Emotional development in long-lived fantasy races

Brian G Turner

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So it occurred to me last night that surely longevity must come with some form of trade-off, especially when it comes to fantasy races.

The obvious point would be a slow physical development process - so a race that might live for a few hundred years might spend the first few decades of their life effectively like a child, not hitting adolescence until humans would be reaching midde-age - I think Tolkien may have specifically related something about that with Hobbits and possibly also elves.

But something I don't recall is slow emotional development - that this may be particularly slow, resulting in long-lived races acting in a manner that may seem unduly childish by comparison to humans. Again, this may be featured in Tolkien, especially with regards to various meetings of elves singing playfully in the trees.

However, I don't get the impression that any of this really comes across in modern fantasy fiction.

In which case, is it traditional in literature for long-lived races to show relatively childish characteristics, and is this carried on into modern literature?

Just thinking aloud. :)
 

HareBrain

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I'm not sure why development would be any slower, unless the end result were more complex than with a normal human. Nature has an interest in a being reaching its full adult stage as fast as possible. That this takes longer with humans than rabbits is surely because humans have a more complex development, not because they have a longer lifespan.
 

The Crawling Chaos

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I agree with HareBrain.

I think rather than the speed of their emotional / intellectual development, my problem with longer-lived races in fantasy is that they are often portrayed as stale beings whose development has come to a halt: they have seen, heard, lived so much that they have reached the end of their search for X (a higher form of existence, a purpose, the meaning of life, etc.) and can no longer change/transform radically. That's not true of every book out there of course but elves are too often portrayed as wise and reclusive beings who know it all and only half-heartedly engage with lesser ("intellectually immature") beings. They don't seem to be actively seeking out growth, new lessons, more knowledge, a higher form of morality, etc.
 

Luiglin

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It depends on the context of the world. I've certainly got an established fantasy race in my works who physically and emotionally mature at a rate in line with their lifespan.

The idea of having an obnoxious, know it all, 160 year old elf behaving like a human teenager was too good to miss. Plus, it gave me a useful mechanic to why all the other short lived races hate them - their 'teen' years last for 60 years.
 

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Though it's easy to understand 'more years,' I would think that a large part of extended life would be an enhanced wisdom from learning and emotionally maturing at the same rate as we do, while the body grants us more time to utilize that knowledge while healthy. IOW, elf-boy appears early teens, is actually 100, and has the maturity, knowledge, and experience of a hundred year old (that's a biggie-- experience would not be lessened).

So, though again it's easy to get more years, the real boon is the intellect that 'naturally' develops in that lifetime/timeframe. Otherwise, what you're talking about is a retarded mental growth, slower than other races, and there is little advantage to that unless it grants some depth (which I fail to see how it would).

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tinkerdan

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There is physical maturity (For humans the rough definition is between ages of 11-17 though that doesn't always hold true)
Mental or intellectual or brain maturity. (Some say this is ~25)
Social maturity (Seems harder to define other than that being social starts early and can be intertwined with Emotional Maturity.)
Emotional maturity:(Seems the most difficult to define.)

Some studies offer numbers such as 12 signs of emotional maturity and they all seem to indicate that few people can check all the boxes.
The only agreement I see is that almost everyone typically is below their maturity level for their age.
It is effected by environment, social aspects, cultural considerations, and stress and how they cope with stress, which brings in a thought that within certain cultures a person might be considered mature for their age and yet within society they could be either below or above the norm.

I think that it is possible that a person who expects to live 180 years at age 20 could have the same level of maturity as the 20 year old with expectancy of 60 years. This might suggest that someone 180 years old might have emotional maturity that we consider beyond comprehension. Although there could be a point of onset of deterioration that might level it out to some respect. However there is plenty of wiggle room for it to end up differently with 7 years being equivalent to 21.

That much said; asking a writer to delve deeply into this in the world building might be the same as all world building and require a certain ammount of circumspection in offering too much information unless the intent is to write something similar to the Charley X episode in Star Trek, where everything begins to make sense when maturity levels are addressed along with the mysterious powers Charley has.
 

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It you look at development it relates often less to age and lifespan than it does to life style and breeding rates.

Considering that humans in their natural environment might not live far past 30 and yet today we'd consider that an abnormally young age to die. In fact today its not unreasonable to live into your 70s or 80s even well into your 90s. Yet the emotional and physical development of people has not "changed" to account for an expected lifespan of almost double in many thousands of years.

However what is important to note if you compare a human to a rabbit is that a human has very few offspring, in fact typically only one per birthing. In addition we invest heavily into our offspring. A long period of raising and resource gifting and investing into them ;whilst a rabbit is done far quicker and already onto the next brood within a year or so. Elephants and Whales are the same, few offspring, but heavily protected and invested into what they do have.

Of course a naturally longer lifespan is part of having this strategy, it would be an insane risk if we only lived far shorter lifespans.



On the subject of social maturity I'd wager this is a very hard thing to pin down, especially since we don't live within a single social group. In any one day we might interact with multiple social groups - family, friends, work, gym, bar, reading club, online etc... You could quite easily interact with an element of all those groups within a single waking day. Several might even overlap such as you might have friends who are are also part of your work social group etc.... So being mature in a wide variety of social groupings might make it a far more complex subject as the rules and social aspects of each group vary.



In the end I'd say if you want a race that matures slower then its got to have more than just a long lifespan as a reason for that longer maturity.

In general where we tend to see elves we tend to see them mature at about human rates, but also reach a decedent period where they've lived for so long they get jaded to life. One might even argue that such an attitude toward life shows signs of major mental sickness in them, so its no shock that often that world view with elves often goes hand in hand with the "dying race" whilst "humanity rises to the fore". Indeed I'd expect elves living in a healthy society to maintain a higher level of optimism and energy with life even well into their lifespan.

One important thing to remember is that science can rarely tell us what does not happen; only report on what does and what might happen based upon what has been observed and tested. So even my conclusions above are flawed in a fantasy setting dealing with a non-human race.
 

sknox

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The issue is even worse for immortals or for beings that live thousands of years. What is the arc of their life?

Another thing to consider is social constructs. For example, how long is an apprenticeship? If there are schools, how long till I graduate? If the long-lived have a hundred or two years of maturity, they're going to be able to have huge armies. If there is conscription, a fellow could be in the military for a century. Take a look at the Roman Republic for the effects of having men in arms instead of farms even for just twenty years.

Maternity gets interesting. Are women child-bearing for hundreds of years? That's going to have a few implications. What about senescence? Taking care of grandpa for decades could produce a bit of wear and tear. If you have inheritable kingship, there will be family and political consequences. Even at human lifespans, Junior could get pretty impatient when the old man just never seemed to die, already. Think what it would mean if you had to wait a hundred or two hundred years to inherit the crown. Or even to inherit the farm.

Then there's the disjunct with other societies. It's hard to imagine mixing humans and elves (sure, let's use elves) in the same military units. The elves would all wind up as the officers. Schools would be similarly problematic. How long is an appropriate jail sentence for someone who can live a thousand years?

BTW, analogous issues can be raised for short-lived peoples, as well.

So yeah, I agree with Brian on this. Few fantasy novels work their way through the implications of fantasy choices. SF is more disciplined in that regard.
 

sknox

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>Considering that humans in their natural environment might not live far past 30
I don't mean to pick on anyone, but I try to speak up on this misunderstanding when I see it. It's the historical demographer in me.

The ages of man are three score and ten. That's a paraphrase from the Bible. Human beings have always (well, in historical times) lived about the same number of decades. I can produce plenty of evidence, but I won't trouble the waters save on request.

But the perception is widespread. What's the source? Why does it persist, despite generations of historians patiently explaining it's misleading? The first question is easy--it's a misreading of statistics. Thirty is a bit low, but it's a nice round number so let's roll with that. Thirty is not how long most people lived; thirty is "mean age at death." You take a bunch of parish registers or census data, record how old each person was when they died, then take the mean (average). What do you get? Thirty. Obviously this varies wildly, but we're keeping it simple here.

Why do you get thirty? Because a whole bunch of people died in infancy. Another big chunk die in childhood of diseases and in adolescence from accidents (teenagers have *always* been accident-prone). Another swath comes from war, plus more disease. Oh, and famine.

Anyway, all these can (and should) be called premature deaths. Because if you managed to dodge all the ways to die young, if you manage to die old, you were in your seventies or eighties. The difference between now and Back Then is that a whole lot more people are reaching those years, so the mean age at death is higher.

Going back to Brian's point, this is another aspect not ever considered, AFAIK. Maybe infant mortality is different with elves or dwarves. Maybe senescence runs a different course. For some context and maybe ideas, look up "stages of life". You can scope that a bit by adding a time period (e.g., ancient, medieval) or a culture (e.g., India, Islam, etc.). There's a whole literature on it.
 

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The issue is even worse for immortals or for beings that live thousands of years. What is the arc of their life?

Another thing to consider is social constructs. For example, how long is an apprenticeship? If there are schools, how long till I graduate? If the long-lived have a hundred or two years of maturity, they're going to be able to have huge armies. If there is conscription, a fellow could be in the military for a century. Take a look at the Roman Republic for the effects of having men in arms instead of farms even for just twenty years.

Maternity gets interesting. Are women child-bearing for hundreds of years? That's going to have a few implications. What about senescence? Taking care of grandpa for decades could produce a bit of wear and tear. If you have inheritable kingship, there will be family and political consequences. Even at human lifespans, Junior could get pretty impatient when the old man just never seemed to die, already. Think what it would mean if you had to wait a hundred or two hundred years to inherit the crown. Or even to inherit the farm.

Then there's the disjunct with other societies. It's hard to imagine mixing humans and elves (sure, let's use elves) in the same military units. The elves would all wind up as the officers. Schools would be similarly problematic. How long is an appropriate jail sentence for someone who can live a thousand years?

BTW, analogous issues can be raised for short-lived peoples, as well.

So yeah, I agree with Brian on this. Few fantasy novels work their way through the implications of fantasy choices. SF is more disciplined in that regard.
I'm going to counter that (simply for discussion) with a few thoughts. Regarding armies, on the one hand instead of devoting a lifetime to it, though some would, like most world armies today where a typical enlistment is 3-years, I would suspect that for a 200-year living race, it might be 15-20 years. Conversely, considering the number of years/life a person has at risk, perhaps it would be even more avoided than it is now.

As far as inheritance goes, perhaps the entire system would be different to ensure such issues never arise, and more so, so that a single family doesn't rule over millennia. Folks might argue 'what if they don't want to surrender power,' but, I expect that the societal mindset would be focused more toward relinquishing that power... a deserved break, vs. maintaining it as the goal.

As to jail sentences, it's possible that instead of 'life' being an option, execution becomes the less cruel option.

IOW, I'm more of the opinion that with extended life there ultimately would be related social changes considering that extended life, vs., simply the only change is more time.

Just random arguments for discussion.

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Overread

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@sknox I'll admit 30 was a bit of a wild guess on my part, but I was trying to aim WAY back before civilisation - ergo well into the hunter-gatherer era and before of humanity. Ergo when the technological divide between us and most animals was not so dramatic as it is even with basic advances in technology.

It actually might even have been a greater value than some of the eras of civilisation since disease and such can be serious problems in settlements without proper sanitation.
 

Finch

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The desire to live longer has always been in the form of eternal youth. In the Mahabharata is Markandeya , a boy that remains 16 for ever . In Norse tales there are stories of eternal life and is in every culture throughout history . The elves and fairies were originally sinister. Elves were seen as a dangerous creature that would lure humans to their death. Elves and fairies were believed to have special powers and the gift of eternal life.
There was a shift of attitude in Arthurian-legends and elves became bit friendlier . Tolkien developed the idea back to desire of eternal youth , or along youth of the hobbits. Modern culture has lost the stories of eternal youth in fiction and searches for it in science .
 

Brian G Turner

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If a long-lived race takes a long time to reach physical maturity, as I believe Tolkien stated for some of his races, then wouldn't that also imply a similar amount of time for emotional maturity? Isn't a big part of emotional development learning to live with the changes of your body, and adjusting to the the new social responsibilities and roles in society? :)
 

sknox

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>Just random arguments for discussion.
And all valid. But how often do we see such considerations in play in a published story? Not often, even as background. Most commonly, we just have long-lived elves who are wiser than everyone around them, but with no socio-economic or political ramifications.
 

sknox

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>wouldn't that also imply a similar amount of time for emotional maturity?
Could, but wouldn't have to. It would in humans, but perhaps it works differently in other peoples.

Another spin I've been toying with: the long-lived undervalue books and writing more generally. The theory is that books are for shorter-lived creatures, a way to carry knowledge to the next generation, but also a way to tell an individual what another individual saw on the other side of the world. Writing also records actions, contracts, tax records, and so on. Those are things mainly relevant to the current generation.

The elves, though, value personal experience more highly. They have highly-developed memories and can recount as personal experience which is ancient history to others. It's not that they're illiterate or do not write, but they don't have much interest in it. Rather than write a poem, for example, they simply *know* the poem, and they're fine with the fact that the poem is somewhat fluid and can change a bit from one to another individual. In fact, that's an art form. The elf says, "A book is dead; I live."

Humans, of course, are appalled by this.
 

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If a long-lived race takes a long time to reach physical maturity, as I believe Tolkien stated for some of his races, then wouldn't that also imply a similar amount of time for emotional maturity? Isn't a big part of emotional development learning to live with the changes of your body, and adjusting to the the new social responsibilities and roles in society? :)
Just discussing the subject, I'm not so sure. Emotional maturity and development comes with experience and the number of experiences one 'can have' is affected by time. Yes, hormonal changes alter our drives and ultimately our caution, yet as I mentioned earlier, such a retarded (slow) growth negates the advantages of a long life. If say Mary grows into adulthood (knowledge/maturity) in 18 years, and Tom takes 40 having equivalent experiences and opportunities to learn... we would assume that Tom won't be a rocket scientist :whistle:.

I don't see where there is an advantage to a long life, let's say double, if it takes you twice as long to reach the same mental/emotional points (disregarding hormonal changes). In fact, I'd see it as a detriment since in a lifetime, to accomplish the same milestones the doubled-life being needs to consume twice the resources. All the possible advantages of wisdom and vast knowledge that could be acquired go right out the window.

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The Crawling Chaos

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If a long-lived race takes a long time to reach physical maturity, as I believe Tolkien stated for some of his races, then wouldn't that also imply a similar amount of time for emotional maturity? Isn't a big part of emotional development learning to live with the changes of your body, and adjusting to the the new social responsibilities and roles in society? :)
That has very little to do with physical age, since different societies impose different social responsibilities to a given age range. As an 8-year-old boy, you might be a carefree kid who only thinks about girls, his bicycle and video games, or a soldier killing grown men from an enemy tribe, or a miner scraping off a living for his family. I'm not equating playing video games with a lack of maturity and killing people with having matured of course, those are just extreme examples for the sake of illustrating a point. But growing old has very little in common with emotional maturity, or all the people of a certain age would have the same level of maturity, which is demonstrably not the case.

(Most) People mature as they age because more time spent alive equals more situations encountered, which in turn equals more experience and understanding. The fact that we also change physically is, I believe, coincidental.
 
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Max Egorov

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I’ve thought about this a lot. I think it really comes down to the quality of life and the kind of experiences an individual has. Even a being who’s loved for hundreds of years in one small place would be less worldly and experienced than someone who’s lived for a much shorter period of time but spent their life traveling the world and interacting with a wide variety of people and cultures.

I also think a longer lived species might be (depending on culture of course) in less of a rush to do certain things like finding a life partner or having children.
 

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I think it really comes down to the quality of life and the kind of experiences
Very much agreed! Emotional development is, majorly, a factor of environment in humans, and would likely be so in alien races. If elves live thousands of years, but it's in a time of serious poverty, war, etc., they're likely to mature very quickly.

a longer lived species might be (depending on culture of course) in less of a rush to do certain things like finding a life partner or having children.
I think this is more culture-oriented, than longevity. The elves of my world have a strong (but healthy) sex drive, but do not easily get pregnant. The term 'life partner' would be a nonsensical theory to them. Couples do get together for very long periods, but there is no promise of an 'eternity' together. A couple thousand years is a very long time!
 

ckatt

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I'm not sure why development would be any slower, unless the end result were more complex than with a normal human. Nature has an interest in a being reaching its full adult stage as fast as possible. That this takes longer with humans than rabbits is surely because humans have a more complex development, not because they have a longer lifespan.
It may also be due to humans reduced gustation period. Often babies born late (even by just a week or two) mature faster than ones that arrive on their due date. And premature babies are often smaller for the rest of their lives. There is a concept called the fourth tramers which relates to the development of human babies outside of the womb that happens in utero for other species. It is believed that our enlarged heads take up too much room and we would otherwise be born later. Other animals that give birth to a single baby can walk within hours such as deer. Even monkeys can climb on ther own in a very short time. But other animals that give birth to larger litters must wait weeks before their eyes open. Could this also be due to the fact that there is less space in the crowded womb for all of them?
So my question for long-lived fantasy races is how long does a pregnancy last? If they are all born "premature" in a sense, then their youthful period may indeed take longer as well.
 
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