Let's take a world where you can be resurrected, D&D style, but maybe a little cheaper, no constitution-based ill effects, and easier to access. Perhaps any cleric worth their salt can bring you back to life if your body isn't too decomposed, too old, or totally obliterated for a reasonable fee.

What kind of effect would making most deaths effectively meaningless have on humanity? What overall behavior patterns would people tend to stick to if this were the case?

For example, I would imagine people would generally be more risk-prone. Want to attempt that dangerous, eight story high parkour stunt? Sure! Who cares if you fall off the roof and break your neck if you have a friend willing to carry your dead body to a cleric.

I'm looking for other behavior patterns that people would generally follow if most deaths were cheap and meaningless.

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    $\begingroup$ What ills does resurrection cure? Age, disease, weak bones, ulcers, gaping wholes in the body, blood loss? $\endgroup$ – Vulcronos Oct 7 '14 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ I second @Vulcronos' question. If you've been suffering from a wasting illness, being raised from the dead would be very different if you came back healthy vs. coming back right where the disease left you. $\endgroup$ – Bobson Oct 7 '14 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ You haven't fully specified the basic assumption. From your example of the 8-story parkour, it isn't just 'reversal of death', it's reversal of either the fatal injury, or roll-back of your body to a previous state. Or something more obscurely magical and probably harder to formalize ;-) I think some very interesting worldbuilding comes from making the differencing assumptions very very precise. And I'll second @TimB on the Culture novels. $\endgroup$ – Spike0xff Oct 7 '14 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Spike0xff While I would imagine that any scientific resurrection specifics in-world would fall under the category "vaguely magical gray area, just roll with it," I was thinking a raise dead system without the severe degradation of constitution. Mortal wounds healed, most diseases cured, and perhaps you feel ill afterwords but it's no big deal. I'll edit the question to include a link to the D&D wiki. $\endgroup$ – clockwork Oct 7 '14 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ One thing I think a lot of answers are missing entirely is, "death still generally HURTS LIKE A B****". That eight-story parkour stunt? For the brief moment you're still alive as gravity grinds you into paste against the pavement that's going to be quite painful. People would have to weigh whether the benefit of any given dangerous activity warrants the "getting killed" part. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Oct 7 '14 at 20:23

Removing the fear of (most) death has interesting implications.

  • Violent crime would of course increase, as killing someone in order to rob them becomes a far more morally acceptable method. Knowing that the person you kill is just going to come back could also make crimes of passion much more violent.
  • Sadistic crimes could become more prevalent and harder to track down, especially if the perpetrator has easy and discrete access to resurrections for his victims.
  • (Physical) risk-taking, as you mentioned, would definitely increase, but I would expect the cheapness of death to extend to employment as well. There would be much less impetus for OSHA-type regulations if the employer just had to cover the cost of resurrecting you after industrial accidents.
  • Capital punishment would remain effective. Perhaps even more so if part of the punishment was burning the body afterwards.
  • Fewer or no graveyards, as most people will not die of unnatural causes. Higher overall population and a much older population on average for the same reason.
  • War would be bloodier, with both sides trying to obliterate enemy soldiers instead of just killing or wounding them (in order to prevent an endless cycle). Expect incendiaries and acid-based weapons to be prevalent.
  • Expect religious opposition to resurrections, even if (or perhaps especially because) other clerics are performing them. Religions that believe in reincarnation, especially, would object to people being denied (or saved from) their just reward in the next life.
  • $\begingroup$ religious opposition: Depending on how the resurrection functions, there might be a diminishment or nonexistence of religious orders. If the resurrection is more science than faith/magic and in fact the Doctor is correct that "life is just Nature's way of keeping meat fresh," then the culture may decide that there is no afterlife. $\endgroup$ – Brian S Oct 7 '14 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ To expand on the idea of violent crime in law, it's easy to imagine that mutilation or dismemberment would eventually be subject to harsher punishment than the murder itself. Of course, that's assuming that resurrection doesn't simply roll back bodily injuries sustained as well. $\endgroup$ – Unsigned Oct 7 '14 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ There's also potential mental factors. Presumably, death is still a traumatic experience, even if reversable. It's not unrealistic to imagine resurrected "survivors" might frequently suffer from PTSD. $\endgroup$ – Unsigned Oct 7 '14 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Unsigned I'm not sure. I guess most PTSD come from the fear of dying, so if you remove that one from the equation, it's not so fearful. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Oct 7 '14 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Brian There's a pretty ample lack of evidence for an afterlife in our current world, and that hasn't stopped religions from being quite imaginative. In the hypothetical world, resurrection is essentially just a (much) more effective form of CPR, and the development of that didn't cause too many crises of faith on Earth. $\endgroup$ – GrandOpener Nov 25 '15 at 17:41

The first thing that comes to mind is that if resurrection is easily available, it would become a commodity. People doing dangerous work could, for example, be compensated for possible deaths. The reduction of death to an inconvenience would also make risky jobs less compensated - there's just not that much at risk anymore.

Work with a high risk of death would also be performed more often - for example, the assassination business would change; more people would try to do it for the high pay for a while, until it peters out to the value of secrecy and making sure the target is completely obliterated rather than just dead.

Also, people could now be requested to do deadly work, with the promise of resurrection. You might be the best miner, for instance, which may otherwise make it less possible for people to send you in mine full of deadly gases to do work since you might be lost, but now, that can be reversed if your body is easy to retrieve.

Safety might remain an interest, since it would reduce the waste of effort to resurrect people and prevent clutter to the point of overloading the services. Trying to protect people from death would be closer to an everyday act of kindness, like giving them a ride or preventing a broken leg, rather than having the weight that it has if death is permanent. This can mean people risk less to prevent the deaths of others - it the end, it might be more efficient to let someone get killed and then resurrect them (in some cases) than risk dying yourself and possibly having more people to resurrect or being incapable of retrieving the body.

It could also become a form of torture - killing someone and resurrecting them repeatedly.

The legal penalty might be reduced with the perpetrator being fined rather than punished with a life sentence or death. Likewise, the penalty of death could become the equivalent of a fine.

Warfare would likely not change much - tactics wouldn't change unless resurrections could be performed easily on the battlefield. After you kill your enemy, you can scour the battlefield for corpses, resurrect those you want for interrogation and burn the rest. edit- as Unsigned observes in the comments, weapons would probably shift towards obliterating enemies or making them useless as soldiers, since after a battle, the winner can just resurrect all their soldiers.

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    $\begingroup$ Regardless of whether "battle resurrection" is possible, your assumption that warfare wouldn't change is based on the assumption that you won the battle. If you were driven away from the battlefield by a superior force, you just lost soldiers and they (after resurrections) didn't. I have to agree with Danny's answer here, that warfare would likely shift towards total obliteration of enemy combatants. $\endgroup$ – Unsigned Oct 7 '14 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Unsigned yeah you're right - I actually posted an answer to another question stating that exact thing :P mind not working... $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Oct 7 '14 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ Very relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rebel_Flesh $\endgroup$ – o0'. Oct 7 '14 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ Actually mining would become more dangerous, not less: if you are buried in the ground, how can they resurrect you? $\endgroup$ – o0'. Oct 7 '14 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Lohoris well assuming such a convention exists :P also, I doubt it would cost much to a military - it could employ "resurrectors" and the question implies it's easy and cheap. On mining, how is it more dangerous when you could also get buried before, but now you at least have a chance of being saved if your body is found? There isn't a higher chance of getting buried due to resurrection, unless I misunderstood your comment completely. $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Oct 7 '14 at 22:00

There are some very good answers here already, but I'd mention something about the possible mental aspect.

Even if death is reversable, it may still be a very traumatic experience, especially in the case of a violent death, either intentional or accidental (e.g., industrial accident.) It still hurts.

It's possible that PTSD could manifest in resurrected "survivors." Assuming cumulative effect, this would set a limit on the number of times resurrection is possible before the subject goes insane, or is otherwise rendered mentally incapable of "normal" life.

While death's impermanence would render it less feared in some aspects, I think the general view of it would not be quite as laissez faire as the other answers suggest, due to the physical pain and possible mental aftereffects.

  • $\begingroup$ HAHAH I just commented about this on the question (five seconds before your answer). While reversal of death might make many things possible/feasible where they weren't before, it's not going to make death entirely without consequence. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Oct 7 '14 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Unsigned I'm not sure. I guess most PTSD come from the fear of dying, so if you remove that one from the equation, it's not so fearful. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Oct 7 '14 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Lohoris If dying hurts, I don't see that it wouldn't be feared to some extent. There's also the fear of mutilating/crushing/caustic/dismembering forms of death that render resurrection impossible. $\endgroup$ – Unsigned Oct 7 '14 at 22:04

There was an online novel I read probably 8 years ago that explored this very theme, but I've forgotten the name and 30 minutes of googling has not led me to the answer, so I'll surmise the basic plot points that I can remember.

A benevolent AI (think a helpful I AM) -- originally designed as a missile defense system I believe -- decides it's ultimate goal is to prevent anyone from ever dying so it basically consumes the entire human consciousness into itself and never lets anyone permanently die.

Because death isn't permanent, an entire culture of death builds up where the chief entertainment among a large set of the population is creating crazy mazes/trapped obstacles courses that volunteers run through... dying in the most horrible and painful ways possible, only to wake up completely unharmed but with full memory of the experience. The best maze designers and best runners are the celebrities of the world, and fancy dinner parties revolve around the debut of new mazes.

The idea makes a lot of sense, given our species' penchant for violence as entertainment, particularly when there are no long term consequences to dangerous/deadly behavior.

  • $\begingroup$ BTW, if anyone knows the name of the story I'm referring to, it'd be helpful to know. $\endgroup$ – Mordred Oct 7 '14 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the memory of such a terrible experience serve as future deterrent? Most living things try to avoid things that hurt. Sure, there will be exceptions, but as an example, most ancient gladiators were slaves, forced to perform as entertainment, not volunteers. $\endgroup$ – Unsigned Oct 7 '14 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ The story is "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" by Roger Williams. $\endgroup$ – David Oct 7 '14 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Unsigned possibly for many people, but it's not like S&M isn't already popular with a fair amount of people. Plus we already have sports stars risking serious injury and long term debilitation for fame. I can't remember of Roger Williams discussed PTSD and whether or not the computer would fix those "injuries" as well. $\endgroup$ – Mordred Oct 8 '14 at 5:10

I agree with everyone thus far, especially the psychological aspect. Two anime come to mind when I think of this, Sunday without God and Sword Art Online. SWG, basically people stop dying even if they're injured or are in total zombie mode, they can't die unless a particular type of person puts them to rest. In your case, it'd be the opposite but it might be interesting to look at. As for SAO, an virtual MMO suddenly traps all players into the game and if they die in the game, their headsets kill them in real life. So suddenly hunting for loot and such isn't so fun anymore. Depression kicks in, criminal groups rise, some are just trying to live day to day. Once again, these two series are the opposite of what you want, but I think the irony might be helpful as far as psychology goes.

Now for the population control and the planet's resources - can your world hold up to a growing population that still reproduces and yet never dies? What of food, animals, minerals and so on, I can't imagine there'd be enough of everything for everyone. And humans causing waste, pollution, even if they can revive - what of disease? Does this elixir of some sort make everyone the perfect human being or can it cure anything from asthma to cancer? If it's just a matter of reversing time for 10 minutes so you'd revive, then won't certain areas of the world be so overpopulated that disease would spread?

I probably have more questions than answers here, but these are the sorts of things I thought of when reviewing your question. Hope they're thought provoking! :-)

  • $\begingroup$ More (and older -> wiser, hopefully) people also means more intelligence and likelihood of technological innovation. The idea is well explored by those in the life and healthspan extension circles, notably Aubrey DeGrey. $\endgroup$ – Dan Dascalescu Oct 26 '14 at 23:07

You can read about such society in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_and_Out_in_the_Magic_Kingdom by Cory Doctorow.

  • Marriage for a decade or two, moving in separate directions would be normal. No permanent friendships. Your old friend could betray you few centuries later.
  • Interstellar flight simpler (just resurrect crew close to target)
  • People bored with this century could "deadhead" sleeping few centuries to see if future is more fun

Also, one consequence not mentioned by previous answers (and Cory) was the strain on natural resources. With so many people competing for limited resources, life for most would be quite miserable.

Similar situation is investigated in World of Methuselahs

One interesting consequence mentioned in Methuselahs is that because people set up ideas when they grow up and do not change later, society (and science) will be much more conservative.

  • $\begingroup$ I would have to disagree with the premise that an increased population would lead to acerbic competition over resources. More (and older -> wiser, hopefully) people also means more intelligence and likelihood of technological innovation. The idea is well explored by those in the life and healthspan extension circles, notably Aubrey DeGrey. $\endgroup$ – Dan Dascalescu Oct 26 '14 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ I strongly disagree. Newer generations cannot inherit place to live. Older generations keep their jobs, homes and wealth. It would require monumental changes to society which would provide to every member according to needs - which would be hugely opposed by those with most wealth, with most to lose. Competition would be not only for food but also for desirable place to live. It is only a limited number of seaside villas on 5 acres of land to go around. How would you distribute them? $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Oct 27 '14 at 12:48

You can make a comparison with the evolution of medicine. Today, some health problems are easily reversible but this doesn't mean there is a social incentive to abuse them. Actually, the focus has became even more the prevention. And since the process of death (mostly) is far from being a pleasant experience, probably the focus on preventing death will still be as strong as in our world.

The implications of accidental death however would receive a deep change, as others have already stated.

However, if you can make death not feel as something bad, it could be abused in many ways. For example, human cryogenics would be a reality, and this could be used in many ways to travel a human through harsh environments or to the future.


For one thing, population explosion. After a few generations, unless births are heavily restricted, we won't be able to feed everyone.

If you make it a bit expensive, then the rich live and the poor die. In the short term, the poor may try to permakill the rich. In the long term, the rich will outnumber the poor. The poor will never go away since you still need to label some people as poor to restrict access to resurrection.

Lets look at legal matters.

  • Copyrights become close to permanent.
  • Murder charges become battery charges. Permakills likely have much harsher sentencing.
  • Inheritance gets strange since anyone who has money to pass on will probably use to to be resurrected.
  • Life insurance goes away except as a payment plan for resurrection.
  • Mandatory retirement may just become a way to get people to leave one job to start a new one. Otherwise, good luck ever getting a promotion in a big company.

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