What motivations would citizens of an ultra-high technology society plausibly have besides boredom? How would lower tech beings meaningfully interact with them?

Here are some examples that pop-up in my head. Are there others around I might study?

Stanislaw Lem coined the term "HPLD" for societies that had reached the Highest Possible Level of Development for the current universe. They have technology which is not just "magic" but god-like. He uses them in several times in the Cyberiad, Tales of Pirx and Ijon Tichy stories. In almost every case the citizens spend their time in idly amusing themselves.

Michael Moorecock details the daily lives of this kind of society in the Dancers at the End of Time novels. These citizens live to entertain each other in bizarre and lavish parties. They also treat lower tech people as pets or collectible items.

Roger Zelazny (I could argue) created two such societies in the Courts of Amber and Chaos, if we take the Pattern and Logrus as technological. These people spent their time exploring a vast multiverse of universes created by the technology.

On the not so nice side, H.P.Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos several species can look like an HPLD, but the aliens are incomprehensible, mostly indifferent and frequently malevolent.

The First Ones from Bablyon-5 might also fit this category. The cultures who bother with the lower tech beings mostly use them for philosophical debates and moral experiments.

  • $\begingroup$ Why does tech level matter to most of what's enjoyable in life? As for instance, I work pretty much out on the bleeding edge of high tech (and make a nice living at it, thank you), but most of what I do for enjoyment - hiking, skiing, riding bikes & horses, gardening, and more - has very little tech content. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 25, 2015 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ You would probably find The Culture created by Iain Banks of interest. If you are looking for a more thorough description than the wikipedia article but don't want to read the books you might appreciate A Few Notes on The Culture. $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2019 at 19:31

5 Answers 5


I don't know of many examples of this except the ones you mentioned. I do have some personal views on the matter though. Drawing from long, intense, jumbled thoughts on the subject and a smidgen of psychology... here we go:

What motivations would citizens of an ultra-high technology society plausibly have besides boredom? And how would lower tech beings meaningfully interact with them?

I'm going to look at this from an immortal perspective. If you lived forever and your trying to stave off boredom your either:

  • Actively pursuing knowledge.

    - OR -

  • Trying to keep away from it. So things are still novel and unexpected.

You could dabble in the middle of the two extremes but if you live long enough even the dumbest person will learn everything just from walking through the universe. So now the question becomes what does a near-omniscient near-immortal being do to pass the time? Once again you either push the boundaries or play the odds. But go far enough and maybe you hit the wall and know how things will play out. What do you do when you've done everything and know all the certainties? You watch the racehorses and dare each other to jump off the skyscraper. There has to be a limitation of your abilities. If there is you'll let chance wiggle into that niche and make a game to amuse yourself, only the unknown will be novel at that point, or maybe you'll fade from existence after having your gazillion-th burger. Maybe you seal some of your ability or bet with it? At some point you can roll the dice and not know the outcome. Maybe there is no limitations, or maybe you just prefer the alternative? How about a battle of wits? Maybe with the low-techs as the RNG? But when gods wage war its bound to be bad for the universe. Either way things like humans end up looking like Honeybees. Social, maybe a source of enjoyment, maybe a source of displeasure or pain, maybe even necessary for the fabric of life as we know it, but ultimately insignificant.

So what about that other way around? How do the cave peoples interact with the aliens?

Why would the HPLD culture allow them to? If they already are having a hard time of it maybe they aren't talking out of goodwill. Why hasten our demise? If you become a god and can resurrect the dead then wouldn't it eventually happen? Wouldn't it look like Walt Disney never died, when to them he was only dead for a tiny fraction of the time of his immortality? If nothing is of consequence then why hasten anything at all? Whimsical, lazy, or mocking views on our fate seem like the most likely outcomes for how the culture would view any low-tech culture. If they're not being neutral out of the kindness of their hearts or because they don't care, then their doing it out of some vindictive spite. Of course if they killed everyone they might save them from the endless boredom of immortality.

Of course this is at the top of the power spectrum. As you start to come back down things can get interesting again. Like your Babylon-5 and Dancers at the End of Time examples. If the culture isn't dead then you have time to develop a culture around doing whatever the hell you want. Probably the main rule would be "don't piss on another immortal's parade." (let's hope we're somebody's garden project). Ultimately you end up at the top of the spectrum unless the universe dies before then. On the flip-side, given infinite time everything is plausible. So either set a death date for the universe and make a culture set out to have a blast and do whatever the individual wants, or pick whatever culture you want to have and pick whether it devolves into whimsy, laziness, or spite, spirals off through the culture continuum, or cycles back on itself stably.

TL;DR They either are having fun still and maybe we're part of the game, or they're not and no one would want to join them because they're either insane or depressed. The first isn't likely to invite a bug to the party, and the second would squish it (or we'd have wished they did).

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    $\begingroup$ The answer may have more question marks than the question but they're rhetorical, aren't they? $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Jan 25, 2015 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ I always like it when the questions are more useful and interesting than the answers. This was helpful for me, thank you very much! $\endgroup$
    – SteveED
    Feb 1, 2015 at 3:12

The idea that boredom is waiting for us at the other end of the technological ladder doesn't ring true to me. I can accept that there may be a day when all of our disparate findings about the physical world unify into a single all-encompasing understanding; an understanding which is simultaneously self-supporting and consistently correct in both its explanatory and predictive statements. Such an understanding might even be able to prove that it is the final understanding, that nothing remains to be discovered. Even then, I believe our journey would be just beginning.

The arts, the intricacies of personal relationships, logistics, politics and philosophy would all remain available to us, even after our technical curiosity had finally been satiated. In place of our wonder about how things work, we would begin to explore how we might make them better.

There would still be intellectual challenges. How do you out run a supernova since faster than light travel is impossible? How should we handle the slowly approaching heat death of the universe? Is there life after death?

We would probably also create diversions for ourselves. Evolutionary turtle races where each contestant is a primordial ooze and interstellar travel is the finish line. Cock fights between interstellar empires. Science fairs for the most creative application of quantum entanglement on the pan-galactic scale.

I think that those who assume that godlike power leads to hell-like tedium are the same type of people who comfort themselves by saying that too much vacation time leads to frustration and boredom. Since no one is offering me either divine authority or eleven and three quarters months of annual vacation time, I don't think I will ever know if this is true.

Personally, I like to believe that retirement from the scientific quest will lead to satisfaction and a life of leisurely pursuits. Any more pessimistic belief only spoils the long journey still ahead.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not assuming boredom as a default state, as several of my examples are not about boredom. Also, Lem's definition of an HPLD includes being able to change the laws of physics, so FTL is trivial, and supernovae are playthings, and heat-death just means moving to the universe next-door. $\endgroup$
    – SteveED
    Feb 1, 2015 at 3:08

How would lower tech beings interact with them?

...what lower tech beings? Every sentient race in the universe is already omniscient and barriers have been put in place to make sure that no new sentient races evolve. It's crowded enough up here at the top, we don't need any more new comers.

The only non-omniscient beings out there are the fragments. The tiny distinct bits of one of our more insane peers who split herself into 6 billion lesser minds and populated a little planet called Sol-3. That poor dimented being has really lost it. Keeps threatening to commit suicide with some imaginary nuclear weapons that she dreamed up. As if nuclea can be shattered by concussive force. If she/they believe that, then it is hard to imagine how screwed up their understanding of the universe must be.

Oops... I just remembered that this conversation software is accessible from Sol-3. Some of the fragments might be reading these words right now... This might wake them from their delusion...


never mind!

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    $\begingroup$ You should merge your two answers in one. $\endgroup$
    – Sheraff
    Jan 25, 2015 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ The voice and temperment of the two answers are too distinct to share a single masthead. The first is more of a philosophical essay while the second is a tongue in cheek joke. If joined, each would spoil the other. For disclarity's sake, I have edited this answer slightly to make it less obvious that one author offered both. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2015 at 18:15

What is the possibility of these folks creating art, music, dance, perhaps literally music of the galaxies? If there is self, there is self-expression, using whatever materials.

I am thinking of the Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land, who were certainly magical, did have personal knowledge of life after discorporation. They spent their eons in creating art (not described as to genre), debating philosophy between the corporate and the discorporate, and grokking the not-so-goodness of some interfering lowlifes on the next rock over.

Art certainly exists in mathematics, engineering, and architecture, why not in biology, light and the space-time continuum?


First thing to consider is that HPLD is not going to be the same for every species. A Chimpanzee's HPLD is somewhere around making stone-aged tools whereas human HPLD is probably somewhere at the limit at which we can figure out how to make computers think for us. There may be an alien species out there which is able to fathom things that we simply can't hold enough simultaneous thoughts in our heads or have broad enough of an understanding of logic itself to even have a chance of discovering; so, when mankind reaches its HPLD, there will still be things out there way beyond what we can conceive that we may see other races still developing that we still hopelessly aspire to figure out.

They may even experiment on us and try to teach us some "basic" technology winning their own equivalent of a nobel prize when they manage to teach a person how break the conservation of mass and energy for the first time, and a circle of aliens will surround that scientist and clap with all the condescension of a human thinking it's cute when a monkey learns to make a stone knife.

Now let's consider intelligence as a whole. We know just from the variations in the human psyche that different people have vastly different kinds of intelligence. A master of physics may not even believe sociology is a kind of science no matter how much you explain it to them, yet a master of sociology can manipulate people just as predictable as a physicist can manipulate a trajectory. As such, in a universe filled with several HPLD races, it is likely that many of them will see each-other as God-like or magical in certain ways, and retarded in others.

The point being: unless your technology is beyond the HPLD of ALL other species in every single way, you will still have something to aspire too even when the things you can figure out on your own crawl to a halt.


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