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Most of what we do both as individuals and as a society is either directly or indirectly connected with the fact that we don't want to die.

While in the real world a lot of people believe in an afterlife, it is not verifiable how it would actually look like.

However, there are fictional worlds where the existence and the nature of the afterlife is verifiable, or resurrection is commonly available (even if at a high price, but still common knowledge). For example, the Planescape universe provides both: resurrection is available to all, even if it's too expensive for a common peasant. The existence and nature of the afterlife is both verifiable and common knowledge. However, the structure of society and culture is very similar to renaissance Europe. Note that this question is not specifically about the Planescape universe, I used it just as an example.

How would the existence of commonly available resurrection or a verifiable afterlife affect self-preservation, and how would it affect the nature of civilization? If resurrection is too expensive for a common peasant, it's understandable they try to avoid death. However, if everyone is guaranteed an afterlife of his/her own alignment where eternal life awaits them, and it is verifiably known and not just believed, why be afraid of death?


marked as duplicate by Vincent, bowlturner, DonyorM, overactor, Liath Oct 23 '14 at 5:22

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question. I've long considered a chess variant using the exact same idea: if your pieces, or even just your king, could be 'resurrected' after being captured (maybe if pawns could promote to kings), how would the game change? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Oct 22 '14 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor : there is such a chess variant, it's played by 2 vs 2, on two tables. You capture a piece, give it to your teammate (who plays the opposite colors on a different board) who can use a move to place it on his own board on any legal position. You cannot place pieces on illegal locations (like pawns on rank 1), you cannot place them to give or to block check. Pawns disappear at rank 8 without being promoted. First who wins, wins it for the whole team. $\endgroup$ – vsz Oct 22 '14 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like a simpler version of Alice Chess... $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Oct 22 '14 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ Given that (barring a few suicidal types) even the most fervent of believers in a better afterlife have trouble letting themselves (or others) die, the answer, at least for humans, seems self-evident. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Oct 22 '14 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ Would it be significantly different from a world where people know there is no afterlife? Why would those people fear death? E.g. see Epicurus' argument regarding death: marklindner.info/writings/Epicurus.htm $\endgroup$ – yters Oct 22 '14 at 23:15

Access to resurrection makes death no longer a serious threat. However, there might be fates worse than death people might still be afraid of:

  • Banishment to some unpleasant place where they are still alive but have no chance of ever escaping.
  • Torture, which can be even more threatening when the victim can be tortured to death, resurrected, and then tortured to death again and again.
  • Experiences so psychologically traumatizing that they are no longer able to function as members of society. The previous point might be one way to do this, but it's far from the only.
  • Look into reasons why people in our world commit suicide (besides the death of someone else) - some people obviously consider these circumstances worse than death.
  • Methods to kill someone in ways which makes resurrection impossible. Whether or not this is an option depends on how resurrection actually works in your world, but you could, for example, require that at least a part of the body needs to be available. Or there could be a way to not just destroy someones body but also destroy someones soul.

Also, death might not be final, but could still have inconvenient side-effects or be a very unpleasant experience. That would mean that it would still take at least some bravery to risk ones life. The immortal protagonist in Planescape: Torment, for example, risks losing his memory whenever he dies. His frequent deaths also have other, less obvious side-effects for him, others and the universe in general I would not like to get into more detail about to not spoil the story, but you can surely make up something on your own to discourage unnecessary deaths.

When there is a verifiable afterlife but no resurrection, people would still have reason to avoid death. You might know what happens after you die, but that doesn't mean that your after-life would be more pleasant than your current life. When you know that your quality of (un-)life would be worse, you would try to stay in your current life as long as possible. That's likely the reason why Christianity declared suicide a sin punishable by eternal hell: Why stay alive in this crapsack world, when you can live in an eternal paradise when you just confess all your sins and then kill yourself? When you do, you get an afterlife which is even worse than anything you might experience in your current life, so better suck it up and wait until your die from something else.

Also, when there is an afterlife but no resurrection, the travel to the afterlife would be a one-way trip. Knowing that the decision to pass over can not be reverted and knowing they will lose everything they have when they do, might make people reluctant to make this decision and cling to their current existence.


Self-preservation is instinctive. We naturally try to stop ourselves from dying: even if someone tries to drown themselves, their body will refuse to breathe in water for as long as humanly possible. So simply knowing that there is an afterlife and what it's like, or that people can be brought back from the dead, wouldn't change people's behaviour and the nature of the society unless their instincts also change. In that case, you're really talking about inventing a new species, or maybe allowing millions of years for the self-preservation instinct (which isn't just found in humans but probably in all life forms) to disappear.


I don't think you have to look much further than fanatics here on earth to answer this...during the crusades, a good section of the participants were assured entrance to heaven for their deeds (crusade participation) on earth and that was enough for them to give up whatever they did have (usually pretty little) and march across Europe to the holy lands. How many afterlife virgins need to be promised to a suicide bomber again? How many people does one have to convert / save before they are accepted into a heaven? It's all varying degrees of what people might think has the best chance of getting them that favorable afterlife.

The key thing that would change in a verifiable afterlife would be the knowledge of what gets you a favorable afterlife and a much more dedicated resolve to obtain/achieve whatever this may be. There would probably be much less of a tie to the physical world (he who dies with the most toys no longer 'wins'). People would be far more willing to give up what they do have here for the guarantee of an afterlife.

I'd suggest a society would have less 'creature comforts' and more gear itself and it's goals towards the favorable afterlife at the expense of a favorable life. Afterlife is eternal after all, a little work now to guarantee a favorable eternity seems like a tiny sacrifice.


Resurrection changes everything.

Resurrection begets immortality, and that is a game changer for a host of reasons. For example, colonizing new worlds. If we could regenerate at will then the decision to explore other worlds in our solar system would be a trivial one. Dying from solar radiation on the way to Mars? So what. Going further, sending colonists to various remote star systems, even if it took 10,000 years to get there, would be a no brainer.

The monetary system would radically change. You're broke now? Just put $100 in a savings account and wait; eventually you'll be rich. This alone would change how we interact with others. For that matter, you might not even need to work at all. The fact that this could happen would likely completely change how banking works. It might even slow advancement to the point that for all outward appearances the society would be standing still.

Wars would certainly be different; perhaps even pointless. Let's say one group killed a million soldiers of a competing group... wait a bit and they're back. Would you have to keep killing them over and over and over again? When would you just give up? One of the primary reasons governments exist is for combined protection of that society. If no one dies, is there a point to them?

At the end of the day, I think resurrection would lead to total anarchy. A number of the reasons that people currently work together would simply no longer apply and much smaller social groups would emerge. These like minded groups would be highly dynamic and change as the whims of the members do.

Having a verifiable afterlife is an altogether different thing. Is it just "paradise" where all pain is gone and everyone is happy? or do concepts of heaven and hell exist in which what you do while "alive" actually matter? If the former then people would be hard pressed not to just off themselves whenever it was convenient. Even issues such as murder would no longer be quite as big a deal and likely be held to be a mercy.

If the latter, then I'd like to think that people would generally be much nicer to each other as the long term consequences of their actions are well known. However I don't think that would be reality. Obviously there would still be some fraction of society that would happily "burn" as long as their immediate desires are fulfilled. There would even be some who purposely killed others who have transgressed whatever laws it is that mark you for going to hell, just to make sure the transgressors couldn't "repent" and go the other direction. Finally there would be thrill seekers who purposely flaunted those laws - flirting with eternal damnation - only to repent later.

Certain there is a lot of story potential in both cases.


First of all we must make difference between resurrection and afterlife. Resurrection means that, to put it simple, you can get back where you stopped (died/got killed etc.).In this case there are two possibilities: does resurrection comes with the price (financial, losing your memory, finite number of possible resurrections etc.) or is it without any consequences. Most of imaginary worlds in which resurrection is possible give you some condition or price for this. Reason is obvious: all of these worlds are created by humans and it is in our nature to make cause-consequence relations, because basically that is how civilization works: every action causes some reaction; for everything that you get there must be a price. If you ask me real question would be what would happen if resurrection would come "free“? Killing someone or doing something that you now would get you killed would not mean anything anymore. Life would lose its worth. In that case I think that some form of life quality measurements, but most likely not the ones we have today would be the most important thing, but this is just a theory. If resurrection would not be free and available for everyone my guess is that changes would not be that drastic. When we speak about afterlife things are different. Afterlife is a form of existence, but a lot different than "life" existance.It would mean some kind of change (becoming only energy, or ghost or whatever).If you ask me afterlife as a concept was created by humans because it is impossible for us to imagine our own end. And since it is proved fact, we had to find a way around these two problems, and solution is afterlife. Anyway, afterlife would not be something that would make people not to think about death, or be afraid of it, because although you would still exist, it would not be the same; you would still loose alot.Plus, it would be a change humans do not like changes, especially this dramatic. So possible existence of afterlife according to my opinion would not make that much of a difference.


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