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.

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