Open or Closed Lifespan: that is the question, not mortality vs. immortality

Perhaps the most frequent, most misleading and hence, most annoying framing problem around biomedically achieved healthy lifespan extension is that the headline making machinery is using the term immortality without any restrictions when only discussing the first detailed technological plans and the articulating will behind breaking the closed lifespan barrier of ~120 years or so. What do I have in mind? Here’s some pointed questions to consider when deciding you might be one of the people tempted to scream immortality too soon:

Do you really think eternal life, for us as persons inhabiting physical bodies, is within our actual reach ?

Do you really think when technology will help us – think persons with physical bodies – live much longer and much healthier lives that is going to provide the recipe for becoming immortal?

Do you really think if you were able to live up to say 200 years old, technology that took you there would be good enough to carry you till the end of times?

If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then you are probably thinking it wrong. And if you are thinking it wrong, then you might be actually doing it wrong, when contributing to the discussion around healthy longevity. Cause you are adding to the confusion, and not helping the fusion, the convergence of thoughts supporting actual longevity. By fighting and nurturing your immortality demon you might be providing more grounds for others to argue against actual longevity.

What’s the story here?

Our current, closed, capped and expected human lifespan is all too familiar for most of us. This familiarity is the familiarity of a jail sentence of X years, +- Y years around X in case of good behaviour/good luck or bad behaviour/bad luck.

Then, culturally speaking, most of us are familiar with an imagined, eternal, indestructible and immortal being who lives the life of the radical Other we don’t get to live.

What most of us are totally unfamiliar with though, is a lifespan lived by persons between these 2 scenarios, between closed lifespan and immortal life.

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.

As a thought experiment I’ve spent already lots of years imagining living in this world of open lifespan. But for most it is a radically unfamiliar entity. Although biologists used to talk about animals staying ‘forever young’ and being ‘biologically immortal’, our scientific inference techniques and observational knowledge tells us about animals living up to a couple hundred years old (sea urchin, hydra, clam), the Greenland shark might be living up to ~400+-120 years. But when people tend to think about open lifespan, they think of it from the point-of-view of persons, like them, and they hardly imagine being a 400 year old Greenland shark as the second best analogy of what this would mean.

So for most people open lifespan is a radically unfamiliar entity/potential experience. and hence the language expressing it is largely missing.

So no surprise when people, unexposed to open lifespan, start discussing open lifespan their brain registers it as the negation, as the outright opposite of closed lifespan and then leaving this familiar, razor-wire fenced territory makes them think (or their tongues make them say) they have immediately arrived to another familiar place, inhabited by immortal being(s).

So they think of this as a binary choice, binary dilemma between closed, mortal  lifespan vs immortal life.


The only binary question worth posing in this world and in the respect of expected lifespan is between Open vs Closed Lifespan, but in order to make this question worthwhile, people need to spend more time understanding the potential and limits of Open Lifespan.

Immortality is to live forever and to live forever is to live infinitely long and to live infinitely long is to have no bounds on lifespan. Indefinite lifespan for a biological being is no guarantee for infinite lifespan, and the added years of lifespan due to open healthspan cannot ever be used to convincingly argue for the high probability of infinite more years to come.

‘Indefinite’ in ‘indefinite lifespan is also an epistemological term denoting the situation of knowing no bounds of lifespan, which of course does not equal having no bounds on lifespan. Freedom comes with the fragile position of not knowing how far we can go with our technology, to be uncertain about the potential of open healthspan. Strength comes from the position to actually acknowledge this uncertainty and still working to achieve it.

Humans: we get to choose between closed vs. open lifespan, not mortality vs. immortality.