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Hack off!

By Timothy Cocks Metaphor and language 20 Nov 2015

It’s everywhere – hack your metabolism, hack your memory, hack your lifestyle, hack your health, hack your finances, hack your kids, hack your clothes, hack your job, even hack your sexlife. It makes me want to scream “what the HACK!” (and of course there’s a hack for that too)!

But the one that really gets me going, the ‘hack’ that drives me absolutely bugnutty, batshit crazy is the ‘hack’ your brain (mind or nervous system)….

By modern definition, a hack is “a piece of computer code providing a quick or inelegant solution to a particular problem”.  The verb hack means “to gain unauthorised access to data in a system or computer.” Hacking your brain then, suggests some sneaky ‘work-around’ or quick and dirty fix – some tricksy way of accessing some mysterious code or data in your brain that is otherwise off limits. Using ‘hack’ also perpetuates the denigrating notions of brains (and people) as being computers with ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ – simplistic metaphors for dumb machines that can be tricked, tinkered with, or fixed with a hastily slapped together ‘mod’.

And I’m not the only one who thinks ‘hack’ is overused – each year since 1975 Lake Superior State University in Michigan has published a list of buzz words that need to be banished. In 2014 selfie and twerking made the list of words to go, and in 2015 hack was on that list, along with other verbal abominations such as Foodie, Cra-Cra and Skill Set.

Brains (and the people they belong to of course) are too complex – too magnificent – to ‘hack’, and if we are being honest, we don’t really know how the brain actually works, so how on earth could we hack it? So, I say let’s tell hack to hack off, get hacked or even go hack itself…

Who’s coming with me…?

-Tim Cocks



Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.14.26 pm
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  1. davidbutler0noi

    Me too! And while we are at it – can we get “rewire” to hack off. “Rewire your brain” is everywhere. It just doesn’t happen and its a retrograde step back overly simplistic brain concepts.


  2. I frequently tell my patients we are going to hack their brains because I believe it is a relatable and powerful metaphor, especially when we are talking about pain being an output of the brain (i.e. “its all in your head”). I use the optical illusion example of, “all this occurs in your head without your knowledge, and possibly, without your control. No matter how long you look at it you can’t think your way out of the optical illusion. Your brain does this automatically and there is very little you can do to stop it. Pain is similar in that you can’t think your way out of it, or simply think there is no pain, and poof it disappears. However, we can hack our way in by modifying thoughts and beliefs, and using GMI to modify the neurotags,” etc., etc. I think the power of hacking helps people understand that they may have “thought viruses”, or “pre-programmed responses” such as reflexes. All of these computer metaphors fit nicely with hacking into the brain and I think patients easily grasp that they can take control of whats going on and change their pain state.

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