The Theoretical Lineage of Biohacking

Biohacking & Chaos Theory

How does biohacking relate to chaos theory?

Okay, newsflash: I’m a nerd.

I mean, is it fun for other people to think about the theoretical lineage of biohacking?

I have no idea~.

But it’s kind of thing I’ll try to talk to you about if we ever find ourselves at a party together.

Right before the awkward silence. That would indicate that we should probably have been talking about boats. Or cats.

And that maybe I should just go home and write a really nerdy blog post.

Like this one:

Theoretical Lineage

‘Theoretical lineage’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘history of thought’.

It’s the kind of thing that gets me really excited.

Here, let me show you:

Theoretical Lineage of Biohacking

Still with me?

Great! Let’s start at the bottom. With the worldviews.

The Worldviews

Plato & Aristotle by Raphael

Plato & Aristotle by Raphael

Way back in Ancient Greece there was a revolution in thought.

People like Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle got enamored with mathematics and logic.

They created rationalism, which was radically different from the ancient wisdom traditions that had come before.

Rationalism really caught on.

It thrived in Europe, and sparked what is known as the Age of Enlightenment and the birth of science as we know it.

Rationalism is the foundation of the Eurowestern worldview.

Worldviews are good. Necessary. But one thing that happens is that we start to confuse them with reality.

That’s what happened to the Europeans. We started to see the universe as inherently rational. We began to perceive a clockwork universe, one that could be taken apart and put back together in a logical manner.

the clockwork Universe

In fact, a tenant of the Eurowestern tradition has been to interpret the rationalist worldview as truth. I addressed this in an earlier post about paradigms.

Rationalism led to mathematics and science, which evolved. And as they evolved, over millennia, funny things happened.

During the 20th century, they began to swing over.

From mathematics came chaos theory (which brought us fractals) and then complexity theory. From biology came ecology and then systems theory.

Systems theory and complexity theory are so similar that people sometimes lump them together, but I think it is worth knowing that they have different theoretical lineages.

However, I often combine them by referring to a complex systems worldview.

And applying a complex systems worldview to large-scale social problems has been the primary focus of my career. It’s kind of my deal.

But let’s leave that for now and jump back down to the worldview section of my super-fun diagram.

Here’s a simple version of that diagram, so you don’t have to scroll up:

Theoretical Lineage of Biohacking-simple


Epistemology is just a fancy word for ‘theory of knowledge’ and I think it’s silly to have such an inscrutable word for that, especially as there are really only 2 epistemologies, and they aren’t as complicated as they seem.

They are:

  1. Positivist;
  2. Constructivist.

And those are just fancy words that say that we either believe there is an objective truth or that there isn’t. And if there isn’t, then reality (such as it is) is constructed. By us.

In other words, positivists believe can we uncover truth through logic. Whereas constructivists believe or is there no such thing as ‘truth’, instead, we co-create meaning as we engage with the world.

So: Rationalism is positivist.

And: A complex systems worldview is constructivist.

Theoretical Lineage of Biohacking-radical breakI’ve depicted the positivist/constructivist divide as another ‘radical break’ in my diagram, similar to the rupture that occurred when rationalism superseded ancient wisdom traditions in Eurowestern thought. The difference is, the epistemological rift happened recently, in the 20th century, at the same time that mathematics and science were giving birth to a complex systems worldview.

So, in effect, we come to complex systems both by rejecting rationalism and by following it to it’s logical conclusion.

Talk about triangulation~!

Complex Systems Worldview

The complex systems worldview has enabled us to perceive the universe and our role in it differently.

And as a result we have come up with (and are continuing to come up with) new approaches to creating change.

Examples include Collective Impact, Permaculture, Functional Medicine, and Developmental Evaluation.

And biohacking.

And interestingly, a complex systems worldview has also, in some ways, brought us back to some of the teachings from our Ancient Wisdom Traditions. Because our ancestors have a lot to teach us about healing and human peak experience~.

Through seeing the world in terms of complex systems, we come to recognize that applying principles (rather than rules) to complex problems allows us to generate unique and adaptive solutions.

Biohacking Principles & Practices

A complex systems worldview sees every system as unique and adaptive, while sharing characteristics with other complex adaptive systems. So our practice involves developing approaches that leverage desired change while working co-creatively with systems as they evolve.

In keeping with this thinking, one principle of biohacking (and functional medicine) is acknowledging our bio-individuality & developing techniques that will enable us to to leverage it to hack our health and find well-being.

So, in embracing complex systems, do we toss positivist science and technology?


The thrilling thing about biohacking is it’s potential to incorporate the best from all traditions, as well as making use of quantum technology as it becomes available.

Biohackers can use:

  • Classic positivist science and mathematics, as in the quantified self movement;
  • Constructivist approaches, such as those developed for qualitative research;
  • Complex systems approaches borrowed from allied disciplines like permaculture, or hybridized to create new methods like ‘developmental biohacking‘ to address particularly challenging health issues;
  • Teachings from the Ancient Wisdom Traditions (yoga, meditation or an ancestral diet anyone?); and
  • With the advent of quantum computers, new biohacking tools, like biochemical quantum detectors. Physicist Neil Turok predicts that quantum technology will not only be able to monitor, but fix or possibly regenerate our bodies.

So there it is.

The conversation we didn’t have at a party together. Of course it would have been more interesting if we had both participated.

We could have constructed this reality together~.


7 thoughts on “The Theoretical Lineage of Biohacking

  1. I totally get where you are coming from. I followed a similar progression of thought.
    -conventional wisdom on health is seriously flawed.
    -ancestral health theories make way more sense.
    -most health issues can be solved by experimenting with an ancestral lifestyle.
    -anything more complicated requires a functional medicine approach.
    -after completing a functional medicine program and bio hacking my way through a few issues, I’m pretty much feeling optimal.
    -I’m currently exploring the strange phenomena of how come people are so easily manipulated by market forces and are willing to accept and pay dearly for such a lousy system.
    -Philosophy, anthropology and basic human behavior rounds the whole exercise out.

  2. Great post! I study the social dynamics of agroforestry/perennial polyculture production systems using action research. I am really curious to learn more about your sociological work. Do you have any you could send along?

    • Hi Katie, your research sounds fascinating. My ‘sociological work'(that’s a nice way to put it) focuses on working with people and communities to create desired change in social systems. So I don’t have too much I can share. It’s all about relationships~. I realize that I refer to ‘social systems’ out of habit, but based what we now understand about the ecological determinants of health I am in the process of shifting my thinking away from a limited focus on the social domain. Currently I am coordinating a multi-sector Collective Impact initiative with the goal of improving the health and well-being of children and youth in the capital region of British Columbia.

  3. Petra, if you ever have this cocktail party, please invite me. I’ll bring AIP food. It is so rare for me to run into people who sit around and think about this stuff. I am a Neuro-developmental therapist trying to convince western doctors that the nervous system is a system and not an isolated system. Sometimes it leads the immune system and sometimes it follows, depending on an individuals epigenetic disposition. Even when they see the results of this single thought, it can send them scurrying back under their bushes. To imagine a room full of people casually chatting about stuff like this makes my heart light. Maybe some day we will run into one another on BC Ferries.

  4. Pingback: Create your own Wellness Wheel | petra8paleo

  5. Pingback: Biohacking Tip #5: Create Your Theory of Change | petra8paleo

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