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From know thyself to track thyself

“Everything you feel is physiologically expressed in the proteome and metabolome.” —Dr. Heather Heine, 2013

Is the self-quantifying technology subtly creating an “Elysium”-like milieu—as depicted in the 2013 American science fiction action-thriller film?

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Self-quantifying means self-tracking of our own behaviors, physiology, genome, down into molecular activities questing for signs, of our present or future health conditions. These self-tracking devices are becoming inexpensive and ubiquitous. Is this evolving into a new do-it-yourself  medical trend?

Salient medical and research sensors such as the electroencephalograph, electromyograph, electrocardiograph  and electrodermal response or galvanic skin response now miniaturized and cost less that they can be used to monitor everyday activities. Combining apps makes them extremely user-friendly.

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These gadgets mainly “detect” physiologic activities of our autonomic nervous system; “record” then convert into “‘data” called collectively as “biofeedback” in the mid-1970s, now “neurofeedback.” Norbert Wiener pioneered researches in this field.

As a training system, a person becomes aware of his/her physiological responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, or temperature and attempts consciously to transform these responses to modify behavior or for diagnosis. Neurofeedback versions today are more stylish with detailed delicate functions.

Current sophisticated scanning instruments such as the fMRI, plus extremely specialized devices measuring jargonistic terms like proteome and metabolome now interplay in the self-quantifying sphere. Bio-industry catalogues proffering their newest laboratory apparatuses with convenient price tags attest to this fact.

Neo-dictum

Applying computer software, the collected data or “feedback” are now retrievable via Bluetooth and other wireless devices for interpretation, manipulation, or diagnosis. Many have become so sophisticated and versatile. Many are now available on the Internet.

One company can determine levels of a variety of hormones, vitamins and other variables, including cholesterol, testosterone, Vitamin B12 and blood glucose. The process is simple: Customer receives a kit, puts a drop of blood on a piece of paper and sends it in for analysis—one receives 24 kits so that he/she can “track” his/her levels over time (all for less than $1,000).

Affirming the neo-dictum, “Everything you feel is physiologically expressed in the proteome and metabolome,” according to Heather Heine, a medical doctor, researcher and founder of Talking20 in 2012.  Every substance seems measurable by instruments, techniques, reagents and software.

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Microbiome

Today, we not only understand why and how organs functions, but how and why molecules make these possible. All these recorded data—derived from self-quantifying or medical records—will become standards inferring what is going on within our total biological systems as a being.

The “StarTrek” sci-fi diagnostic gadget—with right algorithms—will truly come to age. These software will present us a full understanding of our body space, which Joshua Lederberg called “microbiome” tacitly yet sometimes insidiously influencing our wellbeing.

Lederberg,  an American molecular biologist famous for his work in microbial genetics, defines microbiome as “the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space.”

Philosophy to computer sci

In the beginning, we have the ancient Greek Socrates aphorism “Know Thyself,” recorded by Plato in 427 BC. This philosophical idea of course connotes myriad translations.

Then after almost 2.5 millennia, Jose Delgado wrote, “… humanity should shift its mission from the ancient dictum ‘Know thyself’ to ‘Construct thyself.’” Delgado pioneered electrical stimulation of the brain (ESB) in the 1950s. ESB is precursor to current noninvasive brain studies and brain implants.

Yet, barely more than half a century later, a neo-aphorism dawn. Dr. Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist turned computer scientist (University of California, San Diego) started charting his bodily inputs and outputs in minute detail revealing the true ecology of the quantified self.  He is collecting information on everything—from how well he sleeps to the state of his stools—all in the quest for a healthier life. His aphorism, “Track Thyself.”

Ironically, despite Smarr’s revolutionary ideas about how our own biological systems interact with our own wellbeing through self-quantification, his TEDMED web presentation, “Can we quantify our own illness?” was visited (as of September 2013) 1,775 times. “How to make Sapin-Sapin” (a Filipino cake basically made of glutinous rice and coconut milk) was viewed by 242,357. Korean Park Jae-sang or Psy got a billion hits for his “Gangnam Style.”

iPOP

iPOP is  the acronym of Integrative Personal Omics Profile, a pilot project being developed at the Stanford University. “Omics” is a comprehensive-collective analysis, characterization and quantification of biological systems, transforming into the physiological dynamics of an organism.

It is a relatively new scientific field in self-tracking or self-quantifying one’s own microbiome—necessarily encompassing psychology, physiology, genomic, or a very vast array of other scientific disciplines.

Omics is predicted to morph into a completely error-free diagnoses and treatments.  Meaning, the precise drug will treat the precise virus strain identified by and through the precise apparatus.  Medical conjuring will become no more.

Moreover, when scientists and millennial entrepreneurs successfully fuse nanotechnology with omics profiles—self-tracking, self-quantifying, biofeedback, “deciphering thyself” or whatever name we give—would lead us into what I suggest “Neo-Precision Age?”

Conclusion

Delgado, in defense of his ESB, once said: “You cannot avoid knowledge… you cannot avoid technology… Things are going to go ahead in spite of ethics, in spite of your personal beliefs, in spite of everything.”

Brand, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bluntly gave these similar words, “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you are not part of the steamroller, you are part of the road.”

One friend kibitzer asks, quo vadis; creating Elysium for the Neo-Precision Age?

(Dr. Aggie Carson-Arenas is a specialist in clinical psychology, educator, researcher and a published author. A former associate professor, university research director and private clinician, he authored a psychology and hypnotherapy books. He is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), and a Fellow of the  Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP). As a quasi-retired freelance writer and former president of AuthorKonek, he volunteers at the Veteran Administration Hospital in Las Vegas. E-mail at [email protected]  or [email protected]

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