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Another element of my meta-setting was the Foundation. What they exactly do changes from story to story, but they're usually a peacekeeping force, low in numbers but insanely powerful.

One reason for that, other than asking the help of more-or-less demons, is that Foundation employees undergo a "very special" training. Thanks to the magnitude of forces they deal with, operatives frequently die horrible, horrible deaths. Being sawed in half by an aggressive spider robot, possessed by Phil Swift; or torn to shreds by a .50 cal happens every week for rookies.

The catch? They don't have my permission to die. I keep those neatly locked up in a safe at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, along with every N-word Pass.

In practice, whenever an operative dies, they respawn either at the Security Department or where their corpse was placed, depending on the extent of the damage.

It depends on the story, but this is supposed to make them even more dangerous.

"Well duh, they can't die so they can accumulate EXP freely and be extra reckless! What's the question?" A strawman would probably say.

Well, there is something else I was curious about. Basically, I wanted this "I have died before," thing to explain why Foundation operatives seem to be able to ignore physical pain and charge at you even when they've sustained so much damage they look more like moving corpses. Structural damage still affects them, so no legs == no walking. But could that level of pain tolerance actually be possible to achieve via this "training"?

Memories of operatives can be slightly altered (redacted, to be exact). Also, an operative's memories can safely be streamed to the backup device up to a second after the heart stops, so they should clearly remember their agony.

The Security Department's regenerators (that regenerate the corpses and imprint the backup into them) can heal just about any wound, including those that were sustained from overstraining muscles. Usually, the rebuilt fibers are stronger just like with bodybuilding (well, there's still a limit).

Note: Foundation employs other species, but I want to focus on humans. Also, rookie operatives are entirely normal humans.

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    $\begingroup$ a better way is for the regeneration to simply decrease the pain setting basically $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Have you looked into the effects on victims of torture or survivors of serious injury (eg burn victims)? PTSD isn't widely known for granting sufferers increased pain tolerance. For a more sci-fi approach, look at the BSG episode Scar, which examines this exact issue with Cylons getting resurrected after being repeatedly killed. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ If that worked, then shouldnt they have torturers in their service? The torturers hurt the rookies over and over again until they brea... I mean they become so desensitized that they'll gladly ask for more. Thats why torture was invented, making people more resiliant to pain! You can train people to be less sensitive but not with such extreme pain levels. You need lower pain thresholds that they can handle, but that will only mean handle the fear not the full pain. Then they do get a taste of the full pain... $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 7:25

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Traumatising your soldiers will make them weaker

Your soldiers will remember the suffering and the powerlessness of their deaths. Combine this with a cultural expectation of macho-ness and not expressing emotion, and you've basically created an army of PTSD suffers.

They will get into battle and go into an automatic mode. That may include freezing, fleeing, or they may just hurt everyone around them, including their own friends.

I've witnessed someone have a PTSD attack and try to flee (drunk by car), their friends calmly tried to stop them driving drunk, and the friends got hit with a beer bottle, punched, kicked, stabbed with keys, and eventually hit with a moving car. The urge to flee for this person after being triggered was more important than any other thing, including the law and their entire social circle. The PTSD tried to sacrifice every friendship they had for a trigger. This isn't behaviour you want in your soldiers.

To use your technology to create a soldier who doesn't fear dying:

  • Once pain crosses a threshold (that you find with experimentation I guess), the recording of it is turned off. You want them to understand some pain (otherwise they'll panic when they feel it for the first time, "I stubbed my toe and it feels worse than my last 15 deaths!"), but you don't want them to remember agony.
  • Once fear crosses a threshold, the recording of it is turned off. Same again, you want them to remember feeling a little nervous, but full blown panic as the world fades to black should be erased.
  • Same with humiliation, degradation, and worthlessness. Death in combat is rarely noble. When someone relaxing in a portable toilet takes a surprise RPG hit, they shouldn't remember the humiliation of dying pants down, face down in a tank of excrement. They need to be able to look back on that emotion free; That memory needs to be considered hilarious and laughed about at the bar after finishing for the day, rather than humiliating them for years to come.
  • You want the soldier to wake up and his emotional state is "Oh no I let my team down.". Add this emotion if it isn't there.
  • Edit out repeated deaths. If the soldier is dying the same way over and over, say, 3 identical times, delete the oldest memory. You want them to throw themselves at the robot spider over and over, and you want them to learn from their mistakes and try different things, but you want them to think that this time has a decent chance of being different.
  • (If your memory recording technology is this advanced), make their memory of the battle longer, with a stronger enemy, but much closer to being won. Instead of being sawn in half by one spider robot, there were 50, and as a team they slaughtered 49, but the last one got them. Then when they respawn they see one spider and think "Oh this will be easy, I've already killed 49 of these things". When it kills them again, their memory is implanted with the memory of killing another 30 of them, etc. Basically you want them to believe they almost succeeded but just messed up a little bit, even if they've been throwing themselves at that same robot spider for weeks. Your canon fodder should avoid feeling frustrated and demoralised if at all possible.
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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, but I would change some things. Depending on the deaths they should feel shame. They need to have self perseverance up to a point, after which they need to want to engage the danger if it's beneficial to the foundation. Then it's an honor. Also forgetting memories would impair learning, so they would attack a robot the same way over and over if you let them forget the oldest after 3 times. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 5:53
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds a lot like video game level design $\endgroup$
    – RancidCrab
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane So basically, the goal here is to encourage your soldiers to 'die with honor'. Basically, you want them to feel shame for dying by slipping in the shower and cracking their neck, but not feel shame for receiving a grenade blast to the crotch in the thick of battle. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 16:35
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Repeated exposure to pain might decrease pain tolerance instead of increasing it.

Pain tolerance has two major aspects:

  1. pain receptors' sensitivity, and
  2. perception of pain.

Repeated exposure to pain may make pain receptors more sensitive to stimuli and lower pain threshold and tolerance. The more you poke someone the more painful it becomes.

Perception of pain is how we react to pain. If we can ignore the pain we can tolerate higher levels of it. The most effective ways to improve this aspect are exercise and cognitive training.

Send your rookie operatives to the training camp for several months. Get them through rigorous physical training. If you can personalise programmes in such a way that each operative is always close to their limit you would get better results. Establish mandatory physical training routines for all operatives after graduation and do regular fitness checks. This is basically what modern armies do. You just need to improve on it a bit.

Cognitive training involves psychologists and psychotherapy if necessary. You want all your operatives to learn meditation techniques. Calmness reduces the perception of pain while anger, sadness, and anxiety increase them. Make sure that none of your operatives suffers from depression or other mood disorders.

Divide operatives in pairs or small tactical units. A mere presence of another person was shown to increase pain tolerance, at least in men. Also, provide them with enough sleep and good nutrition. Encourage swearing when in pain. Cheerfulness and a good sense of humour would also be great. Your psychologists can help with developing cheerful attitudes.

If your technology allows it, increase the number of opiate receptors in the brain. This would lower sensitivity to pain and increase tolerance.

Psychological counselling should be mandatory after each operation. A revived operative must go through psychotherapy, no exceptions. As other people mentioned, PTSD is a very valid concern. For example, up to 30% of US veterans suffer from PTSD during their lifetime. The prevalence is higher in males than in females. This relationship is reversed in the general population.

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Special forces training and controlling the pain

In all special forces trainings pain is part of the training. However, the Spetsnaz Russian special forces are famous for it. Being hit with wooden sticks, concrete blocks broken on their heads by sledge hammers and being dragged behind trucks are just the most ibvious. They are starved, undercooled, overheated, sleepdeprived and more. They are learned to like the pain and to never stop until either your body fails or the enemy is defeated. This seems to be exactly what you want.

The problem is that most don't make it. You need physically and mentally incredibly strong persons. If they aren't they'll just psychologically break down, requiring years of therapy. Even the ones that make it can be described as emotionally damaged, but in a deliberate precise way. You can't get all foundation humans to undergo such training and keep working. Too few would be able to continue.

Making it work

Pain is useful, but up to a certain point for your employees. If you have regeneration technology, you can probably also limit their pain. You can use this with training and regenerating to show there's nothingbto fear. Intentionally damaging them with their consent, starting with something small and regenerating them afterwards. This will give them the feeling that after pain, they are fixed to 100% and feel good after. They'll even see and feel the improvements to their strapping body! You can ramp up the pain until that threshold is reached. Then you can even start killing them. First quick, later slower deaths. This way they'll get used to it in a safe and relatively good environment, feeling the protection of the foundation every regeneration. This can make them more reckless, but together with a self preservation culture they'll not do too reckless things overall. A good foundation member only does dangerous things when required. Only if required, they'll rush in, confident in their regeneration and do their best.

Altering their memories can be done sparingly. If the pain does get too much, remove or reduce the pain, but nothing else. Much like mothers forgetting the incredible pain of child bith so they still want to have another kid, foundation humans would be willing to go the length again. Just make sure the stories are known that it can hurt much more, or they might feel betrayed when it happens. If they know it might happen but their memories tell them they never experienced it, they will risk such things. Like people telling not to watch 2 girls 1 cup, eat the most spicy pepper in the world or touch a Gimpy Gimpy leaf, it'll be too difficult to imagine it, so they will chance the possibility.

This still is the best scenario. I think most people would psychologically accept this, even though it might still create a lot of psychologically imbalanced people. There will still be drop outs, but I guess you'll need fresh meat for some purposes anyway.

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Unlike computer flash storage, memories aren't just "files" but rather physical arrangements of neurons and connections in the brain. When you learn something, new neurons are formed, retrained, or connect themselves differently. This means if you "copy" a brain neuron-by-neuron, the copy will have the same memories, personality, etc. Similarly, someone's pain tolerance is also (in part) a component of their neural structure. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that when you resurrect your operators, pain tolerance will be include along with memories, reflexes, attitude, etc.

That said, you might want to do something to prevent your operators from being overly traumatized--when humans are in extreme high-stress scenarios, the brain can change very quickly or receive lasting damage in response to the situation (that's where PTSD comes from).

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Dose them on painkillers, or they’ll end up broken and unusable.

I’m not a psychologist, but I think PTSD is caused by pain, stress, etc. So repeated exposure to this through death and regeneration will not make them storer, but traumatise them.

Instead, dose them on painkillers. Now they experience death, but it doesn’t hurt. The first few times they’ll have a natural aversion, but as they learn it doesn’t hurt, they’ll lose this. We get this to a degree in games - games which allow quick respawns with little loss train players to use their characters as disposable - e.g. in some games I’ll happily use a rocket launcher at point blank to make things easier for my teammates, knowing I’ll respawn moment later. Whereas ‘gritty’ games with no respawn and no save force you to be cautious and careful, and you feel the pain more.

Soon you’ll have an army who don’t feel pain, and don’t value their individual lives, just the contribution they can make to the overall goal. They’ll happily drown themselves so their squad mates can stand on a pile of their bodies and cross the river.

They’ll still be broken as humans, but they’ll be a disturbing and powerful force. You’ll need some way to keep them in check. A pleasure drug is boring and may make them lose their edge. Perhaps give them a strong taste for fine dining? So squads who are effective are allowed the use of 5* chefs.

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