Salvo 04.14.2023 10 minutes

Biohacked to Pieces

Face emerging from circuit board (Digital Composite)

We don’t need to embrace dystopian transhumanist fantasies to optimize our well-being.

“Biohacking” is the future of mankind, according to our overlords at the World Economic Forum (WEF). In founder Klaus Schwab’s 2017 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, he describes a future where human beings are fully integrated, via gene editing and implantable technologies such as brain chips, into a hyper-connected global “smart” society. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” promises to transform not just the way we live but what we actually are as biological entities. WEF-approved “thought leaders” like Yuval Noah Harari tell us, almost daily now, that “the age of cyborgs has begun” and “homo sapiens as we know them will disappear.” S. Matthew Liao, another nerdy futurist beloved of Klaus Schwab, predicts that the man of the near future may, through gene editing, be made 15 percent smaller than today, with reflective cat’s eyes and an engineered allergy to all forms of meat, as well as being administered regular doses of the prosocial hormone oxytocin, changes that will ensure we reduce our carbon emissions and save the planet from global warming.

Biohacking is already happening. People have been experimenting with implantable technology for years. In 2021, the British-Polish firm Walletmor became the first to offer implantable credit cards to the general public. “The implant can be used to pay for a drink on the beach in Rio, a coffee in New York, a haircut in Paris—or at your local grocery store,” says founder and chief executive Wojtek Paprota. “It can be used wherever contactless payments are accepted.” Four years earlier, a Californian entrepreneur, Josiah Zayner, hit the news after injecting himself at a biotech conference with the gene-editing technology CRISPR. In 2019, he came under investigation by the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs for selling DIY genetic engineering kits, under his “Odin” brand, for around $2,000. According to one projection, the global biohacking market was already worth $15.42 billion in 2020 and will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 19.4 percent from 2021 to 2028.

Biohacking isn’t just about sticking chips under your skin or in your brain, or gene editing; it’s not necessarily about becoming “more human than human,” as Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation would have it. Many biohackers are simply looking to optimize their natural processes as much as possible and achieve goals like enhanced mental, physical and sexual performance, often but not always using expensive cutting-edge technology. One such biohacker is Bryan Johnson, a 45-year-old venture capitalist from Utah who has been receiving a lot of media attention.

As The New York Post reported in January of this year, the 45-year-old multimillionaire, who employs a team of 30 medical professionals, spends in excess of $2 million per year in an attempt to reverse the aging process. His aim is to rewind his biological clock by 27 years, to the age of 18. He has, we’re told, already managed to reverse his biological age by 2.5 years. According to the Post, Johnson wants to “have all of his major organs—including his brain, liver, kidneys, teeth, skin, hair, penis and rectum—functioning as they were in his late teens.”

If you’ve seen Johnson, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s not money or time well spent. One very striking aspect of his new appearance is his deathly pallor: he’s the spitting image of Data, the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and every bit as wooden. He really doesn’t seem to be having much fun, or living in the bloom of recaptured youth.

During an extensive interview with Piers Morgan, Johnson spoke about a typical day in his life. He goes to bed at 8 pm and wakes at 5 am, and takes more than 100 pills every day. Moreover, Johnson undergoes daily body fat scans, and eats precisely 1,977 calories a day. This includes about 70 pounds of vegetables per month. 

Veganism or Vitalism

It’s interesting, but not surprising, to discover that Johnson is consuming a strictly vegan diet. Plant-based diets are hailed as the diet of the future, and Johnson, like all biohackers, considers himself very much a man of the future. The World Economic Forum’s own “Planetary Health Diet” is a more or less totally plant-based diet that will, we’re assured, not only save the health of the planet’s population, which is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, but also save the planet itself, which is being driven to the brink of destruction by our insatiable desire for the products of industrial animal agriculture.

The truth paints a rather different picture. In fact, veganism is so maladaptive that doctors and legislators in a number of European countries have already suggested making it illegal to feed a vegan diet to babies. And it should be illegal, given that children suffer terribly and often die on vegan diets. While vegetarian diets may not be quite as bad, especially if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian and consume milk and eggs, they’re far from ideal all the same. 

Still, there’s decades of (bad) evidence in favor of plant-based diets, so Johnson might be forgiven for falling for the hype and choosing veganism over a much healthier diet based around nutrient-dense animal products. There’s no evidence, bad or good, in favor of snorting stem cells, though—something Johnson also does. Perhaps he thinks he’s biohacking’s answer to Tony Montana? Less Scarface, more “Stemface”—“say hello to my little stems.”

Jokes aside, there’s nothing funny about snorting stem cells. In fact, it could be dangerous. According to the biologist Paul Knoepfler, “intranasal stem cell delivery…risks the cells or other material getting right into the brain. You want someone else’s stem cells in your brain? Bad idea. Your own cells? That’s still risky, especially depending on the cell type and how it was processed.” 

It’s pretty clear that the enigmatic biohacker lives a sort of paradoxical existence. He’s choosing to live longer (perhaps) by not actually living at all. His life appears to be devoid of all the ingredients that make a life worth living – spontaneous moments, social activities, laughter, a varied diet, etc. Even so, the pursuit of a healthier, happier, fuller life – the untwisted ideal at the core of what Johnson is trying to do – is one we applaud. You just don’t have to seal yourself off from the world to do so. Moreover, you needn’t be a multimillionaire with a team of 30 medical professionals at your disposal.

In fact, there are some pretty simple things you can do that will make your life immeasurably better. Raw Egg Nationalist has written at length about the benefits of exercise and a return to a diet that’s closer to those of our ancestors, so we won’t retread old ground by talking about those things, except to say that they’re both things you should do if you want to make a positive change. One incredibly powerful and simple change that doesn’t get mentioned enough is to get more sleep. 

People really don’t appreciate just how fundamental sleep is to good health. Sleep deprivation is a growing problem for people in the U.S. Perhaps as much as a third of U.S. adults reported short sleep in 2017, a 15 percent increase since 2004. Teenagers seem to be even more prone to short sleep, with one report suggesting nearly three-quarters of all high-school teenagers are now getting less than the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep a night for their age. The trend appears to have gotten much worse since 2013, possibly due to a rise in “societal stress” and the massive proliferation of mobile phones and other similar devices, whose use has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns.

Sleep is critical to a wide array of physical and mental processes in the body. Consolidation of memories, processing of information, growth and muscular repair, and production of vital immune cells such as cytokines and hormones like testosterone all take place while we are sleeping. Disrupting these processes is a recipe for disaster, both for ordinary people and especially for those who rely upon their bodies to compete at the highest level. One study of basketball players, for instance, showed that players who slept more ran faster in full- and half-court sprints and were almost 10 percent more accurate in their shots, as well as reporting an increased sense of physical and mental well-being. Male and female swimmers gave improved times when they slept more, could kick more powerfully and turn quicker, and reported the same sense of improved general health as the basketball players. There are many such studies all reporting the same results. People who don’t sleep are prone to weight gain, reduced insulin sensitivity and diabetes, anxiety and depression, forgetfulness and reduced cognitive performance, and reduced immunity, among other negative effects.

The dramatic health benefits from improved sleep are nicely illustrated in a study that showed a man can double—yes, double—his testosterone levels if he improves his sleep. The body produces most of its testosterone when we’re asleep, and it’s been suggested that the reason older men actually start to lose testosterone may be because they just don’t sleep as well as younger men. This is one reason why it isn’t advisable to go straight to the doctor seeking testosterone-replacement therapy if you think you need more. A simple change like improving your “sleep etiquette”—turning down the lights in the evening, using no electronic devices a certain number of hours before bed, etc.—can make a huge difference that obviates the need for spending the rest of your life on prescription testosterone.

So, yes, by all means “hack” your body to improve your performance. The majority of people today are operating at a level far below their actual capabilities, and it’s having terrible effects not just on an individual but a societal level as well. But leave the crazy stuff to oddballs like Bryan Johnson, so they can serve as a warning, and not an example, to the rest of us. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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