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Neurohacking is the colloquial term for (usually personal or 'DIY') neuroengineering. It is a form of biohacking (qv) focusing on the brain and CNS. Strictly speaking it is any method of manipulating or interfering with the structure and/or function of neurons for improvement or repair.
The main goal of neurohacking is optimal mental health. Other goals include damage repair, simulated reality, prevention of disease and augmentation of abilities or of intelligence overall. It utilises information and technology mainly from the fields of epigenetics, bio/neurofeedback, psychopharmacology, biological psychology and functional analysis, but many practitioners also employ physical exercise, nutritional guidelines, vitamins & supplements, meditation and/or self-hypnosis. Some avoid all neuroactive substances including caffeine, alcohol, food additives and fast-release sugars. Current research focus on the nature and development of intelligence and how to increase or improve it. The works of Dr. Herman Epstein, Joseph LeDoux, Alex Ramonsky, Frederick Starr and David Barker are influential. The ethical basis of Neurohacking for health is that it should be practiced strictly with informed consent.
There are numerous examples of the use of neural implants for therapy, however the only experiments involving hacking into the nervous system for enhancement appear to be those conducted by Kevin Warwick. In a series of experiments at the University of Reading, Warwick became the first human recipient of a BrainGate electrode array implant on 14 March 2002, into the median nerve of his left arm. With this in place he was able to control a robot arm to copy his own hand movements. Warwick's nervous system was also connected with the internet in Columbia University, New York to enable him to control the robot arm in the University of Reading, also receiving feedback from sensors in the finger tips. A simpler array was implanted into the arm of Warwick's wife. With this in place they were able to achieve the first direct electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.
The term neurohacking is also used for a method of attempting to retrieve information from the brain (such as passwords, locations, etc..) without consent; presently no technology exists for such a tactic. The concept has been used much in science fiction (e.g. the film "The Matrix"). In data retrieval, some sort of brain–computer interface (BCI) is typically used, where the brains neuron synapses are somehow captured or recorded to be processed for information. Promoters of this concept generally refer to the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or MEG (magnetoencephalography) to support the plausibility of this concept. Although some sort of neuroimaging could someday be used, the accuracy of any present day method is not nearly close enough. For instance, it is assumed that neurohacking requires detection of the state of individual neurons (approximately 1 micrometer diameter) while the resolution of the MEG is several thousand neurons and other imaging systems may be even larger. It is estimated that usable neurohacking of this type is still many decades away.
Caffeine, alcohol, over the counter medicine, and other drugs are all forms of neurohacking. Every one of these substances alters or "tricks" the brain into desirable conditions. When ingesting caffeine, the brain is fooled into thinking the body has energy and keeps the consumer awake. The brain's neurons naturally produce adenosine as a byproduct which is monitored by the nervous system. Once the level of adenosine is at a certain point, the body will feel tired. Caffeine acts as fake adenosine and binds to the body's receptors. However, instead of disappearing, it blocks the adenosine receptors so the brain's stimulants, dopamine and glutamate, can work more freely. Since neurohacking is the interference with the structure and function of neurons, caffeine consumption is in fact a neurohack. Similarly, other substances that affect the brain and functions of neurons are also neurohacks. Alcohol is an example for a form of neurohacking which affects multiple neurotransmitters instead of just one. This is because alcohol is a fat soluble molecule. Since lipids are a major component of cell membranes, alcohol is able to enter the membranes of neurons and change their properties. Specifically, alcohol inhibits the glutamate receptor function, enhances GABA receptor function, as well as raises dopamine and endorphin levels. This causes all sorts of reactions, including liveliness and excitement. Alcohol also causes one to lose their anxieties, because of the effect of alcohol on GABA receptors. After alcohol affects the system, it causes the body to go through what is called neurotransmitter rebound. This is because when alcohol takes effect, it overuses the GABA system, so when it wears off, the GABA system makes the body feel restless, resulting in its severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Warwick, K, Gasson, M, Hutt, B, Goodhew, I, Kyberd, P, Andrews, B, Teddy, P and Shad, A:“The Application of Implant Technology for Cybernetic Systems”, Archives of Neurology, 60(10), pp1369-1373, 2003
- Warwick, K.; Gasson, M.; Hutt, B.; Goodhew, I.; Kyberd, P.; Schulzrinne, H.; Wu, X. (2004). "Thought Communication and Control: A First Step using Radiotelegraphy". IEE Proceedings on Communications. 151 (3): 185. doi:10.1049/ip-com:20040409.