# How can a single person with unlimited lifetimes and persistent memory affect the world?

Assumptions :

• This person (let's call him Bob) lives a normal life and ages normally, and dies of natural causes as well
• Once Bob dies of any cause, his mind, memories, and thinking all transfer to a new body of a child in someone's womb
• He can be reborn anywhere on Earth, as either a male or female, parents (and therefore location) are random
• Bob is not aware of his abilities until his first reincarnation
• Bob has no other special abilities
• Bob is singular, there aren't any other persons that have his same abilities
• Bob's skills are not genetic
• Bob can only permanently die by suicide*
• ADD: What if the human race is extinguished? If by any chance, the human race (including Bob) was extinguished, then Bob's existence will be gone as well. If by any chance that everyone dies, including Bob, except for 1 man and woman, Bob will have to wait for the man and woman to bear a child for Bob to come into physical existence again. Bob's reincarnation is locked within the human race.
• ADD: When will Bob be reborn? Bob's rebirth will be ASAP, the most recent united human sperm and egg will be new Bob. More or less this means he'll be randomly born across the world.
• ADD: When will Baby Bob be able to access his memories? Knowledge is stored in the brain immediately, but the baby will be able to access the memories as soon as he/she physically can. Here's an interesting resource about babies and their memories. Based from said resource, I'll say that each baby will be different based on their physical brain growth, but on average, will be able to remember memories about 14-18 months old. Let's say that this is also when he starts to regain his past intelligence at an accelerated rate.
• ADD: What about twins? For simplicity's sake, Bob will never be born in a twin fetus.

Given this, what would Bob's life (lives) look like? What would the world/government do once they are aware of this fact, or will they ever even know?

Will Bob just be considered a genius child? Potentially some sort of god?

*To narrow down what counts as suicide, I mentioned this in the comments :

Let's say for this situation that one of the requirements of suicide for our definition would be the loss of will to live. In Bob's case, suicide would be normal for his first life. For his succeeding lives though, he has to not want to live any more future lives, then kill himself.

• Could he just kill himself (and reincarnate) if he ends up in a non-optimal situation (which is going to be most of the cases, per (excellent BTW) answers)? That way he can try again after about two-three years (when he will be able to walk and realistically harm himself). This is not a painless solution, but at least he would avoid being stuck until a death as an adult.
– WoJ
Jan 19 '17 at 19:08
• When does his first life start? I feel like if Bob has his first life now vs during the times of the Egyptians his experiences could be vastly different. You also say he is reborn ASAP, but then say the most recent united egg and sperm. So does that means every time he dies there is a ~9 month gap where he doesn't exist? Apr 25 '19 at 18:57
• @Zillakon just because a person hasn't popped out of their mother yet doesn't mean they don't exist. As to exactly when Bob's soul (or essence, whatever makes Bob, Bob) "person-ifies" the kid, well, in this case it seems to assumed to be the moment of conception. The problem, of course, is this is kinda impossible to measure with science (hence much of the abortion debate), so who can say. For this question, though, the OP seems to be inferring that Bob becomes Bob the moment his new self is conceived. Alternatively, Bob isn't Bob at all but someone else until when Bob's memory kicks in Apr 25 '19 at 21:56
• To solve the twin issue, assume re-incarnation occurs as soon as brain is ready to host Bob. I.e. sufficiently developed brain is essential, not sperm and egg union. That is why he never reincarnates into an animal Apr 26 '19 at 13:31

He's a more complicated and angry Doctor Who. While the Doctor always comes back as an adult, Bob is forced to relive childhood over and over again. Alleviating that tedium may be the primary reason for his egress from continued existence. Unless a mystic tells him that he can die permanently by really wishing himself dead then committing suicide, his only other option is to terminate all human life; specifically all women but killing everyone is easier.

The problem is, on average, he's likely to be desperately poor, fighting for life on subsistence farming with no education or way to get out. Even if he wants to kill everyone, it will be incredibly hard for him to do so after starting so low on the socioeconomic ladder (though not impossible. Some of the most destructive people in history started out very low on the ladder. Genghis Khan is a good example.)

Poor, all the time

The odds that Bob will be born in anything other than poverty is vanishing small. 80% of the world lives on less than \$10/day. Over several life times he'll likely accumulate more wisdom and knowledge but the growth curve for formal knowledge will remain pretty flat, just because there's so little formal education to be had. For example, literacy rates in India for rural populations up until ~1950 were less than 20%. Poor countries don't have libraries and poor people don't have the time to go to them. Africa is 65% literate as of 2015. Even with the modern advent of the information riches available from the Internet, he's going to have trouble even getting access to the Internet as Africa has an internet market penetration rate of only 27% at the end of 2014. Asia isn't much better at 35%. Sure, if you live in a poor portion of the world, you could get access to the Internet but doing so is expensive, distant and you have fields to tend.

(Let's make an important distinction between book learning and street learning. Bob will have minimal formal book education because poverty. But he will have life times of experience with people. He will be an exceptionally savvy negotiator and opportunist, if he wants to be.)

In short, if you don't live in Europe or North America before the 1960s or 1970s, there a very good chance that your parents and your forebearers could not read. The amount of math, science and local language training available to you is vanishingly small and expensive to gain.

Childhood

This is going to be the hardest period for him, every single time. Assuming he doesn't lose any cognitive ability at birth, the act of being born is going to be painful. Neglect and child abuse are the highest in children between birth and three years so he'll have to struggle with that. If he learns some psychology then the following may drop out of his mouth:

This isn't my fault, Dad. Get your act together. Go to therapy/shaman/medicine man. Don't take out your daddy issues and failed childhood on me. I didn't make us poor. I didn't make you drunk.

Since childhood is where Bob spends most of this time (and it happens every single time, regardless of lifespan), he may pick up and keep some childish attributes.

Having a mind so out of sync with a body is going to be really weird. As a child he will remember sex but not have the body to do anything about it. Puberty will be an exercise in pain/frustration as he knows what to do but his body can't match or just isn't strong enough yet. (I can't imagine reliving puberty over and over and over again.) But, it may actually be easier for him because most or all the issues that a teenager needs to figure out for themselves, Bob has already figured out and can just get on with whatever it was he wants.

Life as a woman

After spending time as a woman, I think Bob would have a completely different appreciation for women and how they should be treated. I don't know how he would cope with the sheer quantity of sexual assault and abuse he'd experience as a woman....and he can't die to forget.

Mastery of many languages

Assuming that the brain plasticity of each new body helps him learn a new language and each language stays with him, then in a hundred years or so he'll be able to go most anywhere in the world and communicate handily.

Potential to be an amazing lover because he'll have lots of experience and know what to do emotionally and physically.

Government Bob

Given that 80% of Bob's lives are as a desperately poor person, he won't be superficially worth much to anyone. Poor people are (unfortunately) very common so asking Bob about 20 life times spent slaving away under the hot sun isn't useful.

Mental Illness

If he gains some kind of mental imbalance such as PTSD (which is very likely as he's on balance going to come back poor in the Third World) because of a violent experience then those memories may stay with him for a very long time. If, for example, he fought in WW2 as a Russian soldier at Stalingrad, he's going to remember the mountains of corpses...but he will remember them as a child of 4. No parent on the planet is prepared for a child that vividly remembers events from decades ago with a degree of detail attainable only by someone who lived it.

Sociopathy is another characteristic that he is very likely to pick up. With all the evil that is done to him over the many lifetimes and childhoods, empathy may be something he really struggles to get and keep. Compound this with a very real "otherness" brought about by his very long life experience, even as a small child, social isolation is going to be a really problem.

Bob may have also lived long enough that he remembers the really inhumane periods of history like the Spanish Inquisition and given how different he probably is, will have suffered at the hands of said Inquisition.

As a young girl, the horror of marriage to a man many times his age... The mind boggles.

Detection

After one or two lives he's going to think like an old person from a very young age. His peers will certainly notice. If he retains the education gained in typical First World schools, then he may pass on to post-secondary education incredibly young.

Personality

All this pain and suffering will either make him an incredibly kind person or an incredibly cruel person, depending on how his initial personality was.

If he's not stark raving mad from a young age (or just appears stark raving mad), he's stands a high chance to have a mental disorder very similar to psychopathy (the genetic variant of the "lack of empathy" disorder) because everyone he's ever known is either irrevocably far away or long dead. And as seems to be common for those who live forever, the pain of continued loss decreases inclination to form new social connections.

Famous Last Words

His most frequent words on death might be "Aw hell. This is really gonna hurt." Everyone will think he's talking about dying but he's really talking about being pushed out the birth canal.

• You talked about man Bob appreciation for women but not about how Bob will see men. As you said, Bob will spend most of his lives in third world countries, and half his lives a a woman. How will man Bob perceive other men after a forced marriage at age 12 to an old man? How will woman Bob react when men treat her very differently than what she was used to in her previous life? Is Bob going to be bisexual after alternating several times between the genders? (Excellent answer btw) Sep 9 '15 at 9:38
• @Slight I fail to see how the two ideas "has a child's flexible brain" combines with "retains all skills on knowledge", since the latter seems to rely on pathways being firmly in place. Also, regarding your first comment: you seem to equate knowledge and intelligence. It is not my experience that the two are the same. I don't know if intelligence can be trained and if, to what extent. Bob may just hit the glass ceiling of his mental capabilities, which leaves only uncommon breadth open to him. So not an exceptionally smart, but certainly broadly educated and versatile person. Sep 9 '15 at 13:54
• Over several life times [...] the growth curve for his knowledge will remain pretty flat, just because there's so little knowledge to be had. I completely disagree with this statement. An infinite amount of knowledge can be gained just by living. Life experience is a way better (and tougher!) teacher than traditional, expensive education, and it's completely free. After 1000 years of existence, Bob's accumulated knowledge will beat tenfold the knowledge of the 'wisest' men of the world. Sep 9 '15 at 15:54
• Due to the constraints of the situation, the high chance of being born to a poor family wouldn't really be a problem once he put some thought (and determination) to it. Since he only dies permanently if he doesn't want to keep being reborn, he can simply kill himself at an early age with the intent of getting a new body to effectively mulligan his life and try again for a better situation, with a loss of only a couple years. Sep 9 '15 at 19:49
• Actually, if Bob ends up becoming known for his unique ability, it usually won't matter where he is born as his celebrity status would bring attention (and money) to himself and his immediate family. The only exceptions I can think of might be tribal cultures that shun contact of any sort with outsiders. But even then, once an adult, Bob would be capable of leaving his tribe, if desired, to make his presence known. Sep 9 '15 at 21:21

Unfortunately, I think it's likely that the permanent death by suicide is going to happen after a surprisingly short number of cycles. From Bob's perspective (after one or two cycles) he always reincarnates after he dies. That's a big problem, because there are quite a few scenarios in which Bob is likely to say something along the lines of "You know, I think I want to move on to the next one."

As early as the life of his second reincarnation, if Bob becomes plagued by serious illness or even just the unpleasantness of old age he's probably going to want to skip the suffering and move on. Loved ones may weigh him down at first, but after he's been through a few reincarnations he's already going to be developing a very different perspective on human relationships.

Bob may also decide that he got a bad roll on his spawn point. After living a couple of cushy lives in the US or Europe, Bob might not be too pleased about being born into an impoverished village in Sierra Leone. Why struggle through all of that when he could slit his wrists before the age of ten and try again?

With no one there to tell Bob the rules, suicide just looks like a reincarnation button that he has control of. Sadly, once he's tried it once, it's all over.

• Hi Avernium, thanks for your answer, but I've added something new that might change your mind! Regarding suicide : Let's say for this situation that one of the requirements of suicide for our definition would be the loss of will to live. In Bob's case, suicide would be normal for his first life. For his succeeding lives though, he has to not want to live any more future lives, then kill himself. Sep 8 '15 at 8:43
• Downvoting not because this is a bad answer, but because since the question requirements have changed, it's no longer valid. Absolutely not fault of the answerer, of course.
– o0'.
Sep 8 '15 at 9:44
• Indeed; while the OP stated "randomly" born, given that the number of people in developing countries is far greater than the one in developed countries, chances are that Bob is going to have mostly tough lives. It can be a good experience, but it will be tough to adjust. Sep 8 '15 at 14:29
• @Lohoris Ahh yes, I suspected that parameter might change while I was asleep. Is there a meta post or FAQ somewhere that specifies what the best practice is for editing (or removing) an outdated answer after parameter changes in the question? It seems like this is a fairly common occurrence with worldbuilding questions. Sep 8 '15 at 14:54
• @Lohoris The problem belongs to the guy changing the question all the time. Do not punish those attempting to post good answers because of some other guy's fault. Your downvote is misplaced. Sep 9 '15 at 10:57

I'm going to assume that in Bob's first life, he's pretty average. He makes an average amount of money, but he never learns anything super special yet.

The first time he reincarnates, his parents and other people might think that he's a little crazy, but also a child genius. Bob probably wouldn't know what was going on either. He would grow up having memories that he's probably been told aren't true. He would gain more knowledge about things he never knew about or new technologies that weren't around in his previous lifetime.

The second time he reincarnates is when things start to get very interesting. He'll probably realize now that he has some sort of special power where he reincarnates after he dies. In this lifetime, he would start digging more into his past. The people he knows will probably also start to believe them, because he can point them to people he used to know, and tell them things that it would be impossible for him to know without having experienced it. Obviously, people would still be skeptical, but his story would probably at least go on the news.

In his fourth lifetime, even more people would find out about Bob. He would also start experimenting more and more. In this life, or possibly the next, he would probably commit suicide, just to see what happens. I also think that the government would find out about him and try to find him and use him for good.

At this point, Bob can take one of three paths:

# Good Bob

Bob knows he has this special power, and he wants to use it for good. He has forever to learn and make the world a better place. He can dedicate different lifetimes to learn about different topics, like Business, Computers, Fine Arts, etc. He would become the smartest person on the planet and he would change the world, and also become super rich. He would become a celebrity and whenever he died, people would be wondering who would be the lucky parents 9 months later. He lives a bunch of happy lives forever and ever. The End.

# Government Bob

In this path, the government takes Bob and uses him for their benefit. He would still probably change the world, just not as clearly. In this path, he will either make the government better. And live a similar life to Change the World Bob or he would become depressed and sad and become like Bad Bob (next path).

In this path, Bob realizes that his power is actually a curse. He becomes depressed and sad. He probably will start not telling people that he's the Bob. He also will commit suicide in most of his lives as early as he can. When he doesn't commit suicide, he's probably getting revenge, whether it's on someone who did something bad to him in a previous life (maybe he was abused or murdered before), or the government, because he used to be Government Bob. He will still also change the world as Bad Bob, because he is still a genius, but he's uses his intelligence for bad instead of for good. Now, instead of being a celebrity, he's become a government target. But that doesn't matter to him, because he will never die.

• Why would Bob be a genius? Just because he has more time to learn does not make him smarter. Also, given how fast things are happening in some fields of study, anything Bob knows other then what he studies during his current life will be outdated. Sep 8 '15 at 9:20
• use him for good. Or for evil. Sep 8 '15 at 10:42
• @Gusdor With "does not make him smarter" I mean "his IQ does not reach genius levels". My reply was aimed at the statement "because he is still a genius", which I don't think is true. Unless Bob is a genius in his first life, he won't magically become one in the next lives. (Assuming his intelligence remains the same. If he gets "a new brain" every time, he'll sometimes be a genius, and sometimes be a complete idiot.) Bob might seem a genius at young age because he knows a lot for his age, but the effect of that will become smaller as he grows older. Sep 8 '15 at 13:24
• @JoryGeerts - The title states that Bob has a persistent memory. As Bob cannot forget, learning anything will make him smarter (As long as what he is learning is correct). I am Bob. Sep 8 '15 at 14:38
• @Bobby it's Bob! Mar 17 '16 at 4:31

Rich Bob

Bob, assuming he has a modicum of curiosity and drive, is going to become hilariously rich.

Once he gets his first "good spawn", he picks a trade and does that for his life. Pays well enough, and there's few places in the world that someone who's handy with tools isn't going to do reasonably well (especially if they can become "naturally gifted" as a youth). (Military service would also be a good skillset to pick up early)

After that, on a bad spawn he relies on his existing skills, on a good spawn he picks up new skills to help in later lives.

Wealth transfer is a small problem, but that entirely depends on what you're planning to do. Given that after a few gos you're likely to be fluent in multiple languages, have skills (and presumably maturity) far beyond your age? You're likely to never be working McDonald's - even if you end up in the poorer parts of the world, I'd put good odds on you managing to make a life for yourself.

On the other hand, if you've racked up a solid nest egg? Numbered bank account would be a good way to forward funds to your next life (I'm not 100% on the details, but a quick Google seems to suggest that once the account is set up that only the password is required to access it - perfect when you're not going to quite be yourself when it's time to withdraw, y'know?)

If you're willing to let other people into the secret, you also have some options regarding trusts or other financial shenanigans. That seems in "exercise for the reader" territory, though.

Problems (or at least assumptions)

Having your memories doesn't necessarily guarantee that you have complete memories. So it's entirely possible that you're going to start forgetting things that you-a-few-generations learned.

We're also assuming that Bob here is reasonably bright, and able to learn and retain many things given time. If you're in a situation where you don't have the opportunity to use a skill, you're very likely to lose it.

The government (or other "shadowy conspiracy") angle is interesting. If you know that Bob respawns, presuming that you know when he dies and sufficient resources, you might actually be able to track down the two-year old respawn version. In that case, life might be a lot easier, since your followers/masters will presumably pick you up in the BobJet and take you back to the BobMansion (with varying amounts of shenanigans to make you a legal citizen, give you an identity, etc etc.) An interesting side question of this is "why?" - other than being a living historian, you're not particularly valuable. Best I can think of is that you-as-respawner are considered valuable, like the Dali Llama or similar - but then you aren't rich or possibly terribly powerful either.

• bitcoin+brainwallet. Sep 8 '15 at 23:20
• @Joshua Bitcoin occurred to me, but it has a problem with being too new - we need a storage medium that will hold value for around 20 years. (The time between death and age of majority of your new You). Bitcoin hasn't been around long enough to know if the money would preserve value over that time frame. Sep 9 '15 at 2:55

My first thought was along the lines of Avernium's answer.

But let's pretend he escapes the governments and corporations who would take advantage of him and he gets a few bodies to get the hang of things.

From here, there really wouldn't be a lot that makes Bob special. He would have more time to learn new activities, and he would likely be better at understanding different viewpoints because of being forced to live in different environments. As long as he could figure out how to transfer wealth from body to body, he would get progressively richer, and could potentially gain a lot of power. But he's still one man, and no amount of past experience is going to let him foresee the future or invent free energy or anything.

Also, there's a limit to how much a human brain can remember. After a few lifetimes (perhaps less), he would reach that limit. He would start forgetting details about past lives to make room for current information. Some stuff, like how many lives he'd lived, would be easier to remember because it would get constantly refreshed. But he would basically just be 300 years old or something, with a rolling timeline. He could spend a couple centuries getting really good at one thing, or he could branch out and be reasonably good at several things, but he wouldn't be able to become a master of all disciplines because time spent perfecting one activity would cause him to lose touch of others.

Further, because technology and society is constantly changing, even if he could perfectly remember four lifetimes ago, knowing how to operate machinery from 1900 is going to be of little practical use. Even his use as a historian would be sketchy. He's still basically human, so we can't trust his "I was there!" word over the scores of journalists who took pictures and wrote accounts from multiple viewpoints.

I do like the "god" idea though. If he could convince people he was reincarnating, he could create a religion around himself. He could give certain high priests in his religion little pieces of information that only he would know, then once he popped out in the new body, contact his religion so they could safely collect him.

He wouldn't need to do anything special. Enough people would believe he was special without any kind of demonstration. Then he could be perpetually wealthy, have friends or lovers when he wanted, be left alone when he didn't, and have a baseline to keep his normalcy between bodies. Without special powers, the religion probably wouldn't make it past a cult in size, so he's unlikely to take over the world. Still, if he came back with different racial characteristics each time, it might be easier to teach tolerance and openness, which could allow his religion to flourish.

• The problem with the "god" idea is once he dies, it would be hard to convince himself god again the next life since there would be many fake gods. Sep 8 '15 at 13:24
• @Anachor: he would know nuggets of information that the fake do not, for starters, the private phone number of his high priests. Sep 8 '15 at 14:32
• @MatthieuM. But he can do nothing unless he is of a certain age. Also, There are other difficulties. Suppose, he has a religion based in east Asia. The next life he is born in Africa. Meanwhile, one of his high priests cheats and makes one of his nephews God. Sep 8 '15 at 14:40
• @Anachor: Oh, there are certainly difficulties! I personally have a lot of troubles remembering even a single phone number! Sep 8 '15 at 14:48
• If all his memories were transferred, he'd spend a few weeks figuring out how to move the new baby legs and vocal chords, then his only disadvantages would be his lack of strength and the fact that people would assume he was lost. He could still easily use a telephone. At the very least, he could send an email. But it would be trivial to prove the nephew isn't the real Bob, because the newborn nephew wouldn't be able to teach calculus while the real Bob could (or something similarly unbabylike). The bigger problem would be birth in a place with no internet. Sep 8 '15 at 17:15

I know the answer to this all too well. I've seen things.....things that no one should ever have to know.

All human activities are social activities whether it be economics, politics, warfare....it just doesn't matter. A social person 10,000 years ago will be equally successful today. Over many lifetimes, Bob became insanely expert at social interactions allowing him to manipulate people, situations and relationships to a degree none of you can comprehend. He takes over organizations, becomes the richest person on the planet and holds overwhelming power. He has arranged for his future incarnations to take over at the earliest possible age. Where he was born or into what circumstance will make no difference. All he has needed to do is arrange for some organization or trusted agent to be ready to acknowledge him when he appears. Who would decline a spot to be a personal assistant to such power - to share and bask in that power! Humans readily submit to power as part of their condition and give their unwavering loyalty. Any who would dare oppose Bob will be destroyed, along with their families, in the next decade. Who would risk it!

He is a expert martial artist in most disciplines, master communicator, politician, engineer, scientist, detective, medical doctor, psychologist, CEO, sharpshooter, knife and sword master, chemist, master of disguise, storyteller, merchant, priest/pastor, mountain man, play-write, voice actor, strategist and tactician. He can kill with pressure points at a touch. Such things never really change over time and place. How many ancient books of knowledge are still studied today? (Sun Tzu, et al)

Bob will be able to foretell the future. He will have knowledge, first hand and in detail, of times, places and events, spanning centuries and with such a complete basket of knowledge it will be child's play to map paths into the future of social interactions. History repeats because human behavior repeats. Bob will be supernatural. He will die and rise from the grave again and again. Best of all, he can PROVE he is immortal - a deity.

Bob will be a god, a despot and a tyrant. He will be the Abomination.

Heed my warnings!

• You mix advance possible by rote exercise (possible for Bob) with aptitude. If Bob v1 is stupid, it's unlikely that any amount of time can fix that. Of course, we don't know how much of "genius" is exercise and how much inherent aptitude, but I don't think it's immediately clear that he'll be able to outperform all domain experts eventually. Sep 9 '15 at 10:43
• @ Raphael - Bob is not stupid as OP says that Bob 'lives a normal life'. Bob then must have a normal intelligence. Even if Bob is not that bright, rote exercise can appear as intelligence by brute force repetition. I still think Bob is an overwhelming force - in time. That's the rub. Every day is Ground Hog Day.
– Eric
Sep 9 '15 at 18:20
• "can appear as intelligence" -- not for "truly" (more) intelligent people, in my humble experience. But fooling those less or similarly intelligent than yourself may certainly be sufficient to be increasingly successful over time, assuming you don't start too low. Sep 10 '15 at 9:02
• @Raphael - Consider this scenario: Bob is a doctor and has a mediocre practice because he is not that bright. He reincarnates. Now he is an eight year old prodigy that finishes medical school by age 10 due to his memories. He is a genius. Perception is everything.....not reality.
– Eric
Sep 10 '15 at 14:48
• Bob v2 finishes medical school aged 13 (and is probably celebrated as such), but that doesn't mean he can still improve over his peak performance as v1. He has already reached his plateau, and will be overtaken by contemporary geniuses. In every incarnation, again and again. Sep 10 '15 at 15:30

I think that Bob's memory would be as much a hindrance as it would be a help. While many of us who have reached a certain age wish that we could live our lives over knowing what we know now - Bob isn't getting that chance. He's living a new life each time. Different circumstances, different cultures, different technologies and even as a different sex.

He's going to be lumbered with memories of lost loves and lost loved ones. If you've lost one or both of your parents (or worse, your children) you'll know how bad that is. How is Bob going to feel when he loses his second set, or third, or fourth, etc. How will he react to that in the long term, will he give up on relationships altogether?

Bob's a normal guy (at least the first time around) so he'll have hang-ups and prejudices just like everyone else. These will be part of who he is and form a strong part of his memories and will consequently carry over into his subsequent lives. How will he cope if, for example, he's deeply homophobic and in his next life he's a woman? In his memories of himself, he's a man; a man who thinks that marriage is for a man and a woman. So as a woman is he going to date a man or a woman? Or will he just find the whole thing so distasteful that he opts out altogether?

Maybe he's originally born Jewish and lives a long devout life as a Jew only to find that in his next life he's born into a Palestinian family on the West bank. How will he and his new family react to that?

While his beliefs might not be that extreme, over multiple lives Bob's going to hit situations that make him/her very uncomfortable. Not only that but, as we've seen with homophobia, what was once common and acceptable is now, publicly at least, unacceptable. So Bob may find that his personal memories are actually an unwelcome and possibly detrimental burden.

Even worse will be if he has an almost ideal life, every one he lives after that will be compared against it and found wanting. Just imagine pining over something that happened to you centuries before which you repeatedly fail to match.

And finally on a slightly squicky note; Bob's going to have to start being careful, after a few decades or centuries, if he's going to avoid dating any of his own descendants. Especially if he feels drawn back to a particular place that he considers home.

• I love the ideas raised here. I've been thinking of how many regenerations it would take before all children on Earth are his descendants. Though it wouldn't matter too much, he would be genetically unique from them. Also, being anti-Semitic in one life and being Jewish in the next would make one quickly believe in karma. A few more lives like this and you inevitably become 'good Bob'. Sep 8 '15 at 21:31
• I don't see why he'd have to avoid dating any of his own descendants. Sep 10 '15 at 9:11
• Physically, there's no reason as his new body will be biologically unrelated. However, I would think that, depending on his original upbringing, he might have some hangups about dating his own great-great-grandchildren. An in the avoidance of any doubt, I used "dating" as a euphemism for having sexual relations. Sep 10 '15 at 16:41
• Bob would have to get over it if he ever wanted to have sex, and humans being humans, probably would. Feb 27 '18 at 21:01

There are several skills that Bob can pick up, but the most obvious 2 are science, and rhetoric. Both are incredibly valuable skills, but it turns out that it's the second one that is massive.

## Abilities

Research knowledge

Bob will have plenty of opportunities for academic careers, and he will have access to higher education many times. It's likely that bob will have a good understanding of many fields, but I think it's unlikely that he can use his ability to contribute significant cutting edge research. People do forget things, and people change their interests. This makes it unlikely that he'll commit to cutting edge research, except maybe to acquire some military high tech research he needs for an evil mastermind plot.

By going through various education systems, and also by having parents that have many fundamentally different professions, Bob will be at least somewhat familiar with a vast selection of crafts.

Ability to manipulate

If Bob has his memories back and meets up with his playmates at preschool, his social interactions will work very differently from those of normal young children. He will know and understand their intentions far better than they do, and it will be extremely tempting to try to manipulate them to learn more about social interactions. This will grant him the skill to read humans and to motivate them according to his wishes, which is incredibly valuable, and can be used in every culture and every reincarnation. And this skill will become stronger every time he reincarnates again.

Rhetoric was already a huge thing with the Romans over 2000 years ago, and who knows how many 10'000 years before that. And in all that time the skill has hardly changed. If Bob wants to, he can reliably create a cult with any number of followers.

Multicultural

It will be very unlikely that Bob will be racist after the first couple reincarnations. He'll have a good understanding of cultures, a profound knowledge of history, and an unmatched knowledge of languages.

Wealth

No matter where Bob reincarnates, there will be a point in time where he will always have access to some amount of wealth as soon as he's able to travel. Enough to get him somewhere where he has access to more wealth. A couple reincarnations in, he's hidden hundreds of stashes with gold, silver, and jewelry all over the world. This starting capital and his ability to manipulate people, his knowledge of infinite crafts, and his fluency in many languages make him an unequaled trader who has no problems making money whatsoever.

## Conclusion

With these skills, there are plenty of paths Bob can take. Remember he can play the long game, and his game is longer than that of anyone else.

1. Observer Bob decides that all factions have their reasons for acting how they do and he isn't the one to decide who's right or wrong. Bob decides that he wants to play a neutral role and simply observe and document history, preserving it for future generations. He uses his talents at motivating people to set up a secret cult of followers that documents events as they really happened. there are many ways in which he can set things up in a way that he can rejoin them in most reincarnations without even revealing who he is.

2. Rule the world Bob decides that the world needs his help, the flock needs a shepherd. He could intervene in a local dispute, but his skills would be wasted there. He needs to be at the top.

Being the ruler of the world in an official capacity is a very hard thing to achieve, and even if Bob could reliably pull it off, he would lose much of his lifetime in each reincarnation getting there. A more reliable method is to infiltrate multiple intelligence services. It might take a few centuries, but he can use his skills at making friends and loyal followers to secure strong ties into intelligence services that last between reincarnations. The secretive nature of that business and written communications across communication lines secured by passcodes make it feasible for a 3 year old to be pulling the strings behind everything.

This approach is the most likely to at some point draw the attention of one or more governments. If he gets caught he'll need to wait one lifetime during which he'll work a different angle, maybe a diplomatic career, after which everything about him will be forgotten and he can begin anew.

3. Armageddon Bob has seen it all, and he has seen enough. Bob decides that humanity is not worth existing and he was given his gift to end humanity. His skills at manipulation and his conclusion that humanity is beyond saving convince him to end humanity by convincing them to destroy themselves, subconsciously hoping that they will manage to thwart his efforts. In one life he organizes an accidental US nuclear strike on Chernobyl, to start the war to end all wars. In the next life he becomes a successful businessman and works to convince the world that global warming isn't real. In another life he'll become a scientist that tries to convince the world that antimatter reactors are perfectly safe clean energy.

• he will have access to higher education many times well, except that unless he dies young, he might get lucky and have higher education once every 500 years. Many people in the world now do not have access to basic education right now, let alone higher education. Sep 9 '15 at 16:31
• @enderland You forget that he's a gifted individual who qualifies for scholarships and such (since he already knows much of the stuff). That would guarantee he has access to a good education in more than half the places of the world. Not everyone in Africa lives out in the steppes. 3rd world countries are far more civilized than some people believe. Sep 9 '15 at 16:44
• @enderland He also can just buy his way in. With his 'found' treasure of ancient coins. Ever since universities started, they've wanted tuition. And he has it. If the best schools need sponsorship, that just means more money to varied people (read bribes to someone who has access). And if for some reason he's an untouchable, respawn. Sep 23 '15 at 4:06

This scenario is very close to the premise in Octavia Butler's Patternist Series.

Breeding humans becomes accessible to someone with the lifespan of possibly tens of thousands of years. I would argue that this is probably the most powerful, lasting 'influence' on humans, especially since we would probably not be able to notice long-term breeding programs, we just don't have the attention span, or cultural institutions with a long-term view to notice, and plenty of religious beliefs that encourage ignorance regarding evolution. And the effects of a breeding program can be profound in ways that is hard for us to imagine, since we're so 'in the moment' even if that 'moment' is 70 years, that is a blink in the eye in evolutionary terms. In that series, a human (Doro) acquired the ability to 'jump' into a nearby human. This 'jumping' was intentional, but was also triggered when his current body was killed, so he couldn't really die. He took over the mind/body completely and obliterated the host mind. He becomes quite inhuman, cold, since humans are basically disposable to him. Over time, he begins to breed humans in different places around the world, trying to create something like himself. This implies that he becomes quite lonely, although he is so unlike normal humans after a few thousand years that it is hard to imagine him admitting something like that. 'Wild Seed' is particularly relevant, since once of his breeding projects produces a woman who is likely also immortal, but in a different way, and this is the first time he interacts with a possible equal, or at least, someone who could understand him.

• Thanks for the suggestion, it sounds like an interesting book! I think this is more suited for comments though, but I understand your current situation without the required reputation to do so. I'm not sure how to handle this, as I'm not frequently in the meta. Let's wait for others to respond. Sep 8 '15 at 17:00
• All of that sounds fine, but to be a true answer I would suggest adding some details that may answer the question. Sep 8 '15 at 17:41
• Hi dion. Please consider Are answers solely referencing novels/movies/etc. okay?. As it stands, this answer is borderline to not meeting our standards for what constitutes a valid answer, and it is accumulating delete votes from our experienced community members. For that reason, I encourage you to edit the answer to add more detail. If you are worried about spoiling someone's reading experience, you can include spoiler blocks; prefix each new line by >! and the reader will have to mouse-hover over them for the text to display.
– user
Sep 8 '15 at 19:45

I would like to focus my answer on one of the problems mentioned by others: namely that Bob has an overwhelmingly high probability of being born poor.

The answer to this is simple. By being born with all the knowledge of all his previous incarnations, all that is necessary to bypass this problem is to have one lifetime in which he amasses enough wealth to control an organization of people, such as a corporation, which he founds. And with multiple lives of experience this ability to amass wealth should increase, as all the trial and error in previous lives is carried forward each time.

The organization will be laid out with stipulations of how his succession works. Nobody need know anything of Bob's secret, and nobody need know all the pieces of the puzzle, ensuring that only his reincarnated self can claim the lead next. Furthermore, Bob can have "decoy" successors whose appearances are not well known, to give the appearance that he is grooming his replacement among a list of potential candidates, to eliminate any suspicion of some unknown suddenly showing up. And furthermore, precautions can be take to deal with the fact that after Bob's death there may be a delay of 18 years or more before his next self takes over. There may in fact be layers of protocols involved by which other people act as trustees or temporary stewards of various aspects of the organization until all the pieces for the next true successor fall into place.

Now when Bob is reborn, there is naturally the annoyance of having to wait 18 years to reclaim his organization. But no matter where Bob is born, in what conditions, if Bob has any kind of cleverness he will realize that he can just play dumb, not letting on to his real nature, and wait for the opportunity to make his way across the world to wherever his base is. I would argue this is totally doable for any person in the world - given the clear goal and payoff in sight - no matter what their situation and upbringing - one can play along with their environment for the first 15-16 years, there are many ways they can find to make a one-time relocation to another place in the world, whether it is joining a merchant marine, or stowing away, or even just hiking if on the same continent.

Once Bob is able to grow his organization enough, then it is a simple matter of building more bases, one on each continent at least, so that he can eliminate the need to cross an ocean at the start of every life time.

To summarize, the key pieces are:

• accumulation of wealth and self-succession: Bob has to use his knowledge to gain some kind of competitive advantage which will allow him to set himself up to retain what he has worked for over all his lives.

• secrecy: nobody knows Bob's secret, and what they do need to know is distributed so that no one person or even group of people that know each other could get together to take over

Bob will not be poor, all the time. He will bury items of value from the lives when he was not poor and dig them up as antiques in a later life. Bob will become an expert in antiquities. Knowing where many ancient cities lay from having live there, he will be a great grave robber - err, archaeologist.

Bob will master all major languages, hence be useful as a translator, interpreter and guide.

Bob will eventually master mathematics, science, and every musical instrument.

Bob is likely to become pro-life after the hundredth time he is aborted.

Bob will have a lot of family obligations. He can make use of knowledge from the many places he has lived to form trading coalitions. He will create passwords and leave them with his heirs so that he may reappear and resume his leadership role. He will use his wealth to benefit his large extended family.

Bob will occasionally be a fierce and courageous military leader. If he is killed, his bravery will embolden his followers.

Bob will have started a major religion, only to abandon it because being revered as a God and living in a temple all day is boring.

Bob will not commit suicide, because there is always death by cop to fall back on.

When Bob has a physical disability, he will inspire millions by his fortitude.

Most importantly, Bob will work very hard at preserving his reputation, because if his is ruined, he will pay a bigger price than anyone else in existence.

• I think Bob would shuck a defective skin and respawn if he ended up in a body with a disability - unless he was curious, and wanted to try it on for size / see how long he could make it last. (Stephen Hawking, anyone?) Sep 23 '15 at 4:15

**Wheel pottery in the Americas **

For the first hundred years, it should not be an actual being, just as a "racial memory" that keeps accumulating. I thing it would be the so because of the very different shapes s/he will have in each reincarnation: sex, complexion, skin color, native language; by the time B has being reincarnated enough to understand the phenomena, the racial memory view had been deeply adhered, and it would take a long time to substitute it by a prolonged sense of self. Besides, this view of memory avoids problems of compatibility with the current grown state: adolescence, adulthood, etc.

During the hunter-gatherer phase, this memory should be a good help to identify foods, drugs, etc. Of course it only helps a group each time, and so it should not be a big impact. As for innovations, they move fast; it could happen to be born in a tribe that has not learnt yet about bow and arrows, but it is unlikely. Things become more interesting after the Bering cross. I would bet that the pottery wheel would be common in America too, and we could have some peculiar relationships between writing scripts here and there. During the early civilizations, a child with innate memory for scripting -and hopefully elementary math- would be appreciated, even if born in a poor family... with time, s/he had developed at least an instinct to hide from and to be found by the powerful people. Generically, willing or not, Bob will contribute to cultural cross-fertilization, and this will surely the age of more impact in the humanity.

By that time, with a population already of about 100 millions, the probability of being born twice in the same civilization is low, and no big differences happen; there is even a non-negligible probability of being born as Aboriginal Australian, effectively ruining some of their cultural isolation. But as India and China start to show efficiency in human grown, Bob is going to pass more time as Indian or Chinese that as native american. This could help to keep fortune from one to the next generation; and some knowledge of the world could allow to return to a known place if wished. But on other hand, to be born in the same civilization becomes a bit of disappointment. No cultural cross-fertilization anymore, just progress. I think that it is here where the split of @michaelpri answer can happen: private or public person, good or bad. I have taken some time compared with the "4th lifetime" idea :-)

I want to point out one thing that everybody missed. With our current technology, there is a serious threat to Bob - COMA.

If Bob is ever captured by government, or anybody serious really, they can put him permanently in state of coma or hibernation, effectively rendering him useless. He can't do anything, because he's not contious, but he can't be reborn, because he's not really dead. It then becomes an interesting question of keeping him in this state for generations, and becoming a myth, but that's for another topic.

As Green and others have pointed out, a lot of his cycles would be in very poor areas with very poor lives. But I don't think he'd be poor for very long.

A lot of this depends on when in the past his cycles started, but seeing as it keeps happening over and over and over, and he remembers everything, he'd (relatively) quickly pick things up, even without an education.

He could endenture himself to a merchant, money lender, or anyone else that could teach him new skills. Even if he went in and offered to be a slave for life if the person would train him he could learn new stuff.
And each cycle he would start out a little higher on the ladder.

"Let me work for you. I know how to read and do sums, I could help you make a lot of money."

During female cycles she'd be at a slight disadvantage for most of history, except that the memories of being a man could help a bit, mostly as an extra edge in manipulating men. But also because of her skills and knowledge she'd be able to present herself as a good catch for marriage, and potentially get a higher social standing than birth would allow.

Eventually he'd be able to become very wealthy, if he figured out how to cache stuff for himself in the future.

It might be saving and burying some of his income each lifetime.

Or he could take it from others; hold up a drug den, get a lot of money, maybe convert it to something liquid like gold or gems, hide it somewhere really secure, and then repeat. Eventually the bad guys catch up to him and kill him, and he starts over. He might do this over several cycles all around the world.

As soon as he's able (financially) he travels to the location of his caches and picks them up, consolidating the wealth into a single pool.

And eventually when banking becomes a thing he'd be able to set up a numbered account in some tax haven and get easier access to his money.

Easy question. Bob has reasonnable chances to discover the game of Go / Baduk / Weiqi. Once he does, he just have to play until the end of time.

Since he has unlimited time to study the game, he'll become one of the strongest player and eventually find the 'Hand of God'.

He even could tell his story to other people and prove it, since each go player has a unique style of play pros could recognize him thanks to his behaviour on the Goban.

I'm pretty certain that after a few regenerations Bob would start to look for a religious reason as to why this was happening to him.

It wouldn't take much effort to realise he was actually the Dalai Lama.

He may not be born in Tibet every time - so he may have difficulty convincing the populace, however as the current Lama is in exile, then it wouldn't be that difficult.

His first life is average. After becoming aware of himself after the first reborn cycle I would expect him to redo past regrets or try out missed opportunities.

But now the problem starts. What kind of affinity does Bob has? What kind of will strength does he posses? Just because he has all the time of the world does not mean he has the urge to care. He could live his life and just live for the pleasure. If he is horrible at Math, why would it be better at the next cycle? If he uses 50 years of his life to understand string theory, it's not a free win to make a break through discovery. With the changes in technology, even past knowledge becomes quite fast useless.

He could pick professions up as a hobby. He could be wealthy with safe spots of past money. But I think ultimately the only thing that Bob can reach is personal pleasure and a huge worldview.

Well, some believe that the non-persistent memory version of this is actually happening, except maybe the suicide part, but maybe even that(!).

This is a highly theoretical game, but let's add the persistent memory to the picture. What if you would actually know that you are being reborn after every death. I think that would actually uncover a layer of reality that would make you realize that the existence is not a random pile of events, but there is a higher reason to it.

I think the answer boils down to Bob's capacity to realize this in time, before he willingly takes his life. I think if he realizes this in time, it inevitably leads to Bob becoming Good Bob, maybe after a few lifetimes of struggling with trying to play around and searching answers to irrelevant questions (why, why me, what if, who else, how much, etc.)

BTW, Just for completeness, I think if there is no higher meaning added to the game, the question does not make sense, because reincarnation does not make sense either.

• "I think if there is no higher meaning added to the game, the question does not make sense, because reincarnation does not make sense either." I'm not sure I understand your logic there, can you elaborate why the question doesn't make sense? I think it's pretty straight-forward. Sep 8 '15 at 13:46
• As far as I know, reincarnation is a consequence of higher meaning by definition. I can not imagine a situation where it is not. If you don't like the term 'higher meaning', try 'supernatural' or 'metaphysical'. Essentially all those would mean the same thing. Sep 8 '15 at 13:53
• I see what you're saying. You're critiquing the fact that this metaphysical anomaly makes no sense, being as it's unique to one person for no apparent reason. Sep 8 '15 at 13:59
• It's because Bob is a brain in a jar, attached to an extremely detailed simulation. Sep 8 '15 at 17:41

The Ever Learning Bob

Bob would not be much different after about the third time around then anyone else. Sure he has some extra memories, but can you remember all the specifics from when you were a kid? Now multiply that times 3.

Bob's memories will, like anyone else, fade with time and all that will be remembered is the "important" or "traumatic". The rest will be just gone. In addition as times change, and tech changes, Bob will not have any more of an idea of how to do a thing then a non-bob.

The only real benefit that Bob would have is the ability to "pick up" on certain things faster. Bob might be an excellent fisher, because while he can't remember clearly that 10 lives ago ho was a pro fisher, he will have a kind of aptitude for it. Like ridding a bike. You may not have done it in years, and you may not remember the specifics, but you will remember very quickly and your riding skill will improve quickly. Still the first time you get on a bike in years your liable to fall over or at least teeter.

As a down side, though, every body would be different. So while his mind remembers walking, and he might pick it up younger then most, he still will have to adapt to his new body and it's limitations.

The Journal

I would expect Bob, after going through the process a few times would start to be annoyed by not being able to remember things like his first love's name. This would lead Bob to keep a journal. The journal would be a kind of constant in his lives. Storing and keeping the journal would be come a kind of obsession, as would recovering it in each new life.

You'll basically have a watered-down version of the Avatar from A:TLA. This seems like a pretty pointless thing to do unless you give him powers, and if you do you'll kind of be ripping that show off. The only real purpose I could see humanity having for him is for him to be the ultimate historian, since he remembers basically everything from the dawn of time.

This is an interesting question. The narrative possibilities are only limited to your imagination, which is a difficult place to create from, so here are some potential restrictions that reality might impose and that might help us shape our understanding of his conflict and what sorts of impact might be possible.

How would Bob's kinship with humanity be altered by the cumulative effects of his lifespan?

While we don't often think about it, the specter of death invariably shapes all of our lives. It's inevitability forces us to have some sort of opinion on it, and that opinion shapes many of the decisions we make and even the way we interact with others. A person who doesn't have this pressure would have a tremendously altered view of existence. He may have difficulty really connecting with other people and his mounting idiosyncrasies may make it difficult for people to understand him too. After a few lifetimes, he may be regarded as insane, disturbed or possessed based on how he decides to interact with people, especially if he too greatly defies society's expectations in his youth. If he has possession of his adult memories and perspective as a child, it would be very difficult and possibly maddening to keep up the charade of immaturity as a young boy.

How would Bob desire to affect the world?

Bob's understanding of what is meaningful would be radically altered by this experience. You'd like to think he could use his accumulated knowledge and experience to practice cozying up to political leaders in various contexts and persuading them to change until he is able have tremendous influence over the world sort of like a real-world Gandalf. But what gives him this altruistic purpose? What motivates him to endure the hardship, defeat and pain associated with the work involved with this process? It seems likely that he would at least be tempted to continuously recluse himself in nature beset with a sort of nihilism or apathy, perhaps a path more similar to Radagast. He may find himself giving little concern to the petty priorities and temporal conflicts of other inhabitants of the planet who refuse to help themselves and whom he feels little to no kinship with or attachment to.

Would Bob really be a single person?

There is actually an interesting ongoing debate in transhumanist circles about the durability and elasticity of identity and personhood. In other words, it may be theoretically impossible to be the same 'person' for too long. The memories that define us get fuzzy as life carries on. Furthermore, the memories and lessons that are retained would be mangled via iterative reinterpretation as they are forced into one life context after another.

Who Bob is in this life, for example, may not resemble at all who he was three lives ago. Would he be continually upgrading, maturing and improving his self? Or would he perhaps be more mutable and subject to his environment and external influences and experiences than we would perhaps like to imagine?

How Bob is able to affect the world would likely hinge on how he is able to contend with these challenging aspects of his condition in order to fulfill his character arc.

Since his immortality seems to be linked with the existence of mankind I will assume that he is living and reincarnating since the first humans appeared. So he will have 100.000 years of experience as a hunter and killer. In all prehistoric tribes he will be the great hunter and shaman and will be honored above all. Legends and myths will be built around the eternal man. By the time farming begins he will know how to hunt anything and kill anything. Millenia of dealing with liars and traitors will make almost impossible to lie to him and he will be an incredibly good liar.

Things will get complicated when farming begins because he will keep reincarnating in dirt farmers in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China due to much greater amout of births in these places. He can use his 100.000 years knowledge of human nature to either climb form the peasant rank to the priesthood or to become a criminal. Many reincarnations doing that means that he will be very good at that and his exploits will be the origin of many legends and myths. A religion may form around the child with the wisdom of the holy child and the priest may keep looking for the next reincarnation as part of religion.

In the modern world he will be the supreme mafia boss and assassin, every time he reborns, he may try to climb from the rags to the riches and, since he is doing this forever he will be very good. Let's say that in 1900 he born in a poor italian family in the US. He will climb to the top of the mafia, then get killed by enemies somehow. Then he reborns as a poor chinese farmer in 1950, emigrates to the US, rebuilds a criminal empire, kills the children of his enemies and is, once again, by 1990 at the top of the criminal underworld.