In the not too distant future, technology is developed that allows human minds to be scanned by nanobots, uploaded to a server, and then downloaded into artificially produced organic bodies, essentially undoing death for anyone with:

  1. The foresight to inject or ingest some nano bots.
  2. A strong internet connection.
  3. Sufficient funds to pay for a new body.

For people meeting these criteria, death becomes something to be played with and laughed at, and in some contexts becomes almost a recreational activity. The ultra-rich pay their underlings to jump off a bridge to demonstrate their authority; college frat boys prank their friends by spiking the punch with cyanide and downloading them into a female body; snuff films become a semi-legitimate genre; etc.

It's all good fun -- unless the manner of death is particularly drawn-out and painful. Specifically, imagine the following dilemma: Johnny is going to be burned to death. Maybe he's being paid to do it as part of a particularly elaborate pro wrestling introduction. Maybe he's going to pretend to sacrifice himself to the devil in order to infiltrate a cult. Maybe he's just a weird dude. In any case, he's not a masochist, and while he's definitely going to be burned to death he wants it to be relatively painless.

What can Johnny do to make being burned alive less excruciating? He can handle some moderate discomfort, but from the time he is set on fire to the time his mind is gone, he has to avoid experiencing pain serious enough to make him seriously reconsider his life choices.

Keep in mind he is literally going to be burned to death: his flesh is lit on fire, then the fire kills him, then the fire dies down and people gawk at his ashes. He won't be killed by suffocation. If he falls unconscious it's either due to tissue damage from the fire or some external measure he deliberately takes to shorten the experience. I don't know how long it takes a human to burn down, but for story purposes he needs to be on fire and conscious for around five to fifteen minutes. He can add gasoline or other accelerants if he wants to, but he shouldn't be immediately incinerated. That would be boring.

I imagine drugs will play a central role, but if so which ones, at what dosage? And besides the direct pain, what other factors will Johnny have to prepare for, and how?

Edit: Johnny has a moderate budget, but a very limited number of resuscitations, and only two days to prepare.

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    $\begingroup$ Would someone please explain the closevote? I fail to see how this could be considered "too story based." I'm clearly asking about what a character could do, not what they would or should do. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ @ApproachingDarknessFish Why is that not going to happen? Is he going to wear breathing apparatus? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ Any reasonable fire will deplete the oxygen enough to cause unconciousness pretty quickly. The high CO2 levels would add to the agony until that happened (desperate for air) but the CO (and there will be some; the question is just how much) would speed up the loss of consciousness and probably be the cause of death. Pretty much as @Robin said. You'd need to provide air for breathing (via a mask) for this not to be the case -- then you're essentially inventing a torture system. $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ What a wuss! His pre-uploaded backup copy won't remember the pain, will it? Once you accept that your existence continues not in the original body, but in the restored backup, it is irrelevant what will happen to the original. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderKosubek And conversely, whatever my pre-uploaded backup copy gets up to, I will obviously not experience any of it - I will die in horrible pain. It baffles my why anyone would consider nano-replication even remotely similar to immortality in the first place. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 17:53

14 Answers 14


If you have read 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', you may recall the henchman with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIP), which does exactly what it says on the label - the henchman is literally incapable of feeling pain.

According to Wikipedia, the mostly likely causes of this condition are 1) an increased production of endorphins in the brain, or 2) mutations in certain components of the nervous system which cut off the ability for pain signals to propagate and reach the brain (apologies; the descriptions are way too scientific for me to explain adequately).

Given that the technology exists in your universe for bodies to be artificially produced, I am going to go ahead and assume that such mutations can also be artificially coded for in the bodies. Go ahead and create such a body that comes with CIP built in (I suspect this will be very popular with your aforementioned rich death seekers), copy Johnny's mind over, burn him, then remind him to scream convincingly while he feels a warm and pleasant tickling sensation.

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    $\begingroup$ I would read a book entitled "The Henchman with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain" $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby: sequel “The Henchman who Played with Fire, Repeatedly” $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine: And to wrap up the trilogy, "The Henchman who kicked the Hornet's Nest... For Kicks." $\endgroup$
    – Xenocacia
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ There are children born without the ability to feel pain. They can still function all right, usually because they can feel pressure just fine, but they tend to not live long because pain is pretty important. All you would need to do is have nano bots block, inhibit, or sever the nerves in the neck, and you become numb to pain below the neck until your gruesome death. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ I would be... cautious... about intentionally doing something like this. I could see this for a specialized group of people such as front-line soldiers. But this could actually be a serious problem for "regular" people. Pain tells us when something is wrong and if you're incapable of feeling pain, then plenty of every day situations actually become more dangerous because you have one less sense (which is almost always reflexive) to tell your brain, "HEY! YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING BAD AND YOU SHOULD STOP IMMEDIATELY!" Not to mention any internal issues someone may develop. $\endgroup$
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 22:11

Morphine, a lot of morphine. I got hit by a car doing 80, and was pretty messed up and left altogether for a while. Once they got me to the hospital I was in a whole new world of pain. A shot of morphine in the thigh later I was quite possibly still in pain, but I didn't care.

No need to worry about him getting addicted, he's just about to die anyway. Just try not to overdose him. Perhaps some heroin as well. Might as well go out laughing.

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    $\begingroup$ Morphine==heroin $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisH I have no actual idea, but since one is processed in regulated labs, and the other by underground cooks with low morals and no scruples, I'd say they're probably different. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ Friend of mine suffered bad burns to the soles of their feet. Got morphine for it while in the emergency ward. Described the experience as such; thinking "Hm... I am in pain. I am in a lot of pain. But... I could not care less!". $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisH Morphine and heroin are similar, but not the same. Different chemical compositions until the heorin is deacytalized into morphine (on the inside of the blood brain barrier, if the heroin was injected). Irony of ironies: heroin was developed and marketed as a less addictive form of morphine! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Kilisi It's more accurate to say that morphine == heroin + acetyl molecule. However, there is also prescription heroin. (Laws don't always make sense.) $\endgroup$
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 17:43

I have a very simple answer for you. A drug, or tech that works like a drug. Versed. Pronounced Ver-said. Aka Midazolam. No matter how painful an experience is, if you can't remember it, isn't like it never happened?

I have seen this drug in action.

Although it is supposed to reduce pain, it also reduces inhibition. So the athlete stoically gritting their teeth through a shoulder dislocation--on versed, instead of on the other drugs, he yells and screams as they try and put it back in. But 20 minutes later, he'll ask you if the doctor has been by to try to put it back in. Because he doesn't remember. It's not so much that it reduces the pain, as it erases the ability to form short term memories.

So, in short, if your character knows they are going to die horribly within a short amount of time, release the chemical into the bloodstream. It will still be painful. The audience might like the screams and gore. But Johnny doesn't have to remember it.

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    $\begingroup$ Basically just turn off the internet connection before you set yourself on fire has the same effect and should be much simpler to organise. $\endgroup$
    – Christoph
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ There is something about this solution that nags at me... something reminiscent of the teleporter that destroys the original copy and creates a new copy from scratch at the destination. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps Johnny would be okay this after acquiring his new body, but this certainly wouldn't seem very appealing before that, when he's still in the body (and continuation of consciousness) that's going to suffer one of the most horrific deaths imaginable. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ @ApproachingDarknessFish But this is mostly how Versed works. There is a benzo component but it doesn't actually DO much. People just don't remember. And at the time YES, they are in a LOT of pain. Ask them though, and they don't recall, and Versed is great, despite the fact that they were yelling bloody murder in pain at the time. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ While an interesting thought in its own, it does neither answer the question (how make being burned less painfull) nor help Jonny. He alrady has the ultimate forgetting solution - he is burned to ashes. He is timid and wants to reduce the pain... $\endgroup$
    – AnoE
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 12:22

Johnny can just boot up a new body now and burn that.

He won't feel a thing.

  • $\begingroup$ Kudos for thinking out of the box, and I bet the OP has an unspoken additional rule that there can be no parallel instances of one identity alive at a time, as these stories normally do... $\endgroup$
    – AnoE
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 12:24

As an addition to the answer of Xenocacia, since I cannot comment yet.

There has been an interesting article on pain reduction research on wired.com: https://www.wired.com/2017/04/the-cure-for-pain/

Basically, it comes down to that: there is one specific sodium channel, which is linked to experiencing (or not experiencing) pain. This channel is encoded by one single gene - if this gene is mutated in one "direction" or another, it can cause the affected person to either feel constant pain or none.

It was the breakthrough Waxman had spent his life working toward: “We now had a fully convincing link from Nav1.7 to pain.” This meant that if his team could somehow regulate or even turn off the Nav1.7 channel, they could regulate or even turn off how we experience certain kinds of pain.

By studying those 12 families’ genomes throughout 2001 and 2002, Xenon found a common trait among those with insensitivity to pain: mutations in a single gene, SCN9A, and the non­functioning sodium channel it encodes, Nav1.7.

So right now there is already research into how to use this to help people with chronic pain, surely, this could be used in the "not so far future" to help with your kind of scenario.

  • $\begingroup$ Please don't use answer as comments. This is just about alright because it pretty much works as an answer on its own but try not to write answers that reply to another answer.. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ At the time, I did not have the privilege to comment yet, but I felt that my information could be relevant to the question. In the future, I will comment in this case :) $\endgroup$
    – Aember
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 13:17

The nanobots, to be able to work, must be able to correctly decode memory and sensorial input. It stands to reason that once you can do that, it is relatively trivial to:

  • inject stimuli that aren't there - virtual reality on steroids.
  • censor stimuli which aren't wanted - this is what Johnny wants.
  • rewrite stimuli as something different.

Basically, once you have the nanobots in your central nervous system, they need very little to perform like a neural firewall - the "nerve block" used by

the Lensman Kimball Kinnison when he's captured by the Eich and tortured almost to death by a Delgonian. He remains conscious and is relatively unperturbed by his body being hacked to pieces, to the extent that all the time he is free to concentrate on mentally hijacking a bug to have it lower his enemy's defensive shield.

So, if Johnny wants to not feel pain, he just wishes it so. This is also useful because if he can feel pain, it means the nanobots are not working and he's going to get snuffed for real.


How much time does Johnny have to prepare, and exactly how big of a budget does he have?

If he has plenty of time and a big enough budget, he wouldn't need drugs at all. Instead, he merely needs to sever his spinal cord at the C1 vertebra.

Ideally, what you're looking for is major damage to the spinal cord with tetraplegia (paralysis and loss of sensation) from the neck down. He'll need to be tied to something in order to stand and until the moment of his death he may need a ventilator, but except for his head, he won't be feeling pain at all when he's set ablaze.

Why does he need a budget? Can't he just slip in the shower or annoy a Russian submarine captain? Sure, but spinal cord injuries are unpredictable, and you need a specific effect. You'd be hard-pressed to get the results you want on the first try, but luckily, death isn't the end! With a large enough budget, Johnny can just keep breaking his neck over and over until he gets exactly the spinal cord injury he's looking for. To minimize his pain, a willing friend could be standing by with a pistol to execute the Johnnies whose injuries resulted in either too much or not enough paralysis (and if there were 4 failed attempts before a success, you would be able to make a terrific 80's joke)

                                  Johnny 5 is alive!

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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't quite work for the context in aiming for, but +1 for an inventive solution. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ Can't help but think that a severed spinal column would be rather painful. $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Aron the nerve damage might be but if done surgically probably not. Only the nerves would need to be severed and by definition there's no sensation from beyond the break. $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ Steve, see this post on Worldbuilding Meta. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ I'm fairly sure he would feel pain when the skin of his face starts to burn... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 17:28

"for story purposes he needs to be on fire and conscious for around five to fifteen minutes."

I think this part may be problematic. Short of suffocating, your next leading cause of death will be shock. Being set on fire will likely put poor Jimmy into shock pretty quickly. He'll loose consciousness and likely go into cardiac arrest a good while before the 15 minute mark. 5 may be doable, but 15 seems like a stretch.

Which presents the next catch, anything Jimmy could do to reduce his suffering could possibly prolong his suffering. Any combination of drugs to reduce the pain would also either reduce his likelihood of going into shock and loosing consciousness, or suppress his breathing causing him to suffocate.

He'll also have to avoid breathing, to avoid suffocating. Sounds strange I know, but beyond suffocating from smoke inhalation, he'll also need to avoid breathing hot gasses that can effectively seer the lungs.

His best chance to avoid pain would probably be a series of local anesthetic injections, but he probably wouldn't be able to appear upright and mobile afterward.

Overall the best way to go would be quickly, but aparently that's boring...


You really don't need an "extra": During the Vietnam war 10 people, both American and Vietnamese self-immolated in protest. Encourage this Johnny that his sacrifice will help bring support to a cause he feels deeply for and his mind will do the rest.

  • $\begingroup$ Merely having a noble cause is insufficient for responding calmly to the pain and destruction of burning to death. There is some explanation of the preparations necessary in the answers here: quora.com/… $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 22:49

Forget spending the resources to give these people new bodies.

Virtual Hells

Just run their minds in simulation and subject them to whatever cruel torture you can imagine. When their virtual body dies, reincarnate them again. And again. And again. Or maybe their virtual bodies don't die at all and they're subject to the excruciating pain of every virtual molecule of their battered, burned, torn, bleeding existence.

Way cheaper to run, way more capacity than prisons, and you could even offer tours to the living.

(And yes, I totally borrowed this from the Ian M. Banks novel Surface Detail.)


For me, the crucial point is: When exactly is the copy of the mind created?

If it's done just before/after he dies... The clone will remember all the pain and maybe become crazy... So no one will ever accept that.

If it's done before burning him, the clone will never remember a thing. So there is no problem and the wrestler (or whatever) can accept to endure anything knowing that this memory will be lost forever, he will just wake up in his new body with no memory of the show and a big pile of money (so... no problem ^^ ).

And I don't see the point in druging him... if such a society existed, this kind of cruelty will have no limits and will be done for fun.

There is no fun in burning someone who doesn't feel a thing, what people want to see (no matter how horrible it seems to us) is the pain and terror of the victim... not just a dummy like burning...


Pain-inhibiting drugs have been mentioned earlier. You may want to induce a coma - this is one of the ways used on severely burned people to lessen the pain while their skin regenerates (no pain at all, but no conscience either).

There was an episode of House, MD (Distractions, S02E12) where House wakes up such a patient from an induced coma state to ask him some questions. The patient wakes up and slowly realizes that he is in pain (and is put back to coma).


If you are looking for a premise to feign pain without feeling it you have a couple options:


Pre-remove of implement a switch to suddenyl sever your brain's pain-processing center


Drug overdoses of many stimulants can induce a nonsensical seizure. So now he can overdose of painkillers & stimulants to be nonsensical, and still be able to writhe around in pain.

Assuming your state is too nonsensical to scream you may want to add psychedelics to induce some psychotic behaviour.

Otherwise you may have to pre-record the scream and playback on a small device.

Sacrifice a Clone


Jimmy can hide in an empty clone box at the facility to be reincarnated at the "legal" time.

In all instances I would suggest regenerating from a point of time prior to the burning.


In your scenario as described, the interests of the victim and the audience are at odds. The victim would like to be oblivious to what's going on, but burning someone who's indifference to the experience wouldn't be much more interesting than burning an inanimate body equipped with an artificial blood-circulating pump. While it would be easy to synthesize some drugs out of hand-wavium that would allow the victim to feel nothing but still be capable of acting as though he's in extreme pain, I don't think the fictional-world audiences nor the real-world readers would find that terribly satisfying.

I think you could make things more interesting if the audience didn't merely want to watch victims "die" in extreme pain, but rather rewarded victims for their ability (or their snapshot-clones' ability) to function in extremely painful situations. If, for example, a stage were built near the focal point of a solar collection array and the victim/clone were be tasked with moving as many objects around as possible before his body was burned so badly that it could no longer move, then both the audience and the victim would want to avoid having the experience be so painful as to cause premature immobilization.

I would suggest two possible variations on this concept:

  1. If you want the victim to actually live through the experience, you might perhaps protect the victim's brain using a helmet and an insulated artificial circulation system along with a safety harness that would pull it out of harm's way before it got too hot; a new body could then be regrown around the victim's brain at that point, but the victim afterward would have actually gone through the experience.

  2. A snapshot is made of the victim's mind and a clone with that snapshot is then given whatever drugs would best aid his functioning and put to the (fatal) test. In this scenario, the victim would never directly have to live through the experience, but the only way the clone-victim would be able to effectively perform the required task would be if the person to be cloned had undergone suitable mental preparation for the task, and knew what combination of drugs would be most effective. Achieving those things would require that the person undergo a lot of painful testing and experimentation. The non-clone person would not need to endure actually being burned to death, but the more pain the person was willing to endure during testing and preparation, the more effectively the clone would be able to perform its task.

Perhaps the two approaches could be combined. If the former style of test would be feasible, even if audiences would only be interested in watching clones compete in genuinely-fatal circumstances, the former, "protected" style might be the most effective way of ensuring that one's clones would have the mental preparation required to perform effectively.


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