It's kind of hard to construct a fitting title, but here's the premise: An alien planet, the sapient species are very old and very advanced in technology, especially bio-engineering. They have of course achieved interstellar travel, and due to a biological factor I won't bother to explain in this question (unless it becomes relevant), they have achieved complete and stable world peace. They can cure almost any disease, have a renewable, efficient energy source and a healthy environment across the planet.

The problem, is that while most of the population has ventured into deep space to expand and explore, there is a small contingent remains on the planet. Communication between this colony and the space-farers is rare, and the story never focuses on them. This civilization is meant to sit in a state of what I believe would be slow scientific growth with no large economical or health problems for thousands of years before the story actually starts. Knowing that civilizations as we know them rely on some kind of progress or growth, what does this civ do? What is their goal/drive?

Side note: found it hard to select tags for this question, if you find any relevant, please add them.

Edit: Under no request, it occurred to me that maybe I hadn't clarified the size of the civ. It's basically one giant city with only a few billion people (still in world-building stages obviously so I can't say for sure, but I'd say at the very least, 1.5 billion, and at the very most, maybe 4 - 4.5, I'd like it to point towards the narrower end) this is of course due to a large amount of automation in agriculture and other such production.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd question the assumption that civilizations necessarily rely on 'progress' or growth. Ancient Egypt seems to have done fairly well for several thousand years without much of those. For what your planet-bound aliens do, what do most people do when they've achieved a degree of financial success? They have hobbies: gardening, fishing, playing music, all sorts of physical activities... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 11 '16 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but they get bored after a few years don't they? these aliens have had thousands. Also since when was Egypt not a civilization of growth and progress? have you seen the pyramids? Religion and monarchy fueled that civ, progress and growth were serving the gods/pharaoh and building all those tombs, as well as agriculture and scientific development. For my civ, agriculture is self-sustained and science is very far along, no religion to serve, no great structures to build, here lies the problem. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 11 '16 at 4:03
  • $\begingroup$ Well, if you measure 'progress' as building a larger pyramid for each successive Pharaoh, then Egypt was quite progressive. But remember that we're talking about a span of 3000 years or so, so the progress in any individual lifetime would be negligible. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 11 '16 at 18:21

If they're like humans, a big subset will be driven by egos and will look to improve their social status by accumulating more and more of what is considered worth having within the society and their social groups. Those things can be practically anything - a bigger house, more followers on their social network, more recognition of their artwork, the ability to run furthest etc. They'll keep fighting to get more and more of what satisfies their egos as conditioned by the society.

Further, they'll all try to get more of one commodity that's probably still beyond their control - Time. They'll keep trying to advance their technologies to make their lives longer and longer. Since human body is weak and fragile, many might replace their bodies (or parts of bodies) with machine and live as androids. Further, since human body allows only a limited range of experiences while being on this planet, they might eventually even transfer their consciousnesses in cyberspace and live forever in virtual reality (with the option to live through surrogates) to experience more than what their world allows.

Also, unless they've all been genetically altered to never feel anger, anxiety, jealousy, hate etc, it's improbable that the society will be completely peaceful even if there are unlimited resources. They'll create abstract concepts to own and fight over. The ideas of ownership and inheritance would be complicated by the fact that parents will never die, there'll be generations of generations alive and possibly all young! There'll be social segregation, power play, oppression and potentially eventually wars over abstract concepts.

Edit after learning about the "link" that suppresses negative feelings: from my understanding, this link promotes a feeling of oneness and brotherhood among them. It might also reduce competitiveness/jealousy that may ultimately result in wars. In such a society, there'll likely be no major societal segregation, no aggressive competition and no jealousy etc because they'd conflict with the link/oneness. In such a scenario, especially when everyone has all of the needed resources, lives would be reduced to experiencing more and more sensory pleasures individually (or shared but without competing with each other). Since they might be able to live for thousands of years, they'll soon (a few hundred years) run out of real experiences/pleasures and switch to VR living/experiencing newer realities/pleasures. Groups may form that share these VR dreams. They may come back and try out the real world everyone in a while but the endless, easy to experience varieties in the virtual worlds would always be too tempting, a very big subset would likely stay plugged in living in virtual worlds.

  • $\begingroup$ the surrogate idea is interesting, but I don't think they'd allow it, obviously by now they would know the dangers of overpopulation, and immortality for all means infinite growth. Also, and I apologise, the 'biological factor' I mentioned is the main cause of their peace, as I thought it wouldn't be important I didn't explain but I believe I have a question that does. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/35108/… Paragraph 5 $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 12 '16 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I've updated my answer with the understanding of the "link". $\endgroup$ – Achilles Nov 13 '16 at 3:13

The 'Culture' novels by Iain M Banks address this issue pretty well and are well worth reading. To give a very brief summary key issues are :

  • parallel societies of 'people' and artificial intelligence
  • arts, culture, games and diplomacy become the main industries
  • boredom and apathy are social problems
  • 'jobs' are more about personal challenge and prestige and there is no real nead to earn a living.
  • extended lifespans and medical technolgy mean that concepts of family, gender and sexuality beome very fluid.
  • $\begingroup$ This is, although short, a great answer. Accept for the first point (as there is only one society really), these all fit perfectly into the story. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 11 '16 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ Since the culture has been mentioned there is one other very important facet thereof. There are super intelligent AIs and where it really matters, it is these beings that run the culture, not the flesh and blood humans and others. Opinions vary as the precise status of humans. "Much loved pets" is one answer! $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Nov 12 '16 at 14:36

Actually, our own history has proven that without competition, there is little to no progress. Although this might sound controversial, since most of the great philosophers and thinkers came from a society at peace, a closer look proofs that once a society reaches a certain level of "perfectness" it stops progressing until proven not as perfect as previously thought.

The Chinese are a perfect example. China, once united, became a place of peace and philosophy, a meritocracy where seemingly everybody could reach a certain level of wealth. But on the other hand, this stable state stopped any real progress in science (in which china at that time was leading) and society (which was based on unchangeable Confucianism). After centuries in that bubble, the "western" forces pretty much just took every piece of China they wanted, backed by military and scientific superiority. There are some other examples that come to mind, starting with ancient Greek society to the current defacto only super power USA.

Based on what our own history teaches, once you reach a certain non-competition state, you will kind of stop developing until forced otherwise. Your race seems to be perfectly in place right there... Reached the perfect state and pretty much stays there.

On another note, the only reason why our current society is based on progress, is because of the wealth distribution... There would be enough for everyone, but to sustain our current wealth level, we depend on others being poor. Once that is no longer the case, there is no real need for further progress and society would go into that "slow growing" state you describe.

  • $\begingroup$ Isolationism had more to do with China's scientific torpor than social progress. $\endgroup$ – RedOculus Nov 11 '16 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @RedOculus interesting, care to eplain how isolationism stopped scientific progress in switzerland or the soviet union, or where the need to stop cultural exchange came from, if not from a political system stuck in the believe to have found the perfect philosophic solution and hence any outside interference would be more damaging than benefiting? Worldcrafting is about theorizing and establishing rules - it does not matter if the rules you establish are the ones of the real world, as long as you can EXPLAIN it inside that universe. You threw a sentence at me you probably read somewhere... $\endgroup$ – Ninigi Nov 13 '16 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure that one species' history (moreso one interpretation of that one history) "proves" anything about cultural necessity generally $\endgroup$ – Stilez Nov 19 '16 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Stilez good point, that's actually where we all have to take a step back and ask "what are we doing here?". We are telling stories, creating worlds and characters, we want to make them as approachable as possible. The one point we can just not ever breach is the one that goes beyond anyones mind, because we just do not know... So we always refer to what we know, so whenever we create a world we try to make references to real world examples. Does not mean it is an absolute truth :) $\endgroup$ – Ninigi Nov 19 '16 at 17:34

Simply people will make things. Creativity and curiosity are unstoppable. They will make music, paint paintings, write fiction, poetry too, carve wood and stone. They will study their past -- history, palaeontology, and archaeology. They will study nature -- plants, animals, insects, marine creatures. There will be sports and games to play. There are stars to study. Astronomy is for everybody.

They explore their planet by hiking, bush walking, mountain climbing, scuba diving, and soaring through its atmosphere. Forget about passively indulging in boredom. With their long lives and few obstacles they will throw themselves into living. They can afford to take the risks. They have the medical science to repair damaged bodies and do it all again.

While they don't need further technological innovations, there will be ample scope for plain old fashioned scientific research of curiosity driven type.

Basically this civilization will be living through a permanent and continuous artistic, cultural and academic renaissance. They will live like no-one has lived before.

  • $\begingroup$ ah, you see now two people have said very similar things, it's going to be a massive pain to choose $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 11 '16 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @XenoDwarf btw if this is related to your other question, wouldnt it make a lot of sense that a people who are focused on rebuilding a planet would make their main progress in that field and pretty much nothing else? $\endgroup$ – Ninigi Nov 11 '16 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Niniji yes, it is. However they finished 'rebuilding thousands of years ago, the rest they left to nature, so other than the monitoring every few hundred years they wouldn't interact with the surface. Side note: the underground part was left out in this question as I thought it unnecessary at the time. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 12 '16 at 4:19

finding new experiences and new people to talk to. Terry Pratchett had an interesting idea about a race that reaches the point that they really stop experiencing anything new, they hit their evolutionary constraints on thought. so they they start looking for other races and then start learning about them to the extend they can kinda live vicariously through them. So then can start getting new opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Newness is going to be very valuable, as will skill, anyone can have a computer built tablet, not many will be able to hand make one. you see the same thing to day things made by craftsman having value simply because they are hard to make by hand even though machines can make them better.

  • $\begingroup$ You make a good point, however this is one city isolated on an other-wise uninhabited planet, so I'm not sure where they'd find other races. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Nov 11 '16 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ @XenoDwarf: If they have a whole planet, why would they all live in a city? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 12 '16 at 3:22


Somebody has to make major decisions for their culture.

  1. Who do we goto war with? Ever culture who is not a complete isolationist will eventually have conflict with other races.
  2. Resource usage: Do we have enough ships,food, etc
  3. Long term planning, what do we want to achieve in the next 10,100,1000yrs.
  4. Obviously art,music, and theater will be big for entertainment.
  5. Maybe holodecks
  6. Unless maintenance is 100% automated, and even maintaining the maintenance robots is automated somebody has to care for them.
  7. Become colonist, and colonize other planets.(new experience abound)
  8. Which new tech will make into the next model of star ship

Everyone else will move into holodecks, and live there and share experiences until their is nothing new to experience. Then they invite alien cultures in and bring in more new things to combine in new ways with the old things.

When everyone has experienced everything, then it will be like in the Q continuum on Star Trek voyager when Cpt. Janeway gets to visit it. A bunch of old people sitting around, being the scare crow for 1000+ yrs. Until they stumble on something new and exciting to do.


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