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Functional Body Modifications - things that make you go Hmmmm...


Being off of work for the last few days has allowed me to catch up a bit on my reading - and some of the nether reaches of the interwebs that I don't frequently visist. I recently saw a very interesting lecture by Quinn Norton on functional body modification. This is different from ornimental body modification, things like tattoos, piercings and the more radical skin implants. Functional body modification is exactly what it sounds like - alturing your body via an artifical or outside object, to achieve a specific purpose.

Functional body modification has been around for a long time and is interesting because society is split on its acceptance. Some modifications are widely accepted and have been in use for decades. Use of an IUD, for example, to prevent pregnancy is a functional body modification widely accepted. So are breast implants. Artificial hips, knees and other prostetics are also "OK"  I think society accepts things that either prevent an unwanted condition, or correct a defficiency in ones self. More recently as technology has improved, implanted pacemakers prevent death, subdermal insulin pumps provide long term unattended diabetic control and chchlear implants are being used to correct hearing.

Where it gets wierd is to use the same technology to improve or enhance a human norm. Is it ok to use the same cochlier implant to provide a normal hearing person with always available blue tooth to connect to their phone or listen to music? The technology exists today to touch your earlobe and connect the call, without looking like a Borg with a blue flashing light connected to your ear. Norton argues that vaccines are also a form of functional body modification, introducing a forign substance into the body to prevent disease. Again widely accepted and without them we would still have small pox, plaque, etc.

So its ok to utilize a vaccine to prevent disease, but not ok to ustilize a steriod to enhance a baseball players ability? Did you know that most professional outfielders undergo radial keratotomy (Lasix) to improve their vision so they can see pop fly's? In many cases modifying their vision to better than 20/20. Thats legal under the 'rules' and ok. Some 'enhancements' are acceptable - vision, boobs - so its not just corrective to the norm....

Norton had a rare earth magnet implanted into the end of her finger. It was encapsulated so that it could spin freely based on magnetic fields around her. It in essence gave her a sixth sense, allowing her to feel strong electrical currents, magnetic fields and even changes in barometric pressure. Unfortunately the encapsulation eventually broke down and her body then began to absorb the magnet elements. - Still an interesting enhancement but probably not widely 'acceptable'.

Norton poses some very interesting arguments in her lecture. For example when a body is in extrememe physical pain, like if you get your arm broken, it release endorphins that allow the brain to say 'its going to be ok'. If a person is in extreme mental pain, those same endorphins are not released. Society says it is perfectly ok to go work out really hard - release the endorphins and you will feel better - or take an antidepressant that achieves the same function - but is is not ok to cut yourself on your wrists - a function that also achieves the same goal.

100 years ago, breast enhancement, IUD's and Lasix were not around and now all three are not only commonplace, they are widely utilized as normal and acceptable procedures. As technology improves, I can only imagine what the next 100 years will bring.

Norton's lecture is on YouTube here.



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