I would have read this about 20-25 years ago. I believe the subject was an alien individual, but it could have been a non-standard human instead.

The hook of the story was that the subject lacked an organ like the Corpus Callosum that allows the halves of the brain to communicate efficiently, allowing the illusion of a single consciousness. The subject is conscious, and has thoughts, but is subject to hearing commands like "Wash your hands!" "Fetch water!" within its head.

I recall the subject (and others like the subject) believing that the voices are their gods talking to them. To the reader it becomes clear that this is a separate part of the subject's own mind that is responsible for long-term planning and simply can't communicate with the rest of the mind in the way a "normal" human is accustomed to.

  • I've read a story similar to this; perhaps some of the details I remember from it will ring a bell - I can't, unfortunately, recall the name of the story. Details recalled: They were definitely aliens, but humanoid enough that humans could 'pass' with makeup and costume; the god-like voices were believed to be the voices of their ancestors (and the predominant religion was ancestor worship); humans visit the planet, and cure the queen of some fatal disease (cancer?), but in the process, unknowingly make her immortal. May 3 '19 at 19:03
  • @JeffZeitlin Yes, the voices could have been ancestors, not gods. But the humans didn't make the queen immortal; that's Noninterference by Harry Turtledove.
    – DavidW
    May 3 '19 at 19:10
  • Thank you! You saved me from posting a question of my own about it, had you not recognized the details! :) May 3 '19 at 19:13
  • @JeffZeitlin You could still post the question so there's a public Q&A about it; I didn't find any duplicates so nobody has asked about it yet.
    – DavidW
    May 3 '19 at 19:15
  • Possible duplicate of scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/43638/… -- in that case, the correct answer was the short story "Bluff" by Harry Turtledove.
    – Lorendiac
    May 3 '19 at 19:33

This is indeed "Bluff" by Harry Turtledove. I would have read it in Analog, Feb. 1985. The detail in this question about the king being reminded to dredge the harbour confirms this is the same story I'm looking for.

The Harry Turtledove site on Fandom has a summary that confirms most of the details I recall.

"Bluff" takes its inspiration from the work of Professor Julian Jaynes, whose 1976 work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind first theorized that early man was not conscious, or self aware...

This early civilization is without people who are able to conceive of themselves independently; rather, they take all real direction from 'gods' that they hear audibly in their minds.

  • I guess I was a good decade off on the timescale, but reading it in Analog explains why I couldn't associate it to a particular anthology or author.
    – DavidW
    May 3 '19 at 19:51
  • I read that Jaynes book. Interesting, but it seemed low probability. May 3 '19 at 21:17
  • 1
    @OrganicMarble Given that there is increasing evidence that (at least) dogs, pigs and dolphins have self awareness and possibly even theory of mind (to some degree) I would most definitely agree with you.
    – DavidW
    May 3 '19 at 21:20

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