A bit of a thought experiment I'm trying to develop further has hit a stumbling block. The basic premise goes like this.

All of humanity one day wakes up to the entire world having been changed drastically on them. Important to this plot, all humans maintain the knowledge of the world as it had been with no obvious changes to memory. Changes, however are vast.

Everyone's appearance has changed in some way, some more drastic than others. An approximate 30% are even different genders than they started out as. Everyone's position has changed at least some, but most are still within the boundaries of their geographic location (see country). Rare cases may include people now halfway across the world.

History and all documentation appears to have been changed as well. Your new body has a new name and a new history to it. All documentation, physical media, internet and any other source you can think of has been changed to reflect this new identity. There is no proof, except in your mind, of who you had been and most of the people you had known are now scattered randomly dealing with the exact same problem.

Now, this makes for a really compelling start to storytelling and I really like it, but I've hit a bit of a stumbling block. The basic premise makes it almost entirely likely that the "new" leaders of countries are completely unqualified and no one would listen to them anyway. To prevent this turning into a post apocalyptic story we need to have a way to quickly return to a semi-stable government across the world. In order to accomplish that, at the very least, we would need some way for our existing leaders to prove who they are and establish themselves. Bonus points for a solution that don't allow every single person to easily return to their previous lives without much drama, but still prevent global collapse (if that's at all possible).

What is the easiest/fastest way for our leaders to definitively prove themselves without any physical proof?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ To be clear, are you talking about a global-scale body-swapping event? $\endgroup$ Mar 23, 2018 at 18:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How much the physical world has changed? Suppose, a nuclear plant operator wakes up as a schoolteacher, and vice versa. Former operator knows all systems and passwords, new operator does not. If someone would not take over the plant it will shot down. Would the old passwords that old operator knows be still valid? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Mar 23, 2018 at 18:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RBarryYoung Yes, global scale. Body changing rather than swapping. It is not like someone is walking around in your body or like your identity still exists. $\endgroup$
    – Naryna
    Mar 23, 2018 at 18:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Alexander The passwords would all be different anyways. For that case, we will just use widespread acceptance of password managers, or maybe bio-metrics. People not knowing how to do their jobs is part of the great story, but I actively want to avoid the apocalypse. Really, I only care about government in this question. Maybe I'll do others for other positions. $\endgroup$
    – Naryna
    Mar 23, 2018 at 18:15
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ There is a 100% chance of civilization collapsing. If everyone on earth wakes up in a different location, without their phone, wallet or keys, and looking like someone else, the world will stop working almost immediately. $\endgroup$ Mar 23, 2018 at 18:28

6 Answers 6


You can't.

Anything the public could take as proof is public knowledge, so other people could try and fake it.

But you don't need to. People become leaders by leading. Whoever is capable of reducing panic to tolerable levels is a good leader by definition and it doesn't really matter what their job was before.

This event would be world shaking. Probably significant portions of the populace would change their opinions about various things, so previous election results wouldn't be very meaningful anyway. In less democratic countries there probably won't be much interest in restoring the previous status quo exactly.


/What is the easiest/fastest way for our leaders to definitively prove themselves without any physical proof?/


What is a leader? You are thinking of elected officials, mayors and the like. But a mayor of one city is just a citizen in another country. The strongman of one nation is a tourist in another. These people wake up in different bodies and different countries.

Leaders should prove what they are by leading. I can see that in a time of chaos and confusion a person might step up and lead because she sees that there is a need and because she can. I would definitely hope for such a person in my close vicinity in such circumstances. Some of these people might have been leaders in their prior lives. Some might have been leaders in their youth. Some might never have had the opportunity or interest to lead before.


Well this is an event that has happened to EVERYONE all over the world, so people wont have a hard time accepting that bodies have been swapped. They'd only have to look at themselves as proof that it actually happened.

However, you said the bodies swapped, but the minds should still be the same and the knowledge within. Lets take the President for example: He/she would still know things that only the President would know - codes, secret info, etc.

Family members would still have memories that only they would know. I am convinced that if my lady friend told me a handful of things in this body swapped world I would totally know who she was based on those things. No matter where in the world she ended up she would still know my phone number, she would still call me up, and though she sounded different there are things that only she would be able to tell me about our private shared past.

It would take a long time to get back to normal, and there would be a lot of trust issues along the way, but everyone has some knowledge that is still unique to them and a handful of others.

This body swapped world sets up some interesting stories. What if a racist mans son turned up as a black guy? What if a murderer turned up as his victims loved one? What if the richest guy in the world turned up as the poorest most bed ridden guy who lost his job because of the rich guy?

Good luck with your idea!

  • $\begingroup$ How will she call you when you no longer have your phone? $\endgroup$
    – Kat
    Mar 24, 2018 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, who is the President supposed to confirm these secret codes with?! - and how can they be verified, especially considering that myself and some conspirators can just as well "remember" supposedly correct codes as the actual president can. $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2018 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ I don't have ALL the answers! lol $\endgroup$
    – Len
    Mar 24, 2018 at 19:00

Part of the problem you have set up is that you will have no way of knowing imposters from the "real thing" absent information like passwords, bank account numbers etc.

Even that is problematic, because the security guards at the gate are not the same people, nor are the bank managers reviewing bank accounts etc. Donald J Trump, Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping are nowhere near the seats of power, and whoever is inhabiting their bodies will not know the codes and procedures to initiate a lot of things (and the officers carrying the "footballs" would not be the proper people either).

At a high level, things will start to collapse, as the elaborate hierarchies and systems of modern civilization will not have the people who know and understand them actively monitoring and controlling the systems. This will be "Life After People" with people, and anyone near an oil refinery, nuclear power station or other high tech, high energy systems (think steel mills and the like) will suddenly be engulfed in major industrial accidents (they won't even know how to properly shut down the systems).

At lower levels, people with natural leadership abilities will step forward and try to organize families and communities for survival. Your idea of politicians trying to regain recognition might even backfire, since politicians throughout the West have spent decades squandering their goodwill and trust to a very large extent, if Mayor McCheese wants to return, there is a good chance he will be told to take a hike, the new guy is doing a far better job than he ever did anyway. And of course the population of the town isn't even the same people as the ones who elected McCheese in the first place. In non democratic societies, the disappearance of dictators and their enforcement mechanisms will likely result in anarchy and the development of small "survivalist" communities, many of which may be determined never to fall under the control of their former masters (this does not preclude the development of strongman rule and "new" dictatorships arising instead).

So kicking the props out from under civilization is going to result in an Apocalypse anyway. Since the word is derived from the ancient Greek "uncovering" or "revealing", it may work out as an excellent story mechanism, since the true characters of people will be revealed under these circumstances: leaders will step forward and people can be shed of the constraints of their old identities in the new environment.


I think a little handwaving might make this nearly recoverable, and tinfoil might substitute.

It might be expected that military and first responders would immediately rally to central and vital locations and impose martial law until things got sorted out. Handwave or tinfoil that there are enough who are capable enough to handle that even though they don't start with the guns and badges.

If that works re-establishing our social network is non-trivial, but should be doable given enough time. Getting that time requires another handwave, or tinfoil; if there are strategic stockpiles of food water and medicine say in government or secret society bunkers now n the hands of regular Joes, or if the NSA or facebook staff are so far up our butts they know how to break into everything and get critical skilled people back to work quickly.

Give time pretty much everyone has someone who knows enough about them to determine if someone is trying to impersonate them, but it might not be easy to completely sort out communities with a high proportion of incarcerated criminals or other kinds of people who would really like to trade lives with their neighbors.

It should be fairly straightforward to establish a small pool of possible people who could identify important people, and then a pool who could identify them, and so on, until a broad consensus or web of trust differentiates leaders from con-men. If society is interested for whatever reason in trying, probably whoever climbed the chaos in the first act would try to find a way to hold significant parts of what they won though.


That would really depend on which part of the world you want to set your story in. Here in Israel, for instance, if everything changed around me, first thing I'd do is check whether Israel still exists at all. Then, as long as Israel is not put in immediate existential danger, I'll consider it sufficient proof of the leader's competence.

In other countries, sufficient proof might be that the new leaders (unlike the old ones) don't fill their pockets at the country's expense, but instead do something, anything, for the lower-middle class.

I think, with so much other problems going on in everybody's life, people wouldn't notice the politicians, unless the politicians start making a mess of things. So for leaders to prove themselves, they'd simply need not to make things worse.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .