Open Lifespan: Book Draft


Open Lifespan is a book length study written from a unique philosophical angle of what is really possible in terms of continuous, biomedical longevity attempts. These latter are called Open Healthspan technologies that can together guarantee an open-ended life called Open Lifespan. The book provides the definitive philosophy of indefinite healthy living, making a strong conceptual case for a new kind of mortal, yet not essentially bounded life way beyond current, closed lifespan, yet avoiding falling into the immortality trap. The methodology can be described as philosophical chameleonry, depending on the text, thinker, tradition the concept, problem, argument analysed is different and it gets re-thought creatively to gain new insights for Open Lifespan. On the other hand, the thought experiment behind Open Life is used to provide criticism of established concepts, contributing back to general philosophy. In the closing political section, the worked out philosophy is being applied to introduce Open Lifespan and longevity in general into politics. While the book works with sometimes abstract conceptual machinery, what makes this study timely is that many of these abstract concepts can get practical much earlier than most of us might imagine. We have a duty to do this mental rehearsal and simulation now to prepare to properly live way beyond current lifespan.

The author

Attila has picked the problem of aging and the corresponding project of healthy lifespan lengthening as his exclusive professional motivation at the age of 14. The rest is a compartmentalised follow-up on this early commitment, integrated into one human life, wearing different hats at different times: mitochondrial and stem cell research, bioinformatics, proteomics, philosophy and advocacy. Attila has written his philosophy MS thesis on some of the philosophical problems of Open Lifespan and in this book he continues to  unfold this line of investigation. His long, deep and committed longevity science/philosophy background makes him a unique fit for this job.


Open Lifespan, a view between Closed Lifespan and sub specie aeternitatis
Personal Intro
Live every day as if you were ten times older: 10X principle for an Open Life

Philosophy of Open Lifespan

Open Lifespan within the possible world framework

Reading Mark Johnston: the problem of leftover, future personites and open lifespan

Open or closed lifespan: that is the question, not mortality vs. immortality

The little big enhancement debate

Can you imagine a world without disease but with biological aging? Neither can I

The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting

Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity

Open Lifespan is not an enhancement as the dead don’t compete

Open Self and Meaning of Life

Open lifespan needs an open narrative: life as a series
Open lifespan as a coherent life plan enables super-agency

Continental Drift: Open Lifespan, Ecology and OOO

Open Lifespan and ecological awareness: scaling up to become global humans

global climate change as a metaphor and symbol for individual, accelerated human biological aging

Individual Open Lifespan Trajectories as hyperobjects: Viscosity and Nonlocality

Individual Open Lifespan Trajectories as hyperobjects; Temporal Undulation

Open Lifespan does not rely on strong anthropocentrism

A topmost principle: Life’s default positivity

Thomas Nagel and the principle of life’s default positivity, first take

Is life in a box is better than no life at all? Help and hope, so.

Thomas Nagel and the familiar inner experience of Open Lifespan

Why coma is not a good fit for first-person, moral thought experiments?

A possible moral and political philosophy

Open Life as the central possible world and default anthropology in moral philosophy

Open Life as the central possible world and default anthropology in political philosophy

Moral and political theory: miscellaneous

Would you choose to live longer than anybody else or first help others to do so?

Open Lifespan and knowing our age in Rawls’s Original Position

The concept and reality of a Longevity World Community, reading Jens Bartelson

How Open Lifespan changes the political value of time; reading Elizabeth F. Cohen

Capabilities Approach and Open Lifespan

Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 1

Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 2


Fighting aging and fighting ageism: two sides of the same coin?

Open Future: Open Life(span) as a foundation to reinvent liberalism

Open Lifespan, a view between Closed Lifespan and sub specie aeternitatis

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 book provides the details on how such a philosophically proper handling of longevity can be done.

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.

Life extension is dead, long live the Open Lifespan!

‘Life extension’, the concept and term, just does not cut it anymore.  For one, for many (count mainstream media here) it sounds like luxury, but more like the luxury of an extended life sentence in a jail on a private island, built for the mega-rich. A guarded, gated, closed community. Artificial and extra. Not something that is enriching your current life. Not something that gives you principles and grounds meaning and carry values in your life. Not something that invites constructive discussion about ethics and morals.

‘Longevity’ is a good concept but add the term ‘extreme’ or ‘radical’ to ‘longevity’ and suddenly people not exposed to the concept before in details (most people) turn a bit suspicious and the conversation is going to be rigged.

Meet ‘Open Lifespan’. 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 very far from being an infinite lifespan and conceptually it has not much 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.

Open healthspan is an ever-growing repertoire of different technologies. It starts with the usual lifestyle choices, exercise, diet, whatnot and it continues with supplements or even drugs, like metformin, and is going to be followed by the real stuff that is just about to come. Call it systemic regenerative medicine or call it rejuvenation biotechnology, I don’t care about those terms here. In my main professional career I stayed mostly on the side of science as a wet lab biologist and as a bioinformatician, first as an academic scientist then as an entrepreneur. I have a startup focusing on delivering deep proteomic aging profiles to end users.  I’m working on open healthspan already. But there’s more to it.

What I care about here is the world open healthspan will realise and how we need to frame that world that is coming so we can make it our home. We will set up camp in this possible world and we will call it our home.

Since I was 14, I have spent a lot of time in this world of open lifespan, existing in my mind only. In this blog I will show you that this world is functional and this world is desirable. Maybe this world is the best of all possible, imperfect worlds that includes humanity. We will find out. You see, ‘best of all possible worlds’ is a heavy philosophical concept and the reason am using it here is to signal that throughout this blog my default – not exclusive – toolkit will be philosophy.

My philosophy thesis was about the philosophical consequences of open lifespan. The thesis tried to investigate – at a shallow level – how the Rawlsian concepts of moral person and rational life plan would change assuming open lifespans. I am now back in philosophy as there is a task suited to my skills and motivation.

Expect thought experiments and conceptual analysis using the methods of analytical philosophy. Expect necessary and sufficient conditions and some modal logic. And also expect a little math, psychology and some other sciences. In short, expect the definite philosophy of indefinite lifespan. 🙂

One thing I noticed is how current life extensionist thinking and advocacy fails to capture this coming world of Open Lifespan at a conceptually satisfying level. Showing the vision of open lifespan through philosophical enquiry is going to be my niche here. And it is also going to be a book, edited here in the wide open.

Welcome here and let’s get started.

Live every day as if you were ten times older: 10X principle for an Open Life

Currently we all live a closed life but let’s assume open healthspan and ask: Instead of ‘Live every day as if it were your last’ how about ‘ live every day as if you were 10x older’?

What do I mean by that? Amongst the things you do during your regular days there should be times planned and spent, relevant and sustainable enough even for your ten times older self. Not the whole day, but parts and portions of it.


  1. Distant future self-simulation provides continuous training for a much longer life: You should train yourself to be able to live a much longer life purposefully. Simulating the process, the state, the experience of a much longer life might help you provide handles on how to do this, now. Just wanting to live much longer might not be enough without knowing what for.
  2. Distant future self-simulation provides perspective for your current life: Simulating a much longer life is enriching your current life by feeding back content and principles from open life . Fill in your current life with purposeful activities good enough to stand the test of a much longer life. This type of self-feedback will give you perspective, this type of training gives you an idea on what type of activities are suitable to persist over an exponentially extended time.

These advices are framed from an individual perspective as only you can do the thinking for yourself. But this kind of thinking includes natively thinking about the social, environmental context of living 10x older, because you are not starting off thinking yourself being 10x older and living in a box in empty space. Everybody will simulate by trying to image exponential trajectories of their current lives.

The framing of the principle is focusing on the angle of the individual but exactly because it is from that first person perspective it is at the same time focusing also on the wide open imagining of the social, natural context of that individual, be it family, neighbours, bees, workplaces, colleagues, …. trees, forests, seas, this planet and other planets.

Social responsibility and ecological thinking will be much enhanced by this simulation, see an earlier post of mine on my old blog using outdated vocabulary and semantics but portable argumentation.

Consider the following practices and aspects of your current life from the point of view of your 10X older self:

1. Can your current line of work, or a derivative of that work suit your 10X older self? Now add the reverse: can your 10X older self be suitable for the domain of your work? Hint: think motivations and skills.

2. Can you imagine wanting to be around the same set of people as a 10X older you? Now add the reverse: can you imagine the same set of people wanting to be around you when 10X older? Hint: goodness.

3. Can your current hobbies or a variation or descendants of your current hobbies suit your 10X older self? Hint: learning vs. entertainment.

Recommend discussing these and further – more concrete – examples in the comments section below.

I am probably going to discuss the connection between the 2 principles, the ’10X older’ and the ‘Last day’ in a separate place[ToDo]. Please note that they do not necessarily exclude each other, the ’10X older’ principle can actually be compatible with the ‘Last day’ principle in some scenarios. On the other hand, they point towards entirely different worlds.

Open Lifespan within the possible world framework

This is my first separate take to apply the possible world methodology to Open Life.  It is going to be informal and I try to avoid to use logical formulae to express the matter. The background study this section grew out from is arguing for the claim to make Open Life(span) as the default possible world in moral and political philosophy. We need this current preparation to elaborate some detailed points for the background theory later. And I will use possible worlds throughout the Open Lifespan book to elaborate on other problems as well.

Ever since I studied modal logic and got to know possible world semantics, Lewisian modal realism and the counterfactual structure of thought experiments in details as a philosophy undergrad, thinking on philosophical problems with the possible world toolset became a second instinct.

Please see 2 references here I used amongst others, like classical texts: the Possible Worlds entry of Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, written by Christopher Menzel and  Accessibility relation entry of Wikipedia.

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. With the basic concepts of worlds (and its parts or situations and its components) and accessibility the 2 most basic modal concepts, necessity and possibility can be interpreted in terms of quantifying over possible worlds, just like classical first-order propositional logic quantifiers. So the truth conditions of modal statements involving these 2 operators can be provided with possible worlds. Necessity involves a proposition being true in all possible worlds accessible from each other, while possibility can be interpreted as the proposition being true in some (at least one) such possible world. In the modal realism of David Lewis, possible worlds are all-inclusive entities, including all things spatiotemporally connected to each other. The actual world is our current spatiotemporal world with it’s past and future included due to all-inclusivity. Actuality only has an indexical use that picks out the possible world of where it was uttered. No compositional difference, nothing special compared to other possible worlds. 

My interpretation will be significantly different compared to the Lewisian concretist one as it is adjusted to describe the change of lifespan and life expectancy in a series of possible worlds all accessible from each other and aims highlight different stages. The application of the methodology has its own priorities.

Here we consider Open Life as a possible world, where Open Healthspan Technologies are developed and accessible enough that all 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.

Let’s consider a 1 dimensional scheme of possible worlds. The colours are sort of trying to imitate a heat map.

Now let’s consider a radial plot of possible worlds showing some of the network topology of those worlds.

1., Accessibility relations are not shown in this plot between different worlds as all worlds are connected and accessible from each other according to the methodology.

2., Impossible worlds are not shown in the plot as those are inaccessible from possible worlds the way those possible words can access each other. Please note that here am not saying that there’s no connections (imaginative, combinatorial, recombinant…) can be made between possible and impossible worlds. But the type of accessibility relations applied between possible worlds cannot be used between possible and impossible worlds, or between impossible worlds.

3., Here we can interpret accessibility as a temporal relation, or give the accessibility relation a temporal aspect too, besides the basic modal accessibility, intimately related to conceivability.

4., Elaboration on temporality and probability: Our actual world (= reality, highly probable itself)  can lead to highly probable worlds, proximally accessible from reality. And those can lead to probable worlds with a lower probability and vice versa. According to 3., ‘can lead to’ mean i., simple modal accessibility and ii., a temporal interpretation. Latter case might be expressed via temporal indexes assigned to the world, so actual world WA is happening at T1 and a subsequent highly probable world WHP is happening at T2 time following T1. But note that although my view is focusing on future worlds to come, it allows temporality to go backwards as ‘vice versa’ indicated. I want to preserve richness of possible world metaphysics as it might come handy later for other purposes. So probability in highly and lowly probable worlds is an indication of how the usage of probability refers to occurrence of future events but temporal accessibility relation can serve as a likelihood relation as well referring to past events with known outcomes. The key reason to use probability as a world meta-property is that theoretically those probabilities can be computed so a probability metric can be assigned to such worlds. The basis of the compute is our understanding of our actual world. But we don’t have to go into details here concerning quantification processes as this is not central to our current concern.

5. ‘Limiting Possible worlds’ are worlds where a particular, quantifiable parameter reached its upper or lower limit.The length of human life is obviously such a quantifiable parameter. Open Lifespan is the upper limit of biomedical feasible human lifespan. Throughout the series of worlds we consider starting from the actual world, life expectancy can be such a metric used and increasing life expectancy can pinpoint highly probably future possible worlds in the vicinity of the actual world and lead further to less probable worlds until reaching the Open Life endpoint world on this path. To retain flexibility of our possible world framework another limiting world example can be when nobody is starving anymore as everybody and every family has enough on their plate.

Finally we are in a position to position Open Life as a possible world with the philosophical framework of possible worlds.

Since we are talking here about Open Life, the limiting concept of biomedical longevity attempts, we have roughly the following 1 dimensional scheme of possible worlds in terms of lifespans. 

Immortality belongs to the realm of Impossible Worlds here, not accessible from other worlds, not shown in the scheme above.

Here comes the most relevant figure showing the position, the perspective from which the philosophical problems of Open Lifespan are being investigated. The modified radial plot of possible worlds focusing on the lifespan parameter and showing network topology puts the Open Life limiting possible world in the center!


  1. Making Open Life the center of possible worlds gives it the highlight it necessitates concerning our study and book.
  2. It shows the possible trajectories between Actual World and Open Life.
  3. It provides the perfect, outsider view to look at our Actual World, to understand its random (accidental) and constant (essential) features. It makes it easy to apply the Open Life filter to our current everyday life, please see our earlier Live every day as if you were ten times older: 10X principle for an Open Life. It also provides the distance but at the same time the focus to Actual World features and shows them in a light these features might not have been seen before. This is the angle we need to develop moral and political philosophy further.

Reading Mark Johnston: the problem of leftover, future personites and open lifespan

I spent the 5th of June, 2018 on a philosophical pilgrimage to Oxford and the zenith of the day was attending the talk of Mark Johnston, of Princeton, called ‘How the Liquid Self Corrodes Ethical Life’ held at Merton College.

The real moment came after the talk when I managed to ask a question from Johnston on the way walking out of college. I got a hint back on how his answer would look like but the quick chat has been abrupted as Oxford philosophy hosts were taking him to an after-talk event and I had to go home to Cambridge. But Johnston suggested I should email him and I have managed to hand over a business card, that was ‘accidentally’ in my back pocket.

In the previous weeks I also spent hours studying Johnston’s out-of-the-box and fascinating Surviving Death and will also interpret those encounters later[ToDo].

But what I’m writing about today is something I thought up since yesterday when introduced to Johnston’s argument about how reductionism (naturalism) make ethics unworkable constructed by using the concept of ontological trash and personites.

This is a work in progress and I do not attempt to formalise the argument at all at this stage, although that formalisation technically can kill the whole thought, we shall see. But I want to formulate the idea of the argument, just like mathematicians might give out the main idea behind a proof. Sometimes the idea is worth in itself even if the formal proof bleeds out due to some technical details. Or the idea might be just trashy due to some blatant assumption, in this case better push this out and ask others to kill it off quickly.  But also an important point here is to show how I am applying the concept of ‘open lifespan’ to ongoing philosophical problems in the literature.

Johnston’s argument is briefly along the following lines: assuming reductionism about personal identity (based on psychological continuity) moral status needs be assigned to personites, temporal slices cohabiting the same spatio-temporal space with the actual or possible person. But if all-too-many things  (watch out for Ockham) have moral status ethics becomes unworkable.

The talk was pretty much overlapping with Johnston’s Personites, Maximality And Ontological Trash and luckily it is an open access paper published in 2017 in Philosophical Perspectives.

My attacking point is related to the concept of personites, so how are personites defined?

In the paper Johnston is using the 4D account of persons relying on ‘unrestricted mereological summation’ the principle according to whenever there are some things, there exists a whole that consists exactly of those things, the mereological ‘sum’ or ‘fusion’ of those things that now can be called parts.

As a first approximation, personites are longish‐lived non‐maximal sums of continuous stages. Their being non‐maximal means that there are stages not included in the sum which are continuous with stages in the sum. That is how a person’s personites differ from that person.

Non-maximal sums can be expressed as at least the beginning (t’1) or the end (t’2) of the personite’s temporal slice should be different from the corresponding cohabiting person’s beginning (t1) or end (t2).

Let me phrase now my comment, argument snippet where at the centre there is a personite construct I’m asking questions about.

Temporal slicing is at the heart of constructing personites but what if we add temporal indexes to our statements on real or fictional personites, introducing second-level, or meta-level temporality. Why complicate the case further?

One thing I noticed that in the personite examples constructed by Johnston, we are already in possession of the full narrative of the personites mentioned and do a retrospective evaluation when enlightening these personites. For instance take the case of Johnston personites learning Hungarian before the visit to Budapest or the fictional story of Dee-minus, near duplicate with the person Dum.

But what about the case of future personites? What about for instance, our future personites, lasting, filling up time between just now (whenever it is, the actual indexical now, call it t1) and our approaching death? Say Mark Johnston is 64 and a fraction of xxx year old now on the 6th of June (just a day after giving a successful 2018 Gareth Evans Memorial Lecture at Oxford) and we know that he will live for an interval of X (hopefully many tens of decades) before his death. So how about the leftover Johnston personite X at t1 (the actual indexical now) who is constituted by Johnston t(death of Johnston) – t1 (now), so the remaining Johnston that will span over future Johnston minus actual Johnston, the 64 year old person? Based on what we know about constructing personites, leftover Johnston X will qualify as a personite, as it is non-maximal, only not the usual (counting from birth) but an inverse (counting back from death) way. Once we agree on this we can ask the question, that is Johnston’s main hammer,: Does leftover Johnston X have a moral status at t1 (which is the actual now?)

I think there’s a problem here and let’s see the 2 horns of the dilemma:

1. If we grant so constructed leftover personites a moral status then we assign future personites a moral status. And that is problematic, am not even going to tell you why, just try to figure it out. 2 more comments here: Although there is a similarity this is not the same as the potentiality case for foetuses, capable to develop sophisticated cognitive capacities as Johnston is already at the top of his cognitive capacities. So the problem is not potentiality in a usual way, please see SEP entry 5.2. Second, think about leftover personites constructed in a world where time travel is possible. So a leftover personite Johnston X can end up being earlier than actual Johnston, so the problem ceases to be the problem of absolute future, but it still stays the problem of individual ST downstream trajectory. In any case, this horn of the dilemma says that leftover personites do have a moral status. So the rest of Johnston’s original argument against ethics in a reductionist world follows. But a good additional argument is needed for why leftover personites can be granted a moral status just like earlier personites that happened already before t1, the actual now.
2. Leftover personites cannot be granted moral status ahead of their time. But then there seems to be a problem with the operational definition of personites based on which Johnston’s argument against reductionism relies upon as it turns unworkable. So the definition needs to be updated, modified somehow to exclude leftover personites explicitly.

One more comment, am not going to elaborate on now as it leads to deep and deserves further investigation: This is the question of whether statements about leftover, remaining personites are future contingent statements or not. Future contingent statements according to SEP

Future contingents are contingent statements about the future — such as future events, actions, states etc. To qualify as contingent the predicted event, state, action or whatever is at stake must neither be impossible nor inevitable.

To me it seems that the existence (the happening if we process talk) of leftover Johnston relative to the actual now will be borderline inevitable, even if, god forbids, it is only a very short amount of time and Johnston is struck dead by a meteorite tomorrow. I assume a probabilist phrasing here would help to reach some clarity on the status of leftover Johnston but am not doing that now. But I leave the possibility of the existence of leftover Johnston as necessary open.

Also please note that we are NOT taking a position concerning reductionism vs non-reductionism here as we are asking about the consistency of the personite concept that leads to a position/consequence concerning reductionism and moral status.

So assuming we ran into problems by resolving the horns of the dilemma raised by leftover personites what might be the way out?

My solution would be to redefine moral persons with open ended lifespans, so constructing leftover personites with a near certainty won’t be an option anymore. One just needs to get away from closed lifespans enough to not run into issues like leftover personites.

But what we gain instead is a whole new world and new moral situations.

Considering a current living person, say Johnston at 64, a moral person with an open ended lifespan is a perfectly viable thought. A closed lifespan person with normal life expectancy and without any terminal illness can be considered as a person with an open lifespan at the limit.

But more on this idea in another place[ToDo].

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 intro: 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.

The little big enhancement debate

Can you imagine a world without disease but with biological aging? Neither can I

One default philosophical question about counteracting biological aging is whether those interventions would qualify as enhancements or medical therapies/medical preventions. The answer to this question depends on the status of biological aging, whether it can be considered as a natural process or an actual broad-spectra disease.
In what follows I sketch a simple, reductio ad absurdum argument to show that disease and biological aging cannot be conceptually separated from each other. I’ll make the connection between the two clearer throughout argumentation. If they are connected through a conceptual continuum then biological aging cannot be considered a natural process so interventions counteracting it cannot be considered enhancements, but medical interventions, either preventive techniques or therapies.
  1. Imagine a possible world where human (medical) technology eliminated all diseases but where people would still go through biological aging without any specialised medical interventions designed to counteract and undo the effects of the aging processes. Can we succeed in imagining such a world?
  2. If such a world were coherent and perfectly conceivable then in this world people would not die of diseases, either infectious or non-infectious conditions. In this world people would die of external, non-infectious reasons, outside the domain of medically diagnosable pathologies.
  3. Yet, according to our other assumption, in this world people still undergo biological aging, so they still experience functional decline and increased mortality with age due to biological aging.
  4. But increased mortality means people would still die from medical consequences of aging.
  5. Nobody dies directly due to biological aging. Another way to put this: Accumulating biological aging processes are the distant but not the proximal causes of mortality and death. (I’ll write separately on proximal/distant causes in this respect later[ToDo].)
  6. Diseases are the proximal causes of death in case of aging associated increasing mortality. For instance people die directly due to cardiovascular diseases (heart attack , stroke).
  7. We arrived to a contradiction in imagining such a world as our main stipulation was that all diseases have been prevented or cured, yet we still need to assume that diseases are killing people due to our other assumption of this world, namely that biological aging still continues to happen.
  8. The conclusion is that we cannot conceptually separate diseases and biological aging from each other. Although biological aging is not classified currently as a disease it clearly leads to the accumulation of age-associated diseases.
  9. Counteracting biological aging cannot be considered an enhancement but a therapy or prevention.
This is my first take on the notorious  enhancement vs therapy/prevention question in the context of aging and open healthspan. I have developed another argument why open healthspan technologies cannot be considered enhancements, I think it is more substantive than the indirect, counterfactual argument above. Will tell you later.

The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting

What is your superpower? What is your secret superpower that makes you stand out, that makes you unlike anybody else?

These kinds of questions – surprisingly to me – are frequent parts of everyday conversations and the internet is full with dubious quizzes that help one find their own superpowers in case they feel underrated.

So imagine a bunch of superheroes and the odd one out talking in a pub about the super strength or power they have and trying to compete with each other to establish which one is the coolest, the best, the most attractive?

A: I can see through walls with a super-developed thermal vision. (Demonstrates it by telling how many people are in the pub’s toilet.)

B: I have an I.Q. off the roof, it cannot be measured with any standardised tests. (Demonstrates it by asking others to give them (singular ‘they’) 3 100 digit numbers to multiply.)

C: I am invisible if I want to. (Demonstrates it by disappearing from plain sight and then re-appearing at another pub table.)

D: I’m 500 years old. I can live indefinitely long healthily…

A, B, C become visibly bored.

D finishes the sentence: … cause I have access to this cool technology called Open Healthspan, you interested?

Which is the odd one out? Which capability would you like to have?

I personally never dreamed of having a super power seriously making me stand out in every which way. I’ve always dreamt about a technology, that is accessible to everyone and provides equal opportunity to be whatever one can and wishes to be.

This capacity is not demonstrative, one cannot perform with that on a stage as opposed to the typical demonstrative and performative ‘super powers’.

People who phantasise about having super powers, enhanced features usually dream about situations to use these features in front of others to do something on a grand scale, to win at competitions, to prove their superiority in certain situations ….. to show off, to boast, in short.

Healthy longevity is anything like that. Healthy longevity and Open Lifespan as its possible upper limit provides something much more fundamental, a benefit so intrinsic that it cannot even be placed easily on the beneficial capabilities spectrum as it is so fundamental.

So I’d like to ask transhumanists, wanting to develop and possess all kinds of enhancers, cognitive enhancers, memory pills, extra arms and legs to consider taking healthy longevity off their particular enhancement list.

It is a capability unlike any others. It is such a default capability that the best is not to call it enhancement anymore.

This post is part of a series of posts investigating the default and well-established philosophical question about whether counteracting biological aging would qualify as enhancements or medical therapies/medical preventions.

Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity

Here am continuing my investigations to widen the gap between enhancements and healthy longevity efforts, Open Lifespan being the possible upper limit of those efforts.

In The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting the case was made that Open Lifespan as a capacity cannot be used for demonstrative and performative purposes, as opposed to poster child superpowers like memory enhancements, and hence it cannot be used to single out individuals in a competitive situation.

Today we will look at another aspect of this comparison/conceptual difference using a very similar pub chat setup as last time. But this time we are invoking the heavyweight concepts of political philosophy: equality/inequality.

So imagine a bunch of superheroes and the odd one out meeting in a pub one day, long time from now, accidentally and talking about the biggest strength or power they have.

A: I can see through walls with a super-developed thermal vision. I beat you all when it comes to achieving things in the dark. (Demonstrates it by telling how many people are in the pub’s toilet.)

B: I have an I.Q. off the roof, it cannot be measured with any standardised tests. I beat you all in solving math puzzles quick. (Demonstrates it by asking others to give them (singular ‘they’) 3 100 digit numbers to multiply.)

C: I am invisible if I want to. I beat you all in spying and escaping. (Demonstrates it by disappearing from plain sight and then re-appearing at another pub table.)

D: I’m 500 years old and did you know that we can all live indefinitely long healthily cause we can have access to this cool technology called Open Healthspan, you interested?

Which is the odd one out? Which capability would you like to have and which capability would you like to share?

Important restriction: here I have not specified the level of access to the technologies making these capacities possible, including Open Lifespan. It is an imaginary scenario, where access to all these options is not guaranteed for anybody. But we don’t need to assume more at this point in order for the argument to work and show the tendencies behinds these capacities, either pointing towards inequality or equality.

Let’s mention 2 problems with representative superpowers like memory enhancers, IQ boosters and invisibility.

Problem #1: The situations we imagine these superpowers being used are such that they confer competitive benefits to their users as opposed to others. Memory enhancers, IQ boosters will help individuals leverage their extra gained skills over people without access to these same enhancements.

Problem #2: If everyone would have access to these superpowers then nobody could leverage them over other people and so they would cease to be superpowers, ones that are giving extra competitive benefits to people.

As Dan W. Brock puts it:

The attempt to gain a competitive advantage from an enhancement available to everyone will be self-defeating.

Dan W. Brock: Enhancements of Human Function, p60 in Enhancing Human Traits, Georgetown University Press, edited by Erik Parens, 2007.

In short: Representative superpower enhancements are pro-inequality as introducing them will increase competitive inequality.

As opposed to this, Open Lifespan is the capacity that would provide equal opportunities for all those who can access it. The equal opportunity would be provided by the extra time gained through Open Healthspan interventions. This extra time is the one giving a recurring, repeated chance to start anew, to reset, to re-gain opportunities potentially lost at an earlier time. Open Lifespan is a continuous, temporal, recursive opportunity provider.

General Conclusion: Open Lifespan is an equal opportunity provider condition, Open Healthspan technologies leading to interventions to counteract the aging process are the most progressive ones. Open Lifespan is not an enhancement, it’s a default, foundational motivation and tendency.

Personalised Conclusion for Transhumanists: drop healthy longevity from your pet enhancement list.

Open Lifespan is not an enhancement as the dead don’t compete

In my last 2 posts I have argued on why healthy longevity technologies (Open Healthspan providing the limit, an indefinitely long health life called Open Lifespan) cannot be considered enhancements.

In The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting the case was made that Open Lifespan as a capacity cannot be used for demonstrative and performative purposes, as opposed to poster child superpowers like memory enhancements, and hence it cannot be used to single out individuals in a competitive situation.

In Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity I made the case for a philosophically (morally, politically) more relevant way to separate, isolate, detach Open Lifespan from poster child transhumanist enhancements based on the tendency behind Open Lifespan to increase equal opportunities as opposed to being pro-inequality like some transhumanist enhancement dreams are.

Today I look into yet another aspect to separate Open Lifespan from transhumanist enhancements and this is the original argument I wanted to frame. It is along the lines of what kind of ‘intrinsic’ fundamental benefit does Open Lifespan provides and what kind of positional, competitive benefit it does not provide as opposed to transhumanist dreamhancements like potential cognitive enhancers.

My main background reference is the book called Enhancing Human Traits, published 2007, the most serious conceptual treatment of enhancement to date. The book was edited by Erik Parens and his introductory essay called Is better always good? The enhancement project (sorry, no link to access text) is the best and shortest start you need to get up quickly to working temperature philosophically concerning this topic.

Parens makes a crucial distinction by separating 2 kinds of conversations we have about therapy/prevention vs enhancement.

The first one deals with the proper goals of medicine and here the main question is whether aging is a disease or not. In Can you imagine a world without disease but with biological aging? Neither can I provided a reductio ad absurdum type of argument blurring the conceptual lines between diseases and biological aging, while carefully not making the mistake of considering biological aging as a disease per se.

The other kind of discussion about enhancement has to do with the goals of society, the different social, political, economical, emotional goals people can have. It is this context my recent posts intend to contribute.

Argument step by step (not always the same as premise by premise):

  1. In a social context something to count as an enhancement it needs to give a competitive, positional advantage over others in certain situations. Example 1: job interview. Example 2: competitive sport, think 100 meter sprint or a chess game.
  2. In the context of the enhancement debate competitive advantage due to enhancements applies only to situations where all competing parties are alive. Obviously candidates of the same particular job interview are living persons at the time of the interview so no problem with our Example 1. In terms of Example 2, in case of competitive sports we need to rule out absolute, time-independent comparisons between  competitive athletes, so in the context of the enhancement debate it does not make sense for instance to consider Lionel Messi’s performance metrics against dead footballers.
  3. The possible world of our thought experiment: Open Life, a possible world, where people can choose Open Lifespan, an open-ended, indefinitely long healthy lifespan. Open Lifespan is achieved via Open Healthspan Technologies developed and accessible enough that all 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. Let’s also assume that the functional, mainstream version of these technologies need and can only be applied over 45+-5 years of age taking into account different individual rates of aging. Although everybody can access it, not everybody is choosing it due to different world-views, so there’s have and have nots. For the sake of the comparisons to be made let’s also assume that different memory and cognitive enhancers are available true that are proven to provide extra competitive benefits for our job interview in question, see next point. It is very important to note here that I think the argument works in a world where not all people have access to Open Healthspan technologies but the point I want to make should not be sidetracked by other relevant issues related to access to this technology.
  4. Hypothetical job interview within the possible world of Open Life, described briefly in point 3. For a particular job interview we have 3 carefully selected candidates invited over for the final round at the same day. A is 200 year old and a long time user of Open Healthspan technologies. B is 38 yo, so not eligible to use Open Healthspan technologies yet, still have 2 years to go. Both of them healthy and 100% functional. And we have C, whose age we don’t know, but we know that C took a recently developed and super-expensive cognitive enhancer X in the morning of the interview day. A and B have not heard about this cognitive enhancer yet. We also assume that X provides a competitive benefit in the particular type of job interview A, B and C participate in. So C is just part of the background picture here to keep in mind the position we argue against. Question: Does A has unfair competitive advantage to get the job compared to B just because A has 160+ more years of healthy professional experience in general?
  5. Evaluation of hypothetical job interview scenario in the possible world of Open Lifespan + enhancers: Both A and B have the same amount of time to prepare for the job interview. The fact that there’s a 160+ years of difference in their lifespans has no obvious bearing on A’s chance to perform significantly better than B. Say it is a position that looks for a 10+ experience in the particular field and both A and B have the 10+ years already, only A was working in this line of field 100 years ago last time, would this make a difference in A’s performance to yield A competitive advantage over B? No, one could argue that actually A is in a poorer condition to perform well at the interview because 38 year old B has been working on this particular field in the last 10 years, so all details and skills are fresh in B. And in case A has been working in the same field in the last 100 years continuously, would the extra 100 years lead to much better chances to get the job over B when 10 years of experience is already plenty enough for the particular job?[1] In this future counterfactual possible world of Open Lifespan are there going to be human jobs that are 10fold more complex that current ones, so once there are people are living 10x longer society realise this and so these people will be more suitable to fill in these kind of positions? Even assuming there will be such super-complex positions (galactic super-judge?) requiring 100+ years of experience, an interview for a current day senior position requiring 10+ years of experience in an Open Lifespan world between a have and a have not won’t be that much different from one today. And those super-senior 100+ years of experience job openings can only be announced once there are actually people living that long and able to complete. But just like a 20 year old today cannot apply for a job requiring 10+ years of experience (unless he started the particular line of work at 10), a 38 year old cannot apply for a job requiring 20+ years of experience. No extra competitive advantage for 200 yo A then wanting to go back to do their (singular ‘they’) favourite line of work just like A did it 100 years ago, at 100 years of age.
  6. Direct Conclusion: Being order of magnitude (or much) older does not confer a particular competitive, extrinsic benefit at everyday competitive situations like a job interview.
  7. Conclusion: Open Lifespan does not count/qualify as an enhancement in the lack of obvious competitive benefits.

There’s several counterarguments and several discussion points that can be raised here, so I will follow up with a discussion post.


[1] Hard to evaluate (requires understanding different psychology perhaps) but one might as well argue that more years doing the same means less motivation. (evoking the boredom argument for the sake of a particular activity, not for the sake of life, totally different).

Open lifespan needs an open narrative: life as a series

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.’



Open lifespan as a coherent life plan enables super-agency

The indirect philosophical background of this post is the meaning of life question. But the direct philosophical foreground is ‘agency’.


In ‘Agency, Life Extension, and the Meaning of Life‘, professional philosopher Lisa Bortolotti argues that the so-called agency objection against a loosely defined life extension technology should be rejected.

Briefly put, the agency objection argues that one important component of the meaningfulness of human life is being constrained as an agent and since ‘life extension’ removes these constraints it undermines this meaningfulness of lived lives.

Agency is described the following way by Bortolotti:

Working towards one’s desired goals requires the overcoming of obstacles and contributes to a sense of achievement and self worth. Agency would not play this role unless agents were constrained. Striving to achieve one’s goals is a paradigmatic way of acquiring or manifesting virtues such as constancy, integrity and determination, and recent empirical evidence also suggests that it is a source of happiness.

Bortolotti shows with good examples and careful argumentation that even in a much extended life constraints of agency are still around and obstacles are still galore. She is also using another well-known argument against ‘life extension’, the boredom argument to work against the agency objection.

Now, I’m not here to introduce Bortolotti’s arguments in details but I recommend for everybody interested in the philosophy of lifespan extension to take a look.

I’m here to sketch an even stronger argument against the potential use of the agency objection in the context of open lifespan.

Open Lifespan and Open Healthspan are described in the opening post as the following: 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.

The main purpose of this post is to show how open healthspan technology can provide ample enough motivations, commitments, decisions, challenges for people who will take it seriously. So the agency objection is just an apropos of developing snippets of positive philosophy around open lifespan.

By an ‘even stronger argument’ I mean that from the point-of-view of this argument the agency objection stops being an objection and turns into an actual agency argument supporting open lifespan due to its effect on the actions and decision of the agents.

Body of argument

First of all we assume the most conservative scenario of open lifespan, a bodily one, maintaining physical, physiological continuity and psychological connectedness.

Second, a scientifically/technologically motivated assumption: Any kind of significant open healthspan technology can only be achieved with a continuous, diverse and super-complex regenerative treatment.

Third, open lifespan taken seriously forms a coherent life plan for individuals choosing it. For them the meaning of life is to live healthily as long as technologically possible.

A technical note on the Rawlsian concept of ‘life plan’ using Nozick’s introduction in Philosophy and the meaning of life, p577 in Philosophical explanations:

To intend that my life be a certain way, I must have an intention or desire or goal or plan that focuses upon my life as a whole, or at least a significant portion of it. … The strongest sort of intention about one’s life is a life plan, an individual’s set of coherent, systematic purposes and intentions for his life. These need not be specified fully, they will leave much open for further detailing, they can be revised and so on. A life plan specifies the intentional focus of a person’s life, his major goals (perhaps partially ordering them), his conception of himself, his purposes, what if anything he dedicates or devotes himself to, and so forth.

Let’s see now the meat of the argument, presented en masse, textually without detailed argumentative structure and notation.

Open healthspan technology management will take up a significant amount of time of the agent going through the process (think 15-20%, say, as an analogy think of serious diabetes 1 management). It will present a major constraint to any human life lived with the use of this technology. When the question is to prioritise between reaching longevity escape velocity with a new intervention versus any other non-related life goal, like learning a new profession or raising kids, a open lifespan commitment will overrule these other choices, that would have otherwise been prioritised assuming current, typical life expectancy and closed lifespan. These other choices and decisions will be nested within the life structure presented by such a demanding, continuous, regenerative process. By posing such constraints and obstacles of reaching other goals in life, keeping to this regenerative regimen brings 2 important consequences. First, every human life committed to open lifespan will be equipped with a new superstructure, specified by the process. Second, all other, non-related goals and commitments in life become more scrutinised, more challenging for the agents in particular, compared to how they are in the current society.

As reaching the next period of open life will always have its challenges and hence cannot be standardised ahead of these challenges (biological aging is not in remission for long, multiple, diverse damages can and will always come back and pile up) this superstructure imposed on life helps constructs a super-agent, always with an agenda on what to repair, regenerate next in order to keep the system together. This superstructure continuously nourishes the constantly updated, “original” agent underneath, the one before the start of interventions, with it’s original, ever-revised and adjusted non-related life goals.

According to such an argument and such an interpretation of open healthspan technology and open lifespan commitment, the agency-ness of active agents will become much stronger and over-expressed. So the agency objection can be re-stated as a pro argument for developing, desiring, choosing and acting under open lifespan.

Open Lifespan and knowing our age in Rawls’s Original Position

In our last post entitled Open lifespan as a coherent life plan enables super-agency we already mentioned one important concept of John Rawls, the concept of rational life plan. Today we go much deeper into Rawls, behind the life plan concept, at the heart of his foundational justice theory.
Our foreground argumentation deals with the Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’ in the ‘original position’: a thought experiment leading to a just society.
Our background deeper question: How would knowing our chronological age impact our impartiality, self-interest and our self-assessment?
Here’s a great quick introduction using Enhancing John Rawls’s Theory of Justice to Cover Health and Social Determinants of Health by Perihan Elif Ekmekci and Berna Arda:
Individuals need some fundamental resources to realize their life plans; these are called “primary goods”. Primary goods may be defined as the things free and equal citizens need all through their lives to live as a normal and social member of the society. Rights, freedoms, income and welfare are the essential elements of the primary goods set. Primary goods are natural or social by source. Natural primary goods are the ones which are due to the natural lottery rather than the distribution by the social institutions. Depending on the natural lottery individuals may have or lack these resources.
Rawls’s theory of justice aims to constitute a system to ensure the fair distribution of primary social goods. This system requires the establishment of institutions to distribute primary social goods according to the principles of justice and fairness. The institutions established for the fair distribution of primary social goods are the subjects of justice. Rawls imagines a hypothetical original position to determine the principles of justice. Individuals are considered to be rational and capable of making rationalistic decisions as a priory. Another a priori acceptance is that individuals know how the greatest utility would be achieved and what the highest good is when they are in the original position, gathered to decide on the principles. Individuals are considered to be behind a veil of ignorance when they are in the original position. Veil of ignorance creates an environment in which the individuals are ignorant about their social status, gender, age, ethnicity, abilities, level of intelligence, level of education and likewise

A short methodological consideration

A typical method am following here when dealing with important texts and concepts of other philosophers, whose thinking obviously have not included the counterfactual scenario of open lifespan is to ask what happens with their concepts and arguments if we assume open lifespan. What we care about is how to re-use, re-mix the concepts and parts of the argumentation for the philosophy of open lifespan, to be able to show how open lifespan as a thought experiment can be embedded into existing philosophies and modify them and more importantly how the philosophy of open lifespan can benefit from existing argumentation and conceptual frameworks. In terms of historical reconstruction, what the real X might have thought et cetera: I don’t really care about it although occasionally I use secondary literature using such reconstructions.

Body of argumentation

Here are the 3 main background assumptions for the argument to work.

• Knowing our age or not: It is not known whether in the original position people would know their chronological age or not, Rawls does not explicitly assumes either way as far as we know. I’m not a Rawls researcher so don’t really know. But the assumption is that for his argumentation which aims for simplicity age is not needed so it is behind the veil of ignorance. (see citation) I’d like to show that whether age is known or not known it leads to serious problems in Rawls’ argumentation, forming a dilemma, out of which we will offer the assumption of open lifespan as a way out.
• Closed lifespan: The background assumption for both parts of the dilemma is closed lifespan with a capped maximum lifespan and current life-expectancy with well-known health trajectories.
• Persons with biological bodies: Although the ‘thick veil of ignorance’ abstracts away from most characteristics of people to focus on impartiality, it cannot be as thick as to abstract away from biological bodies as carriers of those persons. Abstracting away from the biological bodies and assuming say, brains in a vat or physical carriers as thin as bit based computer programs running on machines would endanger the very realistic aspects of present-day, ’traditional’ people forming societies that we should have in our mind when thinking through the original position thought experiment.

Let’s see now the actual argument.

1. The first branch of the dilemma: Let us assume that people know their particular chronological age in the original position. (See another discussion point here about how many ways can we know our ages). Assuming current life expectancy and closed lifespan what would happen if we were to know our chronological age? In that case assuming closed lifespan, people in late life would be well aware of the frequent occurrence of age-associated diseases and functional decline. So people were able to statistically predict our health status and that would compromise their impartiality.
2. The second branch of the dilemma: Let us assume that people don’t know their actual age. This is the usual assumption in the literature. Here my argumentation plans to show that it creates a problem. I’m going to provide different arguments on why knowing our chronological age is important enough to be included in the original position but right now let’s just mention one such argument here. Not knowing our age means we don’t know at which point we are in our own life trajectory. If we don’t know this we cannot assess whether our life is going according to our life plan or not. We don’t know our own conception of good in the original position but we know we do have a conception of good in order to be able to execute our life plan. Similarly we don’t need to know our particular rational life plan but we need to know at which point we are at in executing our life plan to be able to see whether we align to this life plan or to be able to see whether we need to amend our life plan. Knowing our own age serves as a basic reference point in the execution of our life plan. Knowing our own age is therefore instrumental in us being rational being in the Rawlsian sense so we need to know our age in the original position (+-n years if we consider life stages, life periods or life sequences instead of instants and particular ages) in order to fulfil the rationality criterion.
3. Bring in Open Lifespan: But let’s assume that the original position is a possible world where Open Lifespan is accessible for all who are choosing it. So here we abandon our closed lifespan background assumption and make it open in the argument, please note logically speaking we only needed closed lifespan to create the dilemma above in the first place, to create the starting point of our argument.  Open Lifespan based on open healthspan equalises (or neutralises) all adult chronological ages with respect to probability of potential health status by keeping age-associated functional decline and increasing mortality continuously at bay. So mortality rate is practically the same for all adult chronological ages.
4. Resolving the dilemma: Both problems leading to the branches of the dilemma have been resolved this way, as the problems associated with them under Closed Lifespan are not problems anymore. Knowing our chronological age under Open Lifespan won’t compromise our impartiality in the ‘health care’ sense as Open Lifespan equalises/neutralises all adult chronological ages with near-constant biological ages. On the other hand,  this does not lead to complete age-ignorance, and we know just enough about our age (or life stage, period) to use it in the execution of our life plan.
5. Mirror Conclusion 1: The Open Lifespan assumption saves Rawls’ crucial justice as fairness argumentation. This is a theoretical conclusion, dealing with the inner things of philosophy.
6. Mirror Conclusion 2, more relevant for Open Lifespan: Open Lifespan leads to a more just society than Closed Lifespan as justice as fairness has a bigger chance to succeed in a society where age cannot be used as a ground for discrimination. This is more of  a practical conclusion and we’ll analyse it further. (For many ‘life extension’ supporters this is a trivial conclusion but for most people, including most philosophers, it is probably not).


[1] Since the original publication of the post I had time to significantly update the ‘Body of argumentation’ section. This update is my attempt to clarify 2 comments made by Janos Kis. Professor Kis, although not the formal supervisor of my philosophy M.A. thesis back in 2004, advised me extensively. I’m grateful for the short comments as besides being important those were the first actual comments made on my current Open Lifespan book blog.

[2] ‘Veil of ignorance creates an environment in which the individuals are ignorant about their social status, gender, age, ethnicity, abilities, level of intelligence, level of education and likewise.’

Fighting aging and fighting ageism: two sides of the same coin?

A quick answer to the post title question

Sure, but only if we know what types of aging we are talking about. My original, more boring but less sensational post title elaborates on this: Counteracting biological aging and neutralising chronological ageism should go hand in hand.  (For the record, am not a big fan of using military/aggressive terms such as fighting). We desperately need to use the proper terms and choose the right type of aging we talk about depending on the context we talk about it.

Personal Intro

I’m into Open Lifespan/Healthspan since I was 14 and am several decades older now, in early middle age. Since my teenage commitment got me into aging research and science, I became sensitive and appreciative towards the issues that arise with aging so I was sensitised towards the issues of older people early on. I’ve always looked at them as forming the forefront, the avant-garde of experiencing and understanding accelerated biological aging and trying to counteract the biological, physiological decline and metabolic damage that accompanies it. So that meant respect, by default.And I’ve always communicated with them without problems, openly, not being locked into my own generation, as many do. I was just curious and also loved my maternal grandma and paternal grandpa, the ones I had a chance to get to know at all.

As a result of my early commitment to the cause of Open Healthspan/Lifespan to me these 2 things are inseparable: efforts to counteract biological aging and fighting chronological ageism. To me these are the 2 sides of the same coin.

Connecting the topics of aging and ageism

But for many this is probably not the case. For one, this is just not an issue at all people in general think deeply about. My assumption is that for the bulk of society, these 2 things are not serious enough issues they identify with to express opinions about it. And yet, all the people reaching adulthood and more are taking hits both from biological aging and from chronological ageism during their lifetime.
How about a potential, negative argument made saying that people fighting aging are people promoting ageism at the same time? They might say: if you fight aging you are also fighting (whatever fighting means here) the main carriers of aging, older people. The brief answer: this potential argument can only emerge as a result of sloppy language use, failing to specify which type of aging is used in the 2 expressions forming the statement. Clarification comes quickly once you realise that people fighting aging are actually fighting biological aging and the people promoting ageism are promoting chronological ageism. So I’m here to show in advance that this is a crappy argument. One needs to only show that the concepts of aging used in the argument are used without defining their scopes and without this only bad arguments can be constructed. And to be honest I have not seen anybody yet making this argument anywhere and this is good news.
Still I think the reason for not having this argument around is due to the underlying topics (healthy lifespan extension and ageism) are not being connected and are not frequently discussed in public. This situation is changing though and this is for the better, but also now is the time to clarify some issues to be prepared. I think the discourse on the 2 topics will significantly overlap at some point and am hoping to provide some initial food for thought to achieve this merge.
But more than this I’m here to make a stronger argument: really if you work on counteracting biological aging, you are working on fighting (one form of) chronological ageism, already. And am also hoping that if you think yourself as one who fights chronological ageism you will recognise that you should be able to understand what biological aging is and by understanding it also to support scientific/medical /biotechnological efforts to delay/counteract the process and open up healthy lifespan. Cause that might be the most effective way to support the life of older people in the long term.

The brief and abrupted tale of 3 types of aging

Let me tell you the tale of 3 types of aging here quickly: Chronological, biological and psychological.
First there was Chronos, who produced Aether and Chaos…. Ok, my tale ends here as I suck in Greek mythology and telling stories so let’s get to the point.
Curiously, chronological (Chronos) is by definition the ‘neutral aging concept’ as it only registers time’s passing. ‘Biological aging’ (Chaos) is the ‘negative aging’ concept, the ’troublemaker’ as it refers to all the damage and functional decline and increased mortality that comes with normal biological processes going south with the passage of time. A good example is one of the hallmarks of biological aging called immunosenescence/inflammaging which refers to the innate immune system starting to misbehave with time and low level inflammation rising slowly through the decades leading to actual pathologies at the end, but not throughout the long accumulation period. And ‘psychological aging’ (Aether) is sort of where we have good news –  becoming wiser, making it the ‘positive aging’ as accumulating psychological research shows that there’s a lot of psychological reservoir with age and late adulthood often brings emotional stability, life satisfaction and positive affect. Increased risk for age-associated neurodegenerative diseases is a component of biological aging, not psychological.

2 types of ageism: intergenerational and one-way chronological

Before progressing with our argument, let’s take a look at what elements are ageism defined with by using 2 quotes, a general definition and a unique feature:

1. WHO’s definition from a perspective paper published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2018;96:299-300.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ageism as the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination towards people on the basis of age.
2. A unique & confusing psychological feature of ageism described in a New Yorker piece by Tad Friend:
Like the racist and the sexist, the ageist rejects an Other based on a perceived difference. But ageism is singular, because it’s directed at a group that at one point wasn’t the Other—and at a group that the ageist will one day, if all goes well, join. The ageist thus insults his own future self.

The claim I would like to make is that there are 2 forms of discriminatory ageism, both of them are chronological ageism but only one of them have a connection to biological (and physiological) age.

The first type of chronological ageism is intergenerational ageism. Discriminating against other people of different age or against our older (or middle-aged or younger) selves, the main machinery involved here is chronological age. If you think that the deleterious effects of biological aging is the main or only cause for chronological ageism against the older people then imagine a world where biological aging is not a problem anymore, yet kids are still born and develop and new generations are coming into age and taking their place and developing their own culture and references. It seems clear that in a world like that ageism and tensions between generations and fights over just allocation of resources would still be an issue. So chronological ageism is generational ageism too, based on different numbers of years registered for different groups of people since their birth. They were/are/will be newcomers at different times. And this kind of generational ageism goes both ways, affects the younger (later) and the older (earlier), explicitly because they are younger or older. But as this scenario above shows biological aging is not a necessary condition for triggering this kind of chronological ageism. Biological is not needed in order for chronological to happen. It will happen anyway.
What about it being a sufficient condition though, does the existence of biological aging and the visible signs of biological aging trigger chronological ageism by itself? Yes, this is classical ageism, rooted in favouritism, positive bias for the young and it has a long long history in human culture. (Recommend reading the History of Old Age by Georges Minois). This type of biologically triggered ageism goes one way though, as it affects only older people by definition. Let’s call it one-way chronological ageism.

The anti-ageist argument for Open Healthspan/Lifespan

By now you might have guessed the argument I’m going to construct: healthy lifespan openers working on coming up with interventions to counteract processes of biological aging are at the same time working on removing the physiological, cognitive differences between the biologically old and biologically young, hence they aim to attenuate biologically motivated ageism hitting older people. So they fight not just biological aging but biologically driven one-way chronological ageism too. Minimising the differences between biological ages and maximising the differences between chronological ages, they will make it hard for managers and decision-makers to build ageism into the very fabric of companies for instance and all sorts of institutions. No executive should be in a position to hire the younger candidate between 2 candidates with the same competency level just because the older candidate might have age-related chronic diseases. Currently only a rare minority of older people can maintain top healthy condition that makes them as competitive in certain situations as members of any other age group. One main motivation behind Open Lifespan and the elimination of ageing related functional decline is to maintain this competence and competitiveness for almost all older people, not just a select few.
At this point somebody might raise the question (again): isn’t constantly removing features of accelerated biological age in the hope of eliminating the basis of ageism constitutes ageism itself? This is a not the same crappy argument I phrased above in the Connecting the topics of aging and ageism section that was based on a simple conceptual confusion related to the different concepts of aging. This is a new argument that asks deeper: Aren’t healthy lifespan openers accepting the ageist logic and assumption: old age makes people less useful for society? First of all, let’s make a crucial difference between ‘logic’ and ‘assumption’; by ‘logic’ we mean here arguments created with logical rules based on different premises/assumptions with a particular mental machinery behind these processes. And here one must understand that using one of the same premises behind an argument does not equal using the same logic to reach different conclusions. Ageism does rely on an assumption coming from science establishing the biological, physiological decline, metabolic damage and increased mortality accompanying biological aging. But that’s about it. This is just common knowledge nobody really argues with seeing the amount of evidence supporting it. The real problem lies in the other assumptions made by ageists, for instance connecting individual biological aging to economical, sociological or whatever other measures in a particularly biased way. (Luckily our job here is not to reconstruct ageist logic and arguments in its diverse forms.) But in order to argue against the type of logic ageism represents one should start by considering the knowledge about what biological aging means and then dismiss the other ‘ageist’ premises in order to argue against ageism. Or as we do it here, use assumptions coming from different sources and viewpoints, that of healthy lifespan openers. So let’s not confuse logic with just one assumption behind that logic.
With this crucial difference in mind let me offer here 3 types of answers to this question posed by me:
Answer #1: By working on the technology for achieving much healthier and much longer human lives, healthy lifespan openers want more chronologically older people to be around, they want to change the distribution of chronological age radically, to turn a long tail to a long plateau. This is the fundamental step that needs to be taken to take away the teeth of all biologically motivated chronological ageist views and actions. (This is of course not to say that many other significant things can be done, must be done and will be done against ageism till then, see next section.) By aiming to remove biological/physiological/functional barriers/limits imposed on the human body by biological aging, they wish to enhance the benefit that comes with much longer chronological age and that is experience, some form of it can be called wisdom if you wish.
Answer #2: Here we go back to the fundamental difference between ageism and the other 2 big discriminations, sexism & racism, namely the universal feature that ageism involves discrimination against our future selves. Ageism is the mindset that turns a self-representation into a bothering and othering hetero-representation, when we see ourselves in the (usually distant) future and we don’t recognise our future selves continuous with our current and (much) younger selves and as a result we de-value our own future. This is the logic behind temporal discounting as well. We prefer rewarding our younger selves as our ’true, authentic, …’ selves as opposed to our future older selves, by thinking our younger selves are representing us in our best form, at the top of the game. I’m talking about fully developed adults here. A 7 year old might desperately want to become a 10 year old, and a 16 year old a 20 year old. A 21 year old might not be as desperate anymore to become a 22 year old. And thinking from this point of view healthy lifespan openers want to become their older selves just as much as they are comfortable being their current selves. This is the best scenario to make ageism impossible from the inside, this is the best scenario to even out how we might view ourselves consistently throughout time. Fortunately I got vaccinated against considering my younger self the ‘real one’ thanks to my early life stage life extension commitment.
Answer #3: Quick answer: The deepest way to go after ageism is not by fighting institutional ageism but by developing solutions to counteract the biological aging process to free up, carve out extra valuable time for older people, to make them as competitive as others. If average healthspan goes up by 2 decades those 2 decades of life will turn into a most precious resource for older people to generate values, to contribute to the well being of society as a whole. To motivate this answer further, let’s ask how many ways can one-way chronological ageism be attacked?

Hey, Anti-Ageists, wanna make a lasting difference in the long term? Become healthy lifespan openers

The main attacking point of anti-ageist advocates today is legal, political, social: they go after age discriminatory practices at the courts, call out ageist rhetorics in politics, ridicule blatant ageist advertisements and careless social media remarks. They have a lot to do and they have a simple but important job to do as the current circumstances are mainly a result of the ‘ruling narrative of old age’, described so eloquently by Joseph Coughlin in his book, the Longevity Economy. This current institutionalised, mainstream view/image/depiction of old age assumes that the old is a needy, greedy consumer past the crucial producer, worker, society-maintainer years. This view has been built up in the last 200 years and was on top in the second half of the last century. Consequently prevalence of ageism is high, and it’s easy to find targets, so the work is rewarding and looks fruitful.
I call this dominant form of anti-ageism external or top-level anti-ageism as it concerns external, top-level problems surrounding older people and blocking their reintegration into society.
Under most anti-isms there is (or there should be) a positively framed (even if relativised or comparative) message about say the equality of a particular group of people with another group of people or the freedom of a particular group of people with another group of people. Using negative messaging only, it’s hard to establish a super-convincing viewpoint.
External anti-ageists fight the ageist prejudices and biases around the chronologically aged and they make their lives hopefully better as a result, but only indirectly. By indirect I mean not touching/attacking the biggest problem facing older people in the first place: the burden biological/physiological aging puts on our constantly changing and vulnerable identity through time. As Sharon Butala’s recent Against Ageism put it:
The day old age strikes, our lives appear comfortable, even privileged, but our hearts are numb with permanently thwarted desire, our throats choked with longing for things we will never have again, and our future, we are sure, is too bleak to contemplate. We stare in terror into the abyss and ask ourselves: Who am I now?
I struggled in the face of all this, as my body changed and grew more fragile no matter what I did to stop it and as younger people started ignoring me or treating me as if I were a not-very-smart, obstinate child. And because of my less robust physicality, and my new single state, I was having to cut away things I used to do: bike riding, cross-country skiing, extensive hiking, adventurous travelling, and participating in many after-dark outings.
As I explained in the 3 answers in the previous section healthy lifespan openers fight this burden constantly in the hope of building a chronologically much more diverse society backed by their strong belief of attributing the same value to their various temporal identities, their different temporal slices while also understanding and appreciating the differences between those stages. And this is what I call internal or bottom-level or deep anti-ageism: the fundamental fight against biological aging will enable the fundamental well-being of older people.
What I’d like to suggest is that the switch from an external anti-ageist activist to a all-cause anti-ageist is a straightforward one and lies on the same path: it assumes that underneath the justified sensitivity towards alleviating the overall, accumulated burden on the shoulders of older people, there must be a united, fundamental, positive belief in the value of the lives of the same older people. An all-cause anti-ageist should practice both external and internal  anti-ageist principles.
Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk too. Build the tools that enable advancing this cause.


  1. When it comes about discussing issues around aging, always try to use the term ‘aging’ with a qualifier, defining its type, restricting its scope. Make an effort to offer this help to others too. This way you will have an actual chance to talk sense.
  2. Deep healthy lifespan openers might not realise but they are working on the best option to eliminate one-way chronological ageism by developing interventions to counteract biological aging every which way. Longevity advocates: you are anti-ageist, don’t you think? Say again, can’t hear you.
  3. Current, vocal anti-ageist advocates mainly practice external/top-level anti-ageism, and if they want to go deep and become all-cause anti-ageists they must work towards Open Healthspan/Lifespan to address internal/bottom-level, deep anti-ageism too.
  4. To paraphrase Kant: Fighting one-way chronological ageism without fighting biological ageing is futile in the long term, and fighting biological aging without fighting one-way chronological ageism is blind, in the short term.

Open Future: Open Life(span) as a foundation to reinvent liberalism

The political challenge

Here I navigate the boat of Open Lifespan to the dangerous waters of politics and looking for land to anchor it nearby. This is going to be a longer exploration but what makes our adventure much easier is that we have a great compass in our hand and only one direction to look for: life-bound. Open Lifespan measures all politics with one measure: how can it support, maintain and amplify human lives. Let’s dive in.
The Economist’s 175th anniversary issue edition makes the case for reinventing liberalism by publishing an essay that is called a manifesto for a liberal revival. They say liberalism as a political philosophy cannot live by its glorious past, it needs to ‘promise a better future’. They think it’s time ‘to rekindle the spirit of radicalism’ and they claim that the ‘true spirit of liberalism is not self-preserving, but radical and disruptive’. In short, some new big ideas are needed, some intellectual fresh plasma transfusion to rejuvenate the liberal creed. However, when reading through their offering carefully, recommendations for new-ish liberal alternatives through different domains, like free markets, tariff systems, immigration, open societies, welfare states, new social contract, a ‘liberal world order’the curious mind has a problem finding those big, radical, disruptive new ideas that would reinforce and amplify the liberal values, like individual freedom, self-dignity, diversity, continuous, gradual progress and constant search for the common interest.

The new foundation

Let me offer here one such idea that could form the foundation of liberal reinvention.
The idea is Open Lifespan, an open-ended, indefinite lifespan. I will also call it, simply ‘Open Life’. It is the opposite of our current, closed lifespan. Open Life is a way, we can frame our mortality, and also avoiding the trap of 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.
I’d like to show how Open Lifespan can be the main foundational and structural principle of a reinvented, renewed liberalism, the cohesive centre glueing together different aspects of the creed, from which different policies can be extracted. But am remaining mostly on the theoretical (philosophical) level here.[1]
The foundational value of liberalism is individual freedom, the source of self-dignity, and openness.
Open Lifespan as a philosophical concept is fundamentally built around the value of individual human life. Open Lifespan as a choice to pursue is an individual choice, one that can be found on a free marketplace of ideas. Open Lifespan is not something kids learn about at school or being told to pursue at church. It is still rarely (but increasingly more) a conversational topic at the family table.
Those wanting to pursue Open Lifespan are placing individual human freedom at the top in the hierarchy of political values.

Open Future/Ideas/Access/Science/Markets/Society/Progress/Borders

The Economist dubbed its global conversation initiative on the role of markets, technology and freedom as Open Future and I see Open Lifespan, a philosophical concept rooted in science and aiming for the new technological reality of Open Healthspan, as a guarantee to reach and maintain and nourish an open future.
Let us now briefly try to consider the Open Lifespan angle on the 5 Open Future themes The Economist offered for its essay competition and add one more: Open Ideas, Open Markets, Open Society, Open Progress, Open Borders.
I actually planned to participate in this essay competition with this little piece here only the contest was for people between 16 and 25 years old, and am long past that age. Also submission time is long past but hey here we are.
Open Progress – technology. This is easy as Open Lifespan is directly dependent on developing Open Healthspan technologies, so any kind of political, economic commitment on part of Open Lifespan makes technological progress a number one priority.
Open IdeasThe Economist frames this question in terms of free speech and the practice of it but here I go back one step (how the ideas are generated and disseminated in the first place) and ask about the access and availability of ideas crucial to technological progress. And here it comes no surprise that any kind of Open Healthspan technology must rely on publicly funded biomedical research, so Open Lifespan philosophy should commit to at least the Open Access component of Open Science. Please see here the recent initiative by 11 European research agencies mandate scientific publications (by projects funded by these agencies) be made freely accessible by 2020. This is a cause Open Lifespan must get behind.
Open Markets – free trade and competition. In order to develop Open Healthspan technologies both competition and free trade should be maintained and extended. When it comes to competition The Economist essay highlights that concentration of corporate power is a trickier problem and there’s a need for ‘radical new intellectual approaches’.
The emerging longevity industry (the seed of the Open Healthspan industry) provides here a curious example, relevant to understand the role of innovation, competition and free trade to prosper.
In order to highlight the technical challenge involved in breaking the closed lifespan barrier to reach open healthspan, let us consider the complexity of the problem to be solved, and the complementer diversity of the services to be implemented. If one looks for a scientific reason: what is known as aging is an umbrella term better to be thought of as agings involving a handful of hallmark processes, that are fundamentally separate processes despite being interconnected on many levels. Achieving Open Healthspan necessitates a sequence of interventions needed to act upon all these hallmark processes to counteract them.
So the longevity industry is a curious one; no one company will have sufficient initial resources to crack this problem alone but many will have necessary individual factors.[2]
The longevity industry is still in its infancy. The economic rules of this new industry are not written yet, nothing is set in stone, lots of free space to write trajectories into.[3]
On one hand intended longevity monopolies will face huge obstacles then and a new kind of openness, convergence and camaraderie need be invented. On the other hand, there might still be needed hard rules to block any such attempt to monopolise multiple hallmark technologies by individual companies, institutions, whatnot.[4]
In order to develop true Open Healthspan intervention technologies, innovation cannot be limited, halted or even slowed down by monopolistic attempts. Open Lifespan is not a zero-sum game.
Open Society – diversity. Open Lifespan is a guarantee for a diverse life trajectory with diverse roles played, concurrently and consecutively. Closed lifespan nurtures closed identities, especially closed group identities. Open Lifespan will challenge most layers of these identifies and require a malleability of identity, that we can call an Open Identity in the limiting case. [5]  A particularly important position Open Lifespan can embrace is that of anti-ageism, please see Fighting aging and fighting ageism: two sides of the same coin?
Earlier in the post called Open Lifespan and knowing our age in Rawls’s Original Position I argued that the Open Lifespan assumption saves Rawls’ crucial justice as fairness argumentation. This is a theoretical conclusion, dealing with the inner things of philosophy. But keep in mind that John Rawls defined probably the most influential version of neo-classical liberalism in the last half a century or so. Concerning the political consequences I concluded there that Open Lifespan leads to a more just society than Closed Lifespan as justice as fairness has a bigger chance to succeed in a society where age cannot be used as a ground for discrimination.
Open Borders – immigration. Here am only going to offer a hint in the form of an analogy to show the compatibility of Open Lifespan with Open Borders and factor in the thoughts on Open Society above. If you subscribe to the concept of Open Lifespan and anticipate diverse life trajectories what can you expect in terms of staying in the same place or even same country for hundreds of years? Chances are people living open lifespans are going to become literal immigrants more than once leaving their country of residence for new and greener pastures. They can be considered life migrants then.

Utopia, leave that term alone, unless it makes you tick

Let me close with a possible counter-argument of using Open Lifespan as a central concept in reinventing liberalism. The Economist assay is eager to demarcate the centrist liberal position from the non-liberal left and right. They write, and I cite the whole section as am going to use the other part as well:
Unlike Marxists, liberals do not see progress in terms of some Utopian telos: their respect for individuals, with their inevitable conflicts, forbids it. But unlike conservatives, whose emphasis is on stability and tradition, they strive for progress, both in material terms and in terms of character and ethics. Thus liberals have typically been reformers, agitating for social change. Today liberalism needs to escape its identification with elites and the status quo and rekindle that reforming spirit.
The counter-argument then can be phrased as Open Lifespan is a Utopian telos, so cannot be central for redefining liberalism, as it borrows heavily from the left, so violates political boundaries.
My first answer is that even such a prominent liberal political philosopher as John Rawls has expressed explicit utopian views. Please just read for a start the 5 paragraphs of 5.6 Reconciliation and Realistic Utopia in the John Rawls entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 out of which I only cite one:
“By showing how the social world may realize the features of a realistic utopia,” Rawls says, “political philosophy provides a long-term goal of political endeavor, and in working toward it gives meaning to what we can do today” (LP, 128).
Not sure how hard The Economist essay writer(s) had studied the works of Rawls or other liberal philosophers, but it looks to me that some elements of the utopian thinking cannot be considered discredited in liberal thought at all, unless you want to consider Rawls a non-liberal thinker.
My second and more considerate answer concerning the potential Utopia objection against Open Lifespan consists of 3 characteristics of Open Lifespan that make it really unlike other Utopias known hence make it very hard to put this concept under the same umbrella term as other historical precedents. So my current answer here is that I don’t really care about whether others consider Open Lifespan an Utopia (who knows for some that is an added extra) as these characteristics take the teeth out from the inherent dangers in the concept or just makes applying it to Open Lifespan useless. Here are the 3 comments:
  1. The Economist piece says  ‘True liberals contend that societies can change gradually for the better and from the bottom up’. Open Healthspan is already happening and lifespan (just like life expectancy) can only be opened up gradually as nobody start at year 200 but need to push through the years one at a time. So there’s only one way to introduce these technologies underlying Open Lifespan and that includes a gradual, lengthy process. It is about changing two fundamental parameters of human life, it’s health and it’s length. On the contrary, discontinuity and radical change are strong parts of most utopias known. In the light of this Open Lifespan seems like a progressive reform process, embodying the reforming liberal spirit, the one The Economist folks are talking about in the above paragraph.
  2. The Economist provides this as an explanation why liberalism has a problem with Utopian telos: ‘their respect for individuals, with their inevitable conflicts, forbids it.’ Open Lifespan is not about one right or good way of life but instead it’s about enabling all possible ways of human lives. See Open Society section above talking about Open Identity. Open Lifespan is literally grown out about respecting the lives of the individuals. This is a very liberal starting point, utopia or not.
  3. Strange as it sounds but Open Lifespan is about conserving life if viewed from an unbiased angle. It is about conserving, maintaining human life using what we are familiar with as human life as its starting point. Open Lifespan is life conservatism at its most revolutionary.

Revolutionary life conservatism, just what your inner centrist needs

Being a revolutionary life conservative, no it’s not an oxymoron and am not trying to be highly dialectical here. What am saying is that Open Lifespan is a centrist political position, just like liberals like to think of themselves being in the middle compared to left and right.
But even more than that, Open Lifespan might be the big, radical, disruptive idea liberals want to reinvent their and revitalise their dying creed.
As for people already committed to Open Lifespan, it is the invitation into an Open Future.


[1]The point is to show that Open Life provides a new foundation, a new argumentative ground to derive liberal values and principles. But Open Life itself is not a thought that can be labelled politically in an unambiguous way, cause it is not an essentially political thought but a philosophical concept deeply bound to an underlying scientific/technological scenario.T hroughout this blog and book I will investigate the compatibility of Open Life with different political philosophies, amongst them liberalism, libertarianism, communitarianism, and conservatism. It is a poly-political approach, shall we say.
[2] And it is also unlikely that one country or region could be in a position to have all the players having all the necessary technologies. To think of an analogy showing the magnitude of this enterprise*: If you take the following 6 top technology companies, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Tencent, Alibaba and combine them into one unit you might be able to develop, say half of the technologies needed for breaking the closed lifespan barrier, but half is only just a half and is not sufficient for the purpose. The point is to have an idea about the ballpark.
[3] On the therapeutics side a company is lucky to be able to innovatively work on 1, and incredibly lucky to work on 2, of such hallmarks but in order to offer those services to individuals to achieve significant effects it should develop and offer a combined service.

[4] As Tim Wu said:  “I think if we have a tech economy entirely premised on the idea that monopolists may one day buy the underlying thing, it really limits what can happen,”

There’s a lot to think about here carefully as things unfold, especially when it comes to buyouts, so to prevent things going the way they did in general technology, partly responsible for the general anti-tech backlash too.
[5] We are not talking here about the metaphysical concept of numerical identity and also not the deep philosophical challenges of personal identity where numerical identity plays a crucial role. We are going to investigate those questions in the context of Open Lifespan later, but that is going to be a strictly philosophical context.

Open Lifespan & ecological awareness: scaling up to become global humans

The argument: Humans with Open Lives can act on ecological scales

Imagine the following: you are living potentially not up to 100 years but up to 1000 or 10000 years as a biological being without the accumulated effects of aging related negative processes as Open Healthspan technology lets you to counteract those major declines time to time, resets your physiological age and keeps increasing mortality continuously at bay. In short, you have Open Lifespan and you are living an Open Life.
If your potential lifespan gets so close to the time-scale of many big environmental processes then human ecological awareness might reach a new level as full ecological responsibility can be taken for the things you do. From this point of view Open Healthspan technology can be considered and desired as a mighty enabler of ecological thought as by achieving this aim you get to act on previously unprecedented timescales, you get to act like a fully, environmentally responsible human being. At 1000 year old with a pretty good chance you are going to be amongst the Guardians of the Galaxy. And at 1001 even more so.
What makes humans self-centered is their normal life expectancy built around the externally forced restrictions of the current closed lifespan, not their lives per se. Removing this restriction, breaking out from these narrow limits 10fold, 100fold provides the opportunity to act on the same timescale as global warming for instance. Current life expectancy is a big limiting condition for most of humanity to act on an ecological scale and to face the consequences of those acts on an ecological scale.

The global human can face consequences on ecological scales

So everybody with Open Lifespan gets the chance to be a Global Human. While under a closed lifespan only a small minority of humankind  can come up with decisions on scales to approximate a global human, with Open Lifespan this distribution can drastically change.
A Global Human is living on the tip of the iceberg, so there’s always many times more behind. Instead of death, at any point the main gravity of a Global Human’s life comes from the rest of the iceberg, the long quantities of time and space still out there to be included (see life inclusion). Or there’s a more dynamic analogy than the tip of the iceberg: a Global Human’s local manifestation is the dorsal fin of a huge Orca moving along in the spacetime cone.

Global climate change as a metaphor and symbol for individual, accelerated human biological aging

This week brought unprecedented worldwide (media) attention to the dramatic IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC  giving humanity a deadline of 2030 to avoid a climate disaster. To cite from the official press release:

The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.

I could not help but think of the potential human health, healthspan and healthy longevity analogues of the different metrics, measures, numbers mentioned in the report.

The metrics mentioned above are all metrics of negative effects, of ‘things getting worse’, of dangers, risks galore. The situation is bad but it can get even worse. To quote from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men:

“It’s a mess, aint it Sheriff?
If it aint it’ll do till the mess gets here.”

This would suggest to look for analogies in terms of the acceleration of age-associated damages, diseases. But no, when it comes to humans dying due to the accumulation and acceleration of biological aging the balance is so negative that the only match is between smaller vs. bigger gain for humanity.

So am thinking things like …

Could reduced morbidity/mortality due to less cardiovascular diseases/deaths be paired up with limiting global sea level rise?

Could the likelihood of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice at least once per decade vs one per century be matched  to a 10fold vs 100fold decrease in worldwide dementia occurrence?

Could less autoimmune human damage be put next to more coral reefs surviving?

I could not help but think that now all the fingers point outwards (and rightly so) to show a coming ecological catastrophe while not enough fingers are pointing back to the damage done by biological aging to human bodies (wrongly so). Warning. This is not wanting to diminish the relevance of the former but explicitly to use this very relevance to shine upon the latter.

We can step even further and picture climate change as ongoing biological aging itself in individual bodies where the different components of global warming correspond to different hallmark aging processes. So increasing low-level inflammation might turn into global sea level rise, the melting of the polar ice cap could represent exhausted regenerative stem cell pools and disappearing coral reefs morph into vanishing checkpoints of originally tight nutrient-sensing pathways.

When offering global climate change as a metaphor and symbol for individual, accelerated human biological aging it becomes clear what makes it so hard to see the parallels between the two. While the signs of global warming can be experienced by everybody on Earth (weird weather), the effects of accelerated biological aging overwhelmingly hits older people and makes it hard to recognise it as an universal process, even though theoretically everybody knows that the mess is coming towards their shore. It is universal, only temporally differently distributed.  And while climate change spatially presents itself through different observable phenomena, that can be recorded and demonstrated for everybody, the bigger chunk of biological aging (the molecular, cellular events) is mainly hidden (as of now) from the outside view. But we are getting there to measure these processes out with science and technology and put it on the display to see just how universal it is.

And when you think of what we already have in terms of the seed components of a robust healthy longevity technology you see how much of the following section of the press release applies to the healthy lengthening of human lives:

The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I. The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air. “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

So why we do not have a report like this when it comes to human longevity, counteracting biological aging and limiting its damage? Am not getting historical here to explain this, am getting futurical (yep) to call for such a study.

The closest we have is this suggestion by the WHO:

Reduce the number of older adults 65+ yrs who are care dependent by 15 million

and this was already the result of longevity advocates, like Longevity for All, pushing, please see here and here.

But is this target enough compared to the damage done and the tools available or in the making? Are we aiming for the top here to be on a potential worldwide longevity trajectory?

No. Nope. Negative.

We should also see proposals like ‘advance healthspan of current middle-aged people by 3 years by 2030′ or ‘advance healthspan of a current older cohort by 2 years by 2030’. Hope you get the hang of what I want to say by now?

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15) used ‘6,000 scientific references, and was prepared by 91 authors from 40 countries’.

In terms of healthy longevity research there must be at least 6000 scientific references and 91 authors from at least 40 countries around.

So what are we waiting for? And where is our Intergenerational Panel of Healthy Longevity?

Time is not working for us. We should be working for more.

Individual Open Lifespan Trajectories as hyperobjects: Viscosity and Nonlocality

My current main theoretical inspiration and guide is Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects. Here I need to acknowledge that I am less certain in what I have to say as Morton writes in the style of continental philosophy and draws largely from that tradition, while the knowledge and method base am using mainly comes from analytic philosophy. But I welcome the uncertainty that comes with moving into a stranger territory.

Let’s start with the thought experiment of assuming that Open Healthspan technologies counteracting the biological aging processes have been developed and mature enough to grant individuals Open Lifespans, that is people have open-ended, indefinite lifespans and a fixed low mortality rate.

Consider now an 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? By the way let’s call this object my, your, her, his or our ‘open lifespan trajectory’ or ‘exponential human longevity’. Also make note that being temporally open grants you another huge favour: you get spatially distributed on a massive scale too as you can explore space 10x, 100x bigger than you could as a human being with a normal life expectancy under closed lifespan.

The briefest, most aggregated introduction (not using the term definition here) of hyperobjects by Timothy Morton is that hyperobjects are ‘things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans’.

Make a quick note here that makes my philosophical inquiry tricky, delicate and hopefully provoking rational debate: hyperobjects are defined explicitly to be devoid of objects in the usual human scale, particularly of human objects as their spacetime distributions are defined ‘compared to’ or ‘relative to’ humans. Morton’s objective is part of speculative realism a philosophical movement focusing on the ontological deliberation of non-human objects, entities after a long period of correlationism and anthropocentrism. My attempt certainly does not have an ambition to blend into mainstream speculative realism.

Going back to the main argument: My ‘open lifespan trajectory’ is by definition massively distributed in time and potentially and derivatively can be massively distributed in space. And my claim is that this makes ‘an individual open lifespan trajectory’ an awful lot like a hyperobject.

Let’s now briefly explore 2 out of the 5 qualities of hyperobjects in the context of ‘open lifespan trajectories’ to see whether these qualities apply. The 5 characteristics are viscosity, nonlocality, temporal undulation, phasing and interobjectivity and I will cover here viscosity and nonlocality. Basically playing the ‘What Rita wants‘ game for ‘open lifespan trajectories’ to potentially pass the hyperobject exam and possibly join the crowd of global warming, internet, evolution, bamboo forests, black holes, plutonium and countless others.

1. Viscosity

The viscosity metaphor:

Viscosity here means that the more you know about a hyperobject, the more entangled with it you realize you already are.’

or from the book Hyperobjects (HO from now on):

‘They are viscous, which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them.

Another description by Stephen Muecke:

The pervasiveness of hyperobjects is what Morton calls their viscosity

The question to consider here is once we have started to undergo Open Healthspan interventions then what kind of distancing opportunity do we have from our very own individual open lifespan trajectories, realised that way? Can we use the present, the now, the temporal actuality of instants, the current day, the ongoing week, the occurring year as an anchor to distance from the rest to come? Or we better fuse the future indefinite, but not shapeless horizon with the now and be constantly informed by it? Can we really throw away the vantage point offered by Open Lifespan?

Let me offer here 2 arguments arguing for the ‘viscosity’ of open lifespan trajectories.

The first one is trivial and comes with the assumption that we are talking about our lives. Nearness, proximity are guaranteed as we are always inside of our lives, as we are always at the wheel. However, this applies both to closed and open lifespan trajectories, so does not offer any specifics concerning our focus.

Let’s see the second argument. A global human with an open life trajectory is living in the tip of the iceberg and can expect many times more behind. Instead of death, at any point the main gravity of a global human’s life comes from the rest of the iceberg, the long quantities of time and space still provided. What sticks to the global human is her big container spacetime cone life out of which only a small fraction is available at any time point or can be considered retrospectively. The global human can’t escape her hyperobject projection. As opposed to this the current local human with normal life expectancy >40 can act as an outsider in her life thinking with good reason that the bigger chunk of her life is already behind.

2. Nonlocality

Epistemological phrasing of this feature in the Hyperobjects are Nonlocal post:

Any particular (local) manifestation never reveals the totality of the hyperobject.

Or ontologically put in HO:

any “local manifestation” of a hyperobject is not directly the hyperobject.

An individual open lifespan trajectory can have many spatiotemporal localities, snapshots but those won’t capture the totality of it. Comes from the definition. Also here it is assumed that a life with a normal expected lifespan can be captured in totality from the …. deathbed.

In HO Morton acknowledges the metaphor status of this quality admitting that:

Nonlocality means just that—there is no such thing, at a deep level, as the local. Locality is an abstraction. Metaphorically this applies to hyperobjects.

One thing that needs further consideration here is the analogy and the limits of the spatial analogy applied between being spatially locally here and being present temporally here. This is a deep philosophical subject I will go into later.

Thomas Nagel and the principle of life’s default positivity, first take

The thesis or principle I’d like to introduce today is a (possibly) central thesis behind Open Lifespan philosophy and I’ll keep coming back to it throughout this blog and book in the making. I’m going to extract it first from Thomas Nagel’s masterful and dense essay, Death, originally published in Noûs, in 1970 but am actually going to use the edited version published in Mortal Questions, in 1979.
Then I simply try to provide different formulations. So no arguments today, just a start to understand this principle by stating it and have a glimpses at the heavy philosophical concepts behind it.
Nagel’s main problem in the essay is to investigate why and how and when death can be a misfortune (evil, bad) to the persons who died. And it has to do something with bringing ‘to an end all the goods that life contains’.
And in this context the principle is first stated as an ‘allegiation’ that

It is good simply to be alive, even if one is undergoing terrible experiences.

So first formula

1. It is good simply to be alive.

Let’s continue here cause this leads to another formulation of the principle:
There are elements which, if added to one’s experience, make life better; there are other elements which, if added to one’s experience, make life worse. But what remains when these are set aside is not merely neutral: it is emphatically positive. Therefore life is worth living even when the bad elements of experience are plentiful, and the good ones too meager to outweigh the bad ones on their own. The additional positive weight is supplied by experience itself, rather than by any of its content.
So the formulation of the principle in the above passage can be something like

2. Life is a default positivity.

This is the formulation I used in the title mainly because ‘positivity’ seems like a non-reducible and more neutral concept compared to the concept of ‘good’ used in the first phrasing.
There’s an an additional formulation or explanation used in the very same section that ties life’s positivity to experience so it can be stated something like

3. Experiencing life is a default positivity.

Although the context of Nagel’s essay is definitely human death and human life, it is worth noting that other possible life forms are not by default excluded from being able to phrase this thesis.
There’s another concept that is used by Nagel in the paragraph of the essay and it restricts the focus of the essay ‘to the value life has for the person who is its subject’. So another formulation can be instead of using the term ‘good’ or ‘positivity’ is one using the concept of ‘value’ something like this

4. Life is a default value.


5. Living (experienced life) is valuable by default or in itself.

Now ‘value’ is another heavy philosophical concept, tied to ‘good’ in many cases, so again I prefer the ‘positivity’ thesis by now which feels more neutral, or less loaded philosophically.
And then we can use other formulations here to express this principle, not used by Nagel himself or not directly traceable back to this essay.
We can, say, use a bookkeeping analogy, realising that some sort of value computing is at stake here and say something like

6. The balance is always positive when it comes to life.

And let me finish with a last formula extracted from the an online analysis of Nagel’s essay, author unknown.

7. Life is an essential quality we all have.

At a first reading ‘quality’ here seems like interchangeable with ‘good’ or ‘value’ and ‘essential’ seems to confer the ‘positivity’ used beforehand but in that case this looks like a pleonasm, a doubling of the same concept. So ‘essential quality’ might be then equated with ‘default positivity’ perhaps. Both ‘essential’ and ‘quality’ are heavy philosophically loaded concepts so I’d still stick with using ‘positivity’ here.

Is life in a box is better than no life at all? Help and hope, so

I’ve introduced the principle of life’s default positivity, and the first formula provided was the one used by Thomas Nagel in his Death essay:

It is good simply to be alive.

Another way to phrase this is comparatively

It’s better to be alive than dead.

Let me introduce now a potential counterargument, extracted from the words of one of my favourite fictional characters, Rosencrantz, played by Garry Oldman in Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Mind you, this is Stoppard’s but not Shakespeare’s Rosencrantz, speaking. How about watching it first:

Here’s the corresponding section from the script:

ROS: It could go on for ever. Well, not for ever, I suppose. (Pause.) Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
ROS: Nor do I, really…. It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead … which should make a difference … shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air – you’d wake up dead, for a start and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That’s the bit I don’t like, frankly. That’s why I don’t think of it….
(GUIL stirs restlessly, pulling his cloak round him.)
Because you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you? Stuffed in a box like that, I mean you’d be in there for ever. Even taking into account the fact that you’re dead, really … ask yourself, if I asked you straight off – I’m
going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead? Naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a
box is better than no life at all. I expect. You’d have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking – well, at least I’m not dead! In a minute someone’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. (Banging on the floor with his fists.) “Hey you, whatsyername! Come out of there!”

Throughout this monologue, masked as a dialogue (see: Guildenstern: No) Rosencrantz goes through a complete little conceptual and imaginative Bildungsroman involving separate positions. At the end Rosencrantz is not arguing against the thesis of life’s default positivity but he seems to embrace it wholeheartedly. But let’s separate these Rosencrantz positions, stops of his spiritual trip. The argumentation takes the form of a thought experiment by assuming the hypothetical (counterfactual) scenario of lying dead/alive in a box with a lid on it.

Rosencrantz #1: Imagining oneself dead leads to troubles.

I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead … which should make a difference … shouldn’t it?

The starting point is an effort, a thought experiment candidate of thinking ourselves as dead, lying in a box … but this turns out to be an impossible endeavour quickly as instead of imagining himself dead Rosencrantz ‘thinks of it like being alive in a box’, so the opposite. Seems like Rosencrantz’s imagination is tricking him into using ‘being alive’, the ‘opposite’ of  ‘being dead’ as a proxy or analogy or metaphor of ‘being dead’.

Whatever concept of conceivability lies behind ‘imagining’ a scenario in a thought experiment, imagining ourselves as being dead is not going to qualify as conceivable. One can use a more stringent modal concept, like impossibility, but no need to go just there yet.

So Rosencrantz switches to ‘being alive’ in a box.

Rosencrantz #2: Sleeping as the proxy of being dead

I mean, you’d never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box.

One particular stage of life, sleeping seems like a state that is not entirely unlike being dead since it offers a much weakened state of consciousness and the fluidity of experience.

Rosencrantz #3: Dying as a proxy of being dead

Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air – you’d wake up dead, for a start and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That’s the bit I don’t like, frankly. That’s why I don’t think of it….

Rosencrantz introduces an important parameter tuning and assumes it is a closed box, so no air goes in and out, no air exchange between inside and outside. So Rosencrantz seals the deal by making the box at least a thermodynamically closed system, without matter exchange. But the point here is not to go into a physical interpretation. And the point is especially not go into a quantum physicial interpreatation as the relevance of that interpretation to our moral and human philosophical purpose is somewhat dubious.[1]

Assuming no air exchange being in a closed box is a certain death sentence in the lack of external assistance, which is also a tacit assumption at this point in order to ensure death.

So starting from an initial condition of sleeping (and having enough oxygen to breathe) Rosencrantz now is imagining itself as actually dying in the box with certainty. And dying leads him not want to think on the thought experiment further. Cause he does not like the result. Dying might be a good proxy of ‘being dead’ but ‘dying’ is not a good proxy of ‘being alive’.

Apropos of this section, I think I can introduce a potential important restriction to the principle of life’s default positivity I’ve been thinking on a while and will elaborate more in subsequent posts. The restriction says that one exception  of life’s default positivity in cases of terminally diseased people is the last stage of life called ‘dying’. ‘Dying’ and here I only count ‘dying’ that leads to actual death, is an actual transitional period to death and it might be argued that dying itself belongs more to death than to life. Two comments here. First, please note that dying only applies here to people who have been diagnosed with a terminal disease and know what’s coming their way. Dying does not necessary apply to people dying quickly without having time to reflect on it too much. If somebody had a deadly accident and died within a 1 minute after impact, without reflecting to this fact beforehand, then I’d say restriction does not apply. So am saying that dying is tied to an epistemological process considering upcoming and imminent death and it is a heavy baggage. Second, ‘dying’ can only be recognised post festa, after the person has actually died. Dying is only dying if it leads to death. If there’s a medical ‘miracle’, an outlier effect of a treatment that calls back somebody from apparent ‘dying’ well then it was not ‘dying’ and then it might not even have been a terminal disease. More on this later.

Rosencrantz #4: Helplessness, the real counteargument against life’s default positivity

Because you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you? Stuffed in a box like that, I mean you’d be in there for ever.

Somebody can be helpless in 2 ways: overpowered with no option to help himself or nobody else in a position to help him. And the former, internal case of helplessness can be phrased as lacking agency to overcome an obstacle to reach a desired goal. Please see also my earlier Open lifespan as a coherent life plan enables super-agency

Rosencrantz’s counterargument against life’s default positivity reaches its climax with stating helplessness as a reason not wanting to be alive, rather, as opposed to being dead. The argument says that whenever agency is reduced to almost zero and/or whenever external help is not available, life is not preferred over death, by default. The argument introduces a quantitative element into thinking about life’s default positivity at different times and at different life scenarios. The monolith and unified life concept in life’s default positivity is chopped up into different periods of helplessness and ‘helpfulness’.

So we got stuck in a box and we cannot get out, what else we can do?

Rosencrantz #5: Chance and hope to save life’s default positivity

Naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a
box is better than no life at all. I expect. You’d have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking – well, at least I’m not dead! In a minute someone’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. (Banging on the floor with his fists.) “Hey you, whatsyername! Come out of there!”

Rosencrantz’s brief answer: we can wait and hope for somebody else helping us out of our dire situation. According to this argument even when we cannot help ourselves and lacking agency to do so, we should still prefer to be alive as help can come our way through the agency of others. Self-agency might be lost, but other-agency can still be out there to save us. In real life (except dying as discussed above) we are hardly in a situation when there’s no hope left, in ourselves or in others. Chances are never zero. Life is worth something just by being alive.

In terms of the box you can also have a solution like this:

But as a home assignment I’d like to ask you to consider life’s basic positivity in the light (or shadow) of the situation Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) goes through in Buried.

Nevertheless I leave you here with this song


[1] Obviously there’s a take on R&D and dead (or alive?) from the point of view of Schrödinger’s cat and the entanglement of dead and alive states.

Thomas Nagel and the familiar inner experience of Open Lifespan

The important principle of life’s default positivity was introduced via Thomas Nagel’s Death essay in an earlier post. This essay is a masterful essay of analytical philosophy: dense, full with deep thoughts, yet it is clearly written and most arguments and positions can be recovered with relative ease. On the other hand, it keeps you engaged as it opens up new questions and make you think further. Today my job is to type here almost the complete last section of the essay as it provides a great description of why the assumption of open-ended, indefinite lifespan is a familiar, default and ‘natural’ inner experience of people. As such it can be used as an argument for wanting to actually live an Open Life and push for developing the technology (what I call Open Healthspan) eventually yielding an external experience matching this inner experience. Here comes the quote:

Observed from without, human beings obviously have a natural lifespan and cannot live much longer than a hundred years. A man’s sense of his own experience, on the other hand, does not embody this idea of a natural limit. His existence defines for him an essentially open-ended possible future, containing the usual mixture of goods and evils that he has found so tolerable in the past. Having been gratuitously introduced to the world by a collection of natural, historical, and social accidents, he finds himself the subject of a life, with an indeterminate and not essentially limited future.

Nagel in an earlier passage is using the term ‘familiarizes’ when describing how life is introducing (familiarising) to us goods ‘of which death deprives us’. Then comes the passage cited describing the familiar inner experience  of an essentially open-ended future. Contrast this ‘familiarity’ with how the term ‘natural’ is used in the quote as in ‘natural limit’, ‘natural lifespan’ and also ‘natural accidents’. What is ‘natural’ is deeply problematic and an infamous question, what feels ‘natural’ internally is less so. I’d say feeling something ‘familiar’ has something to do with feeling something ‘natural’ as well, so one might see the tension between a ‘natural’ closed lifespan and a ‘natural’ inner experience of an open lifespan.

It is funny how Nagel is getting so close here (in 1970!) to discover the bundle of deep philosophical questions around Open Lifespan apropos of death. Generally earlier philosophical works on death contain good hints of investigative positions, mostly left in the shadow, used as a background to illuminate the more eternal concept of death. What makes my angle unique is that I take Open Lifespan, backed by the contours of the technological possibility called Open Healthspan and work out this possible world in detail while illuminating also the accessibility from our actual world.

Why coma is not a good fit for first-person, moral thought experiments?

This is going to be a very dense daily effort as I’m sitting alone in a big reception tent at the Eden Project in Cornwall, tired and it’s getting cold.

Already discussed Nagel’s Death essay twice, now is the 3rd time. In the text, after he has introduced the principle of life’s default positivity he is aiming to conceptually restrict discussion on the value of one person’s life. So he makes the following attempt to dismiss ‘mere organic survival’:

The value of life and its contents does not attach to mere organic survival: almost everyone would be indifferent (other things equal) between immediate death and immediate coma followed by death twenty years later without reawakening.

Nagel is asking us here to do a first-person, moral thought experiment in which we are given 2 options to conclude quickly that mere organic survival (coma being an obvious example of it) is not satisfactory (fit enough) when the value component of the principle ‘it is good simply to be alive’ is being discussed. He knows that coma technically speaking is still being alive so it’s important for him to dismiss it from the discussion.

I think mere organic survival cannot be simply dismissed with a one-sentence thought experiment like this. Here’s quickly why.

Option #1, immediate death is something that can be relatively easily guaranteed in the possible and dire counterfactual world of the Nagelian thought experiment. And when death is guaranteed it is for good.

However an uninterrupted coma for 20 years is just simply not something that can be guaranteed in any possible world. One can die in a coma due to undisclosed reasons. But more importantly from the pov of our question: one can come out of a coma suddenly due to undisclosed reasons or by an actual intervention. And when the point of the thought experiment is to ask whether ‘mere organic survival’ might contribute to the understanding of why being alive is better than being dead, the value component of this principle is not the only thing that matters but also some conditions do. And coma is a condition that maintains the chance for a complete conscious life. Hence it is survival, it leads to survival and it might lead to complete restoration of the biological organism in question. So hope stays alive in coma, and helplessness is not final as in death and things apply that I said in the final point of Is life in a box is better than no life at all? Help and hope, so.  Life is worth something just by being alive.

Survival is a complicated concept and I will discuss it later at length.

Would you choose to live longer than anybody else or first help others to do so?

Forget everything you know about the complexity of interventions giving you indefinite healthy lifespan and imagine for the sake of a thought experiment that accidentally you have found a pill giving you this feature, but only you. Would you swallow that pill?

Taking the pill would mean you would be slowly but definitely outlive anybody else within humankind. In fact you would become the last person of your species assuming you manage to not die due to external causes.

Would you swallow that pill?

If yes, what kind of reason could you possibly come up with that can help you bear the responsibility? Would you think: Hey, I’m going to become the guardian of humankind and use my ability to help as many as I can.

But in this thought experiment nobody has granted you super-strength, super cognitive abilities and superpowers of any kind. Indefinitely long life does not come bundled together with indefinitely augmented capacities. So no utilitarian calculus could correctly compute why you and just you should be the one swallowing the pill.

How about saving humankind by saving yourself for later and become last person on Earth?

Sounds cool in theory but still no reason why it should be you and exactly you taking that pill. There might be people better fit for that role.

How about the principle of life’s default positivity introduced here, the strong belief that ‘it is good simply to be alive’, could this give you enough incentive to digest the pill right away without further consideration?

I’ve already suggested one restriction of this principle, applied to ‘dying’. Here am going to use a broader interpretation of the principle to suggest another restriction of its usage to argue why you should not swallow the pill. The original formulation of the principle is generally framed, so the interpretation is not ‘X says it is good simply to be alive for X’ but rather ‘it is good simply to be alive for everyone (including ourselves)’, except when ‘dying’ and being helpless about it. So while one can possibly establish some sort of survival ethos based on this principle in a ‘last person on Earth’ situation, this moral justification cannot be derived from this principle when it is about access to life and choosing yourself over somebody else. So the principle fails to single you out, the founder of the pill as the morally justified user of that pill. Still it is not reasonable to choose yourself as the person justified to keep the pill all for yourself. And this way we are back to square one; why you, why not somebody else?

So how about somebody else then? Offering the pill to somebody else makes sense through the lens of ‘life’s default positivity’, while throwing the pill away does not. The question stays open when it comes to figuring out the algorithm picking up the fortunate (or unfortunate?) person for whom the pill will be offered first. Actually you better come up with an ordering mechanism and a list of people cause chances are other people on the list will pass on the opportunity and suggest somebody else. But today it is not my job to elaborate on this.

In order to make my point we are now leaving behind the hypothetical pill scenario to generalise with respect to the rise of Open Healthspan technologies, providing people longer and healthier lives by counteracting the biological aging process. All I wanted to argue for in terms of a potential access to these emerging Open Healthspan technologies is that we have a reason to offer these technologies to others first. Or at least make it possible for others to access it the same time as us, in case we happen to have privileged access. I’m not talking about the first guinea pigs of these interventions, think about actual medical treatments and drugs and safety trials with considerable risks. Think consumer access to these technologies. Maybe we can argue that once you have access to these interventions as a consumer you need to turn other volunteers consumers first, or at least at the same time as you.

This is the first post where I’m using a bit of the communitarian critics of liberal political philosophy as an inspiration to account for community access to Open Lifespan. Expect more along these lines.

The concept and reality of a Longevity World Community, reading Jens Bartelson


The immediate focus of this chapter is to investigate the possibility of a world community centered around longevity. Is there an existing seed of such a community and conceptually what other features make a compelling case for the emergence of an organised Longevity World Community?

The historical apropos is the emergence of such a world-wide longevity community in the last two decades starting in the nineties of the last millennium and the very recent turning of part of this community into a world-wide longevity industry aiming to capitalise on the breakthrough understanding of the biological aging process and interventions counteracting it in order to increase healthy lifespan.

The background context of this mini-study is the question of how longevity can be introduced into politics. One prominent feature of this introduction is informed by the philosophical discussion between Rawls-ian liberalism and its communitarian critics.

The intellectual trigger is Jens Bartelson’s book, called Visions of World Community, published in 2008 by CUP.

Visions of World Community

The main focus of the book is the conditions of possibility (the social ontology) of a world community. The main question of the book investigates the tension between why such a world community is morally compelling and why it is so politically hard to realise. Underlying this question a pragmatic paradox: the implementation of the universal values of a world community always seem to be coloured and eventually blocked by the particularities of local communities. A world community is boundless and all-inclusive in its scope, why all historically existing particular communities are bounded. The edge of Bartelson thinking is that he digs up excellent examples showing how different cosmological beliefs were behind different formulations of world communities. I had a problem first to understand what cosmology means here because by default I was thinking about current day cosmology which is a branch of astronomy and so physics and dealing with the large scale structure and properties of the whole existing universe. Then I realised through the actual examples in the book that cosmology is meant to be restricted to geography as the term ‘world’ in ‘world community’ refers to our actual ‘human’ world, realised in the spatio-temporal unity of planet Earth. For our argument it is important to highlight here, that the examples refer more to the spatial than the temporal component of planet Earth and geography. Think more like maps, lands, territories, localities rather than temporalities, times, trajectories.

Just to show one example: For Kant as Bartelson writes ‘world community is essentially a geographical vision.’

His vision of a united mankind is a corollary of his geographical assumptions of inhabitable continents being interconnected by full navigable oceans. … The only boundaries morally relevant to such a community  are those of the planet as a whole since ‘through the spherical shape of the planet they inhabit, nature has confined them all within an area of definite limits’

Longevity meets World Community

Why do I think longevity and open lifespan (here I don’t make a distinction between the 2) has sufficient potential to serve as a cohesive force behind a world community?

My argument will try to follow the concept/reality dichotomy, if applicable.

The concept element will show how it looks in theory, what is the guarantee or angle to consider the resulting community being a boundless, all-inclusive world community.

The realist element shows the already existing seeds upon which the building of this world community can be further established upon. Alternatively sometimes the reality component is replaced by a practicality point showing a practical consequence of such a position increasing feasibility.

Membership in the longevity world community


The viewpoint offered by longevity starts as an individual one: every living human being is given an individual human life to maintain, grow and govern. On a philosophical/ethical level this is backed by the principle of life’s default positivity, please refer to Daily Effort: Thomas Nagel and the principle of life’s default positivity, first take and Is life in a box is better than no life at all? Help and hope, so.


Here I would like to characterise 3 different groups, with some individuals overlapping, forming the seed of a longevity world community.

Group 1:

People around the world caring distinctively about their longevity and making extra measures to maintain general health do already belong to this community. Until now, coming out

Group 2:

People around the world  making extra measures to maintain general health and fitness. Think Fitbits, supplements, lifestyle choices adjusted to latest health terms in terms of fitness regiments, dieting.

Group 3:

Older people in late-life operating at the frontiers of life expectancy facing longevity decisions on a daily basis. The true pioneers forming the dynamic and brave wavefront of human life. This category can be made quantitative including actual mortality rates and life expectancy, but this is not the point here.

Logic of longevity is all-inclusive by default and it is not the logic of identity

This is a conceptual point mainly, an extension of the previous point.

The identity of particular, local communities is built around the identity logic of sameness and otherness. Sameness, belonging, membership in such communities can only be constructed upon recognising differences and otherness. This applies to nation-states, the current de facto form of sovereign political and particular communities. As Bartelson writes:

‘According to this logic of sameness and otherness, each particular state is identical with itself by virtue of being different from every other state.’

As opposed to this, a longevity viewpoint does not have the concept of the Other to point to, there’s only potentially All to advantage from it. The vantage point of longevity is inside every individual constructing his belonging to this community and it is also pointing outside towards other people. We also have a theoretical reason to offer these longevity technologies to others first, please see Would you choose to live longer than anybody else or first help others to do so?.


Admitting that current longevity advocates form only a small minority this also entails that advocacy includes a lot of attempts to expose others to the advanced understanding of biological aging and the broadening spectra of potential interventions counteracting it. A lots of converting takes place, in the secular sense. This comes from all-inclusivity. I, for instance, am constantly exposing everybody in my local environment to these ideas and knowledge snippets. And learning a lot from them.

Longevity is using temporality, not spatiality to organise a world community


Longevity World Community is defined via a temporal and not a spatial dimension. Let’s get more philosophical/metaphysical here: Ownership in its typical, representative from is spatial, I own this bike, and that car is yours. More importantly, when one occupies a particular space, it cannot be occupied by others at the same time. Spatiality is exclusive, coexistence in the same space is restricted. At the same time, temporality is all-inclusive, the same time is always shared by many and all. Longevity genuinely exposes the temporal dimension as a connector of people. There is zero territoriality involved there. Here we arrive at a practical point.


Nation states are the default form of particular political communities and sources of political authority. They present the ultimate challenge for any concept and practice of boundless political world communities. Longevity as the organising principle behind a world community is fully neutral concerning nation states: different dimensions, zero interference. Every nation has longevity advocates (see next point), so no nation is devoid from members subscribing to longevity.

Common historical memory

One component of particular communities are common historical memory and Bartelson sees the lack of such memory as an obstacle in achieving world community. When we think of the 3 groups mentioned above in the Membership section, the actual oldest old, operating at the limits of life expectancy left behind traces of historical memory, wisdom to cope with the experience. Also concerning the other 2 groups, I think when one looks back into past generations it seems clear that almost every generation had thinkers, practicioners wanting to live longer healthier lives. I think showing such traces in every generation in written history would make a nice history project, to prove the case. So in the case of the longevity world community this component is there to draw inspirations from, but with one clear difference from already existing particular communities. The vehicles of this common historical memory are mostly individuals, not a particular community. The first world-wide longevity community has just been formed in the last 20 years, facilitated mainly by emerging internet technology. 


Longevity as the organising principle of a boundless, universalistic, global, world community is a radical political idea. I have argued that it is a good candidate for constituting such a world community because it is

  • individually compelling
  • potentially all-inclusive
  • existing and diverse groups form its seed already
  • it is using temporality as a dimension
  • it does not rely on the ‘Same vs Other’ logic of particular identity

Further discussion

In the light of Bartelson’s book I see at least 4 more questions left out of the current discussion:

How is diversity guaranteed as a constitutive feature of humanity by the Longevity World Community?

How is communication guaranteed as a constitutive feature of humanity by the Longevity World Community?

How does Longevity World Community meet the mereological principle of the whole being larger than the sum of its parts?

Is it possible to derive/justify global political authority based on the existence and morality of a Longevity World Community?

Hopefully as we go along I can unfold those extra discussion points here.

How Open Lifespan changes the political value of time; reading Elizabeth F. Cohen

When I started to study philosophy at the ELTE University in Budapest my first social/intellectual action was to compile a list of classical, modern and contemporary writings about the philosophy of time and then look for other undergrads being interested to seminarise these works. Think about Aristotle’s Physics IV. 10-14, St. Augustine’s Book XI of the Confessions and … the wonderful essay collection on The Philosophy of Time edited by Poidevin/McBeath. Eventually I think it was too nerdy an offering even amongst philosophy students but I stuck with studying these writings a lot. To me  studying the philosophy of time was a huge part of my personal motivation as after studying aging in the years before as a biology student I realised I have a problem understanding what is this ‘time thing’ with respect to biological aging is defined, what are we measuring here …

Philosophy of time and analysis of temporality by conceptual means is a great field and Elisabeth F. CohenAssociate Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University, managed to open a new chapter within this field by writing The Political Value of Time, that was published this very year by Cambridge University Press and I was lucky enough to see it amongst the new offerins at the CUP Bookshop.

I studied this book repeatedly this year, here’s a photo on my annotated copy.

Cohen’s analytical starting point is the tendency to ignore durational time in politics by the social sciences. Hence, most of the study is focusing on the temporal aspects of establishing sovereignty, mostly assumed hidden behind spatial boundaries and then how temporalities like schedules, waiting periods, deadlines are constitutive in the procedures of modern democracies. The main, deliberate subset of examples (‘temporal formulae’) are the age of maturity delimiting children from full citizenship, the probationary period needed for the naturalisation of non-citizens and prison sentences.

The Analysis section (p53-60) of Chapter 2 uncovers 3 main type of temporal boundaries:

1., fixed single-moment boundaries eg. the registry date of 1972 are lacking strong democratic credits and have limited normative potential

2., period restrictive countdown deadlines eg. non-immigration visa or statue of limitations accommodate more complex democratic norms than single-moment boundaries but still lack flexibility due to providing only one period

3., Periodically repeating boundaries like census, reapportionment or elections I might add, are the most democratic ones as Cohen writes (and am glad to highlight it here):

Of the 3 types of temporal boundaries repeating boundaries disperse over the largest number of points in time. In so doing … By contrast, repeating temporal boundaries can keep up with time.

In Chapter 4Time’s Political Value Cohen describes 4 features how durational time, as a political good, can act as an excellent and democratic proxy for democratic processes and other values. These features make time an ‘extremely common abstract exchange value’ and make temporal commensuration, the translation of different abstract, incomparable goods into temporal terms that can be compared and even exchanged, the best choice in several liberal democratic practices.

The descriptive analysis of these so far unreflected temporal constituents of polities and the examples lead to normative insights into the sources of possible injustice and political exploitation hidden in these terms, p163:

Each new deadline, waiting period, and temporary extension of a temporary measure creates boundaries within which people must exercise their sovereignty and a means for extending, denying, or retracting rights associated with citizenship.

In what follows I will mention some results of the analysis of durational time in a political context and some temporal examples used affecting the time of individuals imposed by state governments. Cohen obviously conducted the analysis by assuming the current, closed lifespan of humans. And our main method is to abandon current, closed lifespan and assume, open-ended indefinite lifespans and see what changes. So let’s start with the thought experiment of assuming that Open Healthspan technologies counteracting the biological aging processes have been developed and mature enough to grant individuals Open Lifespans, that is people have open-ended, indefinite lifespans and a fixed low mortality rate.

Now let’s see the particular claims, points, examples with a  closed lifespan parameter, followed by questions and evaluation attempts under Open Lifespans. If the reader thinks that assuming Open Lifespan is not a particularly relevant thought experiment to evaluate important philosophical and political concepts then just replace it with ever-growing life expectancy a.k.a extended healthy longevity and then think again. Increasing life expectancy eventually breaking the maximum lifespan barrier is Open Lifespan at its limit.

First of all 2 general points.

1. Open Lifespan enables slow and more complex democracy than Closed Lifespan

Open Lifespan provides better guarantees for simple and more complex, ‘slow’ democracy than Closed Lifespan, which is less democratic in comparison.

This is a simple argument as I think almost all political theorists would agree that given enough or ample time for commensuration to resolve normative disagreements over values and goods and principles and/or having ample time for reaching consent, Open Lifespan takes the teeth out of anti-democratic temporal pressures by overcoming temporal scarcity.[1]

A methodological consequence of this insight that democratic thinkers should eye Open Lifespan as the limiting ideal case scenario when considering the best instances of implementing democratic norms under Closed Lifespan.

A political consequence is for this is to lobby for Open Healthspan technologies in order to get us closer to Open Lifespan by arguing that it enables slow democracy accommodating the highest level of complexity and flexibility. See how I am making similar points in Open Lifespan and knowing our age in Rawls’s Original Position.

Another consideration or analogy is how the actual technological implementation of Open Healthspan will realistically look like and here the analogy is with open-ended and periodically recurring intervention regimes as discussed in Open lifespan as a coherent life plan enables super-agencyThese interventions will hardly consist of a one time popping a magical polypill ora one time treatment in a clinic between well defined temporal boundaries. My point is that there might be a methodological principle dug out here that can guide the democratic implementation of Open Healthspan technologies yielding full consent.

2. Open Lifespan might impose a strong limit on how extensively the state can command the time of its subjects

Cohen repeatedly claims that (p163) ‘temporal boundaries can be both legitimate and entirely consistent with the underpinnings of liberalism and democratic theory.’ and assumes that (p156)

Most liberal theories and theorists implicitly accept that the state can command the time of its subjects…A range of reasonable schedules generally comports with democratic norms.

Open Lifespan will have some surprises in stock in this respect. Without mentioning explicit examples here (see point 3. for instance below) I would go as far as to ask whether state government might possibly lose control over its citizens with indefinite lifespans? One is tempted to think here an ad absurdum libertarian approach supporting and arguing for extreme longevity by demanding full control only for individuals.[2]

Now let’s continue with 3 specific points discussed by the book.

3. Less rights: Minimum and life sentences: there are no proportionally longer or life-long sentences when lifespan is open-ended

One recurring example of how the state commands the time of its citizens in The Political Value of Time is prison sentencing practices. Cohen also examines how these can be sources of injustice. Let’s consider here 2 types: mandatory minimum sentences and life sentences.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

For example, people subject to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that impose extremely harsh penalties on the basis of race, spend long time in prison. …Mandatory minimum sentencing rules are widely regarded as a failure because they attempted to reduce all possible inputs into sentencing.

Assuming Open Lifespan sentences cannot be justified being longer because we do live longer as there’s no ‘proportionately longer’ if lifespan is open-ended.

Life Sentences

Cohen writes:

A society generally enacts lifelong imprisonment for crimes so heinous that it is almost certain that the perpetrator can never again be recognised as the moral equal of a citizen.

Assuming Open Lifespan the concept of life long sentences is devoid of consistent meaning as open lives are not essentially bounded.[3]

So it seems to me that as a minimal position in an Open Lifespan society, the state cannot ground extra justifications to devalue more time of its citizens with prison sentences than under Closed Lifespan.

Also, the way I see it, Open Lifespan is more coherent with the view of prison sentences that are used only for restorative but not punitive purposes, but I need to think on the argument behind more.

4. More rights: immigrants, probationary periods, naturalisation, citizenship

So far we generally and specifically considered cases of what might happen with citizens of states assuming Open Lifespan.

Now we take a look at the status of non-citizens applying for citizenship or going through naturalisation process in a particular state.

Earlier in a more political post, apropos of The Economist’s Open Future essay competition I light-argued as

Open Borders – immigration. Here am only going to offer a hint in the form of an analogy to show the compatibility of Open Lifespan with Open Borders and factor in the thoughts on Open Society above. If you subscribe to the concept of Open Lifespan and anticipate diverse life trajectories what can you expect in terms of staying in the same place or even same country for hundreds of years? Chances are people living open lifespans are going to become literal immigrants more than once leaving their country of residence for new and greener pastures. They can be considered life migrants then.

To rephrase: People living much much longer will become temporal immigrants due to the logic of their own time spent.

Here I’m going to adjust this view in the light of the analysis offered in The Political Value of Time.

First, let’s note that in our counterfactual Open Lifespan scenario it seems reasonable to assume that the main drive behind immigration will be the motivation of people challenging themselves to start a new stage of their life, a new stage where they can still benefit from all the earlier professional episodes of their malleable lives, yet they want to reset many other variables by opening a new spatial chapter too. What’s important here is that these kind of people are going to be highly desirable, experienced workforces at peak economic performance attractive to other states. So immigration policies will most probably favour them.[4]

Then consider the question of a probationary period needed for full naturalisation and citizenship, how would that change compared to current practice if (healthy) life expectancy is sky-high?

It is not the same situation as in case of prison sentences above, when proportionately longer compared to life expectancy cannot be applied to restricting rights of citizens of a state. What stays the same is that ‘proportionately’ still cannot be used mathematically to argue for how much longer probationary periods could/should be extended assuming Open Lifespan. But prison sentences deprive people from rights while citizenship rights add additional rights for people with already existing citizenship rights elsewhere and at the same time. So in one case it is negative (as in negating rights) argumentation and in another case it is positive argumentation, adding more rights. And I think this asymmetry can be used to argue at least that assuming Open Lifespan there can be no good arguments made why probationary periods should be shorter or why they could not be even longer, if not proportionally but arbitrarily longer.[5] This is a puzzling situation then.

Let’s move to another puzzling point, this time within the text and under Closed Lifespan.

5. ‘ever later ages of retirement’ as injustice?

p156 Cohen summarises political exploitations, source of injustice through temporal commensuration and notes

It is through comparative lens that we can identify the injustices inherent in excessively long prison sentences, dead-end semi-citizenship political statuses, ever later ages of retirement, the trial of children as adults, and any unduly long period in which a person or group waits for political status or rights that other similarly situated persons obtains readily

I must admit I could not fully reconstruct (or rather say, have no real clue?) why Cohen handles ‘ever later ages of retirement’ as a political exploitation similar to long prison sentences, say. But I tried, so checked the other 4 occurrences of ‘retirement age’ in the book and p123 might offer a clue, namely that perhaps retirement age extension only counts as political exploitation in case of particular professions?

eligibility of retirement in an array of professions (police, military, teaching)

So the idea is perhaps that these professions wear out people earlier so even increasing life expectancy cannot be used to justify ever later ages of retirement since a couple of decades spent in these jobs makes people deserve the important rights inclusive in retirement? This does not sound to convincing to me.

Otherwise I’m hoping that the author will offer the missing insights here to be able to reconstruct or correct this view, so not elaborating it further then.

Let’s finish with a general remark.

6. Open Lifespan as the best fit for non-static, democratic political anthropology

The closing point of our first (probably not last) investigation of the thoughts opened up by The Political Value of Time relates to philosophical anthropology dressed up as political in p160

Democracy is predicated on a belief in a non-static conception of human character.


If we can never assume the current state of a person’s character to be permanent, then the idea that a state could impose a permanent disability that denies the possibility of transformation, such as an inalterable restriction on rights, is based on a fundamentally flawed view of human nature.

Final quote on p162:

Permanence and finality run contra to the temporal premises upon which democracy is predicated.[6]

I feel that in these thoughts Cohen actually describes the ‘essence’ of Open Lifespan, emphasis being on open, transformative, dynamic, changing. An Open Life following an Open Narrative is not unlike a TV series. Here political anthropology and philosophical psychology actually converges and I’m happy to report that I’ve participated in an actual empirical psychological study that is under peer review now see some details here

With this point 6. we have actually come to a full circle back to point 1: Open Lifespan enables, slow, complex and ever more complete democracy. Democracy is based upon non-static, ever changing human character. Open Lifespan is the best, most realistic and perhaps only possible shot to achieve Protean characters and Protean democracy[7].


[1] A big pointer in Cohen’s historical references in Chapter 3is Condorcet who incorporated time into the theory of democratic processes in details. Seems like Condorcet’s corresponding political ideas are best suited assuming Open Lifespan, but he was couple of centuries early for that.

[2] To raise a more political, rather than strictly philosophical point here: earlier and in concert with my efforts to position Open Lifespan within a more centrist liberal approach I talked about the seeds of a Longevity World Community and how to cautiously relate that to nation states. Let me cite:

Nation states are the default form of particular political communities and sources of political authority. They present the ultimate challenge for any concept and practice of boundless political world communities. Longevity as the organising principle behind a world community is fully neutral concerning nation states: different dimensions, zero interference. Every nation has longevity advocates (see next point), so no nation is devoid from members subscribing to longevity.

[3] Please do not confuse indefinite lifespans with infinite lifespans aka immortality. Please see here arguments to strictly separate the 2 concepts.

[4] Please note that here ‘favour’ is used in an absolute, not in relative sense, compared to others. We don’t (need to) specify here that possible world in details.

[5] Although ‘arbitrarily’ is easy target but those arguments should come from something else but not from the Open Lifespan assumption.

[6] To which I also add that randomness in political decision makers is also not what democracy is predicated upon.

[7] I’m using the term Protean here to put it in direct contrast and competition with how Mark Johnston is using the term Protean in his tightly argumented but meta-Protean way in Surviving Death.

Open Lifespan does not rely on strong anthropocentrism

Anthropocentrism is also known by other names as humanocentrism, human-centeredness or human exceptionalism. It has something to do with attributing a special significance to humans in the universe.
According to the Environmental Ethics entry of Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy strong anthropocentrism only assigns intrinsic value to human beings alone. So intrinsic value, whatever it would be, is captured in absolute terms and applied only to humans.
In weak anthropocentrism value assignment gets relative and quantitative by human beings representing greater amount of intrinsic value than any non-human things.
Ecological thinkers and environmental ethicists have a rather easy job finding traces of anthropocentrism in the works of canonical thinkers of Western philosophy.
Object-oriented ontology also attacks and rejects anthropocentrism and moves away from epistemological approaches.
When working out bits and pieces of Open Lifespan philosophy I am looking for a narrow subset of statements and arguments that are coherent with each other but also compatible with many different philosophical positions. In short, am walking on a thin line realising the novelty and focus of this endeavour and considering ways to make it more defensible.

When it comes to ecological thought I have already tried to establish connections to this line of thinking/tradition from Open Lifespan, see Open Lifespan & ecological awareness: scaling up to become global humans ,Wanted: a Global Healthy Longevity report a la IPCC study on Global Warming of 1.5ºC and most importantly Individual Open Lifespan Trajectories as hyperobjects

Although I’m obviously talking about human longevity in the first place when describing and problematising Open Lifespan, it might come as a surprise that the current expressed views here in this blog do not rely on strong anthropocentrism or assume it to be a correct or relevant view. The reasons provided favouring Open Lifespan do not assume that only humans represent intrinsic value in the universe.

By anthropocentrism, I mean the 2 versions expressed above, strong and weak. I think the label anthropocentrism loses its usefulness (meaning?) if it is applied to any philosophy that starts with or deals with exclusively human matters. In this case the label gets empty or just simply neutral enough as it cannot be used anymore to formulate critical arguments against such philosophies.
Additionally, the formulation of Open Lifespan as open-ended, indefinite lifespan does not even have ‘human’ specified in it.
And the foundational principle of ‘life’s default positivity’, introduced in Daily Effort: Thomas Nagel and the principle of life’s default positivity, first take  and developed further in Is life in a box is better than no life at all? Help and hope, so also has not been framed restricting the scope to humans. When humans express this view in the context of human lives, they just simply restrict the domain of their talk, not because intrinsic value is only attributed to human lives but because they assume other kinds of life forms do not listen or care to apply the same principle to their own case.
Which opens up the theoretical possibility of this kind of philosophy and the underlying technology working towards lengthening the lifespan of non-human individuals and other living forms too. Interestingly, science effectively does this already by increasing the maximum lifespan of lab animals (manyfold) including several different species. I stop here and I discuss weak anthropocentrism later and also will investigate deeper definitions of the strong and weak versions.

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?’

Open Lifespan does not rely on strong anthropocentrism