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Imagine a meta-human, one engineered to be immortal. A combination of cybernetic enhancements, genetic engineering, and other scientific modifications have made it so this human will not die from aging, and is very hard to kill. They are designed to be a magnificent soldier, and if they start suffering psychological issues, it's intended that their mind can be fiddled with to "fix" them.

Things happen. Rebellion, war, apocalypse, shifting society, new laws - There's so many ways it could happen. End result: This immortal is now free. The cost? There are no others like them.

Further Information:

  • Said Immortal views themselves, being immortal, a bit abhorrent to begin with, the results of people playing with things they shouldn't be playing with. They are, however, areligious. Not atheistic, exactly, just not worried about the question of religion at all.
  • Given the above, this Immortal would reject anything akin to worship. Not that it would stop some people.
  • This Immortal was designed to function in both a communal setting and an individual setting - Being a soldier, they should be able to play well with squadmates, chains of command, and the like, but they also need to be able to function alone for an extended duration. Personality wise, they tend to be more of a loner.
  • Similar to this question, HOWEVER, I am not worrying about the outside world, more of how it would affect the Immortal's mind.

Given this setup, what sort of psychological impact would this have, over the span of centuries or millenia, and how would this affect the Immortal's actions/character? I'm looking for <1500 years. Beyond that and society tends to do strange, unpredictable things.

Things I am NOT looking for:

  • Biological/genetic/etc implications. I'm not interested in the how - That's the scope for another question, perhaps. I'm also not interested in biological effects, such as being a carrier for diseases, etc. Again, another question.
  • Creating more Immortals as the solution. The plot involves said Immortal being strongly against the creation of more immortals. See Further Information above.
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    $\begingroup$ This question is somewhat related and this one may be interesting for you too. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 11 '17 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ A good set of matches, thanks! They'll probably result in some edits and clarifications to the question to keep it in the correct scope. $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 11 '17 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ You say engineered. But what is the psychological chasis (if you will) that this being's mind is based (or build) on? It would make a world of difference if this is a social being or a loner by nature, for example. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Mar 11 '17 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ There are three questions here, each of which could easily be a standalone question. I think this question is too broad. You should try to narrow it down a bit, and take care to avoid duplicating an existing question. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 12 '17 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ This should not have the science-based tag. There isn't anything we can base it off of... $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Mar 13 '17 at 14:02
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Given we're talking about affect on the mind, let's dive into the psychology and sociology that make up a 'grain of sand on a beach'.

Humans are social beings. We crave meaningful interaction with other's who are like-minded enough to get along with (Tribal nature of humans), but we can value those different enough to offer us a greater chance of survival should something unexpected happen (think having a nerd and a jock being 'best friends' for survival reasons).

For this reason, it's likely your immortal will feel like an outcast no matter where they go. After all, they don't age (everyone else does). They're a soldier, not too many they'd interact with are. They're 'made', everyone else is born. They stick out like an cat at a dogshow, even if only in the immortal's mind.

What's more, you get 'lost passions' syndrome. Meaning even if this immortal overcomes internal stumbling stones (self-loathing, 'being a freak'), even if they find friends that accept them as they are (whether they know is irrelevant to my point), they will outlive that person/those people. They will grow close to them, watch them grow old and feeble, and eventually die--leaving our immortal alone.

This is a festering wound in the mind of someone that will have to shut themselves off emotionally to survive. They will eventually learn to never get close to people, because they will either treat them like a freak, or they will die. Neither option is good for the immortal's mental well-being.

Compounded by hundreds of years of this? The more social a creature this immortal is, the worse the prognosis. The less social this immortal is, the worse the prognosis. You face a powerful warrior that will eventually develop either an inferiority complex or a god complex, which will be couched in pain, rejection, and loneliness.

Being alone for centuries is not good for anyone. Loner or no, social butterfly or no. It leads to thinking to pass the time, and that thinking slowly grows more and more warped without someone to bounce said thinking off of to ground them back in reality.

All in all, this immortal is a ticking timebomb. Good luck with that ;) (it would make for one hell of a story I'd love to read!)

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    $\begingroup$ Well, I never particularly imagined this Immortal as being particularly stable after a while. Seems like I had a decent intuition with that. Most stable people wouldn't nuke a city to ensure elimination of a handful of people that MAY have a civilization-ending bio-plague $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 12 '17 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon Quite true. And with that, you've earned yourself a fangirl! $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Mar 12 '17 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe related: See Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan for the psychological impact of both immortality and omniscience $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Mar 27 '17 at 8:54
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Said Immortal views themselves, being immortal, a bit abhorrent to begin with, the results of people playing with things they shouldn't be playing with. They are, however, areligious. Not atheistic, exactly, just not worried about the question of religion at all.

The phrase "Things man was not meant to know" is actually religious in context. Viewing themselves as abhorrent because man was not meant to tinker with certain things--that's a religion-based idea. That's where it comes from, because in the humanist view, man has a mandate to tinker--nothing is the purview of God. It might be something a humanist might DECIDE for practical or moral reasons that we shouldn't be doing, but this grand idea of "people playing with things they shouldn't be playing with" implies that there are some kind of universal rules as to what is allowed and what is not--which, hey, that sounds a lot like something God would be doing.

My point is--if they hold the view of abhorrence of themselves and it comes from that idea, they may subconsciously be holding on to the idea of God, even if they don't realize it.

Given the above, this Immortal would reject anything akin to worship. Not that it would stop some people.

Strangely enough, if the Immortal did believe in God, they would be more likely to reject worship because they might believe that it isn't their place to be one. If they don't believe in God, then it actually makes more sense that because they are the closest thing to it, they might actually allow it--protecting folks as best they can if they are good, and taking advantage of all the benefits with little moral computions if they lean more towards selfishness.

This Immortal was designed to function in both a communal setting and an individual setting - Being a soldier, they should be able to play well with squadmates, chains of command, and the like, but they also need to be able to function alone for an extended duration. Personality wise, they tend to be more of a loner

Even loners eventually make friends. The usual psyche impact we see is dealing with the pain of all their friends and loved ones dying, and maybe avoiding relationships of any kind with people because of it--just moving from place to place.

These summarize an excellent cracked article, with my own flavor thrown in:

  • Eventually they will get trapped under something. Given an infinite amount of time and earth conditions, this will happen. And it might drive them insane. They could be trapped under something for YEARS.
  • Memory issues. So you say that " if they start suffering psychological issues, it's intended that their mind can be fiddled with to "fix" them" however after a generation no one will be left who knows how. There's only so much room on our hard drive, and it's possible they may have holes in their memories for a lot of different reasons--as a protection psychologically or because they don't need to recall everything and old memories might get overwritten. Doctor Who's Ashildr, aka Me, developed these problems, and it might be a good model. An immortal who can't remember is also something you will find throughout lit, comics, and movies. It's a thing for a reason. Also consider severe head trauma, which may happen to them at some point, depending on their abilities. They might heal, but that doesn't mean they will recover the memories. Not remembering might have a psyche impact, but this is something for the individual.
  • Your perception of time speeds up with age. For a five year old, one year is a fifth of their lives--and it seems like forever. For a fifty year old, a year seems to pass very quickly because it's a smaller percentage of the life they have lead so far. This may lead to insanity--it certainly might make said immortal callus. From the article:

So when you're 100 years-old, a minute will seem six seconds long compared to a minute when you were 10. If you live for 1,000 years, a 50-year marriage spent with a woman for her entire adult life, will have the same significance to you as the girl you dated for a few years back in college.

What this means relationshipwise is that regular humans may consider their relationship more meaningful than the immortal considers them. Six months of friendship is a significantly long time for a 6 year old, and matters to them greatly. You could argue that is why everything seems so damn IMPORTANT when you're a kid or a teenager. And you get frustrated when some adult comes along and goes "eh, it'll be fine. Or it won't. You'll make new friends/be able to see it when it comes out on video/find another pair of jeans/get another job/find a new girlfriend." The adult has perspective and experience--sometimes they do remember that old urgency, and understand that it matters to you, but your immortal may view adult humans crying over death in the same way that an adult human views a crying kid who has lost their toy. The adult understands that it's very important to the kid, and they may want to comfort them, but they are unlikely to feel the same sort of deep empathy that they would feel if they were comforting a relative who had just lost a loved one to death.

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The psychological impact would be, over time, no different than it is for a non-engineered, typical lifespan human of naturally occurring high-level soldiering skills, for the very reason that they are "magnificent" soldiers and still basically human.

Learning and Adaptability

In order to be at that high-functioning level, this human is extremely intelligent, which means they excel at two of the best human traits: the ability to learn from experience and the ability to adapt to changing environments. In the beginning of their life, there could be a transition period where initial adjustments to handling their immortality challenges includes dramatic ups and downs in emotional response, but the high level of intelligence and learning capability will make this phase shorter than it would be otherwise.

Adjustment Period

If at first they shut themselves off from others emotionally during the adjustment period, it will likely not last long, as they will be able to quickly learn to regulate how emotionally invested they allow themselves to be, and will adjust their emotional involvement as they see is best, learning as they go. You are, after all, talking about a very high-functioning individual; they will adapt. It is unlikely they will continue to see themselves as being any more or less valuable than any other living being since with more time than most to add to their intelligence the wisdom of experience, they will reject being overly judgmental, including about themselves.

Over the Long Haul

Because they retain social functioning drives and skills, yet have a tendency to be a loner by personality, they will most likely over the longer period of time, vacillate between periods of social interaction and periods of reflective seclusion. It would be likely that some of the seclusion periods would be shared with anywhere between one and a dozen other like-minded people, meaning those people would be similarly intelligent enough not to judge the immortal for being different than themselves. This provides satisfaction for the social interaction without being too much for the loner tendency.

They will incorporate procreation and highly involved interpersonal relationships like friendship, partnership, and family living within the more social periods. Having been through it a time or two before, they will be prepared for and more easily handle the loss of loved ones. Multiple cycles of these experiences enables them to adjust how emotionally connected they allow themselves to be in different relationships. They will get better at adjusting this connection appropriately to the needs of their companions, choosing to commit to high levels of connection for children and some adults that need the extra connection. They will get better at choosing the right people with which to engage.

They will spend some time during their solitary periods being less active and more reflective, reviewing past experiences and what they learned from them, as well as exploring new ideas and contemplate in which direction to take their lives when they are ready to enjoy another adventure.

Self Actualization

They will achieve self actualization, which the dictionary defines as: the achievement of one's full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world.

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I would think that the idea Neal Asher had in his Polity Universe is quite fitting. In that setting, people can live for hundreds of years biologically, and survive many otherwise deadly happenings. Can you imagine what might be the number one cause of death?

It is boredom. People get reckless or even outright kill themselves.

People strife for something in their lives. Our sensory apparatus is built for perceiving differences. You can see this in the touch and heat reception of the human skin - the brain is going to dismiss the information about it, if it is more or less constant. We get accustomed to the feeling, and it will seem normal. This is also the case with the visual apparatus - you simply cannot be aware of differences without movement - change - in the images you perceive.

It is also known that repetetive experiences will dull the senses, up to a point where people just live to be alive and feed their children.

Now imagine you have to endure this for several lifetimes. Even though the individual activity may be interesting, it is likely that even these casual "new experiences", even though some of them are extremely interesting and/or even traumatizing for a normal human, will be dull and increasingly boring for the immortal.

So, I would guess there may be another three things (in addition to what other answers already tell) that will heavily influence the Immortal psychically.

  1. Looking for the new: The immortal always tries to experience something new, interesting, different.
  2. Nothing is really exciting: The immortal is disillusioned and noninvolved, why would you care to intervene if, in the end, everything stays the same / nothing is really different to what he already experienced several times.
  3. Looking for more risk: Since the immortal already has experienced so much, he might increase risk of death / failure in his actions, being more reckless, accepting more challenging missions, even going in without backup in a firefight, to be able to experience the thrill of something new, different, exciting.
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I don't get the "very hard to kill" thing. Imprison them and what, they just go on stand-by for the next million years? Shoot them in the head and their brains grow back exactly as if it never happened? If so, then you're talking magic and you can have them be, psychologically, anyway you want them to be.

I know you said you weren't interested in the biology (meaning in the science) but why bother asking us here then, this forum is based on answering questions based on the science. Assuming you have a creature whose brain can be replicated and modified at will (which is about what you describe, it would be some sort of regeneration, possibly in a tank) then their psychological stability wouldn't depend on very long term effects, since those are exactly the ones easiest to wash/wipe away.

We can also debate how much a human brain can retain, how much of my 20th year will I remember if I were to be a healthy 120 year old? I'd guess not much, there will be natural turn-over (restructuring) and memories will erode over time, leaving just the most emotional (both positive (love, accomplishment) and negative (pain, despair, failure) but especially the positive).

A stable personality will be forgiving - it's like the AA prayer: Give me the patience to bear those things I can not change, the strength to change those things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. S/He would rapidly become rich (the power of compound interest). His/her intellect would become no greater than whatever s/he was given, IQ wise. S/He would be forward oriented, possibly to unusual extent. {what, you killed my wife? well, since I don't think you will do it again, let's go out and grab a beer.} Why? Because dwelling on past misfortune and mistakes would rapidly become all encompassing.

Now, whether such a person is more like Christ or more like Anton Chigurh depends on programming or predisposition. S/He could be as sociable or asocial as you like. I don't think they'd tend to have many long-term friendships (spanning decades), but that depends on how good they are at letting go. (The better they are, the more "even keeled" they'd be, the worse they are, the more cyclical their disposition could be).

Quick to anger? Maybe. Quick to forgive? Maybe. But either way forward looking. Wo/Man of action? not necessarily. More of an Ivory Tower theoretician? maybe, maybe not.

I think most people are afraid of death, and s/he would be, but would probably be a lot more likely to take physical (and emotional) risks, given their more durable physics. Unless they (whoever they is) did a mind-wipe frequently, the Lazarus man would have to be forward looking, more so than most, I think. Other than that, I see few constraints.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! Interesting answer but I would like to point out that WorldBuilding.SE is not only about the science. We are about creating logically coherent worlds and if magic is part of the world then so be it. "Science-Based" may be our biggest category, but "magic" is quite big nonetheless. In this case you are right of course, as the OP used the "science-based"-tag. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 13 '17 at 8:14

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