Open Lifespan Research Proposal for The Long Now Foundation

I have just applied to become a Research Fellow at The Long Now Foundation with the following proposal below. Regular readers might have read most of the material already but it is good to have a high-level summary every once in a while as I try to turn this independent, very low-budget research project into a credited, more professional endeavour. And there’s always something new as thoughts are self-developing. Here’s the proposal.

At the heart of the philosophical tradition is counterfactual thinking about different what-if scenarios or possible worlds. The task of philosophy is to thought experiment with relevant possible worlds, especially with what can be called limiting possible worlds and establish the network topology, accessibility of the worlds from each other and from the actual world. The proposed project thought experiments with the upper limit possible world of Open Lifespan, where people live indefinitely long healthy lives (think 10,000 year old selves, say) with the help of advanced biomedical technology.

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 current maximum longevity barrier 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 consider 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 proposal provides clues on how such a philosophically proper handling of longevity can be done and aims to develop a book-length investigation to hash out the necessary details to do so, backed by a 28,000 word long draft, and several in-depth investigations already, available at http://openlifespan.org/book.

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.

When it comes to human longevity, Open Lifespan is the Long Now position, working out a world from the point-of-view of our 10, 100, X times older selves and testing our current concepts in the light of what seems like a fundamental change from here but nevertheless stays as a very recognisable human existence throughout.

Open life is trajectory thinking. It’s not ideal and it’s not real, it’s not an utopia but a limiting case, a limit concept. No idealising assumptions about human nature are made, no fundamental, jump change but gradual changes not in terms of the fundamentals of biological human life but fundamentals of the amount of life lived.

The main proposition of the study is to argue that Open Lifespan/Open Life should be the central possible world and the default underlying anthropology behind moral and political philosophy. Morality should be redefined by making the case for moral persons with open-ended lifespans.

The project has 5 main aims: 

  • Describe the limiting possible world of Open Lifespan, setting up the parameters of thought experiment adjusted to the most advanced scientific thinking.
  • Provide criticism of established philosophical concepts.
  • Uncover new philosophical problems and scenarios and answer them.
  • Engage into mental rehearsal and simulation to prepare to properly live way beyond current lifespan.
  • Working out the deepest philosophical foundations to date to introduce Open Lifespan and longevity in general into politics.

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