What realistic methods exist for potentially dramatically increasing human intelligence and physical athleticism, apart from nootropic drugs or steroids?

I guess this is getting into transhumanism - what are actual realistic methods by which a living person could become "better than well", either in terms of cognitive ability or physical athleticism, apart from the obvious one of drugs?

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    $\begingroup$ This is an awfully broad question - you might want to narrow it down just a bit, or I would suspect it ought to be closed. $\endgroup$ – jdunlop Feb 10 '18 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ If such methods existed they would be used. Since we don't actually see people walking around with dramatically increased intelligence and physical athleticism, it follows that in reality there are no such methods. If you need such methods in your story then please imagine them and ask (one method per question) whether they are verisimilar or not. (Fictional methods of making better humans don't have to be actually practical; being believable is enough.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 10 '18 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ prosthetic surgery perhaps? research.bournemouth.ac.uk/2015/06/… $\endgroup$ – NofP Feb 10 '18 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ Education. You know, education. $\endgroup$ – DPT Feb 11 '18 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ Also, given that the olympics are happening and we get to see what those amazing individuals are capable of, the definition of "transuman" gets murky. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 12 '18 at 17:30

Computer and bioelectronic enhancements. And we're close.

You could have any number of enhancements and they needn't even be visible:

  • an artificial retina allowing greater focus, larger visual spectrum and night vision
  • artificial ears
  • artificial organs secreting substances to optimize metabolism or fight disease, or even trigger emergency suspended animation to survive some kinds of accidents
  • visual enhancements bestowing "augmented reality" (e.g. face recognition: imagine never "forgetting" a name anymore)
  • memory enhancements
  • nano-scale "scavengers" to keep arteries and joints clean
  • micro-scale "destroyers" to get rid e.g. of some types of cancer
  • micro-scale "trainers" to exercise and enhance the muscular fibers

Even more radical possibilities are offered by the decoding and control of functions in the brain.

  • telempathy: you could attain unimagine levels of intimacy with another. It's unlikely we'll ever be able to decode thought, but emotions are far simpler.
  • controlled stimulation of key areas in the brain (which makes most drugs redundant, too).

Once reliable methods to really know what is going on inside the brain are available (fMRI is a start, but in-place analyser biochips are being developed both for specific substances, like sugar, insulin and some hormones, both general-purpose), it seems likely that we'll be able to unlock what is it that happens, both chemically and electrically, inside a brain that's happy, concentrated, "in the Zone", and so on. From there, it is a not so short, but also not too long a step to be able to duplicate or at least nudge it along at will.

Of course, psychological issues will then crop up. True that the tech will not be released to everyone (for economic reasons if nothing else - just as not everyone can have an iPhone X), and users will need to be health- and psycho- screened before undergoing enhancement; still, power corrupts, and abusing one's brain will be a temptation in many ways.

Device security (both against accidents and environmental threats such as magnetic fields, and against deliberate attacks) will also be a considerable issue.

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I'll make this an answer, too.

Education. Full stop.

Here's a link. There are plenty more.

Another option, hypnosis. Some sports teams hire hypnotists to help the teams succeed. It works.

Here's a link. I have not read this one and do not know the fundamentals of the controls and so on, but have heard about sports hypnosis and its efficacy for years and years.

Meditation. This is likely down to physiological effects of improving mood and reducing stress. But the effects appear real.

Here's a link. There are others.

What do these have in common? They are integrating the functionalities of the brain.

Education is the big one.

If you do not wish to visit the links, consider this.

"What realistic methods exist for potentially dramatically increasing human intelligence and physical athleticism, apart from nootropic drugs or steroids?"

The answer is education. I suppose training and evolution, too. The question appears ignorant of the most basic understanding we have (and have had) of how to increase our natural abilities.

It is not through drugs, it is through usage.

The reason we are athletic and intelligent is because of evolution, and we improve upon our natural abilities through education and training.


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    $\begingroup$ These links may answer the question, but there is not enough content to know what you mean without clicking them. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 11 '18 at 17:13

This has actually been considered for centuries, as warriors, athletes and others have attempted to overcome their limitations and achieve the ultimate performance.

Although there have been multitudes of names and systems, the general distillation is to find a means for the person to focus all their attention and energy on the task to be accomplished, to the exclusion of everything else. In modern idiom, it is sometimes called "getting into the Zone"

Here are three articles which give you some idea of what we are examining:

The 5 Steps to Focus Your Mind and Flow Into The Zone

How to Get into Your Zone

The Best Tricks for Getting in the Zone at Work

The American military experimented with various techniques over the years, and one of the best documented ones (besides the "Men who stare at goats") was recorded in a book called "In Search of the Warrior Spirit". The author spent a prolonged period teaching a team of Green Berets (Special Forces) to meditate, using Aikido and other techniques on a frankly skeptical bunch of students. The overall results seem to have been positive (the Green Berets performed much better during training exercises after the meditation training) but as far as I know there has been no real follow up or long term adoption of these techniques.

One possible reason is the techniques take a long time to master and internalize, while modern education and training is much more based on "Taylorism" and industrial methodology, i.e. assembly line training. Spending a year or more to essentially hand craft soldiers is a difficult sell, and even SF troops or SoF teams have a huge training bill already. The techniques that were described in the book are more closely related to the sorts of things that traditional Japanese culture instilled in people from birth, which should give you an idea of how difficult this could be to apply to Western people, and "why" it takes so long to acquire these skills.

The incredible advantage of actually learning and internalizing these skills is they will enhance you regardless of if you are naked in the woods or augmented with the full range of technological and biological enhancements; since you are starting off "better", external enhancements are also used to better effect as well.

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Blood doping with artificial blood.

People are pretty familiar with blood doping to increase athletic performance. You can take drugs (like erythropoietin) to generate more blood or collect your blood over time and transfuse it all back at once, Lance Armstrong style. High blood counts can be dangerous as the red cells at density get more viscous and these athletes are at risk for stroke.

Blood doping, unsurprisingly, can also improve cognitive function - presumably via the same mechanism.


Sportsmen and women have been known to dope with the blood hormone Epo to enhance their performance. Researchers from the University of Zurich have now discovered, through animal testing, that Epo has a performance-enhancing effect in the brain shortly after an injection by improving oxygen transport in blood.

Now consider: what if one could blood dope with something synthetic that is superior to red blood cells - superior oxygen carrying capacity without the rheologic issues that lead to stroke or thrombosis. Fluorocarbon blood substitutes may soon be able to do just that.


Perfluorocarbon-based blood substitutes are completely man-made; this provides advantages over blood substitutes that rely on modified haemoglobin, such as unlimited manufacturing capabilities, ability to be heat-sterilized, and PFCs' efficient oxygen delivery and carbon dioxide removal. PFCs in solution act as an intravascular oxygen carrier to temporarily augment oxygen delivery to tissues. PFCs are removed from the bloodstream within 48 hours by the body's normal clearance procedure for particles in the blood – exhalation. PFC particles in solution can carry several times more oxygen per cubic centimeter (cc) than blood, while being 40 to 50 times smaller than haemoglobin.

If you do not like fluorocarbons for this application you could invent something similar - maybe tiny synthetic red cells with engineered hemoglobins and super deformable membranes?

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