Researchers throughout history have often taken liberties with their personal well-being for the sake of science — think Benjamin Franklin and his kite experiment or the work of Justin Schmidt, who developed a scale for the pain of insect stings by suffering the wrath of over 150 different species. But even these brave souls may have hesitated at conducting personal implant surgeries without anesthesia, a trend that is gaining traction among a small community calling themselves “grinders.”
Inspired by the philosophy of transhumanism, grinders believe that by intimately associating themselves with electronic hardware, they can begin to move beyond normal human capacities. The body modifications they develop aim to endow them with additional senses or interface with computers in ways that can’t be otherwise achieved. The practice is also known as “biohacking,” in a life sciences parallel to the practice of modifying computers for new purposes.
Tim Cannon, the biohacker depicted in the image above, put his philosophy into practice by implanting a sensor he and his colleagues at Grindhouse Wetware call “Circadia.” The device, approximately the area and thickness of a smartphone, is able to gather biological data and transmit that information via Bluetooth to an Android device (and from there, to the Internet). By monitoring pulse and temperature, for example, Cannon’s implant could catch a fever early and send a text message to his phone, warning him to seek treatment earlier than otherwise.
Another grinder, Lepht Anonym, has modified her fingertips with the goal of directly sensing the invisible magnetic fields around electronic devices. By implanting small discs of neodymium, a metal that emits an electric current in a magnetic field, next to her nerve endings, Anonym gained a new source of neural input that she could learn to interpret as the strength and shape of these fields.
While these new abilities are relatively inexpensive in terms of money — Anonym’s discs cost roughly $32, while Cannon’s chip cost around $500 — grinders pay dearly during the implant process. The only anesthetic available for Cannon’s home surgery was ice, and he prides himself on “raw dogging” the procedure. Without proper sterilization, Anonym has had several of her surgeries become infected, and she almost removed a finger on her first disc implant. The lack of medical approval for these implants leaves grinders little choice but to rely on their own determination and knowledge.
Yet to these self-experimenters, the pain is usually worth the reward of being on the (literal) cutting edge of the interaction between man and machine. In Anonym’s words, “Bodily health takes a big fuck-off second seat to curiosity. Though it hasn’t really changed my life, it’s just made me more curious.”