Monday, July 11, 2016

News You Can't Use: 'Hacking' the Brain

If there's one disappointing aspect of the old flesh, bone and fluid prison we've been mercilessly locked into it's that the so-called "executive functions" or "brain" if you really need it dumbed-down, have proven themselves to be extraordinarily resistant to attempts to manipulate or "hack" them. What I'm getting at here is that there must be at least One Weird Trick, but so far this has proven elusive. That is until some computer job in LaLa-Land discovered that simple things like withholding food and taking "smart drugs" can in fact trigger massive increases in productivity, which should be your main life ambition if you're a total and complete idiot.

Employees at San Francisco startup Nootrobox don't eat on Tuesdays.

Thirsty Thursday is bad enough, why do we need starvation Tuesday? It's like checking yourself into a monastery, just with all the spiritual benefits stripped away and replaced with "Time is money!" existential cancer.

"We're actually super productive on Tuesdays," co-founder and CEO Geoffrey Woo said. "It's hard at first, but we literally adopted it as part of the company culture."

I have a graph with a jagged line going primarily upwards to prove it. Can I interest you in some securities, dirt cheap?

Woo and other entrepreneurs are using fasts and other tricks to "hack" their brain chemistry like they would a computer, hoping to give themselves an edge as they strive to dream up the next billion-dollar idea.

It's 2016 and we still have to pretend that no one understands how a computer works or how it might be used as a metaphor for the human mind. Also, sorry to disappoint, but the next "billion-dollar idea" is going to be more Generation Zombie members milling about aimlessly while fixating on tiny glowing screens. Sorry to bear this bad news.

Known by insiders as "biohacking," the push for cognitive self-improvement is gaining momentum in the Silicon Valley tech world, where workers face constant pressure to innovate and produce at the highest levels.

Seriously, this stock isn't going to buy itself. Can I put you down for 10,000 shares?

Some use vitamins or other nutritional supplements known as nootropics or "smart drugs" to improve their cognitive function. Others have a more expansive view of brain-enhancers, taking off-label prescription drugs, small doses of LSD or Russian pharmaceuticals not approved for consumption in the U.S. 

I'm ruining my health and causing permanent brain damage, but flying off on a flashback from taking The Ticket is more than justified by the exciting "Touch screen to make sex" innovations that are resulting.

"Entrepreneurs and executives and investors are not normal people," said San Francisco-based Dr. Molly Maloof, who emphasizes nutritional supplements with her biohacking clients.

They are, instead, pathetic broken shells living in a haze of poor nutrition and krokodil side effects. 

"They are like high-performance race cars that are nonstop moving, and they need pit stops more often than normal people."

Quick, pour this bag of sugar into the gas tank, it's sure to make the car run better!

Research into the cognitive benefits of nootropics is still in its early stages, and some experts worry about the long-term health effects of ingesting potent synthetic smart drugs, which are largely unregulated. 

On the other hand, productivity!

"I have not heard of much in the way of exciting evidence that supports these products to a point that I would routinely be recommending them to patients."

Leave it to the hopelessly backward medical establishment to come down against the Moscow Miracle.

For Woo, who founded nootropics company Nootrobox, biohacking poses one central question: "Can we enhance humans?"

The answer is "no."

It's pseudosciencetastic!

The purpose of the fasts is to achieve a state of ketosis, which means the body has run out of carbohydrates and instead is burning fat for fuel. Ketosis has been shown to affect the brain in various ways -- it helps prevent seizures in children, for example -- and some biohackers say it keeps them focused and alert. 

I'm not thrashing around like a freshly landed walleye, so it must be working.

"By the end of the day I just have way more energy," said Katie Fritts, founder of San Francisco-based Underclub, an underwear subscription service.

Since joining the "Underwear of the Month Club" I've become less burdened by crushing despair than ever!

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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