used for a spiritual path, but I know it can be used for many more purposes. The Dalai Lama’s talks got me interested in neuroscience. I use some biofeedback to aid my meditation progress and I plan my diet and things like Tai Chi exercises. I also do NH techniques to support emotional stability and clarity of perception. My goal is I seek wisdom, understanding, and unity.”
“Neurohacking is any ability distilled by knowledge that deliberately seeks to promote the growth of complexity in any intelligent system."
A Couple of Personal Accounts:
“To be completely honest, neurohacking is the story of my life; as long as I can remember I've been fighting those dragons: beings, institutions and ideas that wanted to implant in my head the seeds of their controlled universe. Yes, way back to the times when even the word "hacking" was not part of my vocabulary, I remember... I remember the terrible shock of their blades, I remember the dry sound of their shields blocking my sword, I remember the smell of my skin burning under the repeated assaults of their fire-breathing steeds, and I remember the loneliness. I remember how I could have felt so alone in this never ending struggle, desperately seeking to meet some other brave knights out there, ready to stand and fight at my side. It took me 34 long years to find the first one, his name was Sir Alexander Ramonsky...
So yeah, maybe you can now better understand what kind of relief it was for me to find a neuroscientist who actually confirmed the righteousness of my holy war. And it might explain why, at first, I was rather focused on the will to build something like the New Camelot, reforming the old Round Table, and living in that golden stronghold with young and strong and brave knights, patiently furbishing our weapons, preparing for the day of revenge... I was so hurt, so weary, I needed a place for retreat. Although the quest for a 100% hassle-free zone was like another unattainable Holy Grail unworthy of our - quite limited - time. Avalon is the resting place of the dead, it is not made for the living.
So these days are over now. Today, my own neurohacking practice have led me to the land where Voltaire spent his late years, or as Candide himself did put it: "we must cultivate our garden". And then I understood that even if I spent so many years wondering what was my true mission on this planet, still I've always fulfilled it by being true to myself, by being the living example that one can refuse all the bullshit they pretend to seriously care about. What has changed, though, is that today I know why by cultivating my own garden I'm doing precisely the only best thing I can do to utterly slain all the dragons...
That's what neurohacking has done in my case, that's what neurohacking does anyway, because it simply allows Intelligence to blossom naturally; and if Intelligence speaks many languages, it speaks only in one voice. Hence the delicious feeling of unity in which my mind is increasingly wandering these days.
So from now on, my focus will simply be on participating in this wide movement which - somehow - will consist in offering to the Spirit of Candide, of Voltaire and of the Enlightenment philosophers, but above all to any living dude who'll be smart enough to really care about it, a 'Science of Gardening'..." - Scalino Corleone di Napoli
“I work in Biological Psychology and I got into Neurohacking as part of a search for the truth about what intelligence really is and what’s happened to most people’s minds. I searched because I had to; I was driven, because for my life to have personal meaning it has to make sense to me, and the way my society was structured and the way that most people behaved did not make sense to me.
I searched because I knew there was something wrong, and that it was hidden from our eyes, like a computer virus running in the undercurrents of society, running in the unconscious minds of people going about their conscious business, living out their lives like duped slaves in a mindless soap-opera-in-the-matrix existence, oblivious to any real truth or any real satisfaction, and because I knew that whatever was wrong was going wrong in epidemic proportions.
I searched because I knew there was something more. Along the way I met others, potential explorers driven by their own needs, people baffled by their own experiences that did not make sense, thrown off balance by sentiments and anxieties that should not exist in healthy human intelligence (and to be truly human, or truly intelligent, I have now come to believe is the very thing humans may have to fight for). Chronic anxiety rules the world, creating the very problem that makes people unable to face it.
I went looking for the causes of humanity’s dysfunctional state and my own, and I found them, in the hard, undeniable evidence of human science. The truth is way too much to swallow, for the ‘many’. Trying to think intelligently with anxiety is like trying to swim in quicksand. You can get out if you stop struggling and let intelligence save you, but most people really do not want to be unplugged. Most people are too busy hiding from, rather than looking for, the answers.
But nevertheless, I’m here because it’s in biological psychology that I found my answers, and through neurohacking I managed to change my mind.
I am not Morpheus. If people want to be unplugged, seek to understand the truth about intelligence, and want to free their minds, I’m here to work with them, but if they want to 'stay in the matrix', they can stay by all means. Neurohacking is not for wimps. It's Red Pillsville, buckle your seatbelt, and Kansas is about to go bye bye. There are lots of potentials (‘the many’) but very few actuals (‘the few').
And now it’s a part of my life to work with the few, wherever I can. Mend the wires. Stop the virus. Make healthy intelligence 'software' and mental health information open source. Create a space for intelligent people to get on with real things. I make no predictions about what I’ll be doing next, because from my point of view it’s as simple as "whatever's necessary".
The definition of 'neurohacking' (n-hacking) is a lot more straightforward than that of 'intelligence'. 'Neuro', as in, 'pertaining to the nervous system, especially the brain', and 'hacking', from the now familiar colloquial computer-related term commonly defined as 'breaking into a system subversively to achieve a personal aim, hopefully undetected and/or unstoppable by anyone or anything which would prefer it if you didn't'. The relevance of this definition will hopefully become apparent as we go along.
Neurohacking, in the literal sense, means 'interfering with the structure and function of neurons'. Most people neurohack every day without realizing they are doing it (ever take an aspirin? Have a coffee to keep yourself awake? Taken alcohol or drugs? Used contraception?) You've been fooling the brain. Breaking into it and fooling biology. You know you don't have to put up with a headache all day long, or have a never-ending stream of offspring, and why should you? In a way, sex too is neurohacking, since you're knowingly changing your own (and someone else's) neurochemistry and consequently mood and behavior (with informed consent, of course).
There is a large division, however, between those who n-hack in these socially familiar ways, and those who do it privately on purpose for performance and/or experimental reasons. Those who decide to do it on purpose will probably want to do more than just eliminate a headache...how about removing the cause of those headaches? ...And how about improving...whatever. Anything we can. Let's upgrade this machine. This is Intelligence Augmentation (IA) and this is the sort of attitude this book will be helpful for. It uses a paradigm and map of the mind that gives an idea of the architecture of the brain's hardware and has for me been a software development kit. There are instructions on how to do things here, but they're not in the first part of the book because I am sometimes quite responsible in a pathetic sort of way, and to me if you want to walk any path it seems responsible to know it first.
How neurohacking is possible
Neurohacking on purpose uses a conglomerate of techniques, chemicals, technology, psychology and biochemistry. The brain is organized into processing networks (modules or systems), each with a specific focus. This enables parallel processing, which is a good thing, because a great many tasks need to be accomplished at once (largely due to the hardware and its maintenance requirements. In a non-biological system, we could have fewer, more powerful systems. We could also have faster systems; electro-chemical connections are slow and messy.)
Networks are all made up of synaptically connected neurons. They come in layers, and different layers do different jobs. The individual way your neurons are connected is unique to you; although we all have the same basic networks there can still be large differences between us, physiologically and psychologically. (We have noticed this throughout history, and indeed thrown wars to celebrate it). Vive le difference!
The synapses in most networks are capable of being modified physically through use or non-use. This means we can never alter function without altering form and vice versa. We can take advantage of this fact and interfere with the process by various means. We now also know enough (but by no means all) about the mechanism of memory to interfere with its processes somewhat. We have better biochemicals to play with than ever before, better imaging systems, better biofeedback and psychological programming. We have better tech. We have better communication with other researchers and faster access to the data and information we need. And of course, yip yip yip, we have computers. I've been doing this sort of thing for thirty-odd years and I find this the most exciting time ever.
Some of the things we can do
The main thing to remember is: a tiny change inside makes a large change outside (in both behavior and abilities). Here are some of the possibilities open to n-hackers:
- Learning: Increase speed and memory.
- Memory adjusting: Save, search, delete, edit, cut&paste, preview, refile, encrypt.
- Emotion adjusting: Refile, edit, erase, write, encrypt, disable or enable.
- Perceiving: Edit and enhance perception.
- Fixing: bugs, erroneous programming.
- Enhancing/controlling: creativity, imagination, cognitive ability, and sensitivity including thresholds, biological systems, input/output, and metabolism.
- Compensating: For any past minor damage (see text) or erroneous programming.
- Increasing: Cognitive efficiency, memory, lifespan (didn't expect that did you?)
- Protecting: against brainwashing, psychological tricks, cons, deceit and erroneous programming, both foreign and domestic.
- Surviving: Living on earth with humans, to our mutual benefit.
The inevitable health and safety lecture
I'm afraid I must get really boring right about here and go into ethics. Into what is and what is not acceptable. There is no total consensus on ethics currently between humans, which causes many problems, as we know. So if I state my own values and morals at the start it's maybe easier.
Make sure you understand my definitions before you approach my moral structure, however, or it will not compute.
The laws of an intelligence-based system:
1. Intelligence cannot deliberately harm either intelligence or potential intelligence.
2.Intelligence will consider it important to try to prevent anything that harms intelligence or potential intelligence, as long as rule 1 is not contravened by its actions.
3. Intelligence will consider it important to try to encourage anything that increases the Interactive Ability of any agent, as long as laws 1 and 2 are not contravened.
(A polite nod to Asimov there).
1. 'Agent'. An 'agent' is basically anything which is under consideration as some kind of intelligent (or not) entity. Thus a rock could be considered an agent, so could a tree, or a computer program, or a human, animal, or perhaps even an extraterrestrial/superhuman entity. We use the term 'agent' in order to avoid philosophical discussions about self-awareness, sentience, and other such tangential subjects.
2. 'Interactive Ability' is a numerical quantity, defined as the percentage of an agent's waking time that is spent displaying interactive behavior.
The distribution of interactive ability among the population of agents which display interactive behavior currently will likely follow some kind of bell curve, but note that not all agents are capable of displaying any interactive behavior at all. Such agents are 'off the scale', so to speak. Interactive behavior is defined below.
3. An 'intelligence' is any agent whose Interactive ability is currently greater than zero. (This may be established in practice by experimentation. See below.)
4. A 'stupidity' is any agent that is not an intelligence.
5. A 'chronic stupidity' is any agent that will always be a stupidity.
6. A 'potential intelligence' is any agent for whom the possibility exists that it's Interactive Ability will exceed 0% during its lifetime, but which hasn't got there yet.
Establishing whether a human agent is an intelligence:
7. If interactive ability is non-zero, the following will be true:
Physical/physiological: Using scanning techniques (or in post-mortem autopsy,) the brain will show distinct copious connections in the following areas: CC (corpus callosum), Right hemisphere to midbrain/limbic system, Temporal lobes to rest of midbrain/limbic system, Cerebellum to midbrain/limbic system, Reticular formation to rest of midbrain/limbic system, Anterior Cingulate Gyrus to PFC and midbrain. (Areas damaged, usually but not necessarily always indicatives of chronic stupidity are: Cerebellum, reticular formation, CC )
Neurochemistry/hormonal: An agent who is an intelligence will not have chronically elevated cortisol levels in the brain and bloodstream. Blood sugar/insulin levels will be stable within certain parameters. (A stupidity will usually have elevated levels of cortisol in the bloodstream and wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels). Strong emotion will not cause the cortisol level to remain high in the bloodstream of an intelligence for very long. (Strong feelings will cause such a condition in a stupidity).
An intelligence will have an efficient stress/relaxation cycle, which prevents the over-production of stress hormones. (Stupidities will not have this, and chronic production of stress hormones following a stressful event will continue for a long time, possibly permanently).
Psychological/behavioral: An intelligence will approach the unknown open-mindedly without fear but with adequate concern for safety, explore it with creative intellect, emotion and imagination, and be capable of interacting with and understanding it given enough time. This is interactive behavior. (A stupidity will not usually willingly approach the unknown due to fear, and if persuaded to will be unable to use creative intellect to explore it. No matter how much time is given, the unknown is unlikely ever to become the known, learning will be slow and difficult if possible at all, and understanding may never be achieved).
An intelligence will not be prone to immature or dysfunctional expressions of emotion, e.g., sulks, tantrums, physical or verbal violence, panic. (A stupidity may often be prone to these).
1. The presence of a stupidity will usually be harmful to all other stupidities and some (low level) intelligences, by reducing their interactive ability.
2. The presence of an intelligence will usually be beneficial to all other intelligences and some (high level) stupidities, by increasing their interactive ability.
3. In situations requiring precedence of opinion or action, the intelligence with the highest (proven) interactive ability takes precedence in any group of agents unless that intelligence voluntarily or by voluntary prearrangement waives its right to priority in favor of another or chooses to work as equals with one or more other agents.
4. Any agent can take priority in such situations by proving its interactive ability to be higher than that of its companions. Amongst intelligences, this may usually be ascertained by discussion.
So here are my ethics:
The weighting for making decisions based on these laws, definitions and assertions comes from my intellect and my emotion. I've sculpted these through neurohacking deliberately into a mindset that serves intelligence. I have no longer empathy for human sentiment; in fact it is my adversary. Human feelings in others are numbers; weightings themselves, and they are very important. But I believe we cannot continue to survive in a psychological format tied to biology's limitations, and I have had to abandon it as an inaccurate map of reality caused by current human dysfunction.
This is my own choice and I'm not expecting anybody else to make that choice (although there would be a helluva party if they did). We all go through a stage when we wish to impose our choices on the rest of the world. Some of us go through it at two years old, some at seventeen, some until the assassin's bullet, but sooner or later (hopefully sooner) we realize that's biology's con, too. Dictatorships, benevolent or otherwise, are not the breeding ground for intelligence; they stifle it.
Intelligence wants to be free.
I also believe I have a right to do anything I like to myself, and I don't accept limits, but I do impose and accept boundaries, because what I am trying to do is enhance intelligence, not destroy it. Anybody's. My boundaries are my laws, and I make sure they are enforced. Everybody I work with I trust implicitly to make sure they are enforced upon me, if necessary. (We'll meet these laws again later). I enforce my own 'containment field' because I am aware of the power of what I am working with and I am aware of how much we don't know. I know well that I am renowned for having a wicked and weird sense of humor, but in n-hacking I have to be 100% serious inside, not just because my own life is at stake.
It is blindingly obvious to me that some people are going to do neurohacking research in the pursuit of IA (Intelligence Augmentation). (I have had similar thoughts to this before, about physical augmentation and the Human Genome Project)... Some of those people may be smarter than me, some of them not so smart. Smart or not, it is highly likely that a large proportion of such researchers will be working from a military or authoritarian or high financial basis and will be, by my terms, unscrupulous.
Civilians can also be unscrupulous, and are more prone to dive into things without adequate knowledge and create problems. This is why I have to refuse access to some of my research, until I know and trust whoever is accessing it. Some years ago I was subjected to what I can honestly describe as an unpleasant series of experiences at the hands of some 'unscrupulous' people, which taught me some of the most vital lessons about intelligence 'augmentation' that I have ever learned. I want to make those insights available to everyone who can use them responsibly. Here is why: IA will happen. If it is in the control of unscrupulous minds, we are all going to have a serious problem. Possibly a terminal one. Because I believe that people with such motives are not operating in the interests of intelligence, I am bound by my own rules to do whatever I can to prevent that.
If a bunch of deluded biochemists try to build a deadly virus, a sane mind in their midst is in a position to create an antidote. But if you're outside the walls, if you don't know what they're doing, you can't control it or defend against it. I feel a little bit like physicists must have felt about discovering nuclear energy...Hey! Wow! We can blast asteroids out of our way! Wheee! We can use this for rocket power...great! We can get electricity...We can...oh dear. Oh shit.
We must know what is possible with IA, what can go right, what can go wrong, how to interact with it, and how to use it to benefit, and enlighten, rather than harm, humans, before it is ushered in surreptitiously or hits us full in the face as the fait accompli of some loony cult or dictator. The same must be said of cryonics, nanotechnology, AI, cloning (ahem), and biotechnology. If the shit hits the fan via stupidity on any of these fronts we need to know how to protect ourselves, how to survive, and if you're nice, how to help those you care about. And yes, I did have a chip on the shoulder, but now it's a silicon chip.
If you think ignoring something or trying to discourage it will make it somehow not happen, you are not paying attention to either history or the world around you.
For the rest, you can decide for yourselves whether I'm trustworthy or not, as you choose. All I can promise you is, on the ethics front as far as I am concerned, a line has been drawn. It is drawn by intelligence. And it is about what not to do.
One of the most positive things about neurohacking from a scientist's point of view is you are doing ground-breaking research that nobody else bothers to do. Drug trials and tests are conducted on animals and the general public in pre-determined measures at preset intervals. Nobody ever tries giving a healthy person very small doses of something just once or twice. Medication wouldn't work like that. We can discover things that take the drug companies months or sometimes years to catch up with. Consequently, we sometimes find out things before the guys in mainstream research. Nobody thinks of doing this sort of thing, and if they do think of doing this sort of thing they won't get any funding for it. I mean, who cares what results you get for anything with one subject? It means nothing, compared with clinical trials involving hundreds or thousands of subjects. There's no money in it, and nobody is very interested (except people like you, who read books like this). A lot of the old 'scientific establishment' buffs believe that my kind of research brings science into disrepute. The professional-trusting public does not trust scientists who look like bikers turned Borg, or cyberpunks with pink hair and distance-learning degrees in higher mathematics. You either go 'with' the establishment or you go it alone. You can't neurohack and admit it publicly and expect to keep a straight job.
If you go it alone, don't expect to be taken seriously by many people just yet. The upside of going it alone, if you have the finance, is you get there faster. The downside used to be that you couldn't very easily share your discoveries for anyone else's benefit. These days we have the Internet of course, and that's changed a lot of things.
Now and again, some mainstream researcher will eventually discover the same things you have and they'll go public with it, write books, win acclaim, and take the credit. When you're sentiment-free you'll see this for what it is. It's great. It's absolutely marvelous. You won't ever feel possessive about your discoveries (although you may feel protective of them if you suspect the possibility of misuse). There can be no jealousy, envy or copyright problems where there is no stupidity. The truth should always be open source.