A Life Under Incarnum

So, we know that sentient lifeforms attract Incarnum (at least up until puberty), and that Incarnum affects organic chemical reactions and physiology. What about lifespans? Take for example the typical human being and the Gray Elf. Both have souls, so both are affected by Incarnum, and both can consequently use magic (although as we know magic is not the sole purview of the living or soul-imbued). However, the elf will live about five times longer than the human will. Meanwhile in Remember we have a number of long-lived spellcasters, including protagonist Igon who has been shown alive from the Fall of Arcania in 896 to the present time in 1025, a full 129 years later. Certainly this would seem to suggest that indeed Incarnum has the power to extend the natural lifespan of a biological organism.

There is indeed some truth to this, but not as much as you might be drawn to think from these examples. Take Dwarves for example, who are also subject to the same statements as the human and elf made above, but who live only three or four times as long as human. Then there’s also Gnomes and Halflings, who also outlive most humans but are still nowhere near our apparent benchmark of the Gray Elf. Even other ethnic groups of elves don’t live as long as Gray Elves.

Incarnum is in many ways a sort of fluidic energy, it does charge organic matter and it does give it a push in growth and longevity, but not because it is somehow modifying the extant material to work better. Incarnum is not a force of change in the natural world, like prey, predators, or inclement weather.

Consider the mitochondrion in each one of your cells. It takes in Oxygen as part of respiration and produces ATP (cell fuel, if you will) and free radicals. The free radicals are harmful, especially to your DNA, and over the years the damage done to the DNA in your cells by this respiration that keeps them running causes them to break down. Once a cell replicates, damage done to the DNA starts to become cumulative as more heavily-damaged DNA begins to propagate around your body by replacing dead cells, so damaged cells are replacing dead ones and will themselves likely not live as long. Eventually, this manifests in almost everything that we associate with growing old and inevitably dying of old age. This is the natural order as we recognise it, and its why a lot of health groups espouse the benefits of anti-oxidants nowadays.

Now, enter Incarnum. By its very presence, cells are working, because they’re getting energy, so they don’t have to respire so much, so they make less free radicals, so the cell (and by extension, the organism) can live longer. Incarnum is indeed good for your health. But because you had to evolve to a point to actually attract it in the first place, your cells and your overall physiology is not designed either to cope with it long term or even to recognise that its there, and your cells keep going about their normal business. This is why all of the above species still need to breath and eat and sleep at all, because Incarnum is supplementing their normal biological activity but not replacing it outright. Think of Incarnum as being sort of like drinking caffeine, you’re not really adding anything to your body, but it works faster and more actively (yes yes, I know what caffeine is like as a chemical, but for the sake of this analogy go with me on this).

So, Incarnum can increase your life expectancy, but not by much because evolution has not ever worked purposefully towards anything, let alone the naturally elusive Incarnum. How then do we explain all these races that outlive humans? And even why only one ethnicity of elves lives so long compared to its peers?

Well, the answer to that is good ol’ science I’m afraid. Remember those anti-oxidants? It may be that Gray Elves culturally eat a lot of foods rich in them, and that their metabolism is slower, or more efficient, or it could simply be that the mitochondria in their cells don’t let out nearly as many free radicals during respiration. All of these factors and more can contribute to a much greater lifespan.

The physiological differences between elf subgroups may not be very great, but the cultural differences may compound natural tendencies and preferences. Meanwhile, Dwarves are smaller and more heavy-set, so they are certainly likely to have a slower metabolism (which could also account in part for their alcohol tolerance) and they spend most of their time deep in the mountains and underground, away from any potential solar radiation that might cut their lifespans short.

But what about the spellcasters? How do we explain Igon’s super-human longevity? Well the answer there lies in the title: spellcaster. Incarnum in and of itself does not ensure a long life or immortality or even necessarily good health, but magic by its nature defies the normal laws of physics and spellcasters are able to control it to their needs and whims. Igon, as an example, uses magic to create copies of himself that he routinely swaps into in order to retain his youth, though his time parenting let this routine slide for quite a while and he has noticeably aged in Book 3 (how do you safely explain ritual suicide as a positive thing to a child, really?), though never again since. This is similar with our other long-lived spellcasters, like Lorna, Rain, and Lex.

So to conclude: Does Incarnum affect your lifespan? The answer is indeed that it does, but not so significantly as to make humans live centuries rather than decades.

Now I sense a followup question: Can you alter a person’s soul to make them age slower, like how the planar shell can affect how time passes within?

The answer I’m afraid is a very loud and resounding “No”. The difference between a soul and a planar shell is substantial, especially given that one is inside the other in almost every encounter. Time marches along inside a plane due to the frequency of the planar shell, but all a soul does to organic matter is give it a little nudge forward. Now, if you instead formed a coating or bubble of soft (low-frequency) Incarnum around a person, and added in some manner of “anti-Incarnum field” immediately outside of it to prevent the planar shell from interfering, you could potentially slow down time within that enclosed space.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend trying this idea, because it essentially puts you in your own little plane relative to everyone else, so that you are moving substantially slower than the rest of the plane, and if you instead go the other route, your natural physiology is still ticking away and all you manage to do is accelerate it.

That’s all on Magic Physics today, I’ll be back later this week if not next Tuesday with more, feel free to pose questions you’d like answered and I’ll be happy to try and answer them all in turn!

Posted by: Lying

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