Imagine a large island, roughly the size of Australia. The sea around is is effectively endless: no-one from the island has found an edge to it, or any other land masses. This is a fantasy land, and the technology is roughly equivalent to dark ages Europe. So news travels relatively slowly.

There are a wide variety of different races and cultures on the island. All of them share a common motif, however, because it happens to be true: the island is still being shaped by the gods.

Let's take a practical example. A fisherman takes his usual route around the local coastline. After a few miles of everyday sailing, he comes across a surprise. What was once sea was is now several square miles of land.

If there are intelligent creatures on this land they will either believe they have always been there or that they and the local landmass have been uprooted from somewhere else and placed on the coast of the island. They will have memories of their lives and cultural traditions going back into the mists of time. These beliefs and memories are a lie. The reality is they were shaped by the gods and placed down in a moment.

These creation events happen perhaps once every couple of years. Each time, a few square miles is added to the island. It is normally on the coast, but not always: sometimes large caverns appear underground, or a previously impassable mountain range acquires a new, accessible valley. They always occur at uninhabited sites when no-one is around. The people in these new areas may belong to a race or culture already extant or they may be entirely new on both counts.

My question is: how are the various peoples of this island going to come to terms with the fact that none of them can be certain of their heritage? The fisherman is going to find a land which he is certain is entirely new (which it is), but the people of the land will firmly believe they've been there forever. So our fisherman will realize he can't be certain that his life history is real or whether he was created from nothing a year or two ago.

People who live in the ancient city on the center of the island don't know if it really is an ancient city, and that the history books in their library were written by their ancestors or made up by an imaginative god. The only thing that everyone knows for certain is that the gods began the act of creation and that they're still creating.

How will this affect people's cultural beliefs and practices? How will the existing inhabitants of the island relate to the sudden appearances of new cultures?

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    $\begingroup$ The question I have is if these new people remember interacting with the people who had been there before them. Otherwise, would their false memories be about never travelling past their little slice of newly created land? But if they remember interacting with other people, then those same people are going to have a different account of history, which could get very confusing. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh This is part of the reason creation happens in out-of-the way places. Given the primitive level of technology, most of the newly-created people will not have traveled far outside their homes or met people of other cultures. Those that were important/rich/powerful enough to do so, however, will have false memories of meeting with real people who will, in fact, never have seen them before. Yes, this is likely to be confusing and this is a major thrust of this question. $\endgroup$
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ A highly related question: is this different in any meaningful way than what a young child experiences as they develop the basic rules they use to make sense of the world such as, "when the front door slams, daddy's come home?" You might be able to develop a great deal of content by looking at how our children deal with such shifting realities $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ ... Until their version of Einstein comes along and shows that they are entirely new civilizations, AND they have been around for a very long time, leaving little room for this so-called-creator. ;) $\endgroup$
    – IchabodE
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ "I'm American, honey. Our names don't mean s--t." – Pulp Fiction $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 21:12

2 Answers 2


The reason this seems like it's a problem is that you're coming from a world where you can be certain about your heritage, and so that forms a foundation for your future experiences. The people here can't and will all very quickly realise that they can't, and so it will stop mattering after a short period of acclimatisation. To anyone already on the island it won't matter if their past is 'real' or 'imaginary'. They have their customs, they know they've popped into existence with heads full of history and cultural background, why should it matter if everyone else thinks they just appeared?

If it's a natural (well, godly..) and known phenomenon that new cultures occasionally appear then everyone already there will come to terms with it and move on with their lives, secure in the knowledge that unless a god is being particularly cruel their experiences are still going to be relevant to the place where they live. Edit: It's worth pointing out here that any new culture that thinks they've always been there will already have been exposed to this kind of thinking, and any new culture that thinks they've been transplanted won't be able to prove they were made up in the first place.

Religion will be as varied as the cultures, but with an unquestioning faith that the gods are still mucking about with the island as a unifying tenet of belief, it's possible that the Church of Impermanence (use the name freely) will rise to dominance. The Church of Impermanence would have to employ cartographers, diplomats and couriers, and could quickly establish themselves as the de-facto rulers of the island under the guise of keeping track of the changes made by the gods.

The issue will arise for the new cultures, when they arrive, not for the old ones. The two scenarios you gave are:

The new people know they've always been there. This will be the most confusing but least violent of the scenarios, as the New people will already have experiences in dealing with their neighbours. When those neighbours (the Old people) turn up and start acting as if they've never seen the New People before there will be quite a lot of confusion on the part of the New people. Cue the Church of Impermanence, who turn up with their heavy covered wagons and informative printed pamphlets to explain the simple truth that the world is being rewritten every day, that the old experiences are mostly still valid, and that everyone should basically just get on with their lives but accept that anything before X date is invented. There will be a few months of unrest as the situation settles down, then happiness will ensue. Unless of course the god in question made these people with a grudge against another culture, or a memory of a long-running war. Then things get nasty, but the New culture won't care about the Old one anyway.

The second scenario: The people think they're been plucked from somewhere. is less confusing, but has the potential to be more violent. The New culture here won't accept that they've just been created, they'll be convinced that they've been uprooted from elsewhere (they may have been, who knows?). In this case the Church of Impermanence has to act as an intermediary to explain that the gods are always pulling people from places or making new places, and that the New culture shouldn't worry. If the New culture want to get back home, or if they're imperialistic, they won't have the pre-built relationships with the new world that a 'we were here already' culture would, and so would be more likely to go on the offensive straight off the bat. On the other hand, they'd be a lot less confused. Again, after a little while they'd come to accept that they were stuck in this situation, and would start working with the Church of Impermanence to establish diplomatic relations.

One thing it is worth noting is that in this world Cartography is going to become a major source of industry and innovation.. Hail to the mapmakers!

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the ideas. I had wondered if it might be something like this, but I can't help suspecting that "newcomers" might not take to the idea that their entire lives have been a lie quite so comfortably. Love the idea of the cult of impermanence though :) $\endgroup$
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ The thing is that it's not so much of a lie as an experience that never happened. If the gods make a people that already have interactions with the rest of the continent they can't avoid some exposure to the idea that the gods are still making things, and if they make a people that think they've been pulled from somewhere else nobody has the means to say otherwise. That and the Church of Impermanence has some really persuasive pamphlets. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 14:04

Theres a few different possibilities that might arise from this situation. The first that comes to mind is conflict.

From what it sounds like, these people have no idea what parts of their lives are real and what parts are made-up. Depending on the people, some may find this situation difficult to grasp. People have good memories and bad memories: even relationships are mostly built on your memories. To find out that all of it is a lie is a pretty hard blow. The new cultures that appear would likely not even believe the story they're told. Their memories are the ground in which their beliefs firmly stand, and it's their beliefs against the others. This conflict could brew for a little and might even cause fighting, however this difference in opinion doesn't really seem big enough on its own to cause any major feuding or wars.

Although this conflict isn't quite enough to completely change society, it would definitely affect certain relationships, and contribute to the general worldview of themselves. There may be this certain sense of justice that arises, for example if one person was "created" by the gods as a beggar while others live more luxuriously, he may find it unfair and claim that he "deserves" more. Or maybe, as a culture, they have adopted the decisions of the gods as a final judgement, and than anything that is decided by the gods is fair and just and inherently good. This mindset would mean people would be more satisfied in their positions and would be less motivated to change their lives. Extremists may even push so far as to try to keep people where they're at.

Another possibility could be acceptance. It takes a lot of work to realize your life might be a lie, and then where do you go from there? Do you rebuild your life again? Most people would not go through that trouble, they likely already have a solid life built, and would simply continue to live that life. If they can't convince the new societies that their lives are fake, they'll simply stop trying. Every time a new society pops up, you get to know them a bit, see if you'd be good trading partners, maybe let them know about the gods activities so they're not surprised, then continue about your life. The conflict may simmer under the surface for some, and may break out after fighting arises, ("yeah well we were here before you anyway!" "no way you weren't"), but for the most part they can't really change what happened so they just accept it and move on with their lives.


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