No brain eating zombies. I'm talking about something more akin to the afterlife.

In the world of the dead, what would my motivations be? Assume a spiritual world where regular food is not required, and "material" possessions have little significance. I don't need to earn a paycheck to keep a roof over my head and if I'm not chasing a career, I don't need to climb a social ladder or improve my marketable skills. I certainly don't need to exercise to stay in shape. Sure, I could create art. I could try to better myself mentally. But why? What's the motivation?

Given an entire society of spirits what would day to day life look like? If you think of a movie like Coco, they have the suggestion of a regular society, but why would there be commerce or government? Why would there be buildings? Where do resources come from?

I'd prefer to avoid rationalizing it with something like "they cling to the habits of the living".

UPDATE: To be more specific, in the current world there are ruling "specters" that can provide a stream of "essence" to the spirits of their region. This creates a traditional communist structure, where sustenance is provided and residents can busy themselves with assigned tasks. There is barter for services. There is a notion of "coupling" and there is certain luxuries normally reserved for the specters. For starving peasants having a place in commune may be enough (1984), but if you were a spirit and life/death wasn't an issue, what motivates you to get through the day? The spirit world in general may have a touch of utopia but needs some more depth to be interesting.


closed as primarily opinion-based by kingledion, Renan, rek, anon, elemtilas Nov 17 '18 at 5:17

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This has the potential to be a good question, but it's way too broad. You're asking us to come up with your story ideas and/or the structure of your society. Narrow down one specific question (because surely you've been thinking about all this in detail for some time) and edit your post to ask it and only it. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Nov 16 '18 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn Agree, except the root cause is 'opinion based.' $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 16 '18 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think there could be a couple good on-topic questions in there. I mean, most of the questions around here are opinions (very few are just scientific fact, and even those involve some opinions). The issue to me is it's just too open-ended. Opinions are fine if the question is structured and focus. And if there's just one. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Nov 16 '18 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ This feels fine on-topic, fact-based, and not overbroad to me: In the absence of pressures from the bottom of maslow's pyramid, what pressures remain? The answer is, however, fairly boring and universally understood: the rest of the pyramid. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Nov 16 '18 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty well covered in The Dancers at the End of Time a series of science fiction novels and short stories written by Michael Moorcock...The inhabitants of this era are immortal decadents, who create flights of fancy using power rings that draw on energy devised and stored by their ancestors millions of years prior. ...Space travellers are also common, but most residents of the End of Time find leaving the planet distasteful and clichéd. "wiki" $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Nov 16 '18 at 22:19

One thing that could motivate the dead is the idea of evolution, overcoming difficulties, becoming a better self and contributing with others to evolve on all areas of the soul.

I see it this way:

  • Death is not the end, the soul is immortal and eternal.
  • Reincarnation is a possibility for the ones who still need the learn from material life.
  • The dead are moved by delivering inspiration from the afterlife to the alive ones, making possible evolution on Earth.
  • The dead are moved by helping other dead friends who are still facing difficulties;
  • There are levels of after life worlds: one strongly rooted to the material world, where there is lots of suffering and people are lost; one higher where souls still reincarnate, offer help to the lower level and to earth; And then higher spiritual levels that take care of the order of the universe.
  • Every level above has higher responsibilities in providing order and evolution, teaching the lower ones.

Well, my answer may not be very well structured, but it some of the things that make sense to me. If you have the opportunity, read https://www.amazon.com/Nosso-English-Francisco-Candido-Xavier-ebook/dp/B0058JOQR6 or watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAKXdNNLZXk

I would not fall on the field of spirits trying to make things only for themselves as if it was the only meaning, still they have to take a time for them and fulfill their owns needs.

Hope it helped! Looking ahead to see your story!


Society would motivate the dead. You still want friends, and to get them, you need to produce something artistic; this is what you do. Humor, plays, stories, writing, playing sports games, inventions, whatever.

This is the same issue as if robots produced all we could ever need in material means, free for everybody on Earth, powered by inexhaustible solar energy. No lack of shelter, clothing, heat or cooling, no lack of food or medicine or education. Everybody is retired from birth.

What do they do? The one thing (I would write) that robots cannot do, entertain themselves. Exercise their creative and physical talents, because that is all that is left. Watching robots play tennis or basketball or ski is no fun, who cares if a machine is good at what it does? Watching your fellow humans play sports is fun.

The same for playing the piano or guitar or many other instruments. The same for singing, or reading or watching fiction. You get to the core of humanity, which is not business or accounting or cleaning houses, it is having fun, entertaining and being entertained.

As to whether there would be "commerce", I think not, it might be a lot more like Stack Exchange: You get points! If you don't want for anything, you don't need money. But your aspiration in work is to please others, inform others, entertain others, and that is measurable in how many in your society liked what you have done.


Not everyone alive is driven purely by need and avarice.

If you are a retiree with a decent pension, what motivates you? If you are a rich heir whose needs are taken care of, what do you do with your life?

Food gets delivered regularly, you have a house over your head, you have no need to breed, nor to care for your children any more.

Do you just lie down and die? Some do. Some of the dead would, having no purpose, just fade out, become shades, sad see-through emo nothings.

Those with more emotional strength would find themselves a purpose. Helping the new dead to find their feet. Entertaining others. Providing care to them. Making friends. Having lovers, even if there is no sex. Writing their life story. Passing on their skills. Learning all the things they never had to in life. Playing all the games, reading all the works, watching all the movies.

What, those things don't exist in the world of the dead? That's not fair! We need to create a way to bring those things from the world of the living. We need to figure out some form of ghost-printing-press, ghost-radio, ghost-movies, ghost-computer-games... Someone's being wrong on the internet? Someone's asking an interesting question on worldbuilding.deadpeople?

SO many things to motivate you!

So few of our motivations are survival based.

Essentially, anything not near the base of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs would still remain a concern for people after death, and would continue to motivate them.


How about hedonism.

The motivation for a spirit to stay animate, in the after life, can be to exist to pursue a life of pleasure. The goal can be to try and maximize the pleasure they (a spirit) experiences at any moment in their after life. This could be sex, satisfaction from completing something, or whatever is still reasonable to be wanted in an after life.

Once we know that everyone wants this, there can be commerce to earn and exchange pleasures. If the spirits want, they can then abstract early versions of a barter system for pleasure, into using a currency. Wow! Now we have money.

Society can now flow.

This could happen with anything. There just needs to be at least one thing that everyone wants and is willing to work for.


We can only speculate what new motivations the dead may find. But looking at the real world, the people who lose the ability to enjoy certain pleasures or participate in certain activities can provide us a way to guess motivations of the dead.

  • Become a spectator. People who are forced to retire from sport or other activity can become avid fans, enjoying seeing others do what they no longer can;
  • Focus on other areas. If dead can still enjoy things like art, music and sightseeing, they may act like real life retirees, abstaining from things they can no longer do and pursuing what they can to the fullest;
  • Become psychologically damaged. Instead of rooting for people enjoying life, they may start hating these people and enjoy other's loss and pain.

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