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In most fantasy settings and worlds, we have different races like Demons, Elves , Fairies, Angels and so on and on. Most of them usually have longer lifespans than humans and while it might seem like a dream come true to be able to live for thousands of years, I'm not sure that all that glitters is gold.

So if say we had elves that have an average lifespan of 5000 years, they are slightly stronger (includes things like agility and reaction time) than the average human by about 1.5 times. What are some plausible disadvantages for a long living race?

Some cons I have thought of would be having a low birth rate and how chronic disease would make life hell.

Other than that the technology level is around medieval era but their medicines are about 19–20th century standard, they had a lot of time to make medicines with the flora in the forest they live in.

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    $\begingroup$ A lot depends on when they become adults, in many meanings. Mature enough to make own decisions. Fertile. Peak physical performance? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 28 '16 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought is nagging wives saying "Herman you've been telling that same joke for 4800 years..." $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Aug 28 '16 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa just imagine the amount of YouTube videos with bad jokes produced for 4800 years by the same person... $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 29 '16 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ They are more likely to run out of souls. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Aug 29 '16 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ The issue of cultural stagnation is directly referenced in the Marvel movies. IIRC it is Odin who observes that the Asgardians' extended longevity relative to earthlings has enabled their technology to advance to the point where it is indistinguishable from magic, while their culture seems stuck in the middle ages. $\endgroup$ – mikeagg Aug 30 '16 at 8:39

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First off, repopulation. There are two possibilities - either the elves have a birth rate similar to humans or they have a birth rate vastly reduced to match their lifespan. In the former case, the elves would become vastly overpopulated very, very quickly, with a death rate that's negligible next to their birth rate. Such a species could conceivably become extraordinarily warlike or prone to risky behaviour, just to artificially increase their death rate. In the latter case, elves would be incredibly vulnerable to attrition tactics - any attacking force willing to wage war for a couple of hundred years could deplete the elves' population before the next generation matured. Likewise, any long-term natural disaster - like a plague - could wipe out the elves when humans would have scraped by.

Second, stagnation. Humans already have this problem - as we get older, we get to be set in our ways, resulting in a significant portion of the population being locked in values and ideas decades out of date. With elves, this would become vastly worse - the three-thousand-year-old Queen of the Elves might have difficulty adjusting to any technology invented less than two thousand years ago, and would likely insist on tactics that worked a thousand years ago.

Third, memory. A species that lives a hundred times longer than a human has a hundred times more to remember. Again, we have two options - either the elves have no better memory than a human, or their memories are expanded to suit their expanded lifespan. In the first case, the elves would be unlikely to remember clearly anything more than a hundred years back, and so would forget vast swathes of their adult lives, with obvious consequences. In the second case, they are storing a vast amount of data - keeping it all straight, and bringing it to mind in a timely manner, might be difficult. It might even turn into a sort of dementia - with thousands of years of memories in your head, losing track of what year it is would be easy.

Fourth, genetics. For humans, influenza evolves so quickly relative to our lifespan that we can't make a long-term vaccine. For elves, virtually every disease would evolve that quickly relative to their lifespan. With the gene pool taking so long to change - because the next generation is so slow to come - they'd be hit with a plague on the scale of the Spanish Influenza every century or so, if not more often. And as pointed out above, getting hit with a plague is bad news for a species that repopulates slowly.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the stagnation. What have humans achieved in the last 1000 years? Invented everything from plate armour to nuclear power, and porcelain to heart transplants. What has that 1000 year old elf achieved in the last 1000 years? Nothing. :-) $\endgroup$ – DrBob Aug 28 '16 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @DrBob I'm calling bullshit. With a 5000 year timespan, we could have a convention with the top 100 scientists of our entire history. What would happen if Tesla and Archimedes could be in the same room? Or Hawking and Galileo? Sure, mediocre elves will live mediocre 5000 year lives pushing paper... but the greatest elves will contribute to their society for 5000 years. What happens when Einstein and Newton start collaborating on physics together? In any event, republics have been the most powerful nations on earth for most of the last 2000 years - a stagnant queen would be quickly dispatched. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Aug 28 '16 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Re influenza: The issue is not that influenza evolves quickly relative to our lifespan. The issue is that new strains evolve faster than we can go through the process of A) isolate virus ➞ B) developing vaccine ➞ C) testing vaccine (return to B until vaccine is effective and safe for humans) ➞ D) mass produce vaccine ➞ E) distribute vaccine ➞ F) inoculate large portions of the population. That process takes time. Currently, in order to have a vaccine available in time for cold/flu season which strains will be prevalent that year must be guessed/estimated. Guess wrong=not effective. $\endgroup$ – Makyen Aug 28 '16 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa Eh, even today, big paradigma changes in Science happens generationally. Old people must die or leave from their political positions where they influence a lot of things, before you get free space to pursue some valid science that those people just didn't think it is valuable (or it would invalidate THEIR research). $\endgroup$ – Colombo Aug 28 '16 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa Except Newton's ideas would never have been accepted, because Aristotle would still have been running the University, and he would have seen Newton as a grubby little savage from some far flung area of the Roman Empire. $\endgroup$ – deworde Aug 29 '16 at 10:00
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A major disadvantage would be a greatly increased risk of resource depletion. Another would be the risks faced by these creatures before they can reproduce.

At its core, the purpose of life is to ensure the continuation of the species. Life begets life. Hence, if you want a species to have an exceptionally long life span, then there should be something about that longer lifespan which has, on evolutionary timescales (which work on generations, not years), helped ensure the survival of the species, and ideally an individual's own offspring. In evolutionary terms, parents' responsibility to help safeguard the survival of their offspring lasts until their offspring has matured to the point of having offspring of their own. We see this pattern time and again in nature, particularly in species that have fewer offspring but tend to them: offspring leaves their parents once they are near or at sexual maturity, not before.

Every individual who is alive, including those who are unable (too young, too old, sick or infirm) to defend themselves and to reproduce, requires sustenance. You mention medicine, but that's the last thing you should be concerned about, because frankly, especially with the technology level you seem to have in mind, keeping sick and infirm individuals alive would be a luxury, not something to be taken for granted. If their technology level is "around medieval level", they are going to have serious challenges growing or catching sufficient food. Each individual will require, irrespective of their preferred food source, far more biomass to sustain themselves for 5,000 years than for 50 years. This presents a number of challenges especially because in the era you are comparing against, life for the vast majority of humans was already at a sustenance level. Particularly if combined with a greatly reduced birth rate, you will have far more individuals who are at a stage of their life where they are not reproducing or tending to offspring and thus, from an evolutionary perspective, are not productive members of their species.

You can in principle do something like make their life cycle such that they don't reproduce until age 3,000 years, but then you have to explain how they got to that point. What was the advantage to having one's first offspring, on average, at age 3,000 years instead of at age 3 years or 30 years? Every year you add to the age when they have offspring is a year that comes with the risk of debilitating injuries, illness, famine, perhaps war. Parents who get offspring that reproduce later would have a greater risk of not having any great-offspring. If anything, there would seem to be an evolutionary pressure to reproduce earlier rather than later, but there is a natural limit to how early it is reasonable for a complex organism to reproduce. In order to as much as maintain a population size, on average, each pair needs to have two offspring who survive long enough to have offspring of their own.

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    $\begingroup$ But the species evolved to live a 5000 year life ( should OP choose ). The surrounding ecosystem has evolved with them and can maintain such a life form. $\endgroup$ – Carl Aug 28 '16 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl Certainly possible, but you still have to keep the issue in mind. OP asked for disadvantages of a long lifespan; I think my answer provides at least some (though it's obviously very hard to provide an exhaustive list or really go into detail about them). $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 29 '16 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ An evolutionary advantage could be the survival of long periods, where offspring is infeasible. Like a 2000 year ice-age, which only grown up elves can barely survive. Or the opposite: Elven babies need exceptionally perfect conditions for growing up, such perfect conditions which happen on average once every 1000 years - then you need to live more than 2000 years to produce two offspring :-) $\endgroup$ – Falco Aug 30 '16 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Falco As pointed out by Reese and others, that is very much a double-edged sword. You are assuming that the conditions after the ice age is conducive to survival of the same individuals as it were before; I'm guessing that such is a highly unrealistic assumption. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 30 '16 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ That depends on the species. If our Elves are a highly adaptive species, with a broad spectrum of traits, a grown Elf would survive in almost any condition, while a baby elf would need to be born in a stable climate with enough food and everything. The parents could also travel around the world for hundreds of years until they find a place where they can successfully bear a child. $\endgroup$ – Falco Sep 1 '16 at 8:30
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Can I mention Boredom? As someone's life goes on, they might arrive at the point of having done everything, and seen everything they might be interested in. Apart from the little news from time to time, life may become void and dull, leading them to retire in apathy. I know this could also be called Stagnation, but instead of the S. of ideas mentioned by Reese, this would be the one of an entire society not knowing what to do.

"What you want to do?" asked the High Queen of Arboria

"I don't know, what YOU wanna do?" answered the Supreme Priestess

"I don't know.."

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    $\begingroup$ 3000 years of playing chess would be soooo fun $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 29 '16 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Sky Imagine how much practice you could get at archery. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 29 '16 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory link: xkcd.com/330 $\endgroup$ – JamesENL Aug 31 '16 at 6:39
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Living memory is a two edged sword. Sure they have the wisdom of ages but they also have the bigotry of ages. They remember that your great great great granddad still owes them money. Imagine a grudge that lasts as long as some religions. Set in their ways just doesn't begin to cover it.

They need the young to drag them kicking and screaming into the future.

Now you humans get off my lawn!

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    $\begingroup$ "Imagine a grudge that lasts as long as some religions" - umm, I'm guessing you're not familiar with the history of Jerusalem? $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Aug 28 '16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Oh I'm familiar. You think living longer makes this better? This is the same problem, just kept personal. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Aug 28 '16 at 20:40
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A longer life also implies a longer reproductive cycle.

A longer reproductive cycle means the species will evolve much slower. That will make it more vulnerable to gradual environmental changes and generally hamper its development.

When there is a new ice age which drastically lowers temperatures for a thousand years, 80% of humanity might get wiped out at first, but the most cold-resistant humans will survive, procreate and pass their cold-resistance genes on to the next generation. When the ice age is over, they will have adapted and get out of it with strong numbers.

But the elves will not be so lucky. Their longer reproduction cycle means that anyone who dies can not be replaced so easily and it will take far longer for the cold-resistance genes to procreate through the population. At the end of the ice age they will have become almost extinct.

When you have a long life without a long reproductive cycle, you will have a different problem: Overpopulation. Too many people get born but not enough old people die and keep consuming resources.

But this affects the survival of the whole species, not so much the individual. When you compare an average middle-aged elf (300 years old) to an average middle-aged human (30 years old), the elf has the advantage that she had far more time to acquire skills and knowledge. You could counter that by making the species which live longer more forgetful. The elf might have been a masterful fletcher 100 years ago and a great warrior 200 years ago, but now barely remembers those times and forgot all of the skills she learned. Now she is no match for a human who acquired these skills just decades ago.

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    $\begingroup$ long life doesn't equal slow reproduction though... $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 28 '16 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @渡し守シャロン But then you have a different problem: Overpopulation. Added a paragraph about that. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 28 '16 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ You don't have. Amount of offsprings can be (and in nature often is) regulated. When population has high density, you have lower amount of offsprings than if population has high density. $\endgroup$ – Colombo Aug 29 '16 at 21:08
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A central theme of The Queendom of Sol novels is how children can’t take their place in society. The king and queen live forever so the crown prince will be the prince forever and never take over. Less obviously the same is true for any career: the student and protégé will never move on to have his own place in the field.

In later novels, the main theme concerned overpopulation and resource depletion.

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    $\begingroup$ If most people know they'll never inherit the boss's chair, how long will they support seniority-based structures? $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Aug 29 '16 at 0:05
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The only way to really understand what the potential is for extreme longevity (both advantages as well as disadvantages) is to consider the human factors involved. I'm using the term Human Factors loosely here, but one might glean something from the definition itself.

In industry, human factors (also known as ergonomics) is the study of how humans behave physically and psychologically in relation to particular environments, products, or services.

http://searchsoa.techtarget.com/definition/human-factors

Excluding the products and services part, what it boils down to is psychology mostly, that is, assuming we can, for the majority of the time spans under consideration, rule out debilitating factors such as chronic disease and lack of mobility. In other words we may gain entry into the question by considering the limited case of perfectly healthy individuals living for a very long time.

So with that out of the way, what can be said of long term human/humanoid existence when health is not an issue? Let's assume as well that mental health is not an issue.

One can possibly imagine several motivating factors related to varying interests for accomplishing things with the available time, but really the two basic ones that seem relevant are.

  • realizing personal or professional goals
  • improving the quality of life for oneself or others

Now, considering that medicine is 19/20th century and mental health may be an issue, we must also consider the following factors which may lead to conflict:

  • acquiring medical care/herbs where supplies may be limited (this applies generally as well to any conceivable needs)
  • despair, anger or otherwise negative emotions (generally mental health)

‡ We have often heard that folks have a tendency to become cynical as they age. I myself am on the cusp of middle age and can see the truth in that. I have often experienced despair and anger at human behaviors and actions, in myself and others, which to me (on second thought in the case where I am culpable) seem to be nonsense, ill formed, silly, unwise, stupid. The older one gets, the easier it seems to be to spot such behaviors. This can lead to despair and anger in individuals who do not actively maintain a healthy mental profile. Particularly in those who seek less social interaction.

So to compare and contrast the two—the former seeming all positive, the latter seemingly the inverse of that—it's not hard to see that both are in fact the same. Realizing goals requires resources and effort, whether the goal is professional such as perfecting ones craft or elevating and maintaining ones reputation, or personal, such as feeling better or living longer. To compress the subject even more, quality of life is just another goal whether one finds reward indirectly by improving the quality of the lives of others, or directly by attempting to improve the quality of ones own life.

So now that we've formulated a very broad and general context in which we find the longevity question, it makes sense to point out that goal seeking is the dominating factor that drives our lives forward. And how we address those goals, and more deeply how we address the goal forming process itself, determines what the positive and negative aspects of life will be. And I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is true regardless of the amount of time involved. ☺

Now back to the human factors definition. Excluding again the two extraneous objects I mentioned before, the third stands out, and that is "how humans behave […] in relation to particular environments"

So to give an inference as to how humans behave and what they may experience in your particular environment, I would suggest that they go about in the usual way as medieval citizens/subjects do and experience all of the positive things as well as the negative things that medieval citizens/subjects experience, but for longer. If that experience is bad, then presumably having that experience for a very long time is worse, but it could only be hardening. Keep in mind as well that we do grow accustomed to things and we even learn to rise above situations on occasion. Wisdom that comes with experience would seem to aid in that process.

To actually answer the question as to the negative aspects of extreme longevity, particularly in medieval times, I would say that it probably starts off bad for most subjects (as Michael Kjörling points out), then gets worse, then much worse, then fades into normal over thousands of years perhaps, but possibly only a few centuries of replay will suffice to confirm what "normal" is—unless the person, the core of the living body, chooses to step out of the mental constraints of the world. And perhaps by breaking rules or side stepping expectations that person may suffer physically or even mentally, but it would seem that such a thing is short lived and of little consequence compared to centuries of inner nothingness. However, most people are as helpless to choose as they are to determine the length of their lifespan. This is perhaps as true for those in power as it is for those begging for scraps. The only thing left is whether the suckiness of life is worse than the consequences of making a choice and living with it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would guess that an elves perception of time would be vastly different from a human(What you live for only less than a hundred years?) However, could their mental health really deteriorate that easily? Would a way to solve this be just cutting of relations with other shorter living races? $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 29 '16 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ IMO Tolkien got the mental aspects of Elvish longevity exactly right. Read the Silmarillion as well as LOTR. For even the strongest-willed, they become world-weary. Note: Tolkien's elves are not exactly mortal. Not even bodily death can free their souls from the confines of the world. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Aug 29 '16 at 14:32
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There is an actual thing that people haven't considered yet, and that is that people don't want to die very much.

Well, that seems obvious, but it has some implications for a longer lived race. Let's pretend that humans are in the middle, and we have a very short lived race (like the Salarians in Mass Effect, who live until they're 40), and then your elves.

We take 3 smart people, one from each species, and ask them a question: Would you drive a car to work, assuming that traffic was like the US of A, in 2014?

Well, according to The Odds of Dying, 2.5 per 100,000 drivers died in the US in 2014.

WARNING: The math here is fudged and not 100% correct. It's merely correct-ish.

If you're a salarian, you live 40 years, so taking that kind of odds for 40 years is about 40*2.5 = 1 in 1000 odds if you drive from the day you were born until you die.

If you're a human, you live 80 years, so you have 2 in 1000 odds.

If you're an elf, you live 10 000 years, so your odds are 1 in 4.

The type of elf that takes that kind of insane risk, to go out and drive in traffic in the US in 2014, seems to have a rather risky life, doesn't he?

Basically every risk assessment for an elf will make things seem much more dangerous, because your threshold for "stupid stuff that will kill me before I'm 25% done with my life" is so much lower than for humans and salarians.

Therefore any elf that wants to stick around for a longer time, and have more children, and thus more genes in the wider population, will be careful and conservative in his or her outlook on the world.

That's just how biology works.

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    $\begingroup$ If a creature lives forever, why bother driving at dangerous speeds? Since you have "all the time in the world" to get anywhere, why not make the speed limit 20 MPH, since you're unlikely to have a fatal accident at that speed? $\endgroup$ – user151841 Aug 29 '16 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Also no war. its just too risky. $\endgroup$ – joojaa Aug 31 '16 at 11:29
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Stewards of the Stagnant Planet

Perhaps the long-living species have already experienced problems like overpopulation, resource depletion, infectious disease, and so on. Their technology/magic has allowed them to rid themselves or even the world of disease. Their experience with resource depletion has taught them to view themselves as stewards of the planet. Because they live long and healthy lives, there isn't the same hustle to work all the time and expect to live in luxury. Perhaps they have come to accept a simple form of life through art and meditation. It is worth noting that many European colonists in the Americas fled the work-to-the-bone colonial cultures to live with the Native Americans, and when they were "rescued" by their fellow colonists, they left at first chance to live with the natives again. So you might not have television, radio, the internet, and so on...but is that so bad?

Or...

Lonely Galactic Explorers

Borrowing from the Asari from Mass Effect, this species uses its immense lifespan to develop technological leaps that allow them to travel the galaxy. However, most other species have lifespans that are at most a tenth of their own, and so they are universally distrusted. Even though they have so much to offer in trade, art, and science, nobody will trade with them, and any conquering only adds to their image of an evil genetic elite. It would truly be a lonely existence to know that there is so much intelligent life in the galaxy, but it wants absolutely nothing to do with you.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't recall the Asari being lonely in the Mass Effect series. Quite the opposite, in fact; they were one of the cornerstone species of galactic society! $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Aug 29 '16 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ I am well aware of that. I was simply presenting the idea of an anti-asari. Perhaps they would have been less trusted if galactic civilization was built on innovation and not an existing network of mass relays, but it's hard to tell. $\endgroup$ – rm -rf slash Aug 30 '16 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ uh I miss the game so much, it was nice. $\endgroup$ – azerafati Aug 30 '16 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @rm-rfslash what's the reason they were not trusted? I kinda boycotted the game. $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 31 '16 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ @rm-rfslash Mass effect was way too cliche (The HERO picked up the god stick! He will save us!) the ending was... And then there's this story spanning 3 GAMES where in the end you/I find out that what they really care about is shepherd when you/I only care about the side-characters. Anyway, I can understand the sentiment of not trusting an advanced alien race. If one day an alien race descends and be like WE WILL HELP YOU, there will be two groups of people in this world. One would trust them and the other would not. $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 31 '16 at 13:30
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For a creature to have a lifespan of 5000 years on average, it needs to be far more than 1.5 times as strong/fast/smart as a human.

Accidental death rates in modern western societies is .04% with modern technology, safety and medicine. If that was the only thing that killed you, you'd have an average lifespan of only 2500 years.

So the first step is to generate a mechanism for them to actually have an average lifespan of 5000 years.

As we want to lean fantasy (these are elves), and elves live in trees, what I'd do is make the elves you see just a mobile appendage of some stationary, long-lived creature, like a tree.

An elf-tree gives birth to elves, implanted with memories, which wander the world, tend the forest, and return to dump memories and be reborn.

These elf-bodies could have a typical lifespan of 10-30 years, but the elf itself (its tree) could live for millenia. If the elf-body dies, it can grow a new one; it loses any memories collected by the elf-body that died, so that is to be avoided, but it is not fatal.

The surface protrusion of this plant could just be the flowering body, protecting it from forest fires and easy death (more like a fungus with a mushroom).

Elf-bodies are the elf-tree's seeds. They could settle down and grow a new elf-tree in a suitable spot. They could also be used as a form of information exchange, where an elf-body from one tree joins another, passing knowledge on to it.

If an elf-tree's "tree" is just the flowering body of an undergrown fungus-type creature, it could have an extremely large body. Some old elves might be the size of entire forests (like some plants are in our world), and have the ability to spawn an army of elf-body-siblings in an emergency.

Such a civilization would be quite alien to ours.

The parts we interact with -- the elf-bodies, or even the elf-homes built up around elf-trees -- would be like bacteria interacting with our skin or immune system.

Each elf-body is fully intelligent, but knows its immortality and rebirth is part and parcel of the elf-tree, and it remembers things from millenia ago (that where implanted in its fresh body).

These creatures could be vulnerable to pathogens or parasites. The elf-bodies might have a full time job keeping some kind of parasite-beatle from killing elves, for example. An invading army could burn the forest down and poison the elf itself with salt or some other chemical: their difficulty moving leaves them vulnerable.

Adventurer elf-bodies, the ones that are sent out to gather experiences, would be selected for being very reckless. They are, in a sense, disposible if expensive: the chance of death could easily be worth bringing back new interesting experiences.

The motivations of an elf-body would be highly alien to humans. Rogue elf-bodies, who aren't returning to the tree, could be a problem. And, like cancer cells in humans, rogue elf-bodies could learn how to reproduce and cause problems.

For worldbuilding purposes, humans might actually be an old cancer strain of elf-bodies. The remaining elves have figured out ways to keep the cancer away from their lands. Occasionally the elf-bodies and the humans interbreed, creating half-elves who grow like humans but may be capable of forming union with an elf-tree.

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Note: a solely biological approach comes here.

Well, one's for sure: evolution is slower. At least if we want to avert another issue: overpopulation.

There are two possibilities in regards of reproduction: either said race produce a lot of offsprings in a lifetime, or a few. Of course, the former case in a long lifespan may imply really many, while latter don't.

Said race would be extinct quite quickly (or at least drop huge in population size frequently) with too many offsprings during a too long lifespan. Note that the exact amount of both too many and too long are to be interpreted specifically within your world.

There are various reasons for it: individuals would fight over everything scarce:

  • territory and/or shelter,
  • food and/or other key resources,
  • the right to reproduce,
  • the right for leadership (wolves do so),

...and so on.

On the other hand, few offsprings mean that the effects of environmental changes appear at a much slower rate. This also might lead to extinction if said changes are quicker than the ability of the race to accommodate to it.

A long lifespan might change certain properties of a member of the race in a more drastic way - but it's limited to the properties that can be changed. For example, though I'm not sure: whatever you do, your vision as a human won't be sharper during the decades - You might be more muscular, though.

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The heartache from lost loved ones.

My grandfather lived until his 90s. At that age, it wasn't his friends who he was reading about in the obituaries, it was his friends' children. Sure, he had his family, but nobody was his peer anymore-- he didn't have anyone who lived through the same events, the same music, same sports, same history. He was alone.

Similarly, if a species is immortal but not invincible, they are still going to lose loved ones. Over the ages, the number of loved ones they lose will pile up. If their psychology is similar to humans, such losses will begin to weight on the psyche at some point.

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    $\begingroup$ This is especially problematic in a mixed-race society, or a world where it's plausible for different races to interact. If a human and an elf fall in love, for example, then the elf is guaranteed to have a broken heart within a century or so (assuming human lifespan is roughly the same as in our world), unless the human becomes immortal or the elf is killed before the human dies of old age. Now, considering how long the elf is going to be in the prime of their life, think about how many times this'll happen. And that's just lovers; what if the elf has a child with their human lover? $\endgroup$ – Justin Time 2 Reinstate Monica Aug 31 '16 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ That child won't necessarily live as long as a full-blooded elf, so even in an ideal world where their life isn't full of hardship due to fantasy-ISO standard racism against half-elves, the child is likely to die before the elf. And then there's all of the elf's friends and other family, too. Basically, by the time they reach 4000 or so, they'll probably want to die, so their heart can't break anymore. $\endgroup$ – Justin Time 2 Reinstate Monica Aug 31 '16 at 0:48
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I don't know about elves, but the greenland shark is supposed to grow 400 ys old, becoming fertile at 150 or so. How he does it? Taking it very slowly, in the cold.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, Karl, welcome to Worldbuilding SE. Your answer explains the greenland shark lives to extreme old age, but the question focuses on the disadvantages of extreme longevity. Answers here should have facts, discussion, details & the reasons why. I'm sure can come up with interesting disadvantages for a long life. Expect see more answers & questions from you. Cheers. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 29 '16 at 5:33
  • $\begingroup$ I can se where Karl is going, with old age it takes 150 years to become fertile where a human is fertile after 14 years, it is almost a factor of 10 in reproduction. I'm going to leave it open and not vote to close. Because the answer is correct though it got plenty of room for improvement! $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Aug 29 '16 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android I'm putting the disadvantages in italics for you. $\endgroup$ – Karl Aug 29 '16 at 7:58
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In addition to all of the above: Boredom.

For example in Ian Banks' Culture series humans can live as long as they want to, really, but most choose to either die after several hundred years or after a long life to be put into storage and awakened when something interesting happens.

Ngaroe QiRia has lived for thousands of years (no-one is completely sure) and staves off boredom by immersing himself in other cultures sometimes undergoing a species change to do so. To get around finite memory, he shards of parts of his memory into vessels that can be kept stashed for later retrieval.

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One potential downside: inability to adapt culturally.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn argues that major revolutions in science didn't come about on the basis of evidence, but rather it was adopted by a new generation, and the old guard, who refused to believe, just ended up dying out.

Kuhn calls this process a "paradigm shift", when the fundamental beliefs a society holds change wholesale, instead of just steady increments of fleshing out details.

Without the turnover of generations, the society is unable to undergo paradigm shifts and adapt to new information or situations. Unless, of course, the psychology of these creatures are radically different from human beings.

There were respected physicists in the day who were criticizing general relativity, but the last one died in the 60s, IIRC. Nowadays, there is no one (save cranks) who doesn't buy the theory. They all grew up with it.

Related: https://www.quora.com/Who-were-the-most-famous-scientists-who-opposed-the-theory-of-relativity

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    $\begingroup$ Anytime I hear someone espousing this theory, I'm always reminded of James Maxwell, the brilliant physicist who gave us Maxwell's Equations, describing light and electromagnetism back in the mid-19th century... and then tragically died of cancer, still in his 40s. Later generations looking back at his work discovered something: before his life was cut short, he was directly on the path to Relativity, and would almost certainly have discovered it half a century before Einstein, had he lived. (Just imagine what Einstein might have discovered then!) $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Aug 29 '16 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ So the next time you hear someone claim that scientific progress comes by scientists dying off, think of James Maxwell's death setting scientific progress back by more than a generation, and you'll see that the person making that claim is full of it. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Aug 29 '16 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler Highly conjectural what Maxwell would have discovered; secondly, the two truths aren't mutually contradictory. If Maxwell had discovered relativity, that doesn't mean that it would have been accepted any more rapidly than it was when Einstein proposed it. $\endgroup$ – user151841 Aug 29 '16 at 21:22
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Infant mortality

(Disclaimer: I'm assuming that "average life span" is referring to maximum age, not to a literal and statistical 'average' taking in to account every individual in the population. In other words, I'm using a definition more like "average age of death, when death is a result of old age", which I believe captures the spirit of the question, if not it's literal interpretation)

Many answers use evolutionary pressures as justification, but use only 2 possible schemes, high or low birth rates, yielding 2 possible (main) issues, overpopulation or extinction risk. There's at least one more option that I think would not only satisfy evolution, but also avoid both of those issues, while still causing a horrible situation for any race with human-like levels of compassion in the average individual: High child-mortality rates. (I feel that 'why' the rate is high is outside the scope of the question, so I won't attempt an explanation of that part, speculate or handwave as needed to justify it)

High reproduction rates allows for plenty of chance for some individuals of the newer generations to be able to cope with whatever natural evolutionary influences present themselves. High mortality rates anywhere between birth and reproductive maturity, for whatever reason, will prevent the overpopulation issue. Add in a very strong biological urge to reproduce while the individual is still able, and you end up with parents that have to grieve for thousands of years for hundreds or thousands of children that didn't survive to adulthood.

I can't imagine much worse 'disadvantages' than that.

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Almost no elf will have any initiative. The generations are so long that, by the time the elf reaches the age of having some say around the place, the elf will have been conditioned to obey and not think for himself or herself for millennia. (There was a comparable situation in the US Navy in roughly the 1880s - promotion by seniority meant that there were 40-year-old midshipmen.)

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In Anne Rice's vampire novels, she explores this in some depth.

With extended lives comes wisdom and wealth (thanks to compounding interest!), but also a world-weariness and ultimately depression. Lestat finds reason to live by experiencing passionate emotions and immersing himself in them. He does so without regard to any "right" and "wrong" because he's seen the futility of those labels, too.

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