Individual Open Lifespan Trajectories as hyperobjects; Temporal Undulation

Let’s continue studying Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects to harness it for Open Lifespan. Earlier I talked about ‘viscosity’ and ‘nonlocality’ and applied them to Open Lifespan trajectories.

Quick recap: Hyperobjects are ‘things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans’: think global warming as a paradigmatic case. Now consider a (counterfactual)  individual open lifespan trajectory that is your life lived for hundreds of years: wouldn’t that object qualify for being a hyperobject in the Mortonian sense?

Temporal undulation is the hyperobject characteristic that I was most confused about initially but after couple more careful readings of the corresponding chapter in Hyperobjects it turned out to be the feature where Open Lifespan trajectories can be enlightened and benefit most from Morton’s deep ecological OOO thinking and accompanying superb linguistic forms.

The confusion, the uncanniness stayed though partly as Morton is using analogies from relativistic spacetime theories to populate this characteristics and I could follow him on his journey only so far and apply them only in a limited sense to our human topic.

But ‘temporal undulation’ is the hyperobject feature where the stretched, vast temporality of objects are under investigation, mainly. So Morton offers the following remarks focusing on temporality:

Hyperobjects envelop us, yet they are so massively distributed in time that they seem to taper off, like a long street stretched into the distance.


The timescale is a Medusa that turns us to stone. We know this now, just as we know that we have changed the future fossils of Earth. The future hollows out the present.

Morton also gets epistemologico-temporal-economical:

But because of temporal foreshortening, hyperobjects are impossible to handle just right. This aporia gives rise to a dilemma: we have no time to learn fully about hyperobjects. But we have to handle them anyway.


Hyperobjects are time-stretched to such a vast extent that they become almost impossible to hold in mind.


The more data we have about lifeforms, the more we realize we can never truly know them. This has partly to do with something strange that has happened to temporality.

This temporal embeddedness is the weirdest of them all. Uncanniness prolonged.

Are we going to be like this experiencing an open lifespan trajectory? We’re only going to be at-home in a well-defined past-present fraction of our lives while we relate with strangeness to the indefinite rest. But we cannot jump ahead and construct our future, closed personites. No vantage point offered anymore that comes prepackaged with a closed lifespan. No closure.

Yet the potentially bigger future exerts constant gravity on the present self. A bit like and unlike young people today under 30 or maybe 40: they expect more to come that’s already behind, yet there’s a turning point. Guess what, with an open lifespan trajectory there’s no turning point, there’s no turning back, there’s only facing forward. Accept the mystery.

In a more spacetime-y comment Morton talks about reference-mollusks as

Time and space emerge from come up with. But in a sense the mollusk is just right. Time and space emerge from things, like the rippling flesh of a sea urchin or octopus.

An open lifespan trajectory might itself turn into a mollusk-like creature with new protrusion spin-offs, indefinitely unsegmented. Contrast this metaphor with the the series narrative offered earlier. An episode is a temporal segment but the overlapping episodes can be re-written and presented as new episodes so segment boundaries are not firm.

Let’s turn now to the single biggest Open Lifespan benefit of the Mortonian Hyperobject Universe.

Earlier I talked about how walking into the Immortality Trap is the biggest issue philosophically and politically of understanding the uniqueness of an essentially open-ended, yet mortal lifespan. Even maintain a curated list of confusing content.

The point is that we have a sharp mortal and immortal binary split that forces us into simplistic thinking concerning the technological lengthening of human lives via Open Healthspan technologies. While an open-ended, indefinite life is mortal but it is not essentially finite or infinite. It is what it is: indefinite. Just because we don’t know the bounds, it does not mean it is boundless. But our mortal/immortal binary forces most of us into thinking leaving the closed lifespan behind is already achieving immortality. So so wrong. Well, it certainly stopped forcing me for a while now to think of it that way. We need to invent here a new vocabulary and I’m going to do just that, partly inspired by Morton’s (de)liberating way of looking at non-human things.

I’m going to use 2 terms now to grab the 2 faces of indefinite Open Lifespan.

Indefinity’ will be used to denote the feature of Open Lifespan that is shared with ‘infinity’,  it’s open-endedness, it’s being not ‘finite’. Its radical way of departing from our current experience.

We are mortal nevertheless and stay mortal with achieving Open Lives so we need another term to capture this and partly justify or acknowledge human ambiguity in capturing this possibility.[1]

Indefiniteness’ will be used to denote the feature of Open Lifespan that is shared with ‘finiteness’, it’s being so mortal when understood in the context of fragile biomedical human lives. 

Indefinity-ness’ when these 2 features of Open Lifespan are highlighted at the same time. Not a paradox, not a dilemma but a simple in-betweenness, a non-binary.

So am finishing here by simply quoting the conceptually so liberating, yet extra sharp Morton segments from the Temporal Undulation chapter that helped me  describe Open Lifespan much better and develop the vocabulary further [2].

These gigantic timescales are truly humiliating in the sense that they force us to realize how close to Earth we are. Infinity is far easier to cope with. Infinity brings to mind our cognitive powers, which is why for Kant the mathematical sublime is the realization that infinity is an uncountably vast magnitude beyond magnitude. But hyperobjects are not forever. What they offer instead is very large finitude. I can think infinity. But I can’t count up to one hundred thousand. I have written one hundred thousand words, in fits and starts. But one hundred thousand years? It’s unimaginably vast. Yet there it is, staring me in the face, as the hyperobject global warming. And I helped cause it….

There is a real sense in which it is far easier to conceive of “forever” than very large finitude. Forever makes you feel important. One hundred thousand years makes you wonder whether you can imagine one hundred thousand anything. It seems rather abstract to imagine that a book is one hundred thousand words long.


[1] and now my background music is Interstellar Overdrive cause am getting excited

[2] For copying those parts here, my background music is going to be Jugband Blues by Barrett, maybe it’s not about his madness but only what a hyperobject can say after interrogated by inquisitive human minds. Hear global warming saying:

It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here

And I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here

And I never knew the moon could be so big

And I never knew the moon could be so blue

and hear Open Lifespan finishing with

I don’t care if the sun don’t shine

And I don’t care if nothing is mine

And I don’t care if I’m nervous with you

I’ll do my loving in the winter

And what exactly is a dream?

And what exactly is a joke?’

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