Open lifespan needs an open narrative: life as a series

Trying a quicker, less detailed blog format now, maybe because I’m writing from the beach, by Lake Balaton, and using family vacation time. The philosophical background of this post is the ‘meaning of life’ question, and I will be dealing a lot later with this question in the context of open lifespan. The foreground is aesthetic, uses analogies from cinematography.

1. Closed Lifespan -> Closed Narrative -> Life as a Feature Length Movie

Philosopher Joshua Seachris thinks ‘narrative ending links closely with the meaning of life’.  According to this account and argument, put forward in paper [1] below, for considering the answer of the meaning of life question to be a narrative the ending of a narrative or the presence of closure is especially important to broadly normative appraisals of the narrative as a whole. Please see relevant part of the paper quoted at length at the end of the post as footnote [2].

This account has an analogy in cinematography (and in literature forms as well, not exposed here): it renders life as a whole to be more akin to a standalone feature length movie with a plot and a definite closure.

Seachris has obviously not considered open lifespan and so the only kind of narrative he assumes to be operating is a closed narrative, with a well define beginning, middle and end.

But one does not need a definite, predictable ending to assign a narrative to a human life. Enter open lifespan.

2. Open Lifespan -> Open Narrative -> Life as a Series

Meet ‘Open Lifespan’ and open healthspan as described in the opening post: Open lifespan is open-ended, indefinite lifespan. I will also call it, simply ‘Open Life’. It is the opposite of our current, closed lifespan. But it is also not an infinite lifespan and conceptually it has nothing to do with immortality.
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.

Our current question is: what kind of narrative fits open lifespan without a definite closure.

The answer is: open narrative. Open narratives usually have no foreseeable ending, please see [3] by Holly Hosler-White. A good cinematography example of open narrative is soap operas but also TV series. See [4] for the difference between TV series and Soap Operas, we are not going to expose here.

Imagine your open lifespan narrated by an open narrative. There is a definite beginning and there’s a lot of middle but there’s no definite ending and when it comes it is not expected. The lots of middle-ing in the overwhelming part of your life starts to differentiate a lot when stretched out. So middle parts become like new beginnings and some middle sections become resolutions, and the narrative might be split into different but temporally subsequent, sub-plots.

Imagine your life as a series then. There’s zero problem with it. For those who would like to maintain narrative as a format to frame the ‘meaning of life question’, they have a solution at hand. This does not mean that I specifically will be framing meaning of life as a narrative, but we’ll see to that later.

For our current purposes, it’s more important to provide a handle for those unexposed to open lifespan, a handle that is familiar for most of us, as we are living in the era of Netflix and Amazon TV shows and series. And familiarising ourselves with the possible world of open lifespan, we should. We will set up camp in this possible world and we will call it our home.

[1] Seachris, J., 2009, “The Meaning of Life as Narrative: A New Proposal for Interpreting Philosophy’s ‘Primary’ Question”, Philo, 12: 5–23.
[2] here’s the quote: ‘Though I will not here develop in any detail this intriguing idea that narrative ending links closely with the meaning of life, it is worth making some brief comments.19 It is widely thought that the ending of a narrative, or the presence of closure, is especially important to broadly normative appraisals of the narrative as a whole.20 A narrative’s ending frequently possesses a proleptic power over the entire narrative. Indeed, it is thought that the way a narrative ends is often the most salient motivator in eliciting a wide range of broadly normative human responses on, possibly, emotional, aesthetic, and moral levels towards the narrative as a whole. For, as J. David Velleman notes:
. . . the conclusory emotion in a narrative cadence embodies not just how the audience feels about the ending; it embodies how the audience feels, at the ending, about the whole story. Having passed through emotional ups and downs of the story, as one event succeeded another, the audience comes to rest in a stable attitude about the series of events in its entirety [emphasis added].21
This is no small point, and it seems largely correct. The ending marks the ‘last word’, after which nothing else can be said, either by way of remedying problems or destroying felicities that have come about within the narrative. If the last word is that hope is finally and irreversibly dashed, then grief will probably be salient at the end; if the last word is that ambitions have been realized, then triumph will probably be salient at the end. Perhaps more importantly, one cannot backtrack into a narrative, for example, where the grief felt at a tragic ending is the final word, and expect that one’s emotional stance toward any specific event within the narrative will not now be affected, in some sense, by the ending of the narrative. The ending relevantly frames the entire story.
Interestingly, this point, if plausible, provides a powerful account for why discussions of ending, death, and futility nearly always accompany considerations of the meaning of life. If the meaning of life is a narrative, a claim for which I am arguing in this paper, then it is clear why we consider how life ends, both our own and the universe’s (speaking metaphorically of course), to be so important to whether life is meaningful or meaningless. Notice that I am not engaging the question of whether or not conclusions of futility derived from a putative “bad” ending to life’s narrative are themselves rational and warranted, but am only providing a rationale or framework for why it is that such conclusions are often thought to follow from the nature of life’s ending as it is construed on naturalism.’



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