The following is a concise introduction into the philosophy project of Open Lifespan. This week a I put together a research proposal to apply for a philosophy PhD program. The excerpt here is from the introductory project description section of that Research Proposal.
During the last 200 years life expectancy has doubled in developed countries, the global increase in life expectancy between 2000-15 was 5 years, out of which 4.6 years count as healthy longevity.
Biological aging is responsible for the majority of deaths these days due to age-associated diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.
Luckily there’s been a breakthrough reached in the last 10 years in terms of understanding the major molecular and cellular processes behind biological aging and now we know that there’s 9 major hallmarks of aging. Treatments/interventions are currently under development to counteract these separate processes, one by one, or even combined to act on multiple processes at the same time (polypill approaches).
Combining this with the default increase in life expectancy due to normal development in the biomedical sciences, now there is a chance to tackle the biggest current barrier of life expectancy, biological aging.
It seems possible now that the maximum longevity barrier of ~120 years will be broken and there is a separate longevity industry now aiming to turn this possibility into a high probability. How far science and technology will take us in terms of longevity we genuinely don’t know, there’s 30fold increase reached in some lab animals in terms of lifespan. Uncertainty in terms of limits to longevity might correspond to indefinite lengthening.
Hence, from a philosophical point of view if we want to take the limit concept of what is possible we need to take indefinite healthy lifespan. And at this point most philosophers (without a scientific background) get the whole thing wrong, not because they are underestimating what’s possible but because they are overestimating it. They talk about immortality and fall into, what I call, the Immortality Trap.
But in order to get the prospect right, in order to conduct proper and relevant philosophical investigations about longevity, the underlying thought experiment about lifespans must consult what’s scientifically and technologically possible. When the problem is expressed in proper terms then there’s a chance to come up with insights enriching philosophy as an academic discipline and even more importantly to yield real-world implications that might affect global policy about longevity. Our study will hopefully provide some conceptual handles that will prepare us better to live significantly longer lives.
This proposal provides clues on how such a philosophically proper handling of longevity can be done and aims to develop a book-length investigation to hash out the necessary details to do so, backed by 27,000 words, and several in-depth investigations already.
In order to neutralise, circumvent the sharp mortal vs immortal binary split that forces us into simplistic thinking concerning the technological lengthening of human lives we need to apply a different classification.
Meet the central concept, ‘Open Lifespan’. Open Lifespan is open-ended, indefinite healthy lifespan, it will be also called simply ‘Open Life’. Open Lifespan is based on Open Healthspan a technological possibility to counteract ongoing biological aging processes in the human body, to keep age-associated functional decline and increasing mortality continuously at bay.
While an open-ended, indefinite life is mortal, it is not essentially finite or infinite. It is what it is: indefinite. Uncertain. Just because we don’t know the bounds, it does not mean it is boundless and we can still die in any minute due to external circumstances. Open Lifespan defined this way is sandwiched between our current, mortal and naturally capped Closed Lifespan and the imagined scenario called Immortality constructed with infinite lifespan, defying death and defying reality once and for all.
Open Lifespan is the view in the middle, the angle between philosophy viewed under the tight constraints of Closed Lifespan and the sub specie aeternitatis position, already well-known and hard-wired into many philosophies.
The main project is to work out a coherent view mixing both descriptive and normative aspects. The methodology will be mainly using analytical tools and the analytic tradition with one notable exception.