Veil of ignorance: the counterintuitive world of partially immortalised people

In this post, which is part of my recently started philosophical post series, I try to turn an old (>15 years, tracing back to my philosophy thesis) intuition of mine into a bit more elaborated idea that might be used as an argumentative tool to assess the strength of other arguments supporting or not healthy lifespan extension and the elimination of the aging processes (agings in totality).

The idea is this: We, the current living generation of the human race (here you think of all generations, living together, no difference between a Boomer or a Millennial in this respect), have no confident ways to describe or imagine or predict ourselves and our lives in a partially immortalised world. This veil of ignorance is particularly thin when we look at our motivations of living in a partially immortalised world. We might see the contours of our future selves, living without the burden of biological aging, that is indefinitely kept at bay, but we can’t see what we are actually doing in that other world and what life do we live and what moral rules do we set for ourselves. To put it bluntly and first person: I have no fucking clue to assess from my current position in time, living under the strict boundary of a well understood and limited life expectation, how my life would be shaped in a world where I were to be given a partial immortalisation treatment continuously. My only firm intuition about this possible world and that partially immortalised myself in it is that I have no intuition that I can trust cause I simply and genuinely don’t know. When I try to assess a future partially immortalised me, say a 572 year old Attila with healthy adult body and mind, I lose my sense of judgement.

Let’s see one example: will the partially immortalised me be bored most of the time or will I be engaged in different, purposeful activities?

On the one hand, one of the deepest reason I want to live an aging-devoid life is to fulfil my different talents and abilities and I can only do this seriously by mastering different professions consecutively, not concurrently. So personally am pretty sure I’m going to be just fine with filling up 500 years of time and keeping myself to a rational life plan.

But on the other hand I know what boredom means in this current aging-trodden life, and have experienced empty time many times. So in a partially immortalised life these periods of boredom might just get longer and longer, stretched along proportionally. Who knows eventually, I might find myself in the middle of a 50 year long boredom period (boredom sabbatical) and then just decide to quit the treatment and opt for aging and what comes with it. (Note that this quitting decision is reversible and treatment can be restarted later, and so this devaluates the significance of such decision).

Now do this mental exercise with yourself and imagine your life without the hassle of aging. Got it? Can you come up with firm statements about yourself in such a world?

What I want to say is that I cannot create a fat envelope detailing the decisions of my future partially immortalised self based on my current self. I cannot push this envelope too far. What I can say though is that everything I do in a future like that might be radically different or everything might be ….just the same. Or somewhere in the middle perhaps, well that does not help much, thank you.

This position is sceptical about the validity of projecting our current selves into our potential future partially immortalised selves. This is epistemological scepticism concerning our psychological self-knowledge. Back then in my 20s when I studied philosophy and studied the brilliant methodology of a priori thought experiments (for the sake of mainly understanding a partially immortalised world) I’ve run numerous though experiments figuring out our future selves and almost always failed to come up with a conclusion. It is like running an MCMC sampler across hundreds of thousands chains without having even the minimal chance of those chains converging at the end.

What is important to understand though that this position involves zero amount of skepticism towards choosing a partially immortalised life where robust, healthy lifespan extension is the default strategy in life and there are several super strong arguments can be formed why such a world could be desirable. And I make sure to conceptualise here as many as I can.

The most important philosophical consequence of this position is that arguments about our future partially immortalised selves based on our current limited life-position cannot be easily used to create pro or contra arguments about developing a robust, healthy lifespan technology. So no more boredom arguments saying something supposedly deep against the case of eliminating aging processes from the body but also no more ‘I am going to be much better as an immortalised person than I currently am & will master all the skills just give me more time’ arguments for implementing this technology asap. Those arguments must come from someplace else, other domains.

One historical note about the phrase ‘veil of ignorance‘: obviously here I am re-using the term created by John Rawls when he described his ‘original position’ thought experiment leading to a just society. I think there are connections between my current ‘lifespan-lifted veil of ignorance’ concept and that of Rawls’ but I am just not in position to dig those up here.