Let me preface this post by saying that I am a ridiculous polymath. For new readers to my blog, in most of the other posts you will find various and sundry tales of my life as an actor. It’s the main “thing” I do, and it’s something I’m pretty damn passionate about. There may even be a geek-out post about that down the road… I have a LOT of interests, though. I’m also pretty big into urban exploration, photography, books, painting, sports, cooking, sewing, programming, traveling, writing, even project management… My biggest problem is that I sadly need a few hours of sleep a night in order to Get Shit Done, and there’s no way to do all of these AND pursue an acting career (or any career, really) all at once.
In subsequent posts, I’ll get to some of those other lovely shiny things, I promise. But for today, I want to talk about one of my favourite hobbies – hacking.
Now, when I say that I am a hacker, it doesn’t mean that I am going to sneak into your email, delete your precious website and replace it with pr0n, steal money from your bank account, or any of those tropes that uneducated folks would want you to believe. Could I do any of the above? In theory, yes… But I lack the inclination to try, not to mention that my strongest hacking skills aren’t necessarily computer-related.
Most hackers aren’t sociopaths who live in their parents’ basements and try to embezzle money or Anonymous the frack out of various websites. Most of us are actually pretty shiny people who want to figure out better and new ways of doing things that will improve ours and others’ lives. For me, my main passion is actually neurohacking. Yep, making little adjustments here and there – in my own brain – to improve my own life.
And I am my own guinea pig. Baa. Moo. (Or whatever noise they actually make.) My interest in neurohacking started a couple of years ago, though in all honesty I’ve only been pursuing it seriously since earlier this year. As a creative person (who, may I add, came from an unstable childhood and an abusive relationship or two) my brain is what I would consider differently-functioning. In all truth, I would be highly surprised to learn that I did not have what is known as the criminal brain (for more on that, read this post), not to mention the potential of one of several mood disorders. However, I have no intention of letting a doctor affix a label to me and hand me a pile of pills – among other forays into neurohacking what I’ve done is learn to balance my own mental state to keep from falling into deep depressions/becoming a monster/any number of ways I could fall off the track and fall away from my career and my friends.
A lot of it is little things. An ice pack on the back of my neck can start regrounding me after a panic attack. Focusing on my breath – just breathing in and out – can calm me and focus my thoughts more clearly. Even things like smoking: surprisingly, a cigarette will both calm you AND give you a surplus of energy to make it through an extra hour or two.
And let’s talk things like falling in love. Nothing throws your brain out of whack more than the chemistry that gets shifted when you develop feelings and attachments toward a new person. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is to disentangle my own actual feelings from the “OMG this person is shiny and I want to spend all my time with them” to “what the frack do I actually feel and want to do?” Trust me, knowing the answer to the latter makes all the difference in the world. It also lets me ride those highs of being in love without losing my head – something I’ve had a lot of difficulty doing in the past. Love is seriously a chemical imbalance, but to be honest it’s one of my favourite ones.
All in all, data-mining my own body is pretty ridiculously exciting. At least for me. Some past fun experiments I’ve run on myself involve things like determining what alcohols make me feel better or worse, and how does my overall mood affect the experiences I have when I try to alter my brain state with better living through chemistry. (Which, by the way, I am admittedly a pretty big fan of.)
I’ve tried an array of drugs just to see what effects they have on me. Pot tends to make me a more creative writer. Cocaine does absolutely nothing for me, for example – which intrigues me as to why so many people get “hooked” on it. With my day to day life, though, I tend to stay pretty clean… I don’t usually like the way I feel when I’m drunk or high, and for the most part I find it impedes my ability to function as “me” (same as with any mood stabilizers a doctor might want you to take, for example.)
An idiot ex of mine told me that I must have a substance abuse problem, which I find utterly laughable. With any chemical or alcohol I’ve had, it’s never been a substance I needed – it was something that I chose to try at the time for whatever reason. Each time, I could have just as easily walked away, and many more times I have. The bottom line is that from each experience, I gather data. I know now to choose not to drink when I’m already upset about something, for example, because the alcohol is going to take my brain in a direction I don’t want to go. However, if I’m tired as hell on a film set, I’ll sneak off and have a quick smoke or a bite of chocolate because I know that either of those will perk me right up.
But neurohacking is about much more than just chemical alteration… part of the reason I got into my dice living experiments were to play with happiness. What it is, where it comes from, how to quantify it… I’m just over half way through my 30 days, and having a blast. (If you want to read more about my dice living, start here). To be honest I could go on for days and weeks about sleep experiments, attempts at lucid dreaming, and many of the other things I’ve done in the name of science… neurohacking is about breaking down how the brain works in order to get the results you want from it.
What I hope to eventually get from my forays into neurohacking is to improve the quality of my own life – so that it improves my relations with others as well as the value I get out of my own various experiences. And there are other ‘general’ hacking interests I have too (like, say, lock-picking)… hacking really is an endless field because there will always be new problems to solve.
For those of you who are genuinely interested in the hacking community I would encourage you to check out hacker/maker spaces in your area, conventions like Notacon, or sites like Hack the Planet, Life Hacker, and of course a favourite piece of mine: the Mentor’s manifesto.