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So in The Player of Games, it said that one way to die is you can completely annihilate your brain, and that some guy fell off a cliff or something, and his brain just had to wait a few months to grow a new body.

Does that mean that people can more or less live forever? Because if they're sick or old they can just grow a new body, no?

  • I think the general idea is that they have effective immortality, but that actually choosing to use that to it's fullest extent is looked down upon, so most minds "retire" after a full (and fairly extended) life. I have pretty much only read that one book as well though, so I don't know what to cite for that. – Radhil Apr 29 '17 at 16:18
  • Interesting. I seemed to have missed why it is looked down upon? Presumably a similar reason to having lots of kids being looked down upon? But I don't understand that either since they live in post-scarcity, so surely they have the resources to do it... – imu96 Apr 29 '17 at 16:21
  • Yeah, I'm not sure if I picked that up off the book or one of many Culture synopsis' I've seen. I think it's mostly a matter of death not being feared, and not wishing to stagnate the society as a whole, not one of resources. (oh, and by the way, welcome to the site). – Radhil Apr 29 '17 at 16:24
  • Thanks! Also, what do you mean by stagnate society? – imu96 Apr 29 '17 at 16:40
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    @imu96: Probably 'science advances one funeral at a time'. And not just science, but culture too - what would the modern US be like if Washington and Jefferson and Adams were still the dominant political figures? – cometaryorbit Apr 29 '17 at 20:25
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Typical life-expectancy in the Culture in one's original body is about 300-400 years. Beyond that point, it's considered normal to choose either auto-euthenisation (approximately 50% of citizens choose this option) or a shift into some form of functional immortality either through the alteration of one's physical body, storage, a shift into a robot body, a shift into an entirely new physical form or (at the extreme end) sublimation.

Every Culture habitat - whether it was an Orbital or other large structure, a ship, a Rock, or a planet - possessed Storage facilities. Storage was where some people went when they had reached a certain age, or if they had just grown tired of living. It was one of the choices that Culture humans faced towards the end of their artificially extended three-and-a-half to four centuries of life. They could opt for rejuvenation and/or complete immortality, they could become part of a group mind, they could simply die when the time came, they could transfer out of the Culture altogether, bravely accepting one of the open but essentially inscrutable invitations left by certain Elder civilisations, or they could go into Storage, with whatever revival criterion they desired.

Excession

There's also the option of simply having a ship or hub mind alter your body and mind to cope with actual immortality. One of the characters is a man who's been effectively immortal in his natural form for nearly 10,000 years.

He was around ten thousand years ago, at the time of the negotiations which gave rise to the Culture in the first place. This individual was named as perhaps being able to help provide proof that what was claimed in the message to the Gzilt was actually true.

So, not long dissolved in some group-mind, then. Stored, I take it?

Not Stored. In fact, never Stored. Still with us, still alive, still extant and functioning, twenty-five to thirty full lifetimes after you’d have expected any ordinary humanoid mortal to have decently abandoned the corporeal. Indeed, longer-living than any known still independent Mind or even high-level AI from the time. Like the fucker’s decided to outlive everybody or set a record or something. But alive, somewhere, probably still within the Culture.

The Hydrogen Sonata

and

It was one of the effects of living in a society where people commonly lived for four centuries and on average bore just over one child each that there were very few of their young around,

Look to Windward

It's worth noting that for many citizens of the Culture, direct immortality is seen as slightly tacky. A choice that's made by people who're fundamentally immature in some way.

“Sma!” he exclaimed, turning to her. “That’s for you; it isn’t for me. You think I’m wrong to have my age stabilized; even the chance of immortality is . . . wrong, to you. Okay, I can see that. In your society, the way you live your lives, of course it is. You have your three-fifty, four hundred years, and know you’ll get right to the end of them; die with your boots off. For me . . . that won’t work.

Use of Weapons


Iain M. Banks discussed this aspect of Culture life in his essay (required reading!) "A Few Notes on the Culture"

Which brings us to the length of those generations, and the fact that they can be said to exist at all. Humans in the Culture normally live about three-and-a-half to four centuries. The majority of their lives consists of a three-century plateau which they reach in what we would compare to our mid-twenties, after a relatively normal pace of maturation during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. They age very slowly during those three hundred years, then begin to age more quickly, then they die.

...

None of this, of course, is compulsory (nothing in the Culture is compulsory). Some people choose biological immortality; others have their personality transcribed into AIs and die happy feeling they continue to exist elsewhere; others again go into Storage, to be woken in more (or less) interesting times, or only every decade, or century, or aeon, or over exponentially increasing intervals, or only when it looks like something really different is happening...

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