7
$\begingroup$

On a different planet, humanoid creatures called immortals have achieved immortality.

The society is built specifically for these immortals, so in general, the immortals enjoy and cherish their lives.

For the sake of balance, however, some immortals must pass on or the number of resources on their planet will continuously dwindle.

The only way for immortals to pass on is if they go through a special ‘passing’ ritual, which has both biological and social implications.


(Edit) I've decided to elaborate a bit more on the background of the immortals:

The immortals are by all intents humanoid. They are still susceptible to disease, but disease is actually the source of their immortality. A long time ago, an extremely dangerous degenerative virus hit the entire immortal population. Only a small number of those with strong regenerative abilities survived, but the virus survived with them, generation by generation. The continuous destruction and reconstruction of the body of the immortal makes them unable to age.

As a result of their constant battle with the virus through history and their lifespans, immortals possess extreme regenerative abilities, and have completely lost their ability to feel pain. They have also, in essence, formed a mutual relation with the virus; both the lifespan of the immortal and the virus are inextricably tied.

Any new diseases the immortals come face to face with will cause suffering for some time, but the immortals can simply out-survive the disease while waiting for the cure to be developed.

Unfortunately, while the regenerative ability of the immortals is the source of their life, there is also a severe detriment: the need for energy.

Due to countless millennium spent fighting the virus, the consumption due to regeneration from the virus is relatively little. However, whenever an immortal suffers from a severe injury or disease, they will need to replenish their energy through food or other means. As such, they look down upon war, as this consumes a large amount of resources. All of these contribute to a large consumption of resources, and any planet the immortals settle on will eventually run out if the immortals are not cognizant of population control and efficient resource use.

Immortals are also not immune to being immoral (pardon the pun). When immortals commit a crime, they are imprisoned and denied energy, forcing the immortal and its virus to starve. This slowly degenerates the immortal until they are left in an extremely weakened state, called 'the withering'. If left to wither for long enough, the immortal will first fall into a coma, before eventually withering away, completely different from 'the passing'.

To add onto the point for interstellar travel, the immortals can settle new planets, but each new settlement journey is extremely perilous. They have infinite lifespans, and go into a state of hibernation during the journey, but suffer the risk of ‘withering’ on the journey due to limited supplies on each ship, and risks of something happening to the ship. As a result, it is very difficult and risky to settle new planets, so it reiterates the importance of keeping a balanced number of immortals on each inhabited planet.

Finally, 'the passing' is done by extracting the virus from the immortal, which causes the immortal to no longer regenerate, and allowing them to live out their final days before they pass to old age.

My question is, more specifically, what can the society do to help incentivize these immortals to eventually decide to pass willingly, and make the passing a joyous event, rather than a sombre one?

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This question is extremely opinion based. We have no idea what these creatures' psychology is like, so you're the only one who can answer this. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Nov 6 '19 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Gryphon-ReinstateMonica I was just planning on giving more confirmation, my bad. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ I've elaborated more on the psychology and physiology of the immortal, as well as some of the societal norms, and have clarified my question. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ "For the sake of balance, however, some immortals must pass" — clarification, does "to pass" mean "to die"? only some of them have these forcibly shortened lifespans, or this artificial death is inevitable for anyone? the latter reminds me "Brave New World' by Huxley $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Nov 6 '19 at 16:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Enthus3d my mistake, not "Brave New World", but "Logan's Run", a movie — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logan%27s_Run_(film) a very similar idea of a festive ritual of killing people when they reach a specific age $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Nov 6 '19 at 17:28
3
$\begingroup$

If you were to come up with ten immortal characters and asked them how they want to live/die, you would likely get ten different answers. This is not a flaw, but a feature -- your people will have a motivation to live, and likewise a motivation to die.

Overall, as stated by yourself and Willk, there are three broad categories of effective life ending for these people:

  1. Exiling
  2. Withering
  3. Dying

The rest of this answer assumes the traditional immortal style: age until physical adulthood, then stop. I'll focus on the Die option as per the question, though the others will be touched on where appropriate.

Societal Norms

I would expect that this society as a whole would be well aware of the limited resources that they have in relation to their undying population and govern themselves with this in mind in order to last long enough. Given that there is implied resource scarcity in your world, there is probably still conflict but a lack of overt physical war as stated in the question. Some will blatantly ignore the truth or just not care, but that is the few and not the many and they will be come down on when they step out of line.

This holds doubly true for a society that had advanced to interstellar exploration at any speed. While they can colonize another place, until they can interact meaningfully with it, they are bound to whatever planet they are on.

On a more personal note, I feel that the tone of the world is based on the style of government here, or more specifically the decisions of the ruling faction(s) and enforcement of societal rules as laid down by them. You could have something idealistic or at least optimistic, to something highly dark and cynical. I personally expect pragmatism to be the primary order of these people due to centuries worth of resource and population management.

I would also suspect that people doing a job for centuries would not be unheard of so long as it was a satisfying one, as well as people that have decades of experience in multiple fields of work.

The inability to feel pain might open up new avenues of exploration, not the least of which is what else did this virus take in its evolved symbiosis with their humanoid hosts? Can one be killed through violent means, such as decapitation or being blown up?

Depending on the timeline and the will of the population, there may be still people that recall the great viral plague that started their whole undying society.

The Next Great Adventure

At its base, the decision to allow oneself to age and die can be seen as an joyous event so long as it is seen as one. A celebration of a life lived as opposed to the mourning of a life lost. From what I understand from the question, this society will not have nearly as many accidental deaths to have people mourning senseless tragedies -- many deaths will be pre-planned and already organized. This will further limit the amount of mourning after the fact, though there will always be sadness when people have passed.

The one choosing to die would undertake the passing ritual and it would basically be a grand celebration, with friends and family coming together to commiserate and celebrate the life about to end. Like a wake, but only the person is still alive and may still live from anywhere from a few minutes to a few decades.

Why they choose this method is a personal one -- some see aging as their final adventure. Others have decided that life is no longer with it. Whatever the reason, it can be a more joyous affair when one can make that decision themselves.

But how to incentivize it?

  • Payment: The society creates a monetary incentive for people to age out and die, almost like a severance package for life. On the positive side, it is just there and known about and provides financial stability in the twilight years when a dying person can't take care of themselves or contribute meaningfully. On a more sinister side, large families can (effectively) sacrifice/sell their children for a monetary infusion or have kids just for this purpose, gaming the system.
  • Morals: Either through the society's acute understanding of resource management or through a religion that promotes the action, people are encouraged to undertake the passing at a certain point in their lives. This could be a numeric time or an experience time. Certain cults might be willing to play this up to cull members for reasons on a more sinister level of control.
  • Science: When the next pandemic hits, your race will suffer, but ultimately persevere to find a cure. But how to get those samples of that pandemic? These people, already suffering a terrible disease decide to end their lives both to end their suffering as well as provide a cadaver that can be researched on. These noble souls are revered for their sacrifice … or culled because nobody will miss them. Overall, the society memorializes not only those that developed the cure for a disease, but those that willingly gave their lives so that a cure could be found. Side note: Any cures have to not kill the symbiotic viruses within them if they are to work properly.
  • Punishment: As stated in your question, potential withering via imprisonment is a punishment laid down to the immoral ones. Perhaps the passing is given as an option for some of the condemned in order to let them die in dignity as opposed to withering for a possible eternity. On a more sinister level, those condemned to eternal imprisonment are automatically Passed after X years or Y condemned prisoners to make room for new prisoners as a way to keep the population even as a twisted sort of resource management.
  • Best Alternative: Death through the Passing is something that is seen as the best way to end one's life. How this is achieved is a tone thing really, but the gist of this is of the three main ways to "die", this is the best. Withering can be seen as not only slow and wasteful of resources (space in this case), but cowardly -- one is too scared to become mortal and die. And exiling oneself to wherever is just seen as running from life and hoping you win the cosmic lottery. Likewise if one is even able to suicide by violence, that could be seen as ignorant to those left behind.

A New Adventure

The decision to leave the planet, as stated by Willk, is effectively death as well due to a lack of FTL as implied in the question meaning that once someone has left, it is almost assured that they will not return. If they are aware of their resource management, they will know that they can only do this so many times with the resources of the planet, and thus organize this to their advantage. The society could incentivize this in two primary ways:

  • To Adventure! These are the adventurous souls that yearn for a new world to explore, to colonize. Instead of dismissing those dreams, this society will cultivate them, grooming these people for the roles that will be needed to start fresh on a new world. Once there are enough colonizers (all eager to go for their own reasons), a ship is sent off into the star-filled sky, likely never to be seen again. It is understood that this was their choice and it should be honoured, even if they wither in failure.
  • Cake or Death: These are the people condemned by society but for some reason that same society does not want to see them dead, or they are given their choice of condemnation: Effective death by exile, or effective death by withering. A penal ship is launched to a place that is likely hospitable and it is up the grace of space if they make it to live the rest of their lives.

End of Life

Overall, the tone of the world's society will lead to what incentives are used and how they will apply them. Also an individual's reason to die may not be based on any societal incentive.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ This is definitely the most thorough of the answers given so far. Just a few notes though, withering is more of a state that occurs due to a lack of resources provided, so in that state resource consumption is not a problem. Also, a ‘journey’ is not necessarily a death trip, the long lifespan combined with hibernation state allows the immortals to survive extremely long trips, it is the perils of the trip itself and the perils of settling the planet that are possibly fatal. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 7 '19 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ I’ll select this as the best answer thus far, since it touches upon most of the aspects regarding the passing, and even on the societal norms, although I have to say sorry about not being more specific about my question (since I wanted to focus on the ritual process and how it controls population), but instead you’ve given an answer that’s a bit more thorough than expected. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 7 '19 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Enthus3d: It's all right. I was aiming to be thorough in response to a general lack of guidance on the exact direction to go in. I think the step missed is to give a general idea of what kind of society you are aiming for with these beings so I was trying to make a general assumption and work from there. Also, while the 'journey' might not be fatal to the people undertaking it, they are likely leaving people behind forever, so they might view it that way. That was what I was trying to convey there. $\endgroup$ – Haylen Nov 7 '19 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ yes, I am newish to worldbuilding, so I’m still trying to make my way around asking questions in a specific way. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 7 '19 at 2:33
7
$\begingroup$

You need to decide on the nature of their immortality. If "passing" means death then they aren't true immortals by definition, they're just ultra long-lived mortals and passing is truly death, albeit a death whose timing can be chosen. In that case, one motivation for electing to die to maintain the equilibrium might be to free up resources for one's descendants. Perhaps this race has a law or social more that means you can't have children until your grandparents have passed.

Note that for creatures with sufficient lifespan, interstellar colonisation without FTL travel becomes somewhat simpler. What's a few tens of thousands of years travelling to a new star system when your lifespan is several billion years? This may have implications for their views on resource utilisation.

If these are true immortals whose essence cannot be destroyed, independent of their physical bodies, then perhaps the decision to pass just arises as a result of having exhausted or grown bored of what is possible within the constraints of a physical body. They then sublime and become creatures of pure energy. In that case you may wish to consider whether the sublimed creatures still maintain any dealings with the fleshy forms of their race.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Calling thid process 'subliming' is an Iain Bank's reference, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – quarague Nov 6 '19 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, the immortals are called this because they get to choose when they pass, and should they never do so, have an infinite lifespan. I like the sublimation part of your answer, I suppose it would be like the shedding of an old shell for the immortals. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ @quarague yes, the terminology probably is Banks, though his books weren't specifically in my mind when I wrote my answer. It's a fairly common trope, see Star Trek TNG's Q and Organians, the creatures of intellect from Doc Smith's Skylark series, the Ancients in Stargate and so on. $\endgroup$ – SO failed us all... Bye... Nov 6 '19 at 15:03
5
$\begingroup$

Immortality is an award, and you need to keep on deserving it.

Sort of like in the movie In Time, only the rich- I mean successful live for a long time. So perhaps in your world, immortality is "awarded" to great achievers - Nobel prize laureates, for example.

For them to retain this gift, they need to keep achieving this status every decade or so. An eminant research would need to keep finding breakthroughs in their field, an artist would need to create masterpieces consistently, etc. This would create a lot of competitivity in those domains, but that's just another dynamic for you to exploit in storytelling.

In this setting, it would be less strict immortality and more "kept young" - if your Nobel laureate in medicine gets the award at age 35, then they get to stay 35 for the next 10 years. If they don't get it again, then they will continue aging after the gift is given to someone else.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ That’s an interesting idea, so you are proposing that a meritocracy is the source of the immortality, and the power/reward is lifespan? $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Enthus3d That's how I imagine it, yes. Don't know how much of that fits with your setting, feel free to tweak the idea so that it suits. But I think that it's a good basis to build on. $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Nov 6 '19 at 14:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I guess in a way the management of resources is related to their lifespan, so a meritocratic approach would be a good framework for their society, and also indirectly decides their lifespan. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Enthus3d after reading your edit, if you want the people to be immortal from birth, perhaps they need to achieve something major in X years of life or pass on. However, it would still be a fairly sombre event. $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Nov 6 '19 at 15:07
3
$\begingroup$

To decide on the incentives, you should first classify the types of people that must pass. for instance:

Criminals

Criminals ranging from common thieves to murderers are sentenced for life-time imprisonment, given that their life-time never ends, there is no point of spending eternity in a cell. So they willingly pass their immortality and die.

Ill immortals

Immortality doesn't mean invincibility, So the one that are bed ridden with incurable illness or too expensive a cure for them, may not want to just lie down for eternity, So they pass on as well.

A big poor family

A family of 10, may not be able to fill bellies for all of them, so one of them willingly pass on himself, to get a sum of money for family, spend his remaining days with them and dies in peace.

The careless and under-achievers

For sensitive jobs like military, politicians, CEOs, careless and under-achievers are basically criminals, so they go.

similarly, depressed, heart-brokes, philanthropists go as well out of goodness of their own heart.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I’m not sure that I want to incentivize passing with money for their family, that would make for a dark story where the higher tier immortals are immortal but the poor immortals are sick and suffering... $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ But I like that you cover these negative aspects in your answer. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 13:41
3
$\begingroup$

The immortals' regeneration continually reverts them to the most resilient stage of their lives: biologically, they're all children. This extends to physiology and developmental psychology, such that an 800-year-old immortal who looks like a 10-year-old has the mind of a 10-year-old: a very smart 10-year-old, yes, but still a child in outlook and instincts.

So why do immortals go through the Passing? Because the Passing is the only way to grow up. Medical research continues, but so far no one has figured out how to get an immortal to age even as far as adolescence without killing the virus. Aside from the obvious biological benefits, legal eligibility for leadership roles might be tied to developmental thresholds, not unlike minimum age limits for holding elected office in the real world.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I am not sure if I understand the question correctly, but if it is that you ask for reasons to go, I could imagine (in addition to those already mentioned):

Psychological illnesses

A bad Depression, maybe caused by bore-out, or by friends lost because they already decided to go, leaving you with too many people you don’t know.

Heroes / Saints

Maybe people going to die may be considered as heroes or saints by the society, they give up themselves for the sake of the community. The ritual itself may be very popualar, broadcasted on all media, people gone are people you remember.

“Level completed”

Staying alive is socially accepted as long as you still feel self-improving. If you have the impression that you have leared all lessons you should learn, you should (and maybe want to) go.

Belief

There may be some religious belief that there is something “better” to expect at the “other side” you are passing to, so people may just be willing to go, maybe even that must be limited.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I like the mix of categories you provide in your answer, especially that of the competition to ‘stay alive’ $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 13:34
1
$\begingroup$

Many immortals in fiction have lamented the inability to grow old with a partner that they love, and the pain of continuing to live after the loved one is gone. This society may emphasize the importance of growing old together as an essential aspect of true love. When an immortal falls in love with a mortal, it is expected that they will go through the passing as an expression of devotion. Perhaps it is an essential part of any wedding ceremony involving an immortal. Even if both partners are immortal, they are expected to go through the passing and grow old together.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like it, so essentially when immortals fall in love, they can choose to go through the passing together, and have a family before they go. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 15:03
1
$\begingroup$

Religion is one answer

In many religions, death is what allows one to reach Heaven, Paradise, Aether, or whatever you might call it. It is a world free of the stresses of everyday life. Upon reaching it, pure happiness is obtained.

A crying family looks on as their father begins the final preparations of "the passing". These are not tears of sadness; they are tears of joy, because very few immortals are selected for this honored ritual. Their family name is now being blessed and will be remembered for generations. Although they will surely miss him, their happiness greatly outweighs their grief.

Tears cascading down her face, his wife shoots him a final burning look.
"I'm so proud of you," she says to him.


Come up with lots of positives

If you don't want to go with religion, you can achieve a similar solution by inventing many different ways why "the passing" is a positive thing. Some example ideas include:

  • Bringing great honor to a family or community
  • Perhaps after a certain amount of time, the virus inside grows too dangerous and powerful to be allowed to live inside someone. Maybe it is extracted to protect everyone, rather than as a way to reduce the population.
  • Maybe after a certain amount of time, the virus can be extracted to be used as a key component of some sort of miracle medicine or tonic that has greatly sought after properties. This would help the community.
  • Perhaps immortals, upon falling in love with an ordinary mortal, will choose to undergo "the passing" in order to grow old and die with them as a way of expressing their love to them, and so they don't have to watched loved ones die over and over again.
  • And other things

It is ultimately up to you to decide how you want to address the issue.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like the description you gave for the answer, I suppose it is also unavoidable that the passing ritual will carry some hint of religion due to its ties to life and death. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Enthus3d That's what I was thinking, as well. Especially if this ritual has been a part of their culture for a very long time. $\endgroup$ – overlord Nov 6 '19 at 22:25
1
$\begingroup$

Exodus.

You note that these immortals have settled new planets. Those who establish beachheads on new planets for their species are revered as gods. But it is a risky thing, being the first. Many will perish before some succeed.

Colony ships periodically leave your planet. Those aboard know it is a roll of the dice. It is likely they will not find anywhere suitable to colonize and will die in trying once resources run out. But if they do find someplace, they get to start new.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That’s a good point. So rather than going through a passing ritual, they decide to undertake an interstellar journey into the stars, for the good of their species and for everlasting fame. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ And the exodus itself could alternatively be called the ‘journey’. The ‘passing’ would happen on the planet and the ‘journey’ would happen amongst the stars. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ I think this answer is probably the most efficient one, it controls the population over time while giving both the immortals an incentive to 'journey', and a chance to establish new home planets. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Nov 6 '19 at 19:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.