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Imagine a world like ours, with humans that have a soul which passes on into a new human body, taking the memories with it. They get accessible during puberty, gradually. as the number of humans is increasing, if no old soul is available, a new one is created.

We all know, knowledge is power. Older souls have more knowledge. But wait, knowing who the king of Takatakaland was in 356 yields no benefit, it's commonly available knowledge. There are no undiscovered ancient ruins to poach, because many know about them. Being able to use a bow is nice and all, but guns are stronger.

The question is, what kind of knowledge does actually translate to power? Most things I learn during my life will be useless in a century. Having some more experience sounds nice and all, but knowledge doesn't necessarily make you wiser ...

I'm specifically looking for timeless skills. Is it reasonable to say that charisma and rhetorical skills would be among the "best"? Or is there a skill that could have been developed ages ago, perfected during the centuries and would now be of amazing usefulness?

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – James Sep 8 '17 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Recommended reading: "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" - that story deals with a very similar concept. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Nov 27 '17 at 16:08

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Knowledge is also experience. So the art of war, running a business, politics, law, medicine, many artistic skills, acting, etc. Even if a specific tidbit of historical data isn't really relevant, the accumulated experience of lifetimes, combined with a young body, can be a powerful combination. Folks will probably start to specialize to a high degree, compounding their lifetimes.

Some problems though. What about language? Are different cultures being mixed in or do you only get reincarnated into your own tribe? If your lifetime memory jumps from Japan to the Sahara, to Mesoamerica, to Victorian England then not only are you going to have a polyglot of languages, but almost anything culturally connected is going to have a disconnect.

Of course if this soul sharing goes on for more than a few generations then most of the world would probably homogenize as sharing technology, language, and advantageous customs would happen extremely quickly across great distances, with the bonus of having an expert tech to teach others, not just hearing about it or reverse engineering an example.

There will also have to be a mechanism to transfer wealth, since rich folks are gonna want to have access to their stuff in their next life. Secret societies based on hidden knowledge, used to authenticate past life identities, would probably be common since there is no other way to ensure your stuff goes just to you. Buried treasure will also become a thing as folks hide stuff and hope to one day get back to it in a new body.

I suspect there will be some attempt to stabilize society/technology so the older folks have an advantage over "virgin" souls. New souls will be more eager to develop something new so they can gain an advantage in their next life, otherwise they are competing with people with centuries of experience. So you will not have open universities and free sharing of information, instead it will more resemble the guild societies of earlier periods where admission is difficult and everything is verbally passed on.

This way the old souls can keep the new souls in check, regulate the development of civilization, and ensure LONG TERM plans, since these souls will still be around to reap what they have sown. Heck, they will probably interrogate everyone as they hit puberty to determine what "soul caste" they belong to, so once a servant always a servant, etc. So hidden knowledge would be the key to moving between castes, lower caste souls would always be trying to learn enough to get "promoted" in their next incarnation.

To address shufflepants, there are other significant considerations. What kind of medical care would you develop if death was not the end? Would you even try to save a critically injured person and commit all those resources? Would people want a long and painful recovery with permanent injury if they could just suicide? I suspect that most folks would persist, since death means it will be decades before "you" return, and if it is just memories in a new body that spent 12+ years of life as a new person, would "you" still be you? What if you gender swap? Get born into an ethnicity that you spent the last lifetime fighting against or suffering under? Clearly these memories probably don't carry the entire personality with them, Cloud Atlas aside, your soul may remember loving someone but won't necessarily still love them (even if there is now just a 13 year age difference). So memories stripped of emotional attachment will affect society differently than actual personality transference.

So society will definitely be very different. I almost wonder if people will just cluster in one area of the planet so your past memories will retain as much viability to your new life as possible. Since memories persist I think there would be a much lower birth rate once a modern medical system is established as environmental change would be a lot more noticeable, so human impact on the ecosystem would have to be very minimal. War would be just an ephemeral exercise in futility, since no one is actually dying and resources gained/disputes settled would redistribute again in a generation or two. Although a massive war (or famine/plague, etc) could "fill the queue" for soul reincarnation for decades, which would delay new souls from being born. Prolonged peacetime, conversely, may lead to population booms and a fresh injection of new souls, suckers that could be sent to do the hard jobs the old souls no longer what to do.

Some very interesting human genetic manipulation could also be possible. Only the tall and strong may be allowed to mate, for example, since there would be no pressing need to procreate since you could just wait for a more favorable reincarnation (and would have memories to appreciate the change in the population).

Can a soul be destroyed? Captured? Ascend into a heaven? No one may ever know but I suspect religions would spring up around these ideas and lead to ideological clashes.

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    $\begingroup$ I remember reading about a society that had laws for reincarnated individuals to legally claim their previous possessions and positions, but only if they were reborn into that particular society which had to technology to trigger the unlock of the previous life memories. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Sep 5 '17 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ This answer could be improved by going into some of the consequences of having confirmed reincarnation with memories with regard to suicide rates and how people's feelings towards death would change. If it's possible for two rich people to give birth to a person who was poor in their last life, how many down trodden would just kill themselves in hopes that this happens to them? Why fear death in battle when being reborn is a certainty. Why live in an old body when you could be a child again? Single, lonely, and ugly? Maybe I'll be beautiful next time? $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants Sep 5 '17 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt ethnicity would remain as influential as it is in our world. $\endgroup$ – aschepler Sep 5 '17 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ What about things like Murder as well? Assassins would have to be a bigger thing, because any obvious murder and you've only got about 15 years until some child can graphically explain how you did it. And mass-murder? Do you get charged for one lifetime only? We currently give sentences that go on for hundreds of years more to make a point and make sure the perpetrator never sees the light of day. Does that happen anymore? Do murderers sitting in jail for 30 years decide to kill themselves and effectively reduce their sentence down to 15? $\endgroup$ – Philbo Sep 6 '17 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Shufflepants, I have a feeling that child-rearing would become institutionalized, with a factory-like process to raise children until they 'awaken'. How would you feel about raising a child if you knew that you were most likely just growing a body for some stranger you'd never met before? $\endgroup$ – Dan Bryant Sep 6 '17 at 15:16
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I'm thinking the old souls get a huge advantage, mostly within the soft sciences.

Think about how many people make tons of money and wield great influence simply because they have a knack for reading people and can predict, with a decent amount of accuracy, what people will do. The Stock Market runs on this knack. A company is doing something and the sharp analyst predicts how people will react to that particular event. Example: Samsung announces the most amazing technology, say they have cracked the secret to Smell-o-vision and are looking to incorporate it into the Gear-VR. The Old soul analyst is going to hear about this and because of long experience with people and patterns, will be able to predict with a greater degree of accuracy than most. whether or not the Smellovision Gear VR will be a big thing or a bust. He will then invest or not accordingly.

In Politics, the Old Soul is going to be able to say "Hey guys, We tried this in Rome and the next thing we knew we got an Emperor and well, we had to stab him...but by then the damage was done". Imagine the kind of clout a Re-incarnated Cicero would have had on the US Founding Fathers.

Books and other kinds of records are fantastic for getting information down and learnable, but how many times have you read something from long ago and find yourself wishing for the opportunity to ask questions? With serial reincarnation, you not only get to ask them, but the answers will have the benefit of everything experienced since.

Engineering and technology will get a boost, but as a pass along effect. The Pass along will come from the more pure, observational sciences. Advances will come there because the deep, profound, understanding will be retained. The Reincarnation of someone like Einstein is going to be able to really understand relativity at a pretty young age without having to go through 8 years of school just to get his math up to scratch enough to follow it. Quantum theory is the same sort of thing. The old souls get to skip 30 years of learning what their predecessors figured out and move right along to creating new stuff and breaking new ground. Those advances are going to drive technology pretty fast, but it won't be direct benefit

You can have a lot of fun trying to figure out how to do serial inheritance and the nuances surrounding intellectual property.

Neat stuff in this premise.

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    $\begingroup$ There's a reason why, in the stock market, there is a saying "buy the rumor, sell the news"... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 5 '17 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Also relevant is the staggering amount of information that has been lost to us. The book of calculus that was erased and replaced with prayers, for one. $\endgroup$ – Andon Sep 5 '17 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ There's also information that has been preserved over the ages. See for example Long-Lived Scientific Observations on DSHR's Blog. // cc @Andon $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 5 '17 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent points all. The premise reminds me of the "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" quote. How high could we get if those giants were still growing? (to badly mangle an extended metaphor) $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Sep 5 '17 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are entirely wrong - the sciences will not get a boost; they will stagnate. Imagine if the people who wanted to kill gallileo for claiming the earth orbited the sun were still around - and still in power. What effect would that have? Progress is almost always opposed by the ones in power, and the main way we get any advancement at all is because they eventually die, and the young blood with new ideas takes over. $\endgroup$ – Benubird Sep 6 '17 at 11:35
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The knowledge of your errors, mistakes and screw-ups

People are talking about experience, but a person's successes can be blinding. Revering someone could make that person aloof and careless. Some people do not want to see that they are in danger until it is too late.

Etienne said it quite eloquently:
"Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait, rien ne se perdrait."
(If the young would know and the old would be able to, nothing would be lost).

It is the knowledge of their errors which would make a human with several reincarnations so formidable. It would prevent someone from losing precious lifetime pursuing something (s)he will never be able to be good at. It would prevent you from doing something because other people are urging you in a direction and you are neglecting yourself. It prevents false friends. It prevents you from having too rosy a picture of the people surrounding you and it prevents despair because you know that there are people out there who care.

And simple knowledge by telling people often does not have the required effect; unfortunately, people seemingly need to experience it themselves. My mother said 100 times "Don't touch the plates" when I was small. It took only one time of actually experiencing it to cure my curiosity permanently (and I was very careful to ignore advice and explore things with my hand afterwards).

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Knowledge which gives advantage translates to power. Implicitly, this knowledge has to be relatively uncommon.

Exactly what knowledge gives you advantage depends upon context. Being able to understand an ancient language or text, for example, might be very beneficial excavating or discovering a buried treasure, but otherwise may not be very useful.

Knowledge of how to construct ancient machinery would not normally be useful in a modern society, but might become useful if that society was to break down, or in situations where modern artefacts were unavailable, like being stranded on a desert island.

Knowing how to steer by the stars would be useful where modern navigation devices were either unavailable, or unreliable for other reasons.

Medical knowledge would generally always be useful, but might be dangerously dated.

Knowledge relating to physical skills, though, would be less useful with an untrained body.

All knowledge, especially social skills, is likely to date in some way though. The art of subtle persuasion in one era might appear as bullying in another, or a simple courtship interpreted as attempted rape.

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While certain bare facts may be useful (having textbook facts to hand might make exams easier, if your society chooses to examine people), I think methodologies might be more helpful.

That could be anything from a modern academic who has echoes from ancient philosophers to help motivate and structure her research/writing, or a school teacher whose previous memories give him more experience to work with when dealing with a challenging classroom, to a new parent who can draw on the support offered by their memories.

If you're in a modern universe, I guess it depends who the person is. If you're a historian, great! If you're a structural engineer, maybe you could get some inspiration from memories. If you're working at the cutting edge of digital technology, past souls probably won't be of much help. However, more abstract/transferable skills like analysis, debating, clarity of expression, patience, even a sense of humour - all these could usefully feed into a modern human.

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    $\begingroup$ "If you're working at the cutting edge of digital technology, past souls probably won't be of much help." I disagree. Knowledge is cumulative, past successes/mistakes improves your current decision by a huge factor. You have to understand binary before tackling quantum computing. You need to understand the basics of cryptography before tackling computer security problems. You need to understand Boolean algebra before inventing the first computer. etc. Someone having all that knowledge at his/her prime age (20-30) will be able to do a lot more than others. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Sep 8 '17 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Fair point! I guess it depends what your previous lives were - a medieval farmer might not be great with technical stuff, whereas I definitely agree that if you've got certain building blocks it'll make life a lot easier. $\endgroup$ – K. Price Sep 8 '17 at 16:46
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You describe a world full of deception where super-villains and super-heroes battle each other across the generations.

Consider a multiply reincarnated sociopath who has spent many lifetimes honing not just skills in manipulating victims, but also in remaining hidden from those who would expose him or interfere with his plans. Maybe he started small (preying on neighbors and business associates), but repeated success and increased experience would inevitably push him to grander schemes like world domination. Endowed with deep patience and a master of op sec, he could afford to wait (or even die) if this life does not lend itself well to his long-term plans or if the inevitable blunder risks exposing his evil plans before they come to fruition. Very few, if any, of his peers could ever be allowed to know he is The Great Master Mahan reborn; better to rebuild the empire from scratch each time in order to avoid attention from unwanted nemeses.

Similarly, those who would stop such villains will have learned from multiple lifetimes not to make themselves targets, because the villain will have learned many lifetimes ago not to repeat any of the classic villain blunders. The hero knows his adversary will place high priority on systematically finding and eliminating heroes and competitors alike.

Then there are the twists. Repeated failure might eventually reform some would-be sociopaths, if they become convinced that "normal" life is more comfortable in the long run. They might become formidable anti-heroes, fighting other villains with motives that may or may not have become pure. Fallen heroes could in turn become formidable new villains.

Those who are neither villains nor heroes would do well to avoid attention. Whether they aspire to become villains or heroes or merely wish to avoid becoming pawns in plots that span generations. They would quickly learn that shadowy forces wrestling for power and influence will not think twice about using or destroying anyone in their path.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree, but that's an interesting opinion. Today, I'd say, good forces outweigh bad forces like you describe them. Why do you think that evil skills would benefit more from rebirth than their counterparts? $\endgroup$ – DonQuiKong Sep 6 '17 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ It's not the inherited skills I worry so much about, but the preservation of memory that grants everyone the ability to execute extremely long range plans. Bad guys unfortunately tend to win at long-term planning in both history and fiction. This world would create the ultimate "advanced persistent threat" if you will, and killing the evil mastermind only delays their plans rather than stopping them for good. After long enough of the bad guys pwning everyone, the good guys might figure out how to "villain-proof" their societies, but that's been an elusive goal for humanity so far. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Sep 6 '17 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway, I wasn't originally trying to say the heroes would be underpowered, only that they would quickly learn to be discreet if they want to be effective. In retrospect, they'd need to learn some long-term strategy skills from the baddies as well. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Sep 6 '17 at 17:00
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Money is power.

If money is directly inheritable, you can keep growing wealth. If not, then hiding funds knowing that you will eventually remember the hiding place would be the way to go. In modern times, that includes the account numbers of bank and investment accounts. Compounding interest will make anyone who lives long enough very wealthy.

However, if everyone was doing that then the effect would be nullified (as inflation would increase by a proportional amount).

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If everyone in the civilisation has this ability leads to a different outcome than if some individuals only can take their memories with them.

If only some people recover past memories they will eventually become the elite and probably splinter into factions contending against other factions for temporary and permanent supremacy.

If everyone remembers their past knowledge I see a few timeless skills, as you put it.

Soft Skills

Leadership and influence are probably killer apps in this world.

"If you think you are leading and turn around to see no one following, then you are just taking a walk." – Benjamin Hooks

If you can turn a gathering into a group, a group into a mob, and a mob into a movement, then you have power.

If your world allows people to know who is who across reincarnations, then tracking who owes and is owed favours is also power, if society still values promise-keeping.

Imagine Ghandi, Lincoln, Washington, Hitler, Aristotle, Socrates, Newton, or Einstein with endless time to perfect their skills.

Science

Theoretical physics would grow in leaps and bounds, because the great thinkers would leverage previous lifetimes' learning with a 12-20 year gap between lives. This should trickle down to applied science as the ideas need to experimentation and validation.

This may actually lead to a slowing down of the rate of change of human knowledge without a sense of urgency driving whatever manifest destiny great thinkers perceive.

Similar to the charge that Confucianism was responsible for the stagnation of Old China. Society risks over-valuing a status quo of stability and safety promoted by old souls.

Neuroeconomics

Individuals with superior learned or innate decision-making skills will excel.

A bias to action may well be a timeless skill. If the majority analyses and plans, a lucky few who take frequent and manageable risk should outperform the pack.

Actually this thought can be generalised to say that the absolute timeless skill is the proper understanding and valuation of risk. If a course of action pays off 1 in 20 times but returns 1 to 100 then that is a risk worth taking (this is not just in gambling). People are bad at evaluating risk. See research into Risk and Bias in the field of Neuroeconomics.

Limits to Power

Of course we don't know what the physical limits of memory are. But assuming a healthy brain/body eventually some memories must fade over time as either storage capacity or recollection processes become overstressed.

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Less Progress Not More

On not only a social level, but on a scientific way. Socially if the generation that firmly believed in slavery and no women voting NEVER DIED, or at least never relinquished power in a real way, you can bet we would be stuck.

As to science, Max Planck said it best: "Science progresses one funeral at a time...A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

There are a LOT of bad ideas in science that only stuck around because people clung to them.

Economics

Same here, only let us consider resumes over the centuries....same people taking the same jobs. No progression here because new people would not be allowed the room to grow.

Where's the Power?

Knowing things can save your life. Like which patterns on a snake tell you they are poison.

Knowing old formulas can be helpful as well. Monetary systems might change, but math is math.

You think that things will be outdated, because you believe that there will be advancement. But there will also be people invested in keeping things exactly the same, or close to it. FOR EXACTLY THIS REASON: if you had continuous knowledge, you would want it to be useful in your next life. Therefore, if you had a vast fortune, you might want changes to only be incremental.

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Memories in humans normally fade, and you can definitely argue this would happen even with historical souls. You can take one of two paths with this historical souls idea or salt and pepper to taste.

Concrete Memory

Memories are frozen at death, in a Avatar the Last Airbender style where the Avatar can freely access any information ever known by any previous Avatar. They can simply know anything that has happened to them before by trying to remember it. This is the approach that I expect to be discussed most by others so I will leave it for the time being.

Fading Memory

Alternatively the memories can fade with time the same as anything else. This means that someone might be born with amazing knowledge... that never interests them and so they never use it and its lost. Like how the most brilliant college student might struggle with simple algebra simply because its been a long time since they had to use the more base skills, or simply how people slowly forget things they used to know because they don't use them now (but not how memories are fogged by age however, these are new minds and only the memories are old).

This second way can pose its own interesting aspects because an old soul would still gain life experiences and emotional understanding far before a new soul would, as those aren't often forgotten. Additionally, if they did decide to pursue the same interests as some of their more recent ancestral souls they would definitely have an easier time with it because of their recent knowledge. They may even have very slight advantages with anything that any of their past souls has done, the way that you can more easily ride a bike after you have learned the first time. This would slowly build up over many topics, professions, and skills, making them just have a knack for more things. They wouldn't have an instant well of knowledge but something about it would just seem.... easier for some reason.

Edit: slowly fading memory between generations would also help solve problems mentioned in other answers such as limited scientific/social advancement because of complacency or simply people being wrong and believing they were right.

Power

Power from this type of memory comes from the mistakes that you don't make, the inherent people skills and ability to judge a situation or person. Why do we tell young children not to get in the car with strangers? Because they lack judgement. Soldiers might not have the edge they do while in active duty 30 years later, but I sure wouldn't want to mess with a well trained soldier no matter how long it had been since they were released from duty. They are going to have instincts and the ability to judge a fight or find an exit that a civilian will probably never have.

Imagine a business tycoon starting their empire at the age of 14. The sheer advantages of judgement and charisma alone would give them a massive edge on the new souls in the business or politics world.
Imagine heritage soldiers, trained over generations by finding the previously trained souls (probably testing the population for an obscure and long keyphrase or alphanumeric code all trainees memorize) and having soldiers with lifetimes of experience and instincts.
Even scarier, imagine a dynasty ruled by a single soul. A "royal family" kept in power by the church, rich politicians with vested interests, or some other powerful enforcer. A dictator spanning lifetimes, moving from body to body.

TL;DR: Even a more fading version of this soul-based memory can leave instinct and judgement intact over millennium. It is not as direct a source of power, but it can definitely be used to gain a big advantage early in life over new souls if nothing else (just imagine if you had the wisdom not to make all those stupid decisions you made as a teen and young adult and started immediately educating yourself and collecting assets).

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    $\begingroup$ this is a nice idea, but doesn't directly answer the question. If you extrapolated further from your idea of memories that fade and applied it to the question what kind of knowledge does actually translate to power? it would be a lot better. $\endgroup$ – walrus Nov 27 '17 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for pointing that out, @walrus, I have added more details to my submission to try and flesh out why I think fading memories can still translate to power. $\endgroup$ – BornToDoStuff Nov 27 '17 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! Cool first answer. Have fun on the site! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Nov 27 '17 at 19:34
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Consider:

  • One’s purpose is the most important aspect of recall – identity and primary capability would align.
  • The souls that have avid recall would know that souls don’t just come out of nowhere – they always are souls, but some souls might be getting their memories removed periodically (perhaps for crimes).
  • I find the “only so many souls therefore they must be created” to be naive at best. When world-building in science fiction / fantasy, there is no limit on the number of worlds that souls could be derived from – perhaps other planets have become dystopian with heavily declining populations, and their stories could be found among those that remember (great for backstory). Such ideas could be propagated through the society as a means of telling the difference between those that understand and those that have no recall at all.
  • Confusion builds on confusion from lifetime to lifetime – clearing up confusions becomes the primary education goal of those that have memory, while those that don’t have recall need an overall general education (but even they have areas of confusion, which presents a possible twist in the world-building exercise such that perhaps even they have a potential for memories before birth).
  • Personalities can be identified despite the fact that bodies are different; they might seek identity clues to find each other while not explicitly calling out the fact that they remember; perhaps they don’t want to be recalled as a result of some embarrassing incident. Preferred gender identity for the soul may not match the body they find "himself/herself" in.
  • Essential concepts, rather than confusions, are paramount. Ethics, Economics, Mathematics, Language, Management, Law, Psychology/Religion, Construction and Communication; whatever skills most associate with each soul’s identity. The knowledge might not be so uncommon but instead be the distilled simplicity of such knowledge such that they can think easily with it. (Like what do we get paid for? Creating Opportunity – we don’t get paid for the effort, but the result of it. It’s short, sweet and encompassing). Each individual has his/her own formula for success based on the natural knowledge.
  • Parenting of the different types of souls is important due to the complications of very young children getting full multi-lifetime memories; prodigies; precocious; perspicacious. Variation in age, such that one that recalls very early might be a prodigy; portions of skills might show first, then finally one day junior apprehensively says, “Daddy – I know who I am.”
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how this answer the question. Can you tell us how this answer the question: What kind of knowledge does actually translate to power? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Sep 6 '17 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ So are you talking about power as knowledge, capability, clarity of thought and action, ability to lead and influence? Or are you talking about abuse of power as in domination, oppression, subjugation? I was answering the first. $\endgroup$ – Soothsmith Sep 6 '17 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Soothsmith. While I don't doubt you believe to have answered the question adequately, I'm having trouble identifying the answer to the question that was asked. This has reached the low-quality review queue; if others are having a similar problem, this may be deleted as inadequate. An edit to provide clarification may save this answer from that fate. Also, note that you can use the '@<username>' syntax to notify one user per comment. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 6 '17 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre - thanks for the kindness. However, I'm finding much speculation and little "answering of the question" from the majority of the responses here. Should I bother to respond to each and say it doesn't answer the question? I think I provide some good points -- not bloating my head about it -- better than the average post, however, just as others did, I did not bother to duplicate essential elements already posted. $\endgroup$ – Soothsmith Sep 6 '17 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ I haven't looked at the other answers; only this one because it was in the review queue, which meant someone else flagged it as problematic. If the OP is satisfied with or finds value in your answer, s/he will upvote it. Oftentimes, a question will have a bunch of answers that don't get/deserve much attention (not saying yours is one of these) because the question reached the Hot Network Question list and people want to share their thoughts on the topic, hence why you've seen "much speculation." If the other answers get flagged, I'll look them over as well. I only have so much time, after all. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 6 '17 at 16:09
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Education would be very different. Why teach skills like maths or foreign languages to prepubescent children if some of them are going to get it for free, later? You'd teach them the culture and history of their own lifetimes first, and all the rest later, for the poor souls who are on their first rodeo.

To answer the question, perhaps the most valuable knowledge you carry with you is the knowledge of what the other people from your previous lives were like, since no doubt you're going to be running into them again. Spending several lifetimes accumulating a list of people not to trust, or building an inner circle of people you can trust with your life can save you from costly, or even fatal, mistakes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Because a new soul would need these skills. An old soul will still be able to learn any new advances faster at an early age. And in terms of language skills, they would definitely need to be taught, in case the soul never learned that language before. $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Sep 7 '17 at 0:31
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Consider the equivalent case today: heredity.

When you are born, your parents pass on their skills to you. They also pass on other things; their network of contacts, their money, and so on.

If you inherited the mind of someone powerful, you would inherit the location of the money that they cached for themselves towards the end of their previous life, in the assumption that they would be coming back for it - a mnemonic for a swiss bank account or whatever.

You would inherit the contacts, the other powerful people - friendships in your previous life would continue. So would enmities.

You are essentially immortal; almost any power you might have gained from living forever, can be a power you gain from being reincarnated with perfect recall.

It will become a commonplace in wills that one's inheritance would pass not to one's descendants, but to one's reincarnated self. That business empire would be placed into the hands of a pro-tem manager, but when you come back and key in the code to identify yourself, you take over the reins again.

Legally, it would take very little time before ownership and identity were redefined to account for these temporary lapses of existence. Some debts would last past death; you couldn't get an education, then kill yourself to avoid the student loans but keep the knowledge.

The death penalty would not be given.

War would be very different. The purpose of genocide would be to skew the demographics of one's foe, to scatter them over the earth, and to separate them from their property long enough for it to be seized.

Murder would be considered less serious, though probably still seen as the most serious assault you could perform on someone.

Suicide would go down in some groups (no longer an "easy way out" for the depressed), but up in others (it becomes a way of rebelling with only relatively minor consequences; there would be groups of people who enjoyed childhood enough to want to remain children indefinitely, killing themselves when they get too old).

Birth rates would go down, WAY down, to the point that population growth may reverse. Having a child that's the creation of the two partners, and helping them form their personality, and make their start in the world is one thing; but the risk of playing mommy and daddy to a cuckoo who was created and mentally formed by an earlier set of parents hundreds or thousands of years ago... not appealing to most. We're selfish about kids. There's a reason adoption and fostering levels are always lower than they need to be.

As birth rates fall, the probability of getting a reincarnated person becomes a certainty.

Passing on our body's genes is as close as we get to immortality, but in a system of guaranteed reincarnation, bodies become irrelevant. We don't need to pass on genes.

Instead, we pass on our selves.

Another point of kids is care into our old age; that would no longer be an issue. If you become too old to look after yourself, then kill yourself, and you'll immediately get loving parents who will look after you.

The only people who'd have kids would be those who actively enjoyed child-rearing; or those who were paid to have them by some social schemes paid into by the dying (a "birth tax" charged on the dying?)

So... drifted off-topic a little, but yeah - the social connections you made, and the financial and business inheritances you had, would give an enormous first-mover advantage over those who weren't reincarnated; but there would be fewer and fewer births, so reincarnations wouldn't be guaranteed.

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Maybe there is a reason that there is no direct access to previous experience. It would prevent you from doing things differently or trying new things if you carried the totality of experience. Similar to why ECT can work to dull previous experiences.

The subconscious or collective unconscious seems like a great place to put the things you sort of need but shouldn't lean on immediately until you really need help.

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Secrets

Most secrets are worthless, but if a character knew the truth about a person in power and how to prove it, the target would be susceptible to blackmail.

"Fermat's Last Theorem," which Fermat claimed to have a proof for, would have been worth 6 million Kroner before 1995.

Buried treasure is good, but compound interest is better: burying gold would not be as lucrative as access to interest earning accounts.

Skills

Skills have been covered by other answers, but FWIW, IMHO leadership has changed so much in the last 100 years that what it means to be a leader today is very different from what it meant historically. Charisma and publicity are probably a better bet.

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Forget skills and abilities. The one true ability is the ability to pass on wealth and power from body to body.

When you can cache your wealth and power ready for your next body, you can be virtually unstoppable over time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly! You can remember where you buried the gold. $\endgroup$ – crobar Sep 8 '17 at 14:09
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All knowledge is power.

This is because, no matter what knowledge was gained in the previous set of experiences it will always come back to help the holder of knowledge. Even if the past life consisted of only farming, that knowledge would make the new person an expert farmer. In this life, he could also teach others farming, make a farming business, etc. It comes down to the creativity of the person with the knowledge.

The most powerful power is, of course, power.*

In this context, we could amend 'Knowledge is power' to 'Knowledge is a shortcut to power'. Those who are born into powerful families would still be powerful. Those with experience getting power in previous lives would also be powerful.

Power/skills are relative.

There are different types of power: hard, soft, etc. People want different powers for different goals in their lives. They would value different powers subjectively. Absolute power (ruling the world) could be the pinnacle of power to one person, but there would still be those who would prefer knowing how to make and keep loyal friends. The most "timeless" skill would also be subjective. It comes down to what an individual's goals are.

Hope I helped!

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The usefulness of nearly any skills and/or knowledge would be dependen on at least two factors:

  • How much time is there usually between the death and the reincarnation? Is it instant (~ 12-15 years) or is it possible that your soul (or whatever) is parked at nirvana for some time (100++ years). There are only a few fields developing this fast that you can't pic up 12-20 years of knowlede rather fast and improve on it. However, even if you were the edge of technology 500 years ago, you might be in trouble.

  • What kind of influence does your new body (host) have? Is it just an more or less empty shell or does it have an influence on your skills/personality. Having been someone like Einstein in your last live might be a problem, if you just loathe maths and physics.

The same goes in principle for social skills they might be outdated or just not fitting for your personality.

The most imprtant skill would probably be the ability to learn and employ this new knowledge. Otherwise you will get stuck in your developement ("This stone knive was good for hundting the last 20 centuries, these flimsy new ones made from brass or iron will rust away in no time anyway")

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You posted very interesting question.

Yes, knowledge is power and it can change everything. For example knowledge of crafting fine weapons and tools would let you change some primitive tribe's lifestile.

More interesting is other question. Are you reborn randomly or not?

If you are born randomly then I would say that ther's very high chance that their will be no wars, and that society will be almost egalitarian and have very low deviations (in mathematican sence).

Today you are poor peasant. In next life you are spoiled rich baby, then you are born in family of higly-moral person...

I think that knowledge of reincarnation will put great emphasis on first ten years of education (so that someone with memories of serial killer won't act as such in this life).

Of course, I'm describing "Utopian" point of view. Jason's answer was from realistic, or "humans are often morons" point of view.

I dissagree with that answer a bit, because there IS not null probability that you were "filthy banker" and know you are reborn in family of "high-moral monk" who also deeply cares for you (unlike your previous parents).

What will you do when your memories start coming back? Turn to your old ways? Or "come to realisation" that "everything I knew and did was right. But also deeply, depply wrong"?

It is very valid question.

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