I have an original world, Hell, who I credit H. P. Lovecraft for the inspiration. I am not asking a question about any of Lovecraft's published worlds.

Inspired by The Whisperer in Darkness I have contrived a Hell where the aliens have taken their harvest of human brains from an outpost in our solar system, similar to Yuggoth. In Hell, these brains develop cities and infrastructure for the aliens’ enjoyment. For them to be useful, the brains need to live as long as possible. For them to be productive, they need to experience basic human needs, which can be leveraged. They are connected to automatons in a nearly immortal arrangement.

The aliens

Aliens are in all respects properly described by the Mi-Go created by H. P. Lovecraft. They never interact with the automatons when they are active, it is impossible for the cameras of an automaton to see an alien, for the same reason the Mi-Go cannot be photographed. Humans have no knowledge of the aliens at all. The victims were harvested by random selection, being drugged and abducted by a global terrestrial cult. Aliens do not monitor Hell, but they get signals from the brain farm and the mausoleum. Aliens will only ever come to Hell for the following purposes:

  1. To maintain the brain farm when an error is signaled, and for periodic maintenance on the vat system.
  2. To replace a defective brain, or install a new crop (similar to The Matrix without the bodies)
  3. To configure a new automaton body when one no longer responds to its brain (this is triggered when a brain goes into shock).
  4. To insert a newly configured automaton into a casket (done from behind the mausoleum, where any broken automaton that may be in the casket is removed and recycled)
  5. To appreciate the structures and industry the garden produces on the planet, as a form of art.

Replacement: Should an automaton "die" for any reason, the system waits for the brain to go into shock, and then tranquilizes it. The community has been covertly trained through religious suggestion to bury their dead in a special "casket" which is left in a special "mausoleum." A new body is paired up with with the brain, and placed inside the coffin. This is inserted back into the climate controlled mausoleum, and the anesthesia is stopped.


Hell has an automated facility which manufactures remotely controlled humanoid automatons in a few different sizes. The construction uses synthetic muscles which approximate a human muscle, connected to a molded mineral skeleton and coated with a silicone skin. The automatons are slightly more durable than an actual human body however, neither the automatons nor their sensors will suffer mechanical damage from the environment in Hell over less than one day of exposure due to the materials used.

The automatons are fully wired with fourteen sensory devices including vision, hearing, olfactory, gustation (taste), touch, nociception (pain), equilibroception (balance), proprioception (body position awareness), thermoception (heat), hunger, thirst, expansion (stretching of lungs and blood vessels), blood quality (oxygen and hormone levels - simulated), and tensoception (muscle tension).

To motivate the brains to be industrious, the sensors are calibrated to earth. Signals of heat, hunger, touch and pain all come back to the brain in a jar. An automaton left outside would send fairly horrible sensory input to its brain. This compels the construction and maintenance of habitats, transportation, suits, and quality of life industry.

The automatons connect to their brains wirelessly, sending and receiving nervous commands and sensory signals with a very slight lag. The aliens have found that our brains readily adjust to this and it becomes imperceptible. An interface also superimposes augmented reality overlays onto the visual picture of automatons (which all have a special ultraviolet reflective coating for the purpose of chromatic keying). So people look like people, not robots.

Automatons generally have enough power for 3 days of normal human physical labor, as a reserve, but recharge wirelessly each night without the host knowing. The brain never knows what their "charge level is," it follows a fake "hunger routine" so the person needs to eat regular meals. Food is processed chemically similar to normal human digestion—a rudimentary system—which sends the signals of "full" or "hungery" or "toilet" to the brain-in-a-jar. Then the automaton can do its simulated business.

Automatons have bones that can break and muscles which can tear, and they feel stab and blunt wounds. This compels them to manage themselves in avoiding damage and dangerous situations.

The automatons can eat and drink but cannot be intoxicated or anesthetized, because “food” never interacts with the brain. Thus they do not perform or need surgery. They also have no organs to fail or suffer other ailments. A damaged person is generally destroyed as swiftly as possible to reduce suffering, but the resurrection is inevitable. For this reason, fear of injuries generally serves very well to prevent violence.

The people have learned that "no one dies in Hell" and generally, a team goes out to open up caskets eventually. If someone is particularly not liked, or the people who buried them are incapacitated, it is possible to simply be forgotten. Eventually, you will feel starvation and feel suffocation, but can not die until the automaton dies. The coffin is a wireless charger; the automaton can not die in a coffin. If a brain goes into shock in a coffin, the standard anesthesia is given, but no replacement is paired. The anesthesia simply stops any time the mausoleum door is opened for whatever reason. The automaton then may scream for help, or wait for shock again.


Brains are kept in a completely sterile and climate controlled environment. The possibility for a virus or bacteria simply does not exist in their static and sealed enclosures. Blood is given nutrients and oxygen according to the feedback from the automaton and several glands which were harvested with the brain. Lymph, pituitary, and other glands operate in response to brain feedback, and produce hormones and proteins as signaled by the brain. Blood pressure responds to the brain's heart signals as well. Blood oxygen levels are a balance between the signal from the automaton and what is sustainable to the brain. The vat can not asphyxiate a brain, so an automaton outside in the 420°C nitrogen air would decrease its oxygen, and send the "burning lung" signal to the brain, as well as all related heat and acid sensory inputs, but the brain would not be starved. In short, the brain has all life support systems needed for physiological wellness, and full sensory inputs for psychological interaction with the world, and a belief that they have "some" control over their destiny. The vats also replicate glands periodically by stem cell regrowth, replacing glands every couple decades.

Why Hell?

Hell is a earth-like planet which never evolved life. It has a toxic 420°C air mostly of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. There is no organic life save what the aliens brought, and the few structures they provided to start ages ago.

The purpose of Hell is simply to build infrastructure on this planet for use and enjoyment by the aliens who operate well in an environment like earth. Unlike human societies, these aliens have no plans or designs for Hell. It has been determined that control requires too much effort, so this is allowed to run as a wildflower garden, taking its own course. It is not intended for production so much as it is for a piece of art. The humans have complete autonomy and absolutely no supervision or direction. By their own will to survive, they create their own habitations, perform engineering and chemical and mining operations, establish villages connected by trains, and generally do everything possible to improve their own quality of life. They build greenhouses and gardens inside their enclosures, from seed provided some time before anyone remembers. There are several animal species for agriculture and pets that they can maintain. They tend to cooperate because death comes very slowly, and resurrection is something they fear worse than death. They are quite industrious with these motivations.

The question

Would these brains is a jar suffer a possibility of death or shortened lifespan from the psychological trauma of living in Hell? This is where I diverge from Lovecraft's brains, mine are still mortal. I am attempting to gauge how long they may live under these hellish conditions.

Close considerations

I respectfully ask that members who consider closing this question under the unwritten third party rule to please chat with me first so I can hear your concerns, and make corrections. I have read the rules closely, and believe this respects all site policies.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think Monica Cellio is from the real universe and not from a 3rd party universe. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 17, 2022 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ At the moment it just links to her WB profile. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 17, 2022 at 14:42

4 Answers 4


Stress can shorten a person's lifespan, but I believe the mechanism is not psychological: the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream. Since your brains' bloodstreams are not regulated by normal physiological mechanisms, whether this happens is up to you.

I think many of the harmful effects of cortisol take place in the rest of the body. One such effect is that the immune system is weakened, which is one reason why people are sometimes more likely to get sick or have skin breakouts when they are under stress (e.g. college students before a final exam). Again, whether this happens is up to you. However, you do mention that there are some other organic parts, such as muscles; if they receive cortisol when the controlling brain is stressed, they'll suffer similar kinds of effects.

I believe extended painful torture can drive a person insane. Even if that's false, it sounds like all of your brains will suffer from extreme PTSD, which can cause all kinds of dangerous and self-destructive behaviors.

I would not expect these brains to live very long if their containing apparatuses are giving faithful sensory feedback. Humans are not perfectly rational creatures even when they're not living under constant fear of excruciating pain. I would expect a lot of suicide attempts from practically every single brain, until each becomes convinced through multiple successes that death offers no escape. Then I would expect some kind of total psychological shutdown.

It seems absurd that the aliens would calibrate the sensors for regular Earth if the purpose of this is to "develop cities and infrastructure." It will become immediately obvious that the brains are in crippling misery, and productivity will grind to a halt. The aliens will get much better results with carrots rather than sticks; given their total control over the brains' perceptions, carrots will be in unlimited supply.

LATE EDIT: by chance, I happened to stumble across this "expert" testimony in an episode of the TV show Law & Order:

Expert: There's a chemical reaction in the brain when you're under stress. We can see the abnormalities in a PET scan.
Lawyer: Can these abnormalities be serious?
Expert: Absolutely. Neurons stop transmitting, glucose stops metabolizing. Brain function of a severely distressed individual is indistinguishable from that of a person who is mentally ill.

Take this with a grain of salt: (1) it's a TV show; and (2) the expert has a doctorate in "applied kinesiology," and did not go to medical school. According to the internet, "kinesiology studies the mechanics of human movement and how they impact our health and wellbeing."

  • $\begingroup$ Would it not be more absurd to calibrate the sensors so He’ll was normal? What would motivate the building of climate controlled enclosures? The workers will automatically construct structures with conditions as comfortable as possible. The city gets built with no need for instructions $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 17, 2022 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ If I was king of hell I would calibrate the jar so the brain gets a little shot of dopamine whenever it lays a girder in the correct position. Or when they line up all the screw heads on a beam at the same angle. Should do the trick. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 17, 2022 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron you would be fired LOL $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 17, 2022 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet You can't fire the king that's what makes me the king lol $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 17, 2022 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron No, not because you did anything wrong. The whole point of Hell is there is no king. It has no designs or schedule. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 17, 2022 at 18:32


It won't directly kill them, but it WILL end in them basically shutting down. To quote @Tom,

I would not expect these brains to live very long if their containing apparatuses are giving faithful sensory feedback. Humans are not perfectly rational creatures even when they're not living under constant fear of excruciating pain. I would expect a lot of suicide attempts from practically every single brain, until each becomes convinced through multiple successes that death offers no escape. Then I would expect some kind of total psychological shutdown.

They'd pretty much just stop working altogether, curl up into a ball, and do nothing. All productivity would stop dead.

Obviously, this is NOT ideal for the Mi-Go (that's just what I'm calling the aliens here). There are a few solutions to this:


The simplest solution is simply to get rid of the brains that shut down like that, regularly swapping them out for new workers. This includes the added benefit of additional motivation, as the Mi-Go could make this 'final death' of sorts even more terrifying than the resurrections.


Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. The Mi-Go could leave mysterious 'blueprints' for the brains to complete, and 'rewards' such as essential survival supplies and other things to 'help' the brains along when the blueprints are finished. Thus, the brains are encouraged to make the infrastructure the aliens want.

  • $\begingroup$ If you “shut down” then the rest of the population must carry your load in farming and maintenance and production. They would not want you breathing the air they work so hard to make, and you would spend an indefinite amount of time in a coffin, most likely, as “discipline.” Only if every host shuts down does this scenario play out, and in that event, they all die horribly, and repeatedly when water production stops, and food stores deplete, and air manufacturing stops, and, God forbid, air conditioning breaks down. Someone will get up an fix it, and then kill the ones who didn’t. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 17, 2022 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet That will hold the tide for a bit, but one-by-one everybody is just going to mentally shut down, crawl into a coffin, and just sit there, suffocation and starvation be damned, and then the Mi-Go will have the same problem all over again. Still, this does make Option 1 a possiblity. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Mar 17, 2022 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet I'd suggest you look up learned helplessness, which seems like this would be tailor-made to engender. When living things learn that no matter what they do, they're going to suffer horribly, they just give up. How is being in a coffin any worse than not being in a coffin? $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2022 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Brinstar77 I had to resolve a conflict in the program that covers shock while in a coffin. This would have triggered a body replacement for a functioning body. This should answer you “just live in the coffin” paradox. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:22

Counter point, none of the humans know they are being held by Aliens, so this is just the Sisyphean struggle on steroids.

Yes, things are hard. Yes things are crushingly hard. However humanity has survived and strived in even the most desperate circumstances. Furthermore, their enhanced bodies will carry the heavy load they have been given. The biggest risk to the survival of the colony will be morale, and while things will be bad, the chance for things to improve will be palpable. You describe people building regulated cities and trains. If they get to that level then it is possible to approximate some level of comfort, leading to no stress. Less stress leads to more productivity in engineers and leads to art, further reducing stress.

Since people don’t know what this place is, they might assume this is the afterlife or a test, and get to work. The things they build may not satisfy the aliens, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is just for people to build something. In addition, the survivors won’t need to worry about dead weight. The first invention that colonists will master will be the creation of sharp sticks. Anyone who doesn’t contribute gets stabbed until they leave or are inoperable. Even if they come back, the guards still have sticks.

While the aliens might not see massive protective structures, and instead see one very well guarded very comfortable shelter staffed by specialists and precisely no one else, that was a possible outcome that they should accept.

This means that while most of the workforce will die off, the survivors could live for a very long time in good conditions.

  • $\begingroup$ A very black and white two-class society: The alive and the undead. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 17, 2022 at 23:11

Stress won’t shorten lives, but it will shorten progress

Dictators thrive in high stress environments. Literally being in hell is a constant high stress environment. It won’t be long until someone promises freedom, death or order in the chaos. This is, as it always is, a self serving narcissist promise, mostly used to gather resources and distribute boons to those who reinforce their power. The problem is, lots of the enhancements needed to make the world better, tend to make the world more free, and harder to control. Therefore, the dictator will seek to keep the masses poor hungry and busy on manual tasks, which is exactly what the aliens have made easy. Because of this you may not see trains or climate controlled structures (outside of the royal palace of course). Instead you would see a very low level peasantry given the bare minimum resources to not revolt (which admittedly is more effort than it normally is). What you would see get a lot of attention are the secret police who find and exterminate “leeches” who work less than what is required, or dare to speak against the king of hell.

If the Migo give the humans a chance to thrive though, they will see great returns.


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