On Biohacking

Biology Cannot be Hacked Because Animals/People Are Not Computers. We Have Sunk Far When Writing That Sentence Is Not Considered a Statement of the Obvious

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Amateurs run medical experiments on themselves, joining a long and gory tradition among scientists.

This is the kind of statement that really irritates me. On the one hand it suggests that the people doing this are amateurs. That cannot be denied. For the most part they have little to no formal training, and even less skill or ability. I can accept that, however it goes on to equate these amateurs with other “scientists” who have tried similar approaches in the past. These people are not scientists, and to suggest that they are is to give them way more credit than they deserve and only serves to encourage more dangerous and ill advised auto-experimentation. Frankly I could care less about how dangerous it is. Your body, your call, but I hate the idea of time being wasted and resources being diverted to deal with the consequences when these “experiments” inevitably crash and burn.

This entire “movement” is just one of the many unintended consequences of the overhyping and glorification of all things tech. So called computer hackers are celebrated, and the very people who find this sort of thing worth celebrating are the same prototype as the foolish who try “bio-hacking” Anybody can be a computer hacker, anybody. Anybody can teach themselves to program and to hack. Not anybody, and I would suggest very few people can be scientists, and you most definitely cannot teach yourself how to be one or just magically become one by calling yourself one (I’m looking at you data “scientists”). That is not to suggest that computer hacking is easy and doing science is hard, only that there is a component of becoming/learning to be a scientist that requires interaction/teaching/immersion in the world of science that is not required (though it certainly may be helpful) to become a computer hacker.

The much bigger problem however is that the casualness with which people equate biological systems and computer systems has gotten so out of control that no one even bothers to stop and think for themselves about just how different these two things really are. Their is no equivalence between a human and a computer and there is no equivalence between a brain and computer chip, or DNA and silicon, or an artificial neural network, and a biological neural network (a still theoretical entity by the way). There are some similarities of course just as there are some similarities between a cat and my mom. Both are animals but beyond that any such similarities such as those in personality or even appearance are interpretation/judgement based not fact/evidence based. The problem is that people judge computer systems and human beings as ultimately the same thing, therefore anything which I can do to/with a computer system I should be able to do to/with the human system. And so we have so called bio-hacking and other ridiculous attempts to digitize or computerize various aspects of the human being.

I am not one of these spiritual/religious types who think what separates man from computer is some sort of soul or essence or vital spark or whatever. What separates man from computer is that man is a biological system and computers are not, they are artificial systems. Those two systems are fundamentally different, logically different, on every level from top to bottom they are different. That does not mean one is superior and the other is inferior, it only means that they are not the same. Therefore it makes no sense to try and apply techniques/approaches to the one that might have application on/with the other. One cannot hack a biological system just as one cannot draw blood from an artificial system. Will there some day be a merger of these two systems? Maybe, or at least in part, and you can already see the beginnings of such things with various cybernetic implants, etc. However, a complete merger of the two systems is most likely impossible or if it is possible will only be so thousands or tens of thousands of years into the future. Artificial intelligence (does not yet exist) and machine learning (a logically impossible logical contradiction) draw eyeballs and readers though so I think we are stuck going down this path of the further blurring of computers and humans for the foreseeable future. The great irony is that though the distinction between the two grows blurrier and blurrier in the minds of the general populace the actual difference between the two has never been sharper or more clear.

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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