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Congratulations, you've finally earned your space pilot's license! The only problem is, you can't afford a large enough ship to house more than one person (considering food, breathable air, refuse recycling, etc). And the only way to earn enough credits for a larger ship is to work the cargo lanes and haul freight from one remote location to another.

This, of course, isn't the environment in which mankind evolved. We aren't meant to survive for months at a time with no social interaction.

Not getting into the tangle of Faster Than Light travel, ignoring the interplanetary economics of supply and demand, and let's not even get started on safety precautions to keep you alive in the most deadly environment known to mankind.

I want to focus on how you're going to keep yourself sane when one trip can take weeks to months at a time, with no human on board but yourself. While keeping in mind the following:

  • Pets aren't allowed
  • No space for humanoid robots (recharge stations and all that jazz)
  • The only computer hardware on board is the NaviCom (to calculate trajectory and monitor life support systems) and a datapad.
  • Installing third party AI onto your NaviCom is tricky (and illegal, but the odds of being scanned are fairly low).
  • Acquiring official AI tech is so costly you might as well buy a larger ship. Monopolies are fun like that.
  • Humans have not evolved much past where we are today. So long-term solitude is still damaging.

Keep in mind your focus should be psychological and sociological in nature. So working out 18 hours a day, though arguably does keep you busy, it isn't the solution you think it is.

So. Recap. You need to travel alone (for reasons, and working for someone else to save money isn't the point), and each trip takes weeks to months at a time. How do you keep yourself sane within the offered constraints?

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    $\begingroup$ The real problem here is with the idea that humans are "meant" to do anything in particular. Simple observation suggests that some people thrive on solitude, still others aren't bothered by it. For instance, people who do single-handed sailing across oceans, or even around the world. These may be only a small fraction of the population, but they exist. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 3 '17 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ If your pilot is earning enough to buy a bigger ship, they are likely earning enough to plan some decent stopovers (with plenty of human interaction) between trips, and/or afford longer vacations if or when the accumulated solitary time starts getting to them. And, well, even months alone is not, I think, enough to be seriously damaging with willing, motivated participants and planned diversions (games, books). Years would be trickier, and may need people intrinsically more suited for a solitary life, as answers mention. $\endgroup$ – Megha Jun 5 '17 at 1:03
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There are always people that don't mind a few months without people.

But you seem to be missing the forest for the trees. From the source you actually linked in your question:

Indeed, marooned people have been left in solitude for years without any report of psychological symptoms afterwards

Under psychological effects in that very same source, they talk about how solitude can also be beneficial.

The difference, actually, is between having a choice or being forced to be alone, and what the person has to occupy their time.

Many of the studies that you will see on solitude deal with prisoners--which is not, psychologically the same as a person who chooses to be alone to achieve a goal.

There's going to be three types of people that do this:

  • Those who look forward to the human contact once the voyage is over and have a great time once they get to where they are going.
  • Those who never liked people in the first place or have gotten to that point--having to consider others is a bit weird. These people do things such as hanging up the phone when they are done with a conversation, without saying goodbye. A subset of these will be the folks who have no problem being alone, but get a little murdery when they have to bend to the will of others.
  • Those that need people so much that they fall apart during the journey. They might be okay once they get back to civilization but...I see these folk falling apart when something unexpected makes their journey longer than they had hoped. These folk might get into a port and stay there, until they can sign in for a two person voyage or larger crew, selling their ship in the meantime.

But I would argue that it's NOT that damaging. A month or two, or three of no contact with people when I've got a job to do (18 hours a day) AND entertainment on board.

Here's a link to an article on a person who voluntarily spends 4 months alone each year. Granted, they bring their dog, but still...

You don't actually say that phone calls or video chats can't happen, but I would assume that they can't. Otherwise, I would say a phone call to the folks at home would be something to look forward to.

Otherwise, here's what I would do:

  • Care package with a message a day for the loved one travelling. You can't say anything back, but at least someone you know is saying something to you. This can be recorded ahead of time, and programmed in to play a different message each day. I would make it a program where you enter in the data from loved ones, and the traveller is not allowed to play things ahead of time, although they are allowed to watch data from past dates. I would also include digital "gifts" from friends and family, like new games and things to pass the time. So, on day 42, your best friend says "Hey you're half-way through! As a reward, I had the computer hold this data until today. It's an old game called Tetris! Hours of fun and frustration! Good luck!"
  • For those without friends and family, well...maybe a fake version of this with actors who don't necessarily take up the parts of best friend and girlfriend, but send you generic messages each day, as well as a game each week.
  • Structure your days. Having a schedule is very helpful. Having music playing is helpful and therapeutic.
  • Keeping a logbook that you talk for is also helpful, otherwise you might not speak for days.
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    $\begingroup$ I like your angle on this. And the care package sounds so sweet. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Jun 10 '17 at 12:29
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Well, even considering that humans haven't evolved the more common isolate nature many have cultivated today, such "deviant" mindsets would still be a thing. There have always, even in the early days of mankind most likely, been people who prefer to be alone if possible. It was probably less commonly SEEN before a certain time in history because survival was almost a guaranteed "no go" if they acted on such solitary nature.

I say all that to point out that the isolation factor, while a hard niche to fill, especially if people are more communal in your world, isn't impossible to fill by any stretch I don't imagine. Intellectually-gifted people (which a pilot would need to be to some level, computer or not) have a natural tendency more toward this as well.

Boredom, however, is a trickier fish. More so with the aforementioned intellectually-gifted people. Still, assuming the "datapad" you speak of is at least as capable and powerful as the types of tablets we use in the loo now, it wouldn't be that hard to stay sane for most people of that mental profile.

Books, music and video would be negligible in storage costs in such an advanced world (heck, they're pretty negligible now - I have 100,000 ebooks on this computer). Games, at least ones no more complex than we play today, also wouldn't be too big a problem I shouldn't think.

It'd still be quite possible to go somewhat stir crazy in such a situation. But do remember, sentient minds are very adaptable, so that would become less of a problem as time went by, and the individuals got used to the routine and shape of such a lifestyle. People adopt all kinds of "extreme" lifestyles, coming from otherwise normal means here.

Now, if my notion of what a datapad can handle is completely at odds with how you envision them, let me know and I'll append another part to this answer to address even that level of deprivation. In all honesty though, an interstellar society's cheapest, most garbage handheld device is -guaranteed- to be vastly more powerful than the most costly gaming rig you could build right now. It's a mathematical certitude just like Moore's law.

Edit: I actually do wanna tack on a sociological ramification of prolonged lifestyles like these, especially in a society where "loners" are far less of a normality than in our own.

It would actually be far easier for them to adapt to -being- so alone, versus adapting to no longer being alone after the fact. Think of it like a computer running a very complex algorithm. When you simplify the algorithm, you can strip away some of the ram and maybe put a weaker CPU in there, and it'll perform just fine. But to bring back the more complex algorithm, without building back on, would put undue strain on the device, right?

That'll be a problem for these pilots. Few of them will ever readjust to a more communal setting after a long time doing this job. That's where the real sanity problems will come into play I suspect. Sociopathy could be a real problem for them. That's a harmless malady if they continue to live such an isolationist life plying their trade, but a real problem when they try to reintegrate into society. This is double for a society where communal nature is more emphasized than in our own.

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent points. I'll keep your points in mind. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Jun 10 '17 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ No problem, glad I could help. You don't need to feel bad for not making mine "the" answer for this question. You can really only pick one, and Erin put some of the points we share into better detail and expression than I did, so I defer to them too frankly. $\endgroup$ – Cereza Jun 10 '17 at 19:18

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