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There is a land ruled by Alchemists who have used their craft and powers to cheat death itself.

Centuries ago they learned how to create artificial humans without conscious minds that were useful not only as biological robots that could do basic slave labor, but as new bodies that they could transfer their consciousness into as to avoid death. The Alchemists only gift new bodies to those they deem loyal.

The ruling alchemists have been in power ever since they made this breakthrough, and they’ve ignored the rest of the world. The rest of the world however isn’t privy to magic and has had to survive through innovation.

The immortals still think chariots are the height of military science, while the outside world is adapting quite well to black powder.

Given a ruling class that is immortal and has compliant slaves for labor, is it reasonable to believe that innovation would be ground to a halt?

Essentially this question is about how much can society be held up by leaders who just won’t leave, and can such leaders squander a massive set of advantages?

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    $\begingroup$ You mean, Japan? $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Mar 12 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ Have you watched altered carbon on Netflix? They have long lived individuals "meths" who resleeve their bodies as and when needed for centuries. Norms can resleeve too but the expense is a limiting factor. It's futuristic not so much chariots and gunpowder, more flying cars and blasters, but can help with you brainstorming about the mega rich immortality angle NOT leading to technological stagnation $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 12 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ I mean they are old geezers, and the human mind gets more and more solid the older they get. But then again, they are moving into new bodies with a new fresh mind that is perfectly maleable. So no, probably not. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Mar 12 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ "Compliant slaves" don't generally get access to the knowledge and resources to innovate. An immortal ruling class will structure a fairly static and stagnant slave society to prevent annoying disruptions. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 12 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps I actually really like Altered Carbon and the idea of sleeves is what inspired the alchemical robots $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Mar 13 at 1:32
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It would be reasonable to suggest that innovation in the Alchemist's country overall would grind to a halt for a time. However, the immortal Alchemists that have conquered death will not necessarily sit on themselves and do nothing for eternity.

The main matter is if these immortal alchemists can reproduce. A growing population, no matter how slow it does grow, in a limited space will eventually call for innovation if only to make sure everybody is fed and happy.

With biological robots to ensure their needs, and the ability to live forever, these alchemists will be free to undertake their own personal pursuits for as long as they like. They can undertake personal projects that last years or decades and not really care about the world around them.

While these pursuits will create something, the question is if it is a useful innovation or even one that will benefit them as a whole. Looking at specific areas:

  • Medicine will not be a priority to look into because the ruling class can just body hop to avoid terminal diseases or infections so long as they have warning. Being insular, they might avoid any plagues that hit the rest of the world limiting that vector. It may also be that this has been studied extensively in their quest for immortality.
  • Infrastructure and logistics will not be a priority. Depending on the size of the ruling class, there just might not be a need for it or it might be personal to each person's lands.
  • Agriculture will only be needed insofar as it is needed to feed everybody and maybe keep enough surplus for a lean year. They might innovate a way to not have those lean years.
  • There might be innovations in safety measures if only to prevent accidental deaths since it seems like they need to be alive to body hop by the question
  • The Sciences will be an academic interest over a innovation need most likely. Alchemical shortcuts might make for a scattered body of theoretic knowledge with key parts missing to understand grander concepts.
  • Security might have innovations, if only personal ones to keep their own research secret and/or safe. Or their country as a whole.

My overall feeling is that they will experiment and play with their alchemy, but anything they develop will be individual discoveries until such a time as they need to turn their head towards country-wide innovation to catch up to a world that has since surpassed them or something within their country requires them to come up with a solution to fix it.

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is it reasonable to believe that innovation would be ground to a halt?

Probably not.

Necessity is the mother of innovation, that's how the saying goes.

Apparently if these folks are not subjected to death, they apparently have no urge to innovate and improve their life. Why worrying about improving hygiene if even eating from your toilet bowl will not kill you?

But...

They are surrounded by progressing nations. This means that, sooner or later, they will be facing scarcity of some resources or lack of territory.

In a chariot vs chariot I can see that an immortal has an advantage, but when it becomes a tank vs chariot the immortal has to step back: a tank might not kill you, but once it is over your body you are grounded there with no possibilities to move. A pretty boring eternity!

Therefore at a certain point they will be forced to advance their level to be at least capable of bouncing back outsiders who try to take their territory. If they are more aggressive, they will also be forced to advance to keep a hold of their conquers and defend them from outsiders.

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    $\begingroup$ While I agree with the general "No", logic (+1), we need to more closely address the case of "Yes, for the time being". $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 12 at 18:51
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Yes why not

Look at the Chinese in the 16th century. They said "we know enough" and ground innovation to a halt.

This enabled the british victory in the opium war 19th century. Mid-20th century the Chinese woke up and started to catch up. Now, 21th century, they're back to their ancient status as leader of the world in many topics.

I guess your alchemists will face the same some time

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for a historical parallel $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Mar 13 at 1:29
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It would more likely accelerate technological progress, not halt it.

Mortal rulers often become paranoid about being overthrown or assassinated; so, they inhibit the free proliferation of information that might cause society to shift away from thier favor. As long as most of your population is mortal, this inhibition of communication will lead to far more stagnation than immortal leaders. Leader's are very rarely the innovators behind a society, but thier leadership style dictates how much true innovators have the opportunity to push thier society forward.

Because these rulers can not be assassinated and have an army that will never rebel, they have little cause to fear their own people. When leaders don't fear thier own people, they see the strength and progress of thier people as an increase in the value of thier own assets rather than a growing threat to thier power.

Immortality also makes long-term investment in your subjects well being more valuable. While a mortal leader will never see the benefits of a 20+ year plan to improve education, conduct research projects, or improve infrastructure in his country, an immortal leader will expect to still be in power when those investments turn into more tax revenue; so, forward thinking will naturally be a more important aspect of his reign.

Another possible advantage is that immortality can be used to defeat society's attrition of advanced skills and knowledge. As technology advances, the older people who understand it best retire or die off while the new generation has to relearn what is lost. Your leaders don't need to let the Einsteins, Teslas, and Hawkings of the world grow old and die before they can complete thier life's work. Instead your society could immortalize great innovators extending thier lives until such point that they are no longer meaningfully contributing to thier fields of study. This creates a three fold catalyst for innovation. A: It rewards academic and scientific excellence making it a cultural norm to try to be the smartest. B: It discourages stagnation from those who are great scientific minds because if they fail to continue to produce, they will eventually be allowed to grow old and die, and C: You don't randomly lose valuable skill sets to death and old age.

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I see their society being completely stagnated. I can also see internal and external pressures that might drive technical development:

1) Rebels. People at the bottom rung (actual people, not bio-bots) rarely like being there regardless of how good that position is in the absolute sense. "Black market" alchemy/tech might be anything that allowed the low end folks to challenge the immortal alchemists.

2) Internal Competition. Grudges between alchemists could drive "sleeve" upgrades, poison and disease development (and counters to same), all kinds of stuff. A far-sighted alchemist or three could have seen this sort of problem coming and set up a literal competition, their own equivalent to the Nobel Prize on a regular basis (though "annual" might seem pretty short term to these folks).

3) The Outside World. Even if all they're doing is working on staying hidden, they might end up with all manner of things designed to prevent the world at large from finding them. Anything from invisibility to memory removal to a "somebody else's problem field".

All these things might be fairly narrow... a smaller (but much more experienced) population working on whatever problems they might face.

I remember hearing a quote somewhere that went something like this: "When an old scientist tells you something is possible, they're almost certainly right. When an old scientist tells you something is impossible, they just might be wrong". This society wouldn't have any young scientists, only old ones. Their bounds of possibility would be pretty darn rigid.

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Your question is similar to a central plot point in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. I'm not spoiling anything when I say that the premise is an immortal tyrant has united the whole of the known world and kept it's technology and culture in a static and unchanging state for over ten centuries in order to maintain control, deliberately ensuring there could be no innovation or social progress of any sort.

The ruling class is favored by this god-emperor and are the only ones privy to a magic system known as allomancy (one whose awesomeness really not only made Sanderson the star that he is but also the authority on magic systems that he has become.). The problem is when a member of the slave class, who aren't supposed to have access to that power, gets access to the phenomenal abilities it endows its users.

You should check out Mistborn not only to perhaps analyze as a reference, but just to enjoy because it is hands down one of the most awesome fantasy epics out there. It's incredible.

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    $\begingroup$ I read mistborn back in middle school and I liked it quite a bit. The thing with The Final Empire was that the Lord Ruler was intentionally holding back progress as a means of control and due to his beliefs (he maintains pocket watches simply because he likes them). It’s cool and similar, but ultimately the Lord Ruler is intentional while this question is about immortality causing inadvertent stagnation $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Mar 13 at 1:31

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