Following his Big Conversation with cosmologist Roger Penrose,...
Exposing the dark foundation of extreme biohacking
These men are pushing their bodies to the limit. But their aspirations aren't as pure as you might think
Do you want to be smarter, stronger and happier? If you could rewind your biological clock to the natural vitality you were born with, would you? Can you imagine what it would be like to be the best version of yourself every single day?
The aspiration to achieve and maintain physiological perfection is driving a new trend called biohacking, where people (mostly men, it seems) spend considerable time and money figuring out how to optimise their natural capabilities. At its most basic, biohackers perceive the body to be a system similar to a computer that can be hacked in order to produce better outcomes.
The ultimate aim of extreme biohacking is to eradicate death
On one end of the spectrum, it’s as simple as drinking spring water and using apps that monitor sleep patterns to improve the number of hours spent in deep sleep, which has been proven to boost memory and mood. But at the more extreme end, biohackers are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds concocting ways to ‘upgrade’ their bodies. They’re wearing tiny hearing aids to enhance their emotional intelligence, giving them an advantage in social situations by enabling them to detect subtle nuances in other people’s tone of voice, or even microdosing the illegal drug MDMA to boost intelligence and contentment. Some biohackers have embedded microchips under their skin or antenna in their skulls to improve sensory experiences and control their external environment.
Calmer, thinner, happier
As with any new idea or technology, biohacking has the potential to advance humanity. Some of the research and investment into health and fitness could revolutionise our understanding of our bodies and move us to a prevention-rather-than-cure model in healthcare. But more controversially, biohacking is also being used as a tool to gain advantage over others (socially, sexually and economically). For this subset of the movement, the fact that humans are limited by their bodies’ own natural perimeters, and decline and death is inevitable, is a problem to be solved. Some biohackers are investing time and effort into halting and preventing decay, with the ultimate aim of eventually eradicating death.
One of the best-known proponents of extreme biohacking is Silicon Valley entrepreneur Serge Faguet, who takes a daily mix of 60 pills to upgrade his health and performance. Each one is carefully chosen for its perceived self-improvement qualities: an antidepressant, in very small doses to achieve “mental clarity” and prevent him being “bothered by emotions”; estrogen blockers, to boost testosterone, which helps him perform more aggressively in business; statins to lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks; the list goes on.
Along with fistfuls of tablets, Faguet meditates, exercises and watches what he eats. He monitors how much sleep he gets and cuts out ‘harmful’ things such as reading the news and using social media. He goes to regular psychotherapy sessions, undergoes monthly biomarker testing and aims to have as much sex as he can (more on that later). The 33-year-old founder of several successful companies claims to have significantly improved his quality of life. In articles written on the tech website hackernoon.com he explains how biohacking made him calmer, thinner, extroverted, healthier and happier. The millionaire has spent $250,000 optimising himself, he told a Guardian journalist last year. His online how-to guide has been liked by nearly 16,000 people.
There’s something undeniably attractive about what Faguet is offering (minus the price tag, of course). When our world moves at an inexorable pace and when we have competing pressures in already busy lives, a solution that assures greater mental acuity and resilience, coupled with increased energy levels to manage life’s challenges, is mightily appealing. It makes that extra mid-afternoon coffee seem like a pathetic soggy plaster. But as attractive as this ‘Promised Land’ is, when you read the philosophy behind Faguet’s practice you realise that at its very core, extreme biohacking is not self-improvement 3.0, it’s a desire to eliminate weakness, crush imperfection and downplay diversity. In other words, delete everything that makes us unique and human. Faguet has openly said his aim is to live forever and become like a robot. In a blog describing his reasons for biohacking, he says: “I optimize my intelligence towards my specific 50- year goal…To help make us immortal posthuman gods that cast off the limits of our biology, and spread across the Universe.” Later on, in the same blog, he states: “I want to be a god.”
In Faguet’s perfect future, a race of superhumans who have acquired the secrets to health and longevity will rise up and govern the world: “I think that what we are doing with biohacking is the beginning of humanity’s split into separate species,” he said in another of his blogs. “Enhanced posthumans who will make all the decisions (and who will likely come from the tech communities of Silicon Valley and China). ‘Basic humans,’ who will (maybe) be taken care of well, but will have no real say in what happens.”
The idea that we can use science and technology to become superhuman is not new. Fans of sci-fi, or even Greek mythology – remember Icarus? – will be aware of the ethical questions this raises and the inherent dangers. But whereas in decades past these projections seemed consigned to a very distant dystopian future, advances in artificial intelligence have made a world of Blade Runner ‘skin-jobs’ seem more feasible. Last year the founder of Tesla, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, said that in the future humans must become like cyborgs to compete with AI enhanced computers. “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot can’t do better,” he said at the World Government Summit. A company he founded has already begun research into connecting computers to human brains.
The dark side of biohacking
Other than the obvious Frankenstein nature of extreme biohacking, there is much in this trend that is at odds with the Christian faith. Biohackers say happiness is to be found in investing in ourselves; Jesus says meaning is to be found in serving others. “When you look at the way Mr Faguet lives his life, it’s an incredibly individualistic approach,” says James Mildred from social policy charity Christian Action Research and Education (CARE). “I wonder if that’s the real danger with things like biohacking. It’s not healthy to obsess constantly about yourself all the time. From a Christian perspective, we were not made to live life solely by ourselves, but as part of community.”
The Bible describes the Church as a body with different parts. To function healthily, the body must work together, and scripture tells us that the parts of the body deemed undesirable, weak or embarrassing are in fact the very parts that should be cherished and honoured (1 Corinthians 12:22-26). Scripture also makes it clear that weakness, rather than a hindrance, is the very thing that brings us true strength. St Paul discovered this counterintuitive truth after he begged God to take away the thorn in his side – which some commentators have suggested was illness or disability. God’s response is:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
“The Christian world view sets our expectations. It teaches us that we are not perfect, that we can never be perfect and it also teaches us that our worth and dignity is not tied to our own physical perfection,” says Mildred. “This is a wonderful and liberating truth; that we don’t need to live life constantly thinking about our own appearance. It means we are free to devote our time and energy to bringing glory to God and, in doing so, discover often, if not always, that there is such joy in doing so.”
Competing to be the strongest, cleverest and most attractive is an investment in the wrong kingdom
Through the biohacking phenomenon we see the value system of the world rubbing up uncomfortably against the value
system of the kingdom. The secular world, particularly in the West, promotes strength over dependence, individualism over community, intelligence over wisdom and physical appearance over character. It leaves little room for learning from mistakes, for taking care of the vulnerable and for loving others who are different from us.
In some ways it is natural to feel that sickness and death are wrong or, as Faguet puts it: “the ultimate bottleneck to freedom”. In God’s original design, disease and death had no place, and so they are both a very present enemy. But where extreme biohackers like Faguet go wrong is that their trust is in themselves and in science to overcome what they perceive to be a flaw in our design. The fear that drives this attitude is something Christians can overcome, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that death has lost its sting because everlasting life is the reward for all who put their trust in Jesus. Competing to be the strongest, cleverest, most attractive is therefore a waste of time – it’s an investment in the wrong kingdom. We know that those who are sick or disabled aren’t of less value because they sometimes can’t achieve as much as their healthy or able-bodied peers.
While researching biohacking it dawned on me that Faguet has poured his energy into attaining happiness, calm and self-discipline while Jesus offers his followers something much better. The fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace and self control. Faguet is looking for the ultimate ‘life hack’ and has spent years and many, many dollars in pursuit of something that we know as Christians can be received in minutes – or even seconds – as a gift. It’s an example of the wisdom of God confronting the wisdom of the world.
In his ambition to crack the code to contentment, the main part of the equation that Faguet has missed is love. In a dizzying desire to create perfection, he has quashed the ‘ugly’ parts of himself which, when accepted by another, provide evidence that we are loved unconditionally. He has designed his life so that the possibility of true, meaningful connection with another, including all the joy and pain it can bring, is impossible. “I think of sex as something similar to exercise, meditation, or food,” he explains on his blog. “Another physiological need to be addressed in a time-efficient way; another tool to enhance health (talking about safe sex obviously) and intelligence. There are many reasons why sex is useful for intelligence.” He goes on to explain that he doesn’t believe in dating (a “waste of time”) or monogamy (unnatural) and so uses a service that provides beautiful women for him to have sex with whenever and wherever he wants.
Putting aside the inherent misogyny, Faguet has denied himself the joy of building one of the most meaningful relationships a human can experience – that of spousal love. That famous passage in 1 Corinthians, so often read at weddings, reminds us that without love we are nothing (13:2). Faguet sadly seems to be lacking in love: love for others, love for himself and, above all, love of God.
So, I ask again: Do you want to be smarter, stronger and happier? If you could rewind your biological clock and gain back the natural vitality you were born with, would you? Can you imagine what it would be like to be the best version of yourself every single day?
One more question. What good is it for someone to biohack their entire body, yet forfeit their soul?
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