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Worldsworld

In 2013 I re-read To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first part of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld saga, having read three or four volumes circa 1979. The setting is an artificial planet where all humans who ever died (for some convenient definitions of ‘human’ and ‘ever’) are simultaneously resurrected, for purposes unknown to them.

It provoked some thoughts. Fashions in scientifictional resurrection have changed since 1971, so here is how I might do it, given enough handwavium. I assume that the resurrection happens in software rather than on a physical planet.

A Brand New y'All

The last version of you might not be the one you'd prefer to restore, even if you never have brain damage.

What if old-you could guide young-you to become a happier old-you, without risking a temporal paradox?

We start with a scan of your brain from each time you slept (made by a friendly posthuman with a time-viewer; this is the least defensible bit of my handwavium). Up to five are omitted (or pre-merged) so that N is a multiple of six. These form an obvious sequence, of which we make two copies, joining the matching ends (logically, not physically!) to define a loop. Each of these 2N instances wakes up in an idealized body, with alternating sexes (so each scan animates one body of each sex).

I would want my pets to get similar treatment (but sexless), perhaps accompanied by their littermates and descendants.

Each night thereafter, adjacent brains are blended: you wake up remembering two yesterdays. The memory of yesterday in your present body is about twice as strong as the other. The sharing goes around the loop in alternating directions. Brains get bigger with each merge, but by a small amount: most of each brain already matches its neighbors and thus need not be duplicated. (I will not speculate here on whether or not adjacent instances can share the same copy of substantial parts of their brain without confusion.)

Thus, if your elderly brain is missing some pieces after a stroke, these are gradually filled in from earlier versions. If you have psychological trauma, it may help you to blend with a you who never had that experience and never will. And if young-you simmered unable to put your unhappiness into words, old-you remembers that unhappiness and can work to remedy it, and ultimately benefit from having had a happier second childhood.

At least adolescents should find it easy to fit in with their peers!

Sooner or later you notice that those around median age are in two groups that never blend. Do they become rivals? Do they seek each other out, hungry for conversation with peers who do not already share their recent thoughts?

Your neighbors on the loop naturally share your tastes, so you might find your favorite places crowded with your other selves. You can relieve that by deleting some of your bodies; this does not lose memories but merely reallocates them in the next blend. But deletion shortens the loop, making distant instances less distant and soon more similar, possibly causing a vicious cycle.

If you are not “cis by default” you'll probably delete most bodies of the wrong sex.

You (or trusted others?) could reward or punish an instance's behavior by changing its weight in the next blend. I don't yet quite see how that's workable, other than in wagers.

A more perfect union

An alternate concept. Each of your brains is permanently linked to its neighbors: each neuron takes its inputs not (only) from neurons in its own brain, but (wherever possible) from the corresponding neurons in the adjacent brains. I find it implausible that this could work unless most of the bodies are asleep, at least initially; but it's too cool not to mention. This multi-brain soon replaces some redundancy with specialization.

Geography, small

You have a tiny world to yourselves (where the laws of physics are fudged as necessary), its main landmass big enough to feel roomy, with diverse terrain, but small enough that an adult can walk anywhere in a few days.

The infrastructure allows each-you to communicate with your contemporaries and make portals from their worlds to yours.

How are your instances initially placed? My favorite idea so far: day zero is a solstice, and you awaken at the latitude where the length of daylight matches that at the time and place where you were recorded; close together in longitude (or alternatively along the sunrise line) but spaced so that it's not hard to walk through the crowd. This mixes ages – instances from every equinox are on the equator – yet puts contemporaries (within a few days) near each other. (The scheme works less well for those who lived their whole life near the equator. For polar night or day, replace day-length with time until next sunrise or sunset.)

Pets are placed beside their human contemporaries. Others also have a claim on most of them, so their loops go through multiple worlds.

But what if there are no adults in your world, because you died young? The software doesn't bother simulating metabolism, so babies are not in danger of hunger; but, to keep such children from growing up feral, every third instance of each person (young or old) lives instead in a common big world. Blending goes on all the same.

(Among people who need not eat, what takes the social function of sharing food?)

Geography, big

Farmer places humanity's new home on a world whose surface is one long twisty river valley, wide but confined by high cliffs. Each neighborhood along the river initially has a narrow majority of people from one time and culture, another group half that size from another, and the remainder are random. Why? An experiment concerning ethnic persecution?

I would place each person near their ancestors. This makes most of the world a dialect continuum: among my neighbors I can find a chain to someone who speaks Proto-Germanic, through pairs who understand each other in their native language, and if I look far enough I can find such a chain to any language (except creoles), assuming that language was invented only once. How do neighboring languages influence each other in such a world?

Above I said that every third instance should live in this shared world; but not all in one spot, because children need the company of elders. So, having determined the ideal arrangement for singletons – call each person's ideal site a node – place pairs of instances, opposite each other on the loop, at the N/3 nodes nearest their own. Each node becomes a city whose population is two-thirds of the average number of days in a lifetime. (As the private world is small, the common world must be vast!)

Imagine an expanding circle of yourselves wandering the world! As you go from town to town, though the folk get stranger, you recognize some whose other selves you met in the previous town.


Such is my pet fantasy as of 2022 November 30. I began this page on 2022 November 04, incorporating matter from blog posts of 2013 June 15 and 2016 August 20 and 2021 December 30 and 2022 October 24.

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