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Suppose humanity (or something like it) lives on a planet where we have discovered the existence of Souls. Each time someone is born, a new soul is created, but this is a maximum number of souls to go around (I’ll put it at about 6.5 billion, which is a number that would easily be supported by this planet) every soul belongs to a “nation” which is the land area that would be considered the “respawn point” for a soul. A soul will cycle between an animal (with human-level intelligence) and a human body. However, the behavior and skills of someone in their human life can influence what they become.

Soul’s new bodies are given a new body by guardians (who can see the most recent life of a soul by looking at it). These guardians can also deny a soul resurrection, but rarely do (usually mass-murderers etc.). Humans emerge at the age of about 16, with the skills and knowledge of their smartest life but the memories of their past two lives. Animal resurrections can be any creature, mythical or real.

There are a few ways to kill a soul for good (though a new soul will be added to the pool of “possible souls”).

Be denied reincarnation by the guardians.
Have the heart of your body eaten by another soul (animal or human) before it's buried
Soulkillium is a metal that can kill a soul, it is very very rare and takes a large quantity in one place to work(3+kg).
Using one's soul to attack someone else's. (Kinda like black star from soul eater.)

What sort of changes would we see to say classical medieval society. In specific interaction between nations and the whole feudal system.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are the "guardians" part of human society and the physical world, or do they only exist in the same world as the interim afterlife? $\endgroup$ – sumelic Apr 23 '15 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ The Guardians have physical bodies should they want to come "roleplay" as a human, but there is no way for a soul with a body to see the non-body Guardians. So usually the Guardians just sit around and hand out bodies. $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald Apr 23 '15 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ I remember an SF story where there were a finite number of souls and population increased so that babies were born without souls. H. Beam Piper had a Paratime story where Reincarnation became a scientific fact, so that political parties were based on the theories of how it worked and wars were fought over it. With recall of past lives added, people started to sue to get property back from past lives! $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 24 '15 at 22:00
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In addition to WhatRoughBeast's answer, people persisting their knowledge through the ages would somewhat negate the need for education systems after a certain period of time. We wouldn't spend time educating our kids much beyond the basics if they suddenly gain smarts at 16 regardless.

On the other hand, it means research projects can be continued throughout the centuries. There would be less of that human urge to do all we could as soon as we could; after all, what's the rush, I can get around to that in my next lifetime.

Even so, ironically, and counterintuitively, these two factors would probably contribute to slowing technological progress (less inclination to combine minds if you can ponder to yourself for centuries, and less inclination to do anything in general if I'm immortal).

Alot of human society is built on the reverence of death. Even in ancient times, death was sacred, and burial was a huge part of civilization. Without that, what do people find sacred instead? Life is less sacred, death is not to be feared. Ancient legends would change immeasurably and the sense of morals would be considerably skewed.

As Mari M mentions, murder is less of sin; and creative torture methods preserving life (i.e. preventing the release of death) are liable to be created along with consistant genocides. If you suddenly remembered your past life at 16, and it was 40 years of vicious torture, imprisonment and rape all flooding your consciousness at once I'd be surprised if we didn't end with a few babbling catatonics from that. "Kill me again so I can have another 16 years of ignorance, please." might even become a service... (yikes that got dark).

Soul study (Animatology) would become a big science. If someone can accurately predict where and when and how a soul will reincarnate, the limits and powers of the respawn points, and the related abilities to manipulate them, you gain alot of power.

This is also the best method to become a usurper. If you can predict where the old king comes back to life all the time, simply find him and stab him in the face again before he turns 16. As a bonus, he's now locked as a wolf or whatever for 5-15 years before he becomes a human again if the animal/human cycle is set in stone.

Finally, if souls have this human/animal cycle, then your human population max is actually less than 6.5 billion, right?

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  • $\begingroup$ Soul population, don't forget the souls in animals are still sentient $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald Apr 23 '15 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, thats what I mean; if you're limited to 6.5 billion souls total, and lets say randomly 2.5 billion of those are currently inhabiting very clever animals, your human population therefore can't go above 4.5 billion. Right? $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 23 '15 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ Also what happens to babies that get born without souls when the limit is at its cap? Your guardians will have to be pretty prescient to tell when a limit is approaching, assuming they prevent new babies at all at that point. Something like the new Pillars of Eternity game would be pretty bad! $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 23 '15 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ You merely won't be able to conceive $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald Apr 23 '15 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ You know; when you get to the cap there's going be alot of couples "hitting F5" so to speak (since 6,392 people die every hour in the world on average; its gonna be like people spamming concert ticket websites... or something). o_o' But I guess that's fun on the guardians side of this thing and not really relevant to the question at hand. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 23 '15 at 22:39
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Well, to begin with, it throws the classical rules about inheritance and noble blood lines out the window. Since (most of the time) the dead will inconsiderately not stay dead, death does not sever ownership of land and goods, but rather provides a prolonged absence (sort of like going off to the Crusades). And, arguably, the entire philosophical underpinnings of marriage have to change, since "till death do you part" no longer means what it used to. If a queen dies, can the king remarry? Or vice versa?

And, since Christianity is no longer tenable, "divine right of kings" will not rear its ugly head.

Land grants, given in perpetuity, were a king's source of power, since he could reward vassals by giving the lands of deceased enemies. With the certainty of resurrection, a new lord's claim is really only good for 16 years or so, and then the old lord is likely to start sniffing around for a way to get his land back.

In general, the effect will be long-term social instability as well. Feuds and vendettas will literally last forever.

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  • $\begingroup$ There are places where the concept of reincarnation was canon yet none of this happened (look at india, nepal, tibet etc). $\endgroup$ – Jorge Aldo Apr 23 '15 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but in none of them did reincarnation involve the retention of memories from one incarnation to the next, let alone from multiple incarnations. The closest I can think of is the Tibetan belief that the Dalai Lama, when reincarnated, can be discovered. In this case, it means that the succession process is fundamentally different from, let's say, the Roman Catholic church. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 23 '15 at 18:59
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I can imagine something truly grotesque with this reincarnation society. A nation that wants to truly destroy another, so they first wipe everybody out and then whenever any life is reincarnated into that land (since Souls are bound to a land as you said), they kill that life immediately. Keep this cycle up, and you can prevent an entire race of people from existing, leaving them stuck in a cycle of endless reincarnation.

It does depend on how dark you wish to go with your story. What I said in the previous paragraph is fairly morbid, but I believe it's worth considering multiple fronts for this, if only for curiosity's sake.

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