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Pierson’s Puppeteer

Above are a couple of interpretations of the Pierson’s Puppeteer, a truly alien alien from the “Ringworld" books of Larry Niven.

Science fiction is so adept in giving us tools to think, and not just about possible worlds.  In that spirit, the Puppeteers are a fictional alien that everyone should have a look at.

Why “Puppeteer”?

It’s a bit of a joke.  In the books I’ve read, individuals of this alien race are master manipulators, so the name “Puppeteer” fits that way.  But there’s also a physiological sense in which these creatures feel like puppeteers.  Their two heads do not have two brains.  The puppeteer’s single brain is located near it’s center mass, in the shoulder-mound between the two necks.

The heads on their long necks serve many functions.  Like humans heads, they have eyes to see and mouths to speak.  As the Puppeteers have no other “hands”, the mouths on each head also serve that purpose, gripping and manipulating objects.  We can sort of conceptualize the role of the heads by imagining we are crouched under a blanket, with each arm extended out and wearing a sock puppet.  We use the arms to look, speak and interact, but also as hands.

The really interesting question is, how would this physiology affect the “personality”, or “self” of the Puppeteer?

  • Would they feel like their “selves” are located behind the eyes, as we humans do?  Or would they feel their point selves to be located where their brains are found?
  • Would two heads, (each with it’s own eyes and ability to speak) controlled by separate parts of a single brain make the Puppeteers feel more “divided” than we do?  Would some inclinations or desires be associated more with one head than another?
  • Where a human might stutter, or accidentally combine words when “the mouth runs ahead of the brain”, might a Puppeteer find one of it’s heads interupting the other?

All these questions are aimed at our sense of identity and how it relates to our physiology.  Do we feel like our most private “selves” are in the head because of where our eyes and ears are located?  Is the concentration of the sense organs in one place the reason we feel like one, unitary consciousness?  If our eyes were located in our chests, would we feel that we thought using our lungs?  If they were decentralized on our hands or other extremities, would we feel like two personalities sharing one body?