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How do Immortals work?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Darkfantasy, Sep 9, 2018.

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  1. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    First I'm new to reading Fantasy and and so far the few books I've read None of them have really answered these questions.

    Ageing - So they don't die of old age or disease. So do they don't age? So if they don't age how do they grow from children to adults? Do they suddenly stop ageing once they reach a certain stage of maturity? You never see old elves or many children elves. If elves are never ageing how do they grow in the womb or from child to adult? Are they born somehow fully grown?

    Over population - so immortals can be killed I think but they don't die naturally, so if nothing really bad is going on how do they stop over-populating their planet?
    I know these questions are ridiculous but
     
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Many stories about immortals solve the overpopulation question by saying the elves/Fae/whatever are far less fertile than other peoples. Fewer/less frequent children = less chance of overpopulation. As for aging, much of the time it's exactly as you said: they grow in the womb as normal, maybe have a longer childhood/adolescence, then stop looking older somewhere around the mid-20's mark.
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    It depends on the story. In your typical D&D setting, though, the elven lifespan is mapped out, when maturity and old age set in, over something like 2,000 years. They also have a 2-year gestation period, lower fertility rates, and a different drive behind their lifestyles.

    True overpopulation isn't really a concern unless you're looking at landlocked countries where agricultural resources are hard to develop. Most of the world's problems are economic.
     
  4. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Maester

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    Well, one of the few things I've seen ignore the Immortal Procreation Clause are the Krogan's from Mass Effect. Minus the whole genophage thing. Otherwise they breed and give birth to lot's of children and can live up to at least a thousand years (only matched by the space elf babes Asari, who don't go all out in the many children thing). But their population was originally kept in check by living on a death world, then turning it into an even more deadly world and then by fighting giant insects in a galactic war, then starting another one and getting hit by a manufactured genetic issue that leaves only one survivor in thousands among thousands of egg clutches. But they didn't do it themselves.

    Otherwise the Clause seems to hold with many of the immortals, though they can be killed in wars and the like. And the low fertility rates and all that. As Ireth said, it also seems to start in the twenties. It's never exactly fixed, but it seems to be the most common way of these things.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There is a difference between being long-lived and being immortal. The latter word literally means not mortal. No mortuus. No death. It's one reason why I do not have immortals in my world. Time is as vital to the existence of living creatures as is space. To remove that is to remove a key component of being alive, as well as what ultimately lies behind all concept of risk.

    As for being long-lived, I try to turn the problem upside down. What is it to be short-lived? What of creatures whose entire lifespan is only a few days? Their entire existence is consumed by the basics of life--sustaining self and reproducing self. The longer you let a creature live, the more the creature's horizons expand. For example, merely eating can become dining. Food can take on significance beyond sustenance. Same goes for reproduction, where courtship can become elaborate.

    By extension, then, a long-lived creature has even more time for, oh, let's call them spiritual matters. Philosophy. History. Forums. <g>

    But notice also there are qualitative shifts. Entirely new things (see dining and feasting) can come into being. Social hierarchy, for example. One thing I see overlooked very often is the social aspect of being long-lived. I don't really think kingship works if the king lives a thousand years. The same goes for education, and even for production. Who is going to be a peasant for a thousand years? Or a factory worker? What would it be to have lost both legs in battle at the age of 135?

    More interesting (to me) is living for two hundred years rather than a hundred. Now does anything change? Or only fifty years? And how would different societies with different life spans learn to live together?

    History becomes interesting when you consider that two thousand years would still be within living memory. You could talk to people who were there.

    So many possibilities. Even my long-lived sprites are only around for about 150 years on average.
     
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    On top of having low fertility rates and long gestation periods, it would be pretty easy to have the window for fertility close off early in their immortal years, to the point where you could have an entire elven population that's too old for children but still lingers like that for hundreds of years (perhaps the younger ones fled for safety, the older ones decide to stay for their realm).
     
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    You can decide to make your world however you want. So any number of methods could be used. Examples already given by others might work. But what if there are different life cycles? For instance, after 400 years the members of this species go into a cocoon type of state until the cocoon breaks in 2-3 years and inside is revealed a sapling: they turn into trees, and the trees don't reproduce but can still communicate with one another and with those members of the population who aren't trees yet. Or maybe they turn into intelligent stones and boulders. (I can see their homeland now: covered in these stones and boulders that confuse members of other intelligent species who happen to wander in. Then again, perhaps it's covered in boulders and trees: members of that species transform differently. Perhaps the males turn into boulders at age 400 and the females turn into trees. Or vice versa.)
     
  8. Vaporo

    Vaporo Sage

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    Something a lot of people don't think about when talking about immortals is scarring. Most older people I know have at least one or two small visible scars, so compound that over several centuries or millennia of working, fighting, etc. Most immortals would probably have several large scars unless they have some way to fully heal their injuries.
     
  9. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Naturally there are no "rules" for immortality besides meeting some basic similarity to the definition of the word, so everyone does their's a little bit differently.

    Personally, I don't like "immortal except" setups. Long-lived is long-lived, but much of fiction almost seems insecure about the idea of something not being able to die, so there are invariably clauses that can bring it about (usually violence, because).

    In my own setting, if something is immortal, it's literal. On the other hand, they also tend to exist by very different rules from mortalkind. Immortal beings (which in 99% of cases are spirits) literally have no concept of death. They don't get it. Beginnings and endings are meaningless, physical destruction is at best an inconvenience. But perhaps for the same reasons, the concept of self gets kind of flimsy. You aren't who you were 20 years ago, and this is infinitely more true for a being who has existed in some form since the beginning of creation (which might not even have had a beginning) and whose shape is largely subjective. The fog of ages hits hard and eventually it might be easier to self-identify with someone who looks or acts similar to you than it is to identify with whoever you were a thousand years ago. At which point the distinction between "you" and "them" gets blurry and when your existence itself is subjectively defined that's not metaphorical.

    Mortality has its own advantages. You're born, you grow, you decay, you die, all in a roughly consistent shape. You get hungry, you get tired, you have goals that must be accomplished in a set time. All these things provide a neat little box to contextualize your own existence in. The subjective parts of the universe thrive on this, clear snapshots of reality to base itself off of. Otherwise the universe would be nothing but a shifting mass of abstract daydreams, no notion more meaningful than any other.

    ...anyway, that's how immortals work for me. Not really the same thing as "otherwise normal meat-thing but doesn't die," but there you go.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So, if a creature is immortal, when did they get born? If they got born, then beginnings would have some sort of meaning, I should think. Or is there a distinction to be made between immortal and eternal? How does reincarnation fit in to this?

    Just asking for a friend.
     
  11. Humans stop developing completely (in terms of their brain) around 25. So maybe they just develop up to that point and then...stop. It's still a good question though.
     
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  12. True immortality is hard to find a place for in books. Death defines our existence in many ways. It's hard to imagine how true immortality even works. What happens when the sun grows to swallow the earth and then recedes into a dying ember?

    Immortality in that sense seems like a kind of hell more than anything.

    On the other hand, imagine creatures that are invulnerable to aging and disease, but can be killed. If one avoids battles and accidents, one can live millennia. That is a bit more manageable to explore.
     
  13. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

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    In my WIP, true indestructible immortality is not compatible with the workings/mechanics of the Natural World, and is a property belonging to the Cosmos and to an extent, the spirit world. It was eventually regarded as 'deeply perverse and evil' to seek immortality from an earth-bound form. It certainly didn't stop people from trying, and the results are mostly flawed and heinous. Some true 'perfect' immortals are rumored to exist, and they are resoundingly feared. Nature permits other living things (i.e. trees) to exist for 1000s of years, perhaps millenia. So, long-life and slow agedness are not regarded in the same way as true immortality.

    I get bogged down in some of the logistics of having so many long-lived peoples. I have decided that children are born to these long-lived persons and grow up just as quickly as humans do. Childhood is an especially precious time. As they mature and discover their magical inclinations, they begin to slow their aging. I have toiled with the idea of lower fertility rates, or shorter windows for fertility. I believe I will leave it out of the equation and make that issue a strictly cultural one. If only because I think I could have a great deal of fun writing family feuds and rivalry between siblings born 500 years apart...
     
  14. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    If it's me you're asking, then they don't get born. Not that they'd be able to meaningfully self-identify with the entirety of their existence. To them, the closest thing to their birth would be akin to the birth of your goth phase (assuming for the sake of argument you had one). No real clear moment of beginning, or any real clear moment of ending. Maybe points that were significant to those developments, but no hard is/is-nots. Just a general period where you were one thing, and a general period where you're another.

    As for reincarnation, it's involved in that cycle. Mortal souls are spirits that wound up linked to a developing vessel. So they have this mortal experience, eventually it comes to an end, and they're a ghost. And eventually that ghost loses all meaningful attachment to their mortal selves and begins to think of itself as something else. And so it's a spirit again.

    I guess the "lesson" intended all this is that really, everything is forever. But nothing is static. Beginnings and endings are just lines drawn for context, but it's true that nothing remains in the same state forever. Even without the context of a subjective reality, an immortal might live forever but they wouldn't be the same person forever. You might still have most of those younger person's memories, still use their name, and share a few interests, but you're someone else now. And in the face of infinity, that's a lot of someones to be.
     
  15. Ruru

    Ruru Minstrel

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    I found that I just couldn't make immortals 'work' within my world, for many of the reasons listed above (when did they start? can they really be killed?). So instead I sort of countered the thing that makes us age and eventually die: our ability to heal. My main race has a much more effective way of healing, and this alone is what physically makes them long lived (talking potentially a few thousand years). I term them regenerates, but not in the 'regrow an arm' type of way.

    Somethings I had to address. For example, they don't get just two sets of teeth. The population control I sorted by having the woman essentially come into heat (though in a far less animalistic fashion :LOL:). Basically there are certain times, quite infrequent, when a woman could conceive, and she is aware of that time, so children are by choice only. Cultural structure sorts the rest, plus the long childhood time which makes children an enormous undertaking.


    Thinking about it, while reading through the comments here, i have realized my entire story essentially hinges on the interactions and issues generated by one long lived race living among several short lived ones. Clashes of policy, personal choice, religion. It's given me a lot to explore.
     
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  16. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    Thanks guys, I felt so dumb asking this question but it's amazing how authors gloss over some of these issues.
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I feel like creating one of those memes often found on social media with the speech: Glossing, glossing everywhere.

    Glossing is a very useful tool, but I concede it might be irritating when more is sought! (y)
     
  18. Vaporo

    Vaporo Sage

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    Drakevarg, your interpretation of immortality is interesting to me, since it's almost the exact opposite of the interpretation of immortality I use in my setting.

    I figure that, after a while, an immortal would stop having personality shifts. They would reach a point where they had seen it all, done it all, and nothing really surprises them anymore. They would have long ago decided who they want to be and what, if anything, they want to do with their eternity. My setting does have magic that grants infallible memory to help this effect along, but even without the magic I'd still arrive at these conclusions. After a while an immortal would just become used to forgetting things and accept it as part of their personality.
     
  19. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    I'm generally of the mind that a personality isn't something you decide on. This is mostly based on my own mental framework - my self-identity is tautological. Gender, profession, culture, blood ties, etc... these aren't cornerstones of who I am, if any of them changed overnight I wouldn't be at a loss. I am me, and that's all I need to know. So as a result, my existence isn't defined, but merely shaped by my experiences. Self-reflection counts of course, but as I never draw a hard line and declare "this is who I am, and I cannot be otherwise," if life pushed me in the right directions I might develop contrary values, especially if I forgot the experiences that gave me the values in the first place.

    In other words, personalities are like geographical features. They are developed by the meeting of their base components wit the environment around them. And many shift so slowly that for a mortal, they may seem foundational and eternal. But immortal eyes would see continents that wander the oceans like ships. And I can't imagine someone who watched Britain go from a tribal backwater to a global empire in real time would have the same outlook on life at the end that they did from the beginning. It would be quite the feat to go 2000 years and learn nothing.
     
  20. Vaporo

    Vaporo Sage

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    Well, I think it's a mix of both. Sometimes people look at themselves, see something they don't like, and say "No. I'm not going to be like this," and actively work to change. An immortal would have an awful lot of time for introspection, so I figure that sooner or later most major aspects of their personality would be shaped in this way. And if not that, what would shape their personality? Remember, they've seen it all. Empires have risen and fallen around them, and they've seen people across countless cultures and centuries making the exact same mistakes over and over again. Whatever event or circumstance may have led to a shift in morality before has likely already happened fifty times. Perhaps they can't remember every single instance, but since it keeps on happening they'd have their memory refreshed fairly regularly. Either the shift it would be a more or less permanent effect, or after getting shifted a few times in the same way they'd do some introspection and find a way to reconcile their flip-flopping personalities. People usually like having a sense of self, and I doubt an immortal would be much different.

    I'd agree with you that seeing the British Empire rise and fall would change a person, but this person has seen the same thing happen a dozen times before.
     
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