Body Hacking

The other week I was having a lesson on the use of different mixes of gas for diving, primarily on the use of various forms Nitrox, although also including the use of tri-mix and heliox gas. Afterwards though I was struck by the idea that this is really a form of human body hacking, using an understanding of the way the body functions to get more from it and as a result led me to consider what other forms of body hacking there might be.

By controlling the gases that we are breathing we are taking greater control of what is being dissolved in the blood itself, most notably the amounts of oxygen and of nitrogen. With simple Nitrox mixes (ranging from normal air with about 22% oxygen through to 50% oxygen) you can strike a ballance between the depth you are going to and the length of time you are going to be under for. Longer dive times will require more worry about the amount of Nitrogen dissolved in the blood, so having a mix with a greater amount of oxygen in it can help to remove this as an issue.

Ultimately what this is is an example of how, having studied what the human body requires in order to operate additional equipment has been added to enhance the performance and ability to function in new environments.

This in turn led to me thinking about how exactly we can modify our bodies behaviour. I posit that there are three categories we can classify modifications in,

Additions: Building equipment that joins onto the human body in some way. This could be in the form of the breathing gear for diving, sub-dermal implants, pacemakers and at a very crude level piercings and tattoos could also be considered to come under this.

Physical Training: The most obvious item that falls under this category is exercise. I hesitated as to whether this might classify as a hack or not and indeed you may notice that through this I’ve used the word hack less and less as my assuredness that it applies to all of these things waned. However ultimately though I think that specific concentrated efforts of particular types could be called hacks. By training in particular ways you can condition different muscles to be more attuned to particular motions.

Mental Trickery: A surprisingly broad category this once you start to consider it. At a basic level, forms of relaxation and meditation could be lumped into this, as through a decided action we are altering our perceptions and behaviours. I think that sensory stimuli could be classified here as well though, meaning that, for example, Heston Blumenthal’s use of music to alter peoples’ perceptions of flavour could be considered as mental trickery.

Now I’m aware that a lot of forms of activity may fall under more than one of these. A diver for instance may use equipment to facilitate his breathing, physical training to ensure he is fit enough to operate in the environment and mentally he needs to stay as relaxed as possible. The nature of the task hasn’t changed, however through a combination of all these factors he has improved his ability to operate in the new environment.

It becomes an interesting mental exercise to consider what might be done in order to perform differently or better under different circumstances. For instance could a different sensory input effect our ability to endure or use air more efficiently. Would a taste or a smell effect our bodies performance.

It also becomes interesting to start considering on a smaller scale what experiments on could be performed on yourself. Personal hacking if you will.

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