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I am using the Big Freeze model for the end of the universe in my story, mostly because this theory has the longest timescales and features eras that are too interesting to me to avoid, such as the black hole era and possible proton decay.

But my characters are supposedly very advanced and there are many paths I could take to extend the story to infinite timelines such as a new phase of inflation at the end of the Big Freeze time-scales or multiverses to explore and the reason I want to explore more is because my main characters are greedy, if it is possible there is more matter, space and energy to add to their empire they will.

I understand that I could easily write in many reasons why in their older and hopefully wiser years they gain peace in happiness in what they have accomplished and realize they do not need more and they can rest in peace or maybe I could kill them off with an end of universe scenario or plot driven demise but this goes against the goal of my main characters that needs to have everything that exists.

I am wondering if there is something in the laws of physics that can contradict the need for more? And I don't mean a limitation to their abilities because plot armor can easily save them or make them succeed and find a solution every time.

So again I am after a scientific answer on why a character with writers powers/ plot armor, can survive infinite timescales and has the greed to always want more, will realize enough is enough or less is more without it being a plot driven or psychological reason?

Edit: Whilst there are some interesting answers, everyone has either brought in a psychological/plot based reason, which I said I did not want or they have brought up a reason which I have explained can be bypassed with an easy solution.

As I asked for a scientific theory that is currently un proved but the maths says it is possible, the works of Roger Penrose are of interest to me. Not his infinite inflation theory specific to a cosmic crunch but universe scaling and infinite energy theories.

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    $\begingroup$ Canyou edit the title to add more context, like from A scientific reason for why a greedy immortal character realises enough is enough? to A scientific reason for why a greedy immortal character realizes enough living is enough?, A scientific reason for why a greedy immortal character realizes enough powers is enough?, etc? $\endgroup$
    – user80961
    Dec 2, 2020 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ My question is, gaining more what? $\endgroup$
    – user80961
    Dec 2, 2020 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Could you clarify about the difference between lack of abilities and a scientific barrier? I could write an answer saying "They find the laws of physics means they can't make a new universe or go to one." but then you could just say "But they have the ability to bypass the laws of physics." What sort of answer are you looking for? $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Dec 2, 2020 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ This is in the VTC queue. With the science-based tag, my vote would be a coffin-closing hammer, so I'm not going to vote. However, you've created god-like characters and want a science-based excuse for why they can't be godlike characters. Pick any one you like: conservation of momentum, any of the limitations of thermodynamics... except that you've already thrown all those to the wayside. Godlike characters can't exist in a physics-based universe with the physics we understand. Having broken the proverbial egg, you can't put it back together again. So, down vote. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 2, 2020 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ This is confusing. Your characters' feelings and desires are functions of their internal psychology; no matter what the scientific reality around them might be, how they feel and respond to it is a matter of their personality. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Dec 3, 2020 at 14:52

10 Answers 10

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a scientific answer on why a character [...] can survive infinite timescales and has the greed to always want more...

Okay, so we should probably get rid of some of the scientific conflicts in the question first. First of all infinite timescale is not a scientific thing (cf. https://xkcd.com/1717/ ) - but let's assume an immortal character, who will end up facing the cold death of the universe and expire with it.

Psychologically, I think can we ask (scientifically) the opposite: Why on earth would an immortal character be greedy? I would argue, that greed is a natural (somewhat immature) response to mortality, and therefore greed would only be a behaviour found in someone relatively new to immortality.

So, as the character actually understands the deathless state, it is an inevitable consequence that mortal interests cease to have any hold on that character.

The same would go for fame, notoriety, power, or any other similar ambition - they really don't mean much to an immortal.

Remember, this immortal will outlive her entire species in five to ten million years; she will outlive the sun in five billion years - but will live many trillions of times longer than that before the long, cold, hard, winter tears her finally apart.

Greed is the last thing such a character would be invested in. It’s the guarantee of a seemingly endless wait in the cold, infinite dark, surrounded by nothing at all which will haunt her.

What is there to be greedy about? Not even diamonds will stand the test of time. Try being greedy for the transient shapes in a cloud, or for a moment of a waterfall, or for the splash of a raindrop. For us, proportionately, such things last much longer than do galaxies for an immortal.

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    $\begingroup$ Truly outstanding answer. (+1, because I can't upvote it more) $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Dec 3, 2020 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft, your sentiment is appreciated, never mind the ‘score’! $\endgroup$
    – Konchog
    Dec 3, 2020 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerHarris, while comments are not the right place for discussion, I feel you should read my answer to the end. Given a lifespan that meets (even exceeds) the age of the universe, however long that may be, what value would any system (let alone mind) place on anything that lasts less than the blink of an eye? It's not about challenging infinity or about psychology: The premise of 'greed' is weak for an immortal. $\endgroup$
    – Konchog
    Dec 3, 2020 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ That moment when an author is being told that the foundation of its writings isn't appropriate always lead to funny reactions :') $\endgroup$
    – Amon
    Dec 3, 2020 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerHarris Who on this site does by that logic? If that's your logic, why are you asking a bunch of mortals? In addition, if God were to answer here, how would you tell God apart? ;) $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2020 at 0:26
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Short of a godlike omniscient intelligence permeating its entire domain (which would be totally unrelatable to readers), a single mind can't observe/comprehend/process such a vast domain. (Heck, there are parts of my own home I haven't entered or even looked at since I moved in.) Most likely this being or beings realize that controlling an entire universe that they have never seen 99.99999+% of and will never even have time to see is rather pointless.

(I'd be surprised if it were possible for a consciousness to exist that a human could speak and relate to that could conceptualize the state of a single planet (i.e. integrate all activity occurring on the surface into its conscious awareness and logically reason about the entirety of it), let alone the entire cosmos at once. It would be like a bacterium trying to have a conversation with a human.)

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  • $\begingroup$ This is carrying on from my previous question which involves advance civilizations with the knowledge/ability and resources to build all forms of megastructures and advanced technology, within our current understanding of physics. So this isn't a superpowered plot armor being but a highly advanced technological leader of a civilization/empire. $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2020 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RogerHarris Magical levels of advanced technology doesn't change the fact that if the leader's domain is bigger, the more effort and thought it takes to rule all parts of effectively, and this question posits ruling an entire cosmos. Either the ruler has a gigantic consciousness or the ruler isn't paying attention to everything because they're spread too thin and things start falling apart. This occurs even if they delegate. $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2020 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ "a godlike omniscient intelligence permeating its entire domain (which would be totally unrelatable to readers)" The Bible does a pretty good job... $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks The Abrahamic God is worshiped and obeyed but I don't think most readers of the Bible would claim to relate to Him, i.e. understand His viewpoint or His reasoning. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 21:53
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Point 1: Greed is primarily a function of consumption. The greedy person consumes resources of various kinds, but they can’t consume at an infinite rate. Stockpiling huge reserves of the resources is basically an effort to make sure you can consume more later.

Point 2: Stockpiling resources requires effort. They must be defended from other people, or maintained against the vagaries of time. In the long run this can reduce the amount of resources you have, since it takes more effort to keep your resources than it would to just wait and seize them later.

Your immortal has realised both of these things, and so has formed a policy of claiming just what they need to ensure they can live to the fullest, plus a buffer to allow them to claim more in future once they start to run low. The rest of their effort is spent not in jealously defending their resources, but instead is used to reduce the capacity of those around them to use up as-yet-unclaimed resources. They figure that in the long run it’s all going to be theirs anyway, so it makes more sense to gently pull apart other ‘greedy’ entities and organisations than it does to openly fight them for their stockpiled resources.

It’s still claiming everything, just over a longer time period. Since they’re taking steps to minimise resource usage, they’re maximising how long greedy beings can be, thus maximising their overall resource usage.

Guess you could say being less greedy now lets them be more greedy over the rest of time. And they have a lot of time to go at.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree about stockpiling being "an effort to make sure you can consume more later". There can be satisfaction simply in having, like collecting all of the cards in a given trading card set, or getting as many widgets as you possibly can. To a hoarder it is a matter of possession .... actually consuming (destroying!) it later would be abhorrent $\endgroup$
    – Dragonel
    Dec 3, 2020 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragonel: Those points are meant to be ‘things the immortal thinks’. Even if they are a hoarder they can recognise they can hoard more for longer if they don’t overstretch themselves trying to gather too much. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Dec 3, 2020 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs The idea is good but ignores there are some resources that simply won't be available later. Either consumed by others, or by natural processes. $\endgroup$
    – kutschkem
    Dec 3, 2020 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs - it sounds like you think those are absolutes the immortal "realizes", not just things he thinks. And no a hoarder is not going to recognize delaying hoarding to hoard more later, the need is for these things now! (and the OP is asking about someone stopping gathering, not putting it off to gather later) $\endgroup$
    – Dragonel
    Dec 3, 2020 at 16:51
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At some point things become just a number. "Sir, we have annexed 31 new worlds to our empire". Great, I haven't seen the last 120 yet. Not to mention when is the last time you saw some of the other worlds. When's the last time you even heard of them? Your empire can be large but you are only in one place.

If the speed of light remains constant, that also limits the speed at which information spreads. If your empire spans even only one galaxy you are only hearing about what happens on the edge 200 years after the fact, at best. Travelling at relativistic speeds makes things worse. Time passes faster for the rest of the universe so that means generations can go by as you move from one place to the other.

Sure you own a lot of stuff but what does that mean? How is it changing thier existance? Depending on how greedy they are perhaps just the thought of their domain expanding is enough. But at some point the disconnect must become too high.

Perhaps there's also loss aversion. When the empire becomes so large, it's not really under the control of one person. If they are having any meaningful influence in how things are ran, then things are bound to det out of hand. At some point certan parts would go without interaction for thousands of years.

Now, I'm not going to say it's imposible to keep it all together (but it does seem like it), but at least I'll say that you don't do it by ruling over it all constantly. You instead design a system, as tight as posible to keep things running smoothly in your absense. Which will be the vast majority of the time for almost 100% of the empire. Sure there can be a clause like: "Any direct order from the emperor superseeds what the system says" so you are technically still in control. But again, this will so rarely come into play that it may as well not exist.

And I'm only talking about fairly short timescales. What happens where a new world gets formed, develops intelligent life, gets conquered, then gets destroyed but natural cosmological forces, before you even heard of it?

At some point, for everyone, enough has to be enough.

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As their empire expands to a certain extent, they begin to feel smaller. Peering over the endless horizon, fully aware that most of it is unnecessary, they feel more insignificant, resulting in feeling depressed.

Eventually, they come to the conclusion that enough is enough.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is interesting, psychological but still a good reason. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 13:34
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Perhaps, the awareness of one's own construction, the mechanism of the work of his own mind. The character realized that he is a fairly simple system determined by several parameters, there is nothing in him that would make his "I" wealthy. He observes how other people's brains are created with the help of advanced technologies and how their behavior is clearly determined by their structure. This devalues ​​for him his own life, his goals, his worldview. He will fall into stagnation and does not want to leave the imprint of his inner structure on the world, because this has no meaning for him.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea also, still a psychological demise that I was not after but peering into their own simple existence is a nice idea. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 13:35
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Okay, so what is the "end-state" here, the point where the character realizes they don't need to continue? Let's assume that your character reached the "end" of the universe, as in everything outside their empire is in a state of near-equilibrium and the empire itself as well as your character are made out of unobtainium, which never decays. All information that could be gathered has been gathered already and there are zero known things that would suggest that there is anything else waiting to be discovered in the universe.

Your character could of course set their goal to travel in one direction for eternity to see what happens, but if your universe doesn't have any boundaries you came up with or it ends up going in a loop, then your character would just travel for ever.

Another goal could be to increase the size of the empire by finding a way to create matter from nothingness, breaking the law of conservation, but let's assume that law turned out to not be required for a working universe. Maybe your character finds a way to manipulate quantum fluctuations and virtual particles or they use their own immortality as a source for infinite power and uses that to make the empire as big as the universe itself, as in they could keep growing it for ever.

Maybe they find a way to reset the universe or to create their own, but even then you're looking at infinity and in a universe with a finite lifetime you only have a finite amount of interesting states it can be in, so after an arbitrary amount of resets it just becomes too similar to previous versions.

At this point you have 3 options:

1: Your character keeps traveling/building/creating universes for ever, the end.

2: Your character realizes that in a universe with infinite scales, no number, regardless of size, matters and stops, the end.

3: You come up with something that happens, like the discovery of a multiverse or parallel universe or the guy who runs the simulation of the universe etc. Maybe the universe only runs in a cycle exactly because it takes an immortal character to reset it by sacrifizing themselves. Maybe your character finds ways to create a universe as immortal as themselves and also discovers how to rewrite the laws of reality itself and effectively becomes an omnipotent god.

But option 3 is not based on any real science as we know it today and purely fictional, so maybe the only option you have to create an interesting ending for your immortal is 2, the psychological conclusion of nothing matters.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer thanks, you covered quite a few of my possible reveals. Your point on gathering all information I question if this can happen in one universe life-time but that idea is one I am playing with which is Wolfram's theory of everything , trying to find the fundamental pattern of the universe by running countless algorithms. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 15:11
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What is Ownership?

To have any influence over a planet you must be able to respond to it during the lifetimes of the people who live there, or you will never really own it in any meaningful way. Some people have made the argument before than you can not really control a place with more than a few weeks or months of signal delay just because such places require such autonomous governments to function, but for sake of what your overlord(s) might themselves see as ownership, I will use the loser definition of them simply having enough influence to tell a planet's inhabitants what to do.

Your rulers are immortal, but there is no way they can share this immortality and expect to remain in power; so, I will say that they probably rule over a population of human like mortals for sake of this answer. Since most human leaders can not control a nation for more than 30 years between when they are mature enough to take power and when they are too old to maintain it, I will say that anything that you can not have a 2-way communication with over the course of these 30 years can not be owned because no leader can be reliably communicated with or held responsible for their actions.

Feel free to adjust this window to suit your setting, but I will use 30 years as an example in my following calculations.

Limiting their empire by the Speed of Light

The larger your empire becomes, the longer communication takes between any two points in space. The Milky Way galaxy is just over 100,000ly across meaning that it would take over 200,000 years for a 2-way communication to happen between opposite edges of a Galactic Civilization. Civilizations, and perhaps entire species of intelligent beings will rise and fall in the time it takes the immortal emperor to even get word that they have decided to disobey him. So, following the 30 year limit, this means your immortal's initial maxim empire size will only be any star within a radius of ~15 ly. If your immortals started off on an Earth like world, that would give them a maximum realm of about 60 stars to rule over.

Limiting FTL by Inertia and Gravitational Sheer

Eventually your immortal beings will figure out some way to beat the speed of light, but faster than Light is not the same as instant travel. Let's say you use something akin to an Alcubierre Drive, in this scenario, you can now accelerate something to superluminal speeds without violating causality, but that acceleration takes time. Alcubierre Drives create gravitational sheer and inertia on the vessel they are accelerating which means you can only accelerate an Alcubierre Engine so fast before material science and the lives of those aboard hit their limits. In this scenario, ships with people on them are limited to acceleration speeds of about 1G (9.8 m/s^2), but smaller unmanned probes can theoretically survive much greater levels of sheer and inertia. Without knowing the actual materials that go into making an Alcubierre Drive, we can not say exactly what this limit is, but let's say for the sake of argument that an Alcubierre Drive can reach accelerations of 100G (980 m/s^2) before hitting the limits of the materials it is made out of which would tear it apart. (Feel free to adjust this limit to suit the needs of your story)

In this scenario, your emperor can now receive word of a rebellion from anywhere in the galaxy using such an FTL probe, and then send orders to a nearby fleet to put down the rebellion. This means that 2-way communication will require a probe to speed up and slow down at 100G over a given range twice. Sticking with out 30 year signal delay limit, this means your emperor will be able to control anything within a radius of about 23,130 ly. This means that he could at the very most control about 1/4 of the Milky Way Galaxy or about 25-100 billion stars.

Limiting the Multiverse by the Speed of Light

Once your immortals control a sizable portion of this universe; they would of course want to start dominating parallel realities, but most multiverse models assume that a multiverse exists as the result of additional dimensions. That means that multiple universes could be represented by new dimensions of space which themselves may be governed by the constant of C. So, by assuming a multiverse, we can simply calculate the volume of their domain as a glome (a 4 dimensional hypersphere) to make assumptions of how many places in the multiverse they can reach by following Alcubierre Drive like physics through multiple realities. Since the equation for the volume of a Glome is (1/2)π^2R^4 and R = 23,130 we can deduce that the maximum volume of multiverse you immortals can effectively govern would be about 1.411e18 ly^4 compared to the 5.18e13 ly^3 they could control just in our own reality. If we assume these parallel universes give access to similar cross-sections of Milky Way like galaxies as our own reality, we can extrapolate that to the volume of your immortal's 4 dimensional domain could contain about about 3.5-14 quadrillion stars within the 30 year soft cap of the homeworld. At this point, your "home world" would probably have to be some manner of dyson megastructure just to contain all of the necessary administrative infrastructure it would take to govern such a realm.

Of course, this is all just based on my somewhat arbitrary choice of 100G Alcubierre Drives and 30 year reins of planetary governors, you could always adjust your FTL and life expectancies for a vastly greater or smaller domain to suit the needs of your story, but the soft cap of mortal-life spanes multiplied by signal delay would remain your main scientifically limiting factors.

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  • $\begingroup$ One assumption all answers have had is the difficulty in managing an empire and assuming without the leader monitoring them, things do not go to plan. I could have wrote in the question that by what ever means the ruler has absolute authority but then this would bring further speculations. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @RogerHarris Absolute Authority diminishes with signal delay. You can not have absolute authority over someone you can not communicate with, and this is the Scientific reason your Infinitely Greedy immortals would have to limit their domain. Or in simpler terms, you can not own a person who will be dead by the time you tell them what to do. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 3, 2020 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ If this does not work for you then just pump up the maximum speed of FTL to put all reality inside their communication bubble, but then the answer becomes, they will not stop until there is nothing left to own. Or they encounter an opposition that they can not overcome. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 3, 2020 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Again you have made an assumption that all subjects are mortal, or that those in power of the sub sections of the empire are mortal. But thanks for your answer, you bring up good points and ideas, and thanks to all that answered and commented (if they read this hopefully) I gave an upvote to all that took the time to answer.and they all made good points. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2020 at 16:54
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You have multiple characters, so greed can be wanting something merely because someone else has it. The characters are in competition, living through deep time, each gradually falling foul of accidents or conflicts, until there is only one left. This one eventually infuses the very fabric of space-time with their consciousness. They have literally everything. They are everywhere and every time. They have gone beyone trivial details like normal physical laws of conservation or even causality, and are the universe. This is where greed ends. There is nothing more to acquire.

This is also when the character realises the pointlessness of greed at such a level. There is no longer any novelty - not even the passing of time as they occupy all times and all places. And so, finally, they want something that the greatest greed can never supply - that there is something that they don't already have. They deliberately withdraw themselves from a tiny part of the universe and split it off, folding it in upon itself until it is no longer part of the univers at all. It is Outside. Unknown and unknowable. Miniscule, but the ultimate gift for someone who has everything yet infinitely greedy - the idea that there is something elsewhere to desire, even though it is unattainable. And so, the greed has ended. There is satisfaction in knowning that there is something unattainable.

The split off part is absolutely minuscule. Smaller than any particle or anything that had ever existed before. After all, if you're infinitely greedy you just want something to represent an Outside to desire - you don't actually want to create something which is worth having and also unattainable. But the character is only infinitely greedy - not omniscient and as it splits off, in becoming Outside, this utterly trivial pointlike thing develops an inside where unknown physics operates. Time starts inside it, and it inflates into a whole new universe. The cycle continues.

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Survival of the Fittest

There's one significant downside to being immortal - everything else around you changes. If humanity manages to survive for a billion years, it won't look the same as it does today. Society and humanity itself will have undergone significant evolution by that point, leading to an important point:

An immortal either undergoes changes, or becomes irrelevant.

Consider a static immortal, one who is the same at the beginning of their existence as they are billions of years later. Whatever talents they may possess, after a billion years of changes those talents will surely be surpassed by the continued evolution of those around them. In order to keep up, let alone stay on top, the immortal has to adapt as well. It is plausible for the change to just be intellectual, where the immortal continues to learn and apply new technologies. Here's the next important point:

The end of the universe is a mind-bogglingly long time away.

According to Wikipedia, supermassive black holes will take around 10^100 years to decay. That's obviously a big number, but it's almost certainly a lot bigger than you think. It just so happens that there are also a mind-bogglingly large number of unique shuffles of a 52 card deck (around 8*10^67). Here's one way to try to understand just how big that is. To use part of that explanation:

Set a timer to count down 52! seconds (that's 8.0658x10^67 seconds)

Stand on the equator, and take a step forward every billion years

When you've circled the earth once, take a drop of water from the Pacific Ocean, and keep going

When the Pacific Ocean is empty, lay a sheet of paper down, refill the ocean and carry on.

When your stack of paper reaches the sun, take a look at the timer. The 3 left-most digits won't have changed. 8.063x10^67 seconds left to go. You have to repeat the whole process 1000 times to get 1/3 of the way through that time. 5.385x10^67 seconds left to go.

Now remember that 10^100 is even bigger than that. So let's lengthen the process (combining them with the alternative way to kill time mentioned in that reddit post):

  1. Standing on the equator, take a single step forward every billion years.
  2. Every time you circle the Earth, take a single drop of water from the Pacific Ocean.
  3. Every time the Pacific Ocean is empty, refill it and place a single sheet of paper on a stack.
  4. Every time that stack of paper reaches the Sun, start a new stack and place a single grain of sand in the Grand Canyon.
  5. Every time the Grand Canyon fills up, empty it and then take a gram of rock off Mount Everest.
  6. Finally, when Mount Everest is completely gone, you'll have gotten about one third of the way to 10^100 years.

In order to last until the end of the universe, your immortal must be capable of change. Then even if it's only a microscopic grain of greediness that is being removed every billion years, the mountain of their greed will fall long before the end of the universe.

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