In What is it like to be 572 year old? Self-imagining Open Lifespan; part 1, slides from 2017 I introduced a thought experiment through slides, sort of en masse and in medias res. Time to step back and get a bit methodological.
Today I would like to introduce a philosophical phenomenon that continue to surprise me to this day, so I still don’t have a settled theory about it. I’m hoping to reach at least a temporary solution though by writing about it. It is related to thought experimentation and offers at least 2 different ways to imagine ourselves being 572 years old and healthy.
Possible worlds and methodology: times, worlds and selves
At this point, I recommend reading Open Lifespan within the possible world framework to get a glimpse on how the default possible world toolset is being used here.
To briefly put: possible worlds describe possible – largely, but not necessary spatiotemporal – situations that express of something being the case. Possible worlds are accessible from each other through an accessibility relation that can be defined various ways.
Now, the new stuff: The basic concepts where I start to approach my object are times, worlds and selves. One might make the hypothesis that every thought experiment involving human beings will need to set or automatically sets at least 3 parameters: times, worlds and selves.
Depending on the question investigated, one parameter is usually questioned, while the other 2 parameters are set constant to not attract more complexity and distraction to the study at hand. But this is not always possible as these three concepts are intertwined, and not just on the surface.
For instance one can ask question about the relativity of ethical norms in which case one can place current humans back and forth in different historical times. So times are being changed, selves are kept sort of constant, but then what happens with the worlds? When one goes back to ancient Egypt, say, or to Victorian times in Britain, with the times, worlds are changing too. In fact, times and worlds can be used interchangeably almost, indicating standalone, peculiar characteristics making times and worlds different from other times and worlds. The meaning worlds used here in philosophical thought experimentation can be called the relevant world, that is a world, a local, spatiotemporal environment, providing the background of the thought experiment, with only the relevant details set, not a complete world description.
Or we are asking about an ethical situation in a scarce environment like on a spaceship far away from Earth in a distant solar system say, where the selves and times are roughly the same (we can imagine the technology is sufficiently advanced now to send a spaceship out there), but the relevant world is different, as in, it is a very limited world, confined to the interior of the spaceship with an obviously limited economy and resources.
Finally, we can ask about ourselves reflexively and put ourselves in different situation to interrogate some claims about our beliefs, intentions and personal identity. In these cases, times and worlds are set, but the selves are going through a change conforming the the situation of the thought experiment.
My method throughout the next posts of the 572 study will be to state the scenario and go through some complexities of times, worlds and selves, mainly in the form of different ways, aspects these components can be looked at, or imagined throughout the TE.
First, quickly the thought experiment scenario.
The Open Lifespan scenario and the 572 thought experiment
Here we consider Open Life as a possible world, where Open Healthspan Technologies are developed and accessible enough that people can choose to go through continuous interventions to counteract the biological aging process and have a fixed, small but nonzero mortality rate due to external causes of death.
Open Lifespan is open-ended, indefinite healthy lifespan, ‘Open Life’ is a life lived with Open Lifespan. 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.
Focusing on biomedical ways to lengthen lifespan we further assume 2 types of continuity, both of which are still hotly debated criteria of personal identity within philosophy. We are not going to specify these concepts here in details, this will be left to further parts of the study in case it’s relevant:
- physical/bodily continuity: spatiotemporal and material continuity of the body
- psychological continuity: belief, memory continuity amongst others
Assuming one lives in an Open Lifespan world and undergoes Open Healthspan interventions the actual thought experiment self-imagination exercise is this:
Please try to imagine yourself to be 572 year old and engaged in some free-chosen activity one Sunday afternoon.
Please try to imagine yourself to be 572 year old and starting work, the Monday after the Sunday.
You might notice here that the assumption we would like to test with this thought experiment is not the general-purpose possibility of Open Healthspan technology. In fact, at this point I’d like to say that there’s no actual hypothesis or philosophical proposition we are testing right now that should be kept in mind throughout our distant self-imagination. Obviously there are going to be such hypotheses put forward later, but right now our job is trying to get comfy with this possible world and self-imaginative scenario. Can we do this?
The temporal surprise
Here I’d like to come forward with the surprising thing: The way this scenario was framed so far is utterly neutral in terms of when this thought experiment should take place, relative to the actual world and it is also neutral in terms of making suggestions on how far is this new possible world from the actual.
After all, the only parameter we have explicitly changed compared to our current actual world, is the introduction of Open Healthspan technology, accessible for people and we did not specify much else.
To put it more technically, our current OL scenario (W(OL) from now on) is temporally-neutral and accessibility-neutral, relative to the actual world (W(A) from now on).
The surprise presents itself temporally, related to when this OL self-imagination takes place (already using spatial analogy here to locate temporal positions, even ‘locate’ is spatial :)) as the description of the scenario so far makes possible at least two ways of self-imaginings: One can imagine themselves being 572 year old right now (alternative present 2019 scenario), in alternative 2019 or one can imagine themselves being 572 year old 572-Their Chronological Age years from now in the future (alternative 572- future scenario). While we are at it, one can technically also imagine, being 572 year old in the distant past as well, but the problem there is that picking the year has nothing to do with being 572 year old and there the extra assumptions needed for that world to be ‘vivid’ and ‘coherent’ quickly overwhelm self-imagination and lead to more of wild sci-fi scenario, we should not need to track down here. While the present and future alternative scenarios both have arguments motivating picking them. Let’s see those arguments and also let’s see some contra arguments to keep things balanced:
Arguments for alternative present and future scenarios, pro and contra
alternative present 2019 scenario:
- familiarity with the present as a relevant world
- chronological age is contingent, imagining a different chronological age at the same time is a simpler option than imagining 500+ years from now
- our inner own experience is essentially open-ended already, no need to go far away, as we already have it, please see Thomas Nagel and the familiar inner experience of Open Lifespan
- economy principle, the simplest change to still have the TE scenario, actual world is the closest alternative world
- unrealistic to have this technology now, it will takes some hundreds of years to get there
- this difference in lifespan and life expectancy brings such a radical change in the social structure of the world, must be in the future
alternative future 572- scenario:
- realistic, need a lot of technology development, more rational to assume as a trajectory (this is the inverse argument of contra 1. above)
- anecdotic empirical evidence: when I thought up this TE I was ‘naturally’ assuming this will be in the future, 500+ years from now, suspect, most people will think of that first without not specifying this parameter ahead.
- same as contra 2 above: this difference in lifespan and life expectancy brings such a radical change in the social structure of the world, must be in the future
- strangeness, foreignness of the world 500+ years from now (inverse of pro 1. above)
- farthest away, in terms of access,, not the most economic, too many other changes, inverse of pro 4. above
In the next part we focus on ‘world’ component and get into some well deserved complexities there.