Transcending the Human, DIY Style

Anonym

John Borland
Wired

BERLIN — Lepht Anonym wants everyone to know the door to transcending normal human capabilities is no farther away than your own kitchen. It’s just going to hurt like a sonofabitch.

Anonym is a biohacker, a woman who has spent the last several years learning how to extend her own senses by putting tiny magnets and other electronic devices under her own skin, allowing her to feel electromagnetic fields, or — if her latest project works — even magnetic north.

Since doctors won’t help her, she does it in her own apartment, sterilizing her equipment (needles, scalpels, vegetable peelers) with vodka. Good anesthetic is largely impossible to buy, so she screams a little, and sometimes passes out. But it’s worth it, for what’s on the other side.

“Bodily health takes a big fuck-off second seat to curiosity,” she says. “Though it hasn’t really changed my life, it’s just made me more curious.”

This is DIY transhumanism, the fringe of a movement that itself lies well outside the mainstream of philosophy, ethics, technology and science.

For decades, transhumanists have argued that science and technology are approaching (or have approached) the point at which humans can take evolution into their own hands. They can transcend limitations of sensation or movement or even lifespan that are purely the accident of evolution. Some thinkers focus strictly on the “post-human” physical body, while others write of evolved social systems, as well.

Anonym’s vision of the transhuman is rather different. Less visionary, possibly, but more realistic. What she does is “grinding,” with homemade cybernetics and an intimate familiarity with medical mistakes, driven by a consuming curiosity rather than a philosophical creed.

She does her own surgery, with a scalpel and a spotter to catch her if she passes out, and an anatomy book to give her some confidence she isn’t going to slice through a vein or the very nerves she’s trying to enhance.



“The existing transhumanist movement is lame. It’s nano everything. It’s just ideas,” she says. “Anyone can do this. This is kitchen stuff.”

Visiting Berlin to speak at this week’s Chaos Computer Club Congress, Anonym proves to be witty and articulate, a slender woman with spiky black hair and dark makeup around her eyes. She has a way of moving as she talks that suggests thought is a kind of physical thing for her too, like the electromagnetic fields she can sense with her modified fingertips.

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