Practical Nootropics; Political Brainhacking

So, this is a first! The following post is about nootropics, a transhumanist tool that I find very appealing. What’s new is that the post is sponsored by Modup.net. Modup is a vendor that sells modafinil online.

Native advertising has been on my radar for years, but I’ve never written a sponsored post before. Modup’s only request was that I link to the website, so I had complete creative freedom. I decided to explain why I think brainhacking is important. My perspective is an outgrowth of the cyberpunk paradigm that I chronicled for Ribbonfarm last year.

However! Before I get into all of that, the next section provides basic context for readers who aren’t familiar with nootropics or modafinil. Otherwise, scroll down to “In Favor of Manipulating the Wetware” and start there.

A Brief Introduction to Nootropics

A single modafinil tablet in a blister pack. Photo by Geoff Greer.
A single modafinil tablet in a blister pack. Photo by Geoff Greer.

Wikipedia describes nootropics as “drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.” Caffeine is by far the most widely used nootropic, although it’s doubtful that the average caffeine user thinks of it that way.

A more typical example of a “smart drug” is modafinil, the product that Modup sells. Fans of modafinil describe the effects that you’d expect from super-charged caffeine — boosted alertness, concentration, and general mental acuity. Modafinil’s official purpose is to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. As a cognitive enhancer, the drug is very popular, perhaps the best-known nootropic that isn’t a mainstream product.

Modafinil is supposed to be prescription-only in the United States, but it’s one of those illegal things that rarely prompt punishment, like driving five miles over the speed limit. Plenty of Americans purchase and use modafinil on a regular basis without any issues. Nevertheless, I am not a lawyer, so don’t interpret the previous two sentences as legal advice.

Whenever you’re buying nootropics online — even the legal ones — you should search for reviews and conduct due diligence. For example, the /r/modup subreddit has reviews from the past few months. Here’s a 2015 blog post including a Modup review, a more thorough 2016 review, and lastly a 2017 blog post. Feel free to Google for more.

And now, our feature presentation…

In Favor of Manipulating the Wetware

Some people hate the idea of using drugs to alter their mental state. It seems unnatural and aberrant, or they worry that they won’t be themselves anymore.

I’m not one of those people. I love being able to tailor how I feel — that’s what my daily antidepressants do, and I owe my life to those pills. Being able to tweak my mindset more easily, in more ways, would be wonderful.

When I’m irritable, the usual culprit is hunger, and eating fixes the problem. In an ideal world, that’s how I would manage every part of my cognitive life. Feeling scatterbrained despite a tight deadline? Pop some focus pills, that’ll do that trick!

I am not actually this cool. Photo by MeTaVoLuT1oN PsY-ph0toNiCs (yes, like the Spongebob meme).
Detail from a photo by MeTaVoLuT1oN PsY-ph0toNiCs.

The level of control that I want isn’t available in real life. Neither is the degree of instant gratification — at least not yet! In the meantime, while we wait for someone to invent an omnipotent neuroscience AI or whatever it is that keeps Elon Musk up at night, nootropics are the next best thing.

The usual approach is to devise a nootropics “stack” (combination of substances) that meshes well with your personal biochemistry. The goal is to augment your existing cognitive abilities and make it easier to reach the “flow” state of optimal productivity. In principle, it’s exactly like drinking a couple of beers in order to hit the Ballmer Peak — but hopefully minus the downsides of alcohol.

To me, the most alluring aspect of nootropics is having more power over how I experience and interact with the world. But I try not to fool myself by exaggerating what’s possible. No pill in the world will double my IQ, reprogram all my bad habits, and dispose of pesky emotional baggage.

So far I haven’t assembled a nootropics stack that works for me. I know that if I do, the best-case scenario looks like temporary periods of incremental improvement. I can imagine being a smidgen better at everything, just a little bit sharper and extra motivated. That would be a fantastic result, well worth pursuing! But I admit that it lacks Hollywood drama.

I should also note that simple lifestyle basics are the most reliable and effective self-improvement regimes. It’s wise to prioritize eating a balanced diet, sleeping as much as you need to, and exercising regularly. (For what it’s worth, the /r/Nootropics FAQ backs me up on that. But no, I am not great at practicing what I preach.)

Artwork by Rodolphe Bessey
Artwork by Rodolphe Bessey.

Although I try to maintain reasonable expectations, I still find the world of nootropics exhilarating. It feels like the future is extending a helping hand to the present. Accordingly, I love the gritty sci-fi glamour of “brainhacking,” an occasional synonym. “Nootropics” is anodyne, even clinical — the sound is corporate. It could easily be a brand name. Whereas “brainhacking” elevates the mundanity of drinking coffee in the morning or worrying about micronutrients.

On top of that, I appreciate the linguistic nod to the cypherpunks who unleashed everything. The nootropics ecosystem couldn’t function in the analog world.

Because of the internet, curious consumers can dig through endless information, ranging from hard research to rigorous blog posts to trip reports to hundreds of casual anecdotes. On the supply side, vendors are able to aggregate consumers from all over the globe, instead of having to rely on the limited market in a particular city or town.

Most importantly, the internet obviates the need to ask medical gatekeepers for permission. I may not be a full-on libertarian or a crypto-anarchist, but I have enough of a rebellious streak to resent a nanny state built to perpetuate regulatory capture.

Using nootropics is a potent expression of personal agency, both micro and macro. Brainhacking means exercising your rights to self-determination and free association.


Thank you to Modup.net for sponsoring this blog post! Please consider Modup if you’re looking to buy modafinil online. Paying with bitcoin gets you a hefty 33% discount. (That’s 13% more than the vendor I used recently!)

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Bow Before the Adaptive, Data-Hungry Systems

“All systems of communication and control — from the human mind to an command and control network — can be subtly degraded, disabled, or subverted by feeding them false inputs or exploiting weaknesses in how they process, evaluate, and act on information. […] We sit at the threshold of an new era characterized by the ubiquity of adaptive, data-hungry systems and a corresponding society characterized more and more by the offloading of its collective memory, cognition, and reasoning to computers. [… O]ur increasingly informatized identities, culture, society, media, and politics can be easily manipulated by actors that understand how the organization of information networks determines their influence on our beliefs and behaviors.” — Adam Elkus


“Strange dueling subcultures and their own narratives, folk beliefs, superstitious techno-animism, language-games — to the extent that any kind of ‘database culture’ can be called a narrative as opposed to simply just a collection of memetic primitives — have taken control of the means (perhaps now memes) of knowledge production.” — also Adam Elkus

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Futuristic Dystopian Tea Advertising

Dystopian Nuclear Tea Advertisement
Artwork by DeusXFlorida.

“Nuclear tea. Advertising for 2175.” The visual design of this ad for “NucT” is compelling. When you look closely, the underlying sci-fi concept jumps out.

A post-apocalypse marketer inquires, “Are you ready for long nuclear winter? This tea has been harvested on the wastelands of the ruined Moscow, in the swamps of burnt Dalhi, and in the caves of the former Washington DC by specially trained zombie.” The product is “High-calorie, nuclear tea with small amounts of chromium-6 and radioactive weapons-grade plutonium.” (All errors in the original text.) Yup, sounds like an A+ nutritional choice.

In the caption the artist explains that after “the Global Nuclear War […] it will be fast restoration of the most common institutions including businesses”. He’s pitching an alternate version of Mad Max combined with the steampunk 80 Days universe. His prediction is based on twentieth-century history — the artist notes that post-World War One, the economy accelerated “in terms of medicine, science and art.”

I just think that sci-fi advertising is cool. World-building = my favorite. (Not as an activity — I don’t have the creative chops. Yet.) I love stories that fill out all the peripheral details of an altiverse. That was part of what made the Harry Potter books awesome.

Dobby from Harry Potter: No Gods No Masters
$5 punk Dobby patch via Etsy.

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