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There are lots of books that explore immortality outside the context of society. Either they live alone or in a heaven/palace of one sort or another, or they drift from place to place to avoid recognition, or something of the sort.

What I'm interested in, and may write about, is a godlike being that likes people and visibly hangs out in society, but has zero interest in political or religious power.

Unlike this question, I'm only asking about a single individual with absolute immortality of the also-invincible variety, and rarely-used magical powers along the lines of deities in most mythologies. Unlike Superman, this individual has no overwhelming compunction to stop crime, solve people's problems, or impose their will on/act for the major benefit of others in any similar way. Magic is unavailable to any other member of society. Everything else is basically Earth-analogue.

For the sake of specificity, this being has enough power to be an Out of Context Problem for even a modern society, looks fairly unremarkable compared to the locals when not using its powers, is fairly humble and likable, has no patience for politics, doesn't give commandments even when asked, has been around at basically the same address under basically the same name for the last 5,000-10,000 years, and likes chess games with strangers, watching TV, and going to parties.

How would this sort of creature inadvertently affect the structure of society?

Edit: This being has a perfect memory, but only tells stories that they personally consider fun or interesting. The entity is a big fan of any social activity such as dance, games, and media of all kinds. They are mostly uninterested in serious research, creating their own works or deep inquiry. Their main hobby is just interacting with and meeting people.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does this entity have ideal memory, or can it only remember things from the last, say, hundred years with any reliability? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 6 '15 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre good question. Assume a good/perfect memory, but only being willing to tell stories that the entity considers fun or interesting. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Apr 6 '15 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ What pursuits is this entity interested in? Philosophy? Any of the arts? Architecture? Engineering? These things will affect who has the opportunity and interest to interact with the entity. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 6 '15 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ Are there other immortals, and if so, is there conflict with them? Does the immortal have a gender, and if so, why? How does the immortal deal with the constant aging and death of the humans he he or she hangs out with? $\endgroup$ – Paul Williams Apr 6 '15 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ What are his opinions on meddling in the afairs of mortals to get things that he wants? Say there is a park he likes to go to play chess at, but the city is closing it due lack of funding, or an eyesore of a factory opens next door to his house? Will he take initiative to make life more pleasant for himself, or does he lack any real agency? These will effect how the society responds to him. I imagine over the years entire fields of study springing up over just what he likes to eat (oh he doesn't like apples, well he must know best) and people wanting to manipulate him. $\endgroup$ – Richard Hansen May 23 '18 at 17:27

12 Answers 12

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I believe the creature would eventually become the benevolent ruler.

Accumulating extreme levels of experience and knowledge would be inevitable. As such, it would surpass others and be able to serve some really good advice. This would result in a following, that would nudge/encourage/request guidance, and soon the inefficiency of indirect guidance would become apparent. And even despite lack of personal interest/compulsion to take up the role, the immortal would yield to "peer pressure" to take up the role. Especially if it came with comforts and "allowances" that would by far exceed remaining just another "citizen".

It might be different if the immortal wasn't feeling indifferent/neutral towards such a role, but instead felt repulsed by the idea. But with merely "uninterested", I guess there would be enough willing to make the immortal "interested" by various incentives. Such experience and knowledge is a great treasure, and not putting it to use would be a terrible waste, which many would acknowledge and try to prevent.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point. I could definitely see this happening at certain points in their life, especially if they weren't careful. I don't think that the situation would last forever, though. He/she would probably just decide to bag the whole ruler thing after a couple of decades and take up cooking or something instead. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Apr 6 '15 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ @EmmettR.: For another two decades or so, while the replacement government screws up the developments, including livelihood of our immortal - who, finally, pissed at the developing recession, decides to get back behind the helm. And so, on and off, thirty years ruling, twenty years off... another two centuries like that and as the trend becomes apparent and so the immortal becomes the permanent ruler but leaving the rulership to appointed steward while taking extended vacations periodically. Possibly over time even minimizing time taken ruling directly outside crises, just guiding governments. $\endgroup$ – SF. Apr 6 '15 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that clash with them being an apolitical being? And given they is a god, no one can force them or pressure them to rule, no? $\endgroup$ – Sombrapluma May 23 '18 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Sombrapluma: That being is dependent on the general civilization in matters of general comforts and personal hobbies. A completely unrelated global thermonuclear war puts a serious damper on dance, games, and media of all kinds. So, the political activity would be akin to standard housekeeping chores. Nobody likes then, but if you neglect them, your home falls into disrepair and your daily comforts suffer. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 24 '18 at 8:39
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So you have in mind an immortal entity who is highly social, majors in the fine arts, and doesn't care for political, military, or social power. Rather than continuously refer to everyone's best friend as immortal entity, let's call him entity Ien.

Now, Ien may not look like much, but his place is where all the best parties happen. He's in good with all the big names up on the Hill, not that he would ever let you know that or use that for anything. The police occasionally give him a warning if the parties start to get out of hand, but this doesn't happen much. The neighbours don't mind, since they're always welcome at the party, too.

There's a party there once or twice a week, and Ien's always got some new treat he's cooked up himself. He knows all the best restaurants in town and even gets chefs to cater his parties. Politicians and the people are always trying to get Ien involved in the government, but he has no interest in amassing power. Rather, he helps others get through life, providing a shoulder to cry on. He's a rock in the storm.

While no one was quite sure how to take it when Ien started taking in the homeless under his roof, no one can deny that he has had a major impact on their lives. Most are now stand-up citizens with decent jobs or they're going back to school to get an education, and most of these are funded by Ien out of money from his own pocket.

See, Ien's had a long time to watch and observe. While he's not any kind of money wizard, he's seen enough of human behaviour to accurately predict what will trend next. He's not always right, but his investments in the stock market over the years have netted him a tidy sum. He now funds a large number of kick starter programs, supports a number of college scholarships, and gives in great amounts to the destitute. Ien also knows from his long years of observation that if he does get involved in politics, his cheerful nature is going to be dragged through the mud, and he doesn't want that.

Really, at the end of the day, Ien's just like you or me, only with a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and money. If you have a problem in your life, just go to Ien. He'll help you through it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love it. Especially the point about the homeless. It seems quite natural that such a being interested in people, but not power, would start helping the disadvantaged in little ways. Nothing big and dramatic though. That's not Ien's style. :) $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Apr 6 '15 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ If you have a problem in your life, just go to Ien, He'll help you through it. That line, I think, will start to be taken advantage of if it becomes too well-known. Eventually, he'll get the people with the big problems, the "Help me Ien, you're my only hope." - type problems, many of which he may not be interested in helping. (Ex. A gambler who owes millions, but if he is freely given an out - he just goes back to gambling and comes back for more "help") The problem with that is, since they have no other hope - they'll just keep pestering him. How long until he gets tired of that? $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Apr 6 '15 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble "Help you through it" doesn't necessarily mean "resolve it for you." $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 6 '15 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ That's true, but my point is that some people will still come to him, not wanting to really change, but wanting him to resolve their issues. When he refuses to solve their issue is when they may keep coming back to pester him. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Apr 6 '15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble He can always just give them a cup of tea, pat them on the head, and send them on their way. It worked for the Grinch, so why not? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 6 '15 at 17:45
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What does he tell the rest of us about our place in the cosmos?

Where does this entity fit into the various religions? If he has been around that long, most religions would be altered by his presence. God? Demon? Enlighted guru of the Church of Eternal Fun and Games?

Scientists would ask similar questions in a different guise. How does he live that long? Why can't we? Just 10 cc of your blood, please. If the presence of such a miracle didn't scuttle the scientific method early on.

I believe that there would be religions founded around him, if he wants it or not. "Reach the perfect spiritual balance and you can be like him." The parties would get interrupted by fans and groupies, all the time, if they can (see below).

What do you do with the Outside Context Problem?

The tvtropes entry references Excession by Iain M. Banks. An OCP doesn't have to do much, just by existing it starts all sorts of plots.

Sure, you say he doesn't tell secret stories unless he feels like it. Still, it would be a danger to national security if those evil commies/capitalists/fundamentalists/whatever could just knock on his door and ask questions. We have to control access. Everybody who goes to those parties needs a security clearance, everybody who comes out again gets debriefed in painstaking detail.

Does he have mind-reading or mind-altering powers? If not, better make sure that there are plenty of personable young members of the appropriate sex to influence him to see things our way. Surely he must understand that those evil commies/capitalists/fundamentalists/whatever are a threat to his way of life, too. Those dour types wouldn't know a party if it hit them with a two-by-four.

If he does have mind powers, make sure that the honey traps are not aware that they're tools. More of a challenge, but not insurmountable, I think. At least every now and then.

Is he the only one of his kind?

How do they get along? Did one set up where the evil commies/capitalists/fundamentalists/whatever live? We can't allow an Immortal Gap to develop. We have to strike first, before those immortals spill their wisdom to our enemies. If our enemies have the only immortal, we have to strike even faster.

What does he do about party poopers?

The question specified that he is "humble and likable", but does that extend to the people who want to end the party? Or relocate it to a better place, a mile under Cheyenne Mountain?

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The immortal may become an "Adam" or "Genghis Khan" in the sense that he may sire a large portion of the population.

Adam is recognised by the Abrahamic faiths as the father of all men. Genghis had 500-1000 direct offspring by most accounts. This immortal being, by fathering one child every ten years, will have by the time that the story takes place fathered as many children as Genghis Khan. Those children will have many children as well. Being spread out across the centuries, the immortal being will likely be an ancestor of almost all living beings.

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  • $\begingroup$ it really depends on his view on having children. He may decide to get sterilized or stay celibate because he thinks that an immortal having children is too much trouble. Or if he does have children, what role will they have in his life? Will he personally care for them or leave them to live independent lives? Through how many generations of descendants will he still care for them? Anyone with an very large and extended family can tell you what a hassle it is to arrange them all $\endgroup$ – ArcWraith May 23 '18 at 23:52
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If the immortal is sensible, s/he WILL live disguised as a fairly ordinary human, drifting from place to place and changing identities every few years. Otherwise, life will be plagued with all the problems celebrities and wealthy people have, in spades. Hounded by papparazzi, plagued by autograph hunters, the target of everyone who wants a handout or financing/publicity for their latest great idea...

Given a reasonable intelligence, the entity will have learned through experience that direct handouts seldom help in the long run, and will apply any aid in an indirect "teach a man to fish" fashion.

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like the entity might enjoy being a celebrity - all the parties, all the different people to meet. $\endgroup$ – Kristy Apr 6 '15 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ It sounds like meeting new people is this guys only interest, and would be like a drug to him. The more celebrity he has, the more people want to see him and be around him, the easier it is for him to get his fix. He'd probably welcome any papparazzi, and at some point they would get board with him. "Another party at Immortals tonight. Going?" "Anyone interesting going to be there?" "Don't think so. I'll probably skip this one." $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 6 '15 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 this description sounds rather like Tony Stark from the Iron Man movies. :-P $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 6 '15 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ - Now that you mention it, that is pretty much what OP is describing, except for immortality and doesn't care about fighting bad guys. My point is that after decades/centuries people would not care about his life so much, since he doesn't change much. Instead people would be interested in what is happening around him, and would want to be in his orbit because of the others that would be there. Tony on the other hand doesn't care about paparazzi, but he does do stuff to get their attention and stay interesting. But you can only do that so long before it's normal too. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 6 '15 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Kristy and others: The problem is that you can effectively socialize with only a limited number of people at a time. I can't handle even a dozen. An affable, skilled immortal might be able to manage a few hundred, but would have literally millions clamoring for its attention. The only way I can see it as at all possible is if it were parallel: one personality inhabiting many bodies simultaneously, and able to integrate all the input from each one. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 6 '15 at 18:48
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It seems like Immortal would be looking at the long game. Like, he may do you a favor that might not be paid back in your lifetime.
Favors and information would be a bigger currency than money, and would feed into his need for socialization and people.

A guy goes to Immortal and asks for a big favor. Immortal hands him half of a coin and says "One day someone will come to you or your decedent with the other half of this coin and ask you to do a favor in return."

Information would also be a pretty big currency, since it would last a lot longer than actual money would. He'd have plenty of money anyway, but it's a pain when it changes every few hundred years, while information/knowledge lasts much longer. "Tell me something new, and I'll give you money in return. You can ask me for information, but it'll cost you something."

The only thing that might be more valuable would be stability. It's hard to throw big parties when there's a war happening, and since he's a big people person with lots of experience, he'd probably become a good mediator focusing on the big picture. So the world might end up having a lot less wars. It might be enough to get him to not completely avoid politics, if only in that small area.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure about a war-less world. We already have thousands of years of experience (it's called history) but keep doing the same mistakes over and over... $\endgroup$ – algiogia Apr 7 '15 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @algiogia, I'm sure he wouldn't be able to end all wars, but he may exert a stabilizing influence on his region, even unconsciously. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Apr 7 '15 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @algiogia I didn't say war-less, just less wars :) We do have history, but we forget it, and so are doomed to repeat it, or something. He wouldn't forget, and is a good story teller. Also, he has magic, which could make big problems into small problems, which could make bargaining easier. We don't know it's nature, but if there is conflict over water rights between countries/people, then water could be found or rain encouraged magically. Stuff like that. He'd act like a neutral third party, and could help level the field, and so would be a stabilizing influence. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 7 '15 at 15:00
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How would you feel if you lived next door to this being with superpowers and you spent years watching your beloved mother twisted with the pain of cancer, your begging for the being to help her always falling on deaf ears? How would the people of the beings community feel when a school shooting or other tragedy destroys the lives of many children in the community while knowing the being had the foresight to know it was coming, and yet the being did not even give a warning?

How would religious groups react to the being lounging around while it represents a tremendous blasphemy and undermines everything they believe? Keep in mind that many (if not most) of the wars of history were fought on religious grounds.

Philosophically, there are already a great many people who do not believe in a god because the concept of a god who allows the starvation, mutilation, rape, and death of children along with the ravages of war and calamity of natural disasters is a repugnant concept to them, or at least one which they can not integrate with the idea of such a god being benevolent. What would their thinking be if instead of this being a concept in the abstract, it stood in front of them in flesh and blood?

Any argument that the entity is not responsible for its inaction, and is not bound by moral duty to prevent the suffering which would take essentially no effort on its part to prevent would, I imagine, be rejected by society. If such a powerful being is not bound by some moral code to exert even the most minimal of effort to help those around them... what duty binds man?

The existence of a friendly, but inactive, supernatural being would present a tremendous philosophical crisis to essentially every single system of belief which exists. The religious would hear their tales of the power of their god met with 'Yeah, there's a being three houses down that can do that too.' Humanists would see the being as supremely immoral as the cessation of suffering is the primary tenet of their beliefs.

None of these things would be helped should the being use its powers to help, either. Any degree of falling short of delivering everyone into a world free of suffering would be seen as a malicious act (though it may take awhile for that to come about). And delivering everyone into such a world would rob people of their essential humanity, as such is bound inextricably to their biological nature (though few are aware of it).

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the unique viewpoint, many faced with this being might agree with you, but not all, nor I. First, you suffer from the confirmation bias that I see in many of the proselytizing sorts of atheists: wars are fought because some people are naturally warlike, and enjoy violence and power. Religion, atheism, economics, race, and many other motives have been used as an excuse, but there are just some of us who find evil good and good evil. Secondly, while not an Objectivist, I believe that help from a higher power, be it man or god, is a gift, and never deserved. Make your own luck first. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Apr 7 '15 at 15:04
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What you've basically described is the first half of the movie Hancock, which should give you some indication of where this answer is going.

In short, that immortal, powerful, magical being would wind up doing whatever they want, in whatever manner they want, and the world at large would be unable to stop or touch them. Which means that individual would be completely in charge of their own destiny.

However, the actual result of that would be entirely dependent on the type of person that immortal being is, and what they want out of the world. And because no one could stop them, they'd inevitably wind up going to the extreme of whatever path they chose to take.

If they're like Hancock at the beginning of that movie, drinking heavily and taking very little responsibility for their actions, they'd likely wind up going around causing a lot of trouble, making news stories, but largely having only an occasional token impact on the world at large. Groups might try to recruit them or use their powers to their advantage, but without any actual way to control them they'd have very little ability to back up their assertions, and might wind up invoking this drunk and pissed deity's wrath.

On the other hand, the deity may be much more directed than Hancock, which could be good or bad. If they're the type to go around helping people, they may be very well received, possibly even starting a religious order around them with or without their endorsement. If they're the type that wants to rule the world, or a small part of it, there'd be very little anyone could do to stop them, other than undermining the people that they're trying to rule over. If they want to choose the way everyone dresses each day they wake up and make everyone dress identically across the entire world, nobody could stop them.


In short, life would go on outside of this deity's influence - alongside, regardless of, or in spite of that deity's wishes. They could change anything at any given moment if their mood so strikes them, but everything else around that deity's world would remain the same, unless it somehow comes into contact or conflict with that deity's desires.

But within whatever realm this deity decides to make for themselves, they'd have total control, and the end result would be entirely dependent on what that deity wants, or what they don't want, out of this world. And if that involves the entire world, then the entire world would be affected.

But it's just as likely that this deific being would spend his days sipping lattes at a coffee shop and flipping through newspapers, occasionally posing as a stage magician and leaving the whole world none the wiser of his existence.

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It would result in end of sentient life in the universe. I can't predict what Len would do but I'm pretty sure he would be considered a "treasure" and therefore jealously guarded. Whatever government ruled in his vicinity would eventually control access to him. Not by restricting his behavior, but that of the population around him. Kind of like the Oracle at Delphi. No one controlled the Pythia but the priests interpreted his/her words for the "benefit" of the population...and themselves.

This would inevitably lead to widespread discontent the ultimately thermonuclear war. Len would find himself alone and probably move on to find another world to destroy. Having known this (because the scene has played out many, many times), Len can only be considered pure evil.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure Len would be perfectly capable of escaping any prisons they put him in. He has centuries of knowledge and experience. He can outlive his captors and whatever they serve and would be perfectly fine with clawing at a wall for however long it would take to make a hole. Being immortal, he would be very patient. Len would be exceedingly skilled at staying out of the hands of the powers that be $\endgroup$ – ArcWraith May 24 '18 at 0:00
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One weird and admittedly minor effect I would expect is a slightly elevated suicide rate in the population as a whole, the effect being more marked at higher age brackets. An immortal living openly, who just goes on living and living and, damn them to hell, living is going to be a source of serious emotional pain to a good number of people whether because they lose someone and he's still there or simply as a constant reminder as they age of their mortality.

As a side note I would expect that as time goes on and on any immortal is going to have trouble staying happy and engaged with life. It would not surprise me to see an immortal at some stage in their life deciding they'd had it and starting a competition aimed at finding a way to kill them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I reckon the try to kill me phase would also wear out in a while. Afterwards he would probably become someone who likes a happy life with plenty of parties, a thrill seeker or maybe mr peace and meditation monk. $\endgroup$ – ArcWraith May 24 '18 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ArcWraith I'd expect "party guy" and "thrill seeker" to precede "death wish", in fact in pretty much that order. Philosophical may or may not follow. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 27 '18 at 12:49
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Society would value parties and festivities much more, maybe even compite among them to see what event is favoured (attended) by the god-dess. Becoming a symbol of status. Perfomers would also have a high status as enterteiment is more valued.

Consider creating rites and/or myths based on the values of the god-dess life or their anecdotes becoming legends. Specially, If The Being is the only one of their kind.

Many would still try to use their power manipulating them through their interest (friendship, parties, etc.) even if the majority would be use to just letting The Being do whatever they wish like another force nature. Some people may hate them and conspire against them secretly if they can't be used (if they are around and visible, it will always exist people crazy/power-hungry enough to try). This highly depends on the personality of The Being.

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Step 1: The Government kidnaps the Immortal and puts him in a Giant Hamster ball then starts it spinning which gives energy to a sharp poking device so he must keep running to avoid it.

Step 2: A portion of the energy from his running is now rerouted into the poking device making it self powered while the rest of it is drained off for use somewhere else.

Step 3: Now the Government has a perpetual energy machine.

Step 4: ????????

Step 5: Profit $$$ :)

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  • $\begingroup$ Cute, but the guy can escape from any situation with a snap of his or her fingers. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Apr 7 '15 at 14:28

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