Moderator: So, our next speaker is a biohacker, a blogger, body mod artist, and a nurse. He's collaborated on projects ranging from [?] peptides that extend ERM sleep all the way to non-newtonian armor implants. He actually hosts the annual event Grindfest in Tehachapi, California. A little fun fact about him, he actually placed third in the Biohack Village oxytocin poker tournament, and he performed an implant on transhumanist presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan. Now here to present his talk on "Biohackers Die," ladies and gentlemen, Jeffrey Tibbetts.


Jeffrey Tibbetts: Okay, so. How’s it going? I’m a bio­hack­er. And I have done a few high-profile grinds, okay. So a num­ber of peo­ple in this room and I were on an MTV show, snort­ing a pep­tide called VIP that rat mod­els have shown to rad­i­cal­ly alter cir­ca­di­an rhythms. It didn’t do much to our sleep cycles, but we did find that it seri­ous­ly boost­ed visu­al mem­o­ry func­tion on two meth­ods of test­ing. We’re still crunch­ing the num­bers on that study but I think I had a lot more fun last Defcon where we all snort­ed the oxy­tocin. That’s the so-called trust or bond­ing hor­mone. And we did this up in a hotel room and then com­pet­ed in a pok­er tour­na­ment.

I’ve also done some crit­i­cal work with nerve growth fac­tors. And you know, we found that intro­duc­ing NGF at the point of inci­sion when implant­i­ng a mag­net actu­al­ly increas­es sen­si­tiv­i­ty and pro­vides a bet­ter result in terms abil­i­ty to per­ceive fields.

So essen­tial­ly, where groups like Grindhouse Wetware or Cyberise or Dangerous Things are focus­ing real­ly on cre­at­ing tech­nol­o­gy to place in the body, my focus tends to be on ways to alter a person’s phys­i­ol­o­gy or anato­my, which is basi­cal­ly the antithe­sis of my day job. As a reg­is­tered nurse in an ER, my objective’s bring­ing peo­ple back into nor­mal lim­its. I’m for­tu­nate that I still get to be involved with all the cool new devices being devel­oped because you always need some­one will­ing to cut you open and shove things inside.

So I’ve done hun­dreds of pro­ce­dures at this point, rang­ing in com­plex­i­ty from the quick poke of an RFID injec­tor like you see Zoltan get­ting here, to bilat­er­al armor implants run­ning the length of the recipient’s shins.

As far as I can tell every­thing I do is legal and falls under laws per­tain­ing to body mod­i­fi­ca­tion. I mean, I think it’s legal. Of course, say­ing something’s legal doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean it’s safe, which is the focus of what I’m going to talk about today.

I’ve been active in the grind­ing com­mu­ni­ty pret­ty much since its incep­tion, and it’s only late­ly that I’ve real­ly been will­ing to admit even to myself that someone’s gonna die, okay. And something’s going to go wrong and some­body will die.

So grinders are a com­mu­ni­ty com­mit­ted to rad­i­cal­ly alter­ing the body. And so some­times it’s treat­ments like tran­scra­nial mag­net­ic, or direct cur­rent stim­u­la­tion. It could be through the use of pre­vi­ous­ly untest­ed chem­i­cals like VIP. Often it takes the form of implant­ed devices. All these approach­es come with risks. What I’m going to focus on today is why despite all the risks being tak­en, a grinder hasn’t died yet.

If you didn’t know about Tim Cannon and Circadia pri­or to this Defcon, I’m sure you know now. People have had a lot to say about his project and not all of it was pos­i­tive. I’m going to read three com­ments that I found about Tim.

I guess if you want flesh eat­ing bac­te­ria, sep­sis and such, get one stuck into your body at a chop shop.
Jenn bioshockz the world on sto​ryleak​.com

The assump­tion under­ly­ing this type of comment’s that we’re all incom­pe­tent and with a total dis­re­gard for ster­ile tech­nique and safe­ty. Trust me this isn’t the case. I don’t know why, but media folk love to record argu­ments and fam­i­ly dra­ma. But they always stop record­ing dur­ing the hours spent clean­ing and auto­clav­ing.

You idiots need to look more into poten­tial side effects pri­or to doing these things.
Rlewein com­ment on Meet the grinders: The humans using tech to live for­ev­er

So on top of being incom­pe­tent, we’re also total­ly igno­rant. Despite the months and in some cas­es even years that we spend on projects, peo­ple assume we know noth­ing at all. Once again this is not the case.

This is my favorite:

When it comes to some­thing like cut­ting someone’s body open, skin open, and putting some for­eign object under the skin, then it should be done by pro­fes­sion­al peo­ple, not just peo­ple at home.
Von Cyborg, quot­ed in ​The Half Life of Body Hacking

I like this one because it acknowl­edges that yes, some­one out there has the skill to do this stuff but, it’s not us, right? I think the best way to address these con­cerns is by show­ing exact­ly how much knowl­edge and skill goes into even the most basic of pro­ce­dures.

So first off yes, there are grinders that are per­form­ing pro­ce­dures in their garages, okay. Let’s take a look at one.

It’s kin­da cut off, but still. As you can see in the slide, all of the walls are non-porous. They’re wipeable. There’s a HEPA-filtered air sup­ply. There’s over­head sur­gi­cal light­ing. There’s also a non-porous wipeable pro­ce­dure chair. Off to the left where you can’t see, there’s a scrub sink. There’s a patient mon­i­tor. There’s an elec­tro­sur­gi­cal unit over stuffed in the cor­ner. An IV pump. There’s a bio­haz­ard dis­pos­al bin. A sharps dis­pos­al bin. I’m still work­ing on putting in oxy­gen and an air sup­ply. Yes, this garage is not on par with an OR found in a hos­pi­tal, but it’s bet­ter than most pro­ce­dure rooms that you find in clin­ics, to be hon­est.

And the most impor­tant aspects of this entire room, though, is that it’s designed to be eas­i­ly cleaned. And clean­li­ness is usu­al­ly a critic’s first point of con­tention. Clean is not good enough, right? Contrary to pop­u­lar belief, oper­at­ing rooms are not ster­ile. The best you can hope for is dis­in­fect­ed. People mix up, all the time, ster­il­iza­tion and dis­in­fec­tion and anti­sep­sis.

So, anti­sep­tics are cleansers that reduce the num­ber of pathogens on the skin. Grinders use either a mix­ture of 70% alco­hol with a 4% chlorhex­i­dine glu­conate, or povidone-iodine 12% to dis­in­fect the inci­sion site. Either works. I pre­fer chlorhex­i­dine because it has a resid­ual action.

In terms of dis­in­fec­tants, they are chem­i­cals which kill the major­i­ty of infec­tious agents on a sur­face. We use a 1:10 dilu­tion of bleach for sur­faces, and qua­ter­nary ammo­nia for more del­i­cate items like equip­ment and tubes and cords and things.

In terms of ster­il­iza­tion, ster­il­iza­tion is the elim­i­na­tion of all life. You’ve got to ster­il­ize any­thing that touch­es the inci­sion site, like tools and gauze. This is my Ritter M9-022. It works by bring­ing tools 121 Celsius at a pres­sure of 15 PSI for 30 min­utes.

So, of course just hav­ing these tools and sup­plies doesn’t mean you’re using them right. And some­one could total­ly still claim that we’re incom­pe­tent based off of this. But if I took the time to real­ly explain how to scrub in and dis­in­fect the envi­ron­ment and the use of the ultra­son­ic baths and enzymes and pro­tec­tants pri­or to auto­clav­ing, we’d nev­er actu­al­ly make it to my point. So, we are using them cor­rect­ly.

So real­ly I mean, are we com­pe­tent? I know we’re com­pe­tent as the guys work­ing in the hos­pi­tal OR, because I know those guys and I was trained by those guys, okay. And are we igno­rant? Well, I guess the ques­tion I have is why aren’t oper­at­ing rooms ster­ile? There was a grinder project a few years back where some peo­ple made a cham­ber, and the recip­i­ent would place his hand in the box and the whole pro­ce­dure was per­formed by an artist reach­ing through this gloved aper­ture, right. They would fill the entire cham­ber with a vapor­ized dis­in­fec­tant imme­di­ate­ly before doing the pro­ce­dure. I couldn’t find a pic­ture of this.

But what I did find a pic­ture of… This is a hydro­gen per­ox­ide vapor sys­tem being made by a com­pa­ny called Bioquell, and it’s been tri­alled at John Hopkins. I’d say no, we’re not igno­rant. On the con­trary we’re right at the fore­front if not beyond what the med­ical field is already doing. I mean, this is being tri­alled at Johns Hopkins, we had a few years back some­one already try­ing the same type of idea.

Okay, any­ways. Our next con­sid­er­a­tion is anal­ge­sia. I can’t use some of the meth­ods because of where I live, but plen­ty of grinders can and do. The gold stan­dard is infil­tra­tion of lido­caine. Because a lot of pro­ce­dures we do are in dis­tal areas with poor cir­cu­la­tion we use 2% lido­caine with­out epi­neph­rine. Epinephrine is great in oth­er areas because it con­stricts blood flow and this keeps the lido­caine in the area longer and it actu­al­ly decreas­es bleed­ing. So like in fin­gers and ears, though, it can restrict blood flow enough to cause necro­sis.

So most grinders are using a tech­nique called a flex­or ten­don sheath nerve block. That’s where you take a 25 gauge nee­dle and you insert it at about 45 degrees just dis­tal to the pal­mar crease. This blocks pain through­out the entire fin­ger for as long as an hour and a half.

In places where we can’t use infil­tra­tion, peo­ple usu­al­ly opt for a top­i­cal lido­caine gel. A 5% gel applied for an hour and a half can pro­vide a degree of anal­ge­sia as well. I feel per­son­al­ly that this method takes too long and peo­ple still com­plain of pain. This is an issue in med­i­cine as well. Few peo­ple like get­ting stuck with an IV. There is a prod­uct called EMLA Cream which can be applied before­hand to numb the site. The prob­lem, though, is it takes so long to be effec­tive physi­cians sel­dom even both­er with it. Some kids some­times get it but that’s about it.

So we’ve been tri­al­ing a method of admin­is­tra­tion called ion­to­phere­sis. Iontopheresis uses 120 mil­liamps to active­ly push lido­caine through the skin. Using ion­to­phere­sis we’ve got­ten far bet­ter con­trol of pain in as lit­tle as thir­ty min­utes, you know. And this is some­thing I’ve nev­er heard of actu­al­ly being used in the med­ical field.

So once again you know, are we com­pe­tent? Yeah, we’re using the same methods—the same safe methods—that you’d find in a hos­pi­tal set­ting. And are we knowl­edge­able? Yeah. We’re actu­al­ly push­ing beyond. Were inno­vat­ing at this point, you know.

In terms of con­trol­ling bleed­ing, we con­trol bleed­ing with tourni­quets. Did you know first aid kits don’t even come with tourni­quets any­more? The improp­er use of a tourni­quet can lead to some real­ly seri­ous prob­lems. These prob­lems are usu­al­ly because of either too much pres­sure or leav­ing them on for too long. For a pro­ce­dure like a mag­net, though, we don’t have to wor­ry about pres­sure if we use a prod­uct intend­ed for fin­gers. Devices like T-RINGs. They apply less force than a tra­di­tion­al tourni­quet, and they let us work with­out blood to obstruct our view.

In terms of time, you don’t even get a change in your lab val­ues indi­cat­ing mus­cle dam­age has occurred until about the thirty-minute mark. And two hours is con­sid­ered the point at which last­ing dam­age starts to occur. Most pro­ce­dures we do take maybe ten min­utes, tops. And for more inva­sive pro­ce­dures we do use sur­gi­cal tourni­quet. This approach requires a lot more spe­cial­ized knowl­edge. We had to pay atten­tion to details like the prop­er limb occlu­sion pres­sure and we have to be real­ly care­ful about record­ing time. But I’m to skip over those details pret­ty much in the name of brevi­ty because… But I don’t want you to con­fuse this admis­sion as being due to incom­pe­tence or igno­rance.

So where are we? We have a dis­in­fect­ed pro­ce­dure area and ster­ile tools. We have a clean pro­ce­dure site and clean hands. We’re pain free. Bleeding’s con­trolled, so we must be ready to start cut­ting.

Where do we cut? The pri­or­i­ty of course is avoid­ing blood ves­sels and nerves. Then we wor­ry about try­ing to min­i­mize scar­ring. Skin has a grain, kin­da like how wood does. The col­la­gen fibers are nat­u­ral­ly ori­ent­ed in one direc­tion called Langer’s lines. You get these real­ly cool topo­log­i­cal maps show­ing the direc­tion of col­la­gen.

You also have to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the direc­tion of max­i­mum skin ten­sion, okay. This is a dif­fer­ent set of anatom­i­cal skin lines called Kraissl’s lines. Plastic sur­geons usu­al­ly place inci­sions that are par­al­lel to relaxed skin ten­sion lines. Those are known as Borges lines, unless there’s a near­by nat­ur­al wrin­kle that would hide your inci­sion instead. So basi­cal­ly, choos­ing the inci­sion site to max­i­mize aes­thet­ics is more dif­fi­cult than you would think.

The back of someone's hand, showing a large bulge where an implant has been placed. Along one side of the bulge at left is visible an older healed scar, with another newer one also visible along a different side.

So I switched out a Northstar implant for my friend Bird. She’s in the back right here. When we switched out the Northstar— Oh, by the way she real­ly digs scars any­ways, and she explic­it­ly gave me the okay to try a dif­fer­ent approach. Anyway, so I incized par­al­lel to Langer’s lines, hop­ing to min­i­mize the scar­ring on her hand. And I didn’t real­ly account for the skin ten­sion on the skin. So when it was heal­ing you know, when­ev­er she moved her hand around, it was pulling on the inci­sion site.

So basi­cal­ly, because I didn’t account for the ten­sion on the skin, it was con­stant­ly pulling and I was real­ly dis­ap­point­ed because the inci­sion end­ed up scar­ring worse. So if you can see right here, along this line this is the orig­i­nal inci­sion point right here. And right here’s the inci­sion that I made when I was switch­ing them out. I mean, the orig­i­nal one is about a year of heal­ing fur­ther along than this one, but still I think that it’s going to end up being a big­ger scar over­all. So it’s kin­da one of these things where we’re still play­ing with it and try­ing to fig­ure out the best approach­es. But it’s not some­thing that I would say we’re igno­rant about.

Once again, are we ignor­ing or incom­pe­tent in this area? I’d say it’s a wash. I’ve seen beau­ti­ful work done by both plas­tic sur­geons and body mod­i­fi­ca­tion artists. At the BDYHAX con­fer­ence, I got to hang out Russ Foxx. He’s like a god in the body mod com­mu­ni­ty. His work’s beau­ti­ful and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not at his lev­el of com­pe­ten­cy. I’ve also got to sit through a num­ber pro­ce­dures per­formed by one of the top plas­tic sur­geons in the LA area. There’s no way I can do what either of them do. That said, peo­ple don’t come to me to make them pret­ty. What peo­ple expect is the safe place­ment of a safe device, which is some­thing that grinders are com­pe­tent to pro­vide.

So, in terms inci­sions. How we make the inci­sion depends on what we’re doing. Objects in glass cap­sules like tri­tium fire­flies or RFIDs can be placed using an injec­tor. So, for oth­er implants we use a 15 or 11A scalpel blade on a num­ber 3 han­dle. A scalpel’s held with a pen­cil grip in the dom­i­nant hand, while the non-dominant hand pro­vides ten­sion on the skin. We make the inci­sion slight­ly larg­er than the object to be implant­ed. When you get below the der­mis, the con­nec­tive tis­sue tears eas­i­ly.

The artist choos­es between blunt or sharp dis­sec­tion. You can sep­a­rate con­nec­tive tis­sue with a probe, but I found blunt dis­sec­tion caus­es more trau­ma and increas­es heal­ing time, so usu­al­ly opt for sharp dis­sec­tion with a scalpel. Sharp dis­sec­tion comes with the risk of cut­ting through an impor­tant struc­ture. So if I’m work­ing in an area I’m less famil­iar with, I like to go with blunt.

The point of sep­a­rat­ing the tissue’s to cre­ate a pock­et for the implant to sit in. It’s best to cre­ate a pock­et that’s some­what larg­er than the device you want you want skin lax­i­ty. You want enough give in that area so that you can approx­i­mate the inci­sion with­out it being under ten­sion.

Okay, so bagel head. Are you guys famil­iar with what this is? Basically a year or two back there was a physi­cian who start­ed post­ing on the bio­hack forums. And sug­gest­ed we a try tech­nique that’s called flu­id dis­sec­tion. It’s like the bagel head thing right here. The idea’s you put flu­id under the area under pres­sure and it cre­ates a pock­et for you. So in this case that’s just nor­mal saline that was done with an IV nee­dle, and you fill up the area and you push with your thumb in the mid­dle. Pretty much the saline reab­sorbs with­in I don’t know, six to eight hours.

Anyways, so his idea was that we could do like how you do a TB test. And I’ve done this hun­dreds times as a nurse. When you’re doing a TB test you’re actu­al­ly doing an intra­der­mal injec­tion. You’re going to go into the skin, do a lit­tle injec­tion and it makes a bub­ble. And his idea was essen­tial­ly that we could make this big saline flu­id pock­et that way, and then just cut right into it, slip the mag­net in and no prob­lem, you know. I was some­what crit­i­cal of it. I record­ed a video where I tried out the flu­id dis­sec­tion method three dif­fer­ent times in three dif­fer­ent areas. And it didn’t work at all.

The weird thing, though, was when I post­ed what I found, okay. So I went up and I post­ed what I found. The guy just like, flipped his shit. Despite giv­ing him cred­it and only post­ing the video as a direct response to the thread he start­ed he accused me of pla­gia­riz­ing his work. He swore to nev­er help us again and quit the forums. Why would I pla­gia­rize a tech­nique that doesn’t work, you know? I seri­ous­ly won­der if it’d worked out if he would have still been upset. I think the real issue may have been an ego bruised by some­one with like one fifth of his cre­den­tials demon­strat­ing that he’s wrong.

So, clos­ing the inci­sion. We use a non-absorbable suture like polypropy­lene with a 38 cur­va­ture reverse cut­ting nee­dle. I taught a class dur­ing Grindfest a few years back on sutur­ing. And the three tech­niques we prac­ticed were sim­ple inter­rupt­ed, run­ning sutures, and hor­i­zon­tal mat­tress­es per­formed with an instru­ment tie. These types can used for prob­a­bly 90% of pro­ce­dures we’re doing, and we’re just not doing any­thing com­pli­cat­ed enough to require a larg­er reper­toire.

The technique’s then removed. We let a small amount of blood out, flush­ing out the wound. And then we apply pres­sure for a minute and the bleed­ing stops. The wound’s then dressed using Steri-Strips. Initial heal­ing takes around three weeks, dur­ing which the focus is on con­trol­ling inflam­ma­tion using ice and ibuprophen. Sutures are pulled some­time between day three and sev­en, after which Steri-Strips are kept on to pre­vent the site from reopen­ing. Collagen fibers rein­force the wound after a month, although wound mat­u­ra­tion and remod­el­ing can take more than a year. Again for the sake of brevi­ty I’m omit­ting a lot of infor­ma­tion that I would con­sid­er essen­tial.

As much focus as we’ve put into safe implan­ta­tion, the inser­tion of the device is actu­al­ly the sim­ple part. It’d be easy to stand here for anoth­er hour speak­ing exclu­sive­ly about bio­com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. The com­mu­ni­ty is con­stant­ly brain­storm­ing new types of coat­ings and ways to apply them. Medical devices like peace­mak­ers are usu­al­ly coat­ed in either a bio­com­pat­i­ble alloy like tita­ni­um nitride, or a poly­mer like pary­lene. The sim­plest bio­hacks don’t require even these.

When injectable RFIDs were first being mar­ket­ed I was con­cerned because they’re encap­su­lat­ed in glass. My con­cern, and the con­cern of prob­a­bly a lot of peo­ple, is that if the glass breaks in your body it seems like it could cause harm. So I was involved in the test­ing of this idea. And what we found is it takes so much force to break these things that if it hap­pens, the glass is the least of your wor­ries. I mean sure it’ll break if you dri­ve over your hand, right.

Another con­cern I’ve seen pop up over over and over is research indi­cat­ing that RFID implants can cause tumors. So there are jour­nal arti­cles about this. Rats and mice, par­tic­u­lar­ly the types used in labs, are par­tic­u­lar­ly prone to tumors. These stud­ies have shown that as many as 10% the rats devel­oped a harm­less tumor near the RFID cap­sule. They’re called post-injection sar­co­mas. What you don’t real­ize is these sar­co­mas occur in [?] mod­els regard­less of whether the RFID is there or not. It hap­pens in cats too, okay. It has some­thing to do with the animal’s inabil­i­ty to han­dle oxida­tive stress. Cats just some­times get tumors if you poke them with a nee­dle. Its like aceta­minophen. What’s poi­son to a cat isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a poi­son to us.

Dogs on the oth­er hand, they sel­dom ever get post-injection sar­co­mas. I only found one case study ever of a dog they found this type of tumor in. We’ve hun­dreds of thou­sands of RFIDs in dogs. These stud­ies, they just can’t be applied to human appli­ca­tions. I’ve nev­er heard or seen of an RFID being reject­ed, break­ing inside of some­one, or caus­ing a tumor to form.

Most projects, how­ev­er, they don’t fit in glass. So ear­ly work like the Circadia used sil­i­cone. It’s a mate­r­i­al that’s been safe­ly used by the body mod com­mu­ni­ty for years. It has its dis­ad­van­tages though, and we’ve almost entire­ly replaced it with tita­ni­um nitride and pary­lene, the same coat­ings as bio­med­ical devices.

I sub­scribe to a jour­nal that dis­cuss­es bio­coat­ings, and I came across an arti­cle talk­ing about a method devel­oped which could apply a lay­er of dia­mond. When I con­tact­ed the guy respon­si­ble for the research, he helped me pro­duce a batch of neodymi­um iron boron mag­nets coat­ed in dia­mond. Out of the ten I’ve implant­ed only two have had prob­lems. We haven’t yet deter­mined if these prob­lems were relat­ed to a defect in man­u­fac­tur­ing, a prob­lem with dia­mond coat­ings, or sim­ply because of events relat­ed to heal­ing. But this is anoth­er exam­ple of the bio­hack­ing com­mu­ni­ty not only match­ing the dili­gence required in med­ical devices but striv­ing to exceed them.

There are many con­sid­er­a­tions that go into mak­ing implants I’m not even qual­i­fied to address. I know there’s a lot of work regard­ing appro­pri­ate bat­ter­ies. It’s obvi­ous some­thing equiv­a­lent to a Samsung burst­ing into flames under the skin could be lethal. But there are more sub­tle issues like out­gassing.

Bottom line is we don’t expect our implants to fail but we have to engi­neer them so that if they do they do so harm­less­ly. And we have to per­form tests to deter­mine if we suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing them safe. For devices to be approved by the FDA you need ISO 109903[sic] cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. This requires cyto­tox­i­c­i­ty test­ing like direct con­tact tests or agar dif­fu­sion tests. Sensitization assays are used to deter­mine whether the material’s going to cause hyper­sen­si­tiv­i­ty or an aller­gic reac­tion.

Basically with these tests, we have no oblig­a­tion to do these tests. We’re not in any way oblig­at­ed by the FDA or any­one to essen­tial­ly be per­form­ing these tests and we still are. I mean, if you look at what Grindhouse has done, they’ve done these cyto­tox­i­c­i­ty test. If you look at some of the stuff we’ve done with the dif­fer­ent coat­ings and [inaudi­ble] stuff, I mean we’re doing the major­i­ty of tests with I think— What we’re miss­ing, pret­ty much nobody does multi-generational tests to see if you know, four gen­er­a­tions down the road there’s going to be prob­lems. But I mean with the major­i­ty of mate­ri­als we’re work­ing with it’s already been done, with the exact same mate­ri­als. And yet we’re still repeat­ing these tests just because in the com­mu­ni­ty were just so… We put so much empha­sis on try­ing to cre­ate a safe product—you do this the right way, okay.

So despite how sim­ple some­thing like a mag­net implant seems to be, it requires a lot of work and a lot of research. This is work grinders are doing and skills we’re learn­ing. Are we com­pe­tent? Absolutely. There may be a safer and bet­ter way to do these things but if there is I’m will­ing to bet grinders will be amongst the first to put them into prac­tice.

Are we igno­rant? No. We study and prac­tice our craft with­out being blind­ed by ego.

Should we wait for those who con­sid­er them­selves to be pro­fes­sion­als to give us their bless­ing? Look, no surgeon’s going to be will­ing to do the things we’re doing. Medicine returns the body to the state we con­sid­er nor­mal. It’s not the pur­suit of becom­ing more than human.

The body mod­i­fi­ca­tion com­mu­ni­ty is sim­i­lar­ly unsuit­able. Biohacking’s root­ed in coop­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion. There are great guys like Hayworth and Russ Foxx but body mod­i­fi­ca­tion in gen­er­al is poi­soned by an unwill­ing­ness to col­lab­o­rate, okay. This is fine when we’re talk­ing about nip­ple pierc­ings but grinders are already work­ing on designs for brain-computer inter­fac­ing, you know. I want the skills to place a multi-electrode array and expand on the type of work Kevin Warwick did fif­teen years ago. I don’t know any physi­cians will­ing, or body mod­i­fi­ca­tion artists capa­ble, of doing this. There are no mas­ters, there are no pro­fes­sion­als. If we’re not skilled enough the only option is to become bet­ter at what we do.

So why is it I’m con­vinced someone’s going to die? In 2011 there was a BMJ case report titled Body pierc­ing with fatal con­se­quences. A man in his fifties died from a mesen­teric infarct. What that is is basi­cal­ly he had a bel­ly but­ton pierc­ing and it migrat­ed inward, cut off blood flow. I’ve seen about three of these in my career. What hap­pens is they have some kind of GI upset, they open them up for explorato­ry, and their entire gut is already just grey and dead and there’s noth­ing to do. You sew them back up and you tell them, Say good­bye to your fam­i­ly.” Within a day they’re vom­it­ing feces and then they die. It’s ter­ri­ble, okay.

And obvi­ous­ly this is not an excep­tion, you know. There are case after case of peo­ple dying from all kinds of things with pierc­ings— But it’s not just pierc­ings. That’s not the only thing that scares me. I mean, I’m con­vinced some­one is going to die because there are between two and four deaths a year on aver­age in the US from peo­ple shak­ing vend­ing machines. People take every pre­cau­tion or are about metic­u­lous after­care— I mean, it’s still a risk, man. Someday, it’s a num­bers game and somebody’s going to die.

The prob­lem with this is that there’s going to be that back­lash from the first inevitable death, right. So far the media’s been kind to us. Everything we do. I mean like, peo­ple have been doing pierc­ings for…into antiq­ui­ty. And yet we put a stu­pid mag­net in and it’s like, They’re cyborgs, man! They’re inno­vat­ing!” No no no, we’re not real­ly doing that amaz­ing stuff. But you know, the way they’re pitch­ing is we’re doing this amaz­ing—, or we’re doing some­thing dif­fer­ent than every­one else.

The prob­lem with that is when some­body dies, that’s just going to blow up in our face. I mean, the way it’s going to work is that same sen­sa­tion­al­ism that blew it up as a hundred-fold of us doing these things, it’s also going to be you know, Oh my god, these dan­ger­ous peo­ple doing these dan­ger­ous things.”

And we know what they’re going to say about it. What’s going to be is they’re going to say we’re igno­rant, and we should’ve looked into the risks of what we’re doing. They’re going to say we’ll all get sep­sis and flesh-eating bac­te­ria. They’re going to assume we’re incom­pe­tent and they’ll say pro­ce­dures like this should be left to some­one else. Someone who has the knowl­edge and com­pe­ten­cy to do it right.

I mean, come on guys. It goes like this. Look, we dri­ve cars around, right? And we think it’s okay even though look at the num­ber of deaths that occur from cars. No one’s say­ing we’re going to stop dri­ving because it’s too dan­ger­ous, right. Beyond that, even beyond neces­si­ty, there’s…you know, peo­ple smoke. He smokes cig­a­rettes, it’s killing this many peo­ple, and yet it’s accept­able in soci­ety. We smoke cig­a­rettes.

But what we’re doing, it’s also risky. But you know what? It’s a risk we’re tak­ing because we believe in it. We’re try to cre­ate a future, you know. We’re doing some­thing that’s mean­ing­ful. And so I don’t have any­thing to say about real­ly the back­lash when the first grinder dies. We’re screwed. But, I’ll tell you what I do know. I do know that that per­son that first dies, they died doing some­thing they believe in. They died doing some­thing that they researched and knew the risks, and they did it any­ways. And they died in a way that they felt was mean­ing­ful.

Audience mem­ber: Damn straight.

Tibbetts: Yeah. So that’s all I got­ta say. Thank you.

Further Reference

The DEF CON Biohacking Village site


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