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2018 Reader Question 160

2018 Reader Question 160 published on 36 Comments on 2018 Reader Question 160

I keep ignoring these questions because I keep thinking “Some day I’ll figure this out and have a good answer” but it’s been literal years and I still haven’t thought of a fun or interesting way to tackle a multi-headed critter. Are they multiple people? Are they just one person? I don’t know!! It’s my greatest failing.


I’ve always been of the impression they’re somewhere in-between… depending on degree of sapience. If bestial like regular dogs or snakes, then it wouldn’t likely make much difference. One mind, three minds, twelve minds… they’d react roughly the same, just a bit strangely due to multiple stimuli directing the body. But since each mind would be aware of the body itself, it would learn how not to get in its own way.

On the other side, if we’re saying that Cerberus is a species, then it’s… much more interesting. I’ve seen it happen where they’re literally the same mine, one “mind” with each head handling a facet of the personality, three minds that simply cooperate… It’s much easier if there’s some way to say “natural telepathy with itself”, because then it’s a moot point. It would effectively be “one” mind anyway.

My preference was always somewhere in the middle… They aren’t “one mind”, but they are “one person”. Identifying in the singular, and no secrets (not that it would be practical in the first place), so they’d be able to functionally anticipate the thoughts of each other. Something similar to twins that are best friends, in that they have strong similarities to personality, even if there’s presentation that’s different. Especially since the body would be controlled by the multiple minds in concert, disrupting/disorienting that would cause trouble with motor control.

I have three possibilities for this. My personal favorite is the first.

I would like to think they are the same being, but the heads represent different aspects of the personality, since a person’s personality tends to be multifaceted. Almost like a means to communicate with your own subconscious.

Alternatively, perhaps they are beings that never sleep, and one head is conscious while the others are in a semi-conscious rest state.

The last idea I had is if every case of multiple personality disorder was actually one of these multi-headed creatures, and that was the reason for the problem!

Feel free to steal/borrow any of those ideas if you need to.

Related to the first possibility, the webcomic “Spinnerette” has a humanoid Cerberus called Minerva that might give you some ideas: (see the personality section)

The detailed info is on page 29 of the story, where Minerva and London are recuperating in hospital, after the battle.

start quote:

“If you admit the fault, ” he said gently, “people almost always forgive you. Especially if they know deep down you weren’t acting out of malice.” He let a small smirk cross his face. “It’s Veldio who’s going to have the real issues.”

“More than you know.” Minerva’s right head said, her expression growing dark. “Tom was nasty enough to shoot his central head, something even I wouldn’t have done.”

“Is that what… regulates the personality difference between the left and right?”

“Oh, my right and left can get along just fine,” Minerva’s left said, “but that’s because it’s my middle head that functionally keeps us the same person.” She let that statement hang for a moment. “It’s what regulates the information flow in my sleep that standardizes my memories, and sense of self. With that, over time Veldio is going to grow into two separate people who share a single body.”

It took London a moment to digest all that. “So losing a side head isn’t nearly as catastrophic.” He finally said, glancing at her again. “But he’s going to end up bug crazy in no time.”

Minerva sighed. “It’ll take a few years to manifest entirely, but yes he will, and I don’t look forward to it. He’s already a radical cerberus supremacist ”

London had to chuckle at that phrase. “Not normally the way I hear that phrase being used.”

“It’s way worse than the human variant.” Minerva said darkly. “The cerberi are built to fight and our past isn’t a humble one.”

end quote.

How about: different people with parallel thought processes? They move in accord and finish each other’s sentences. They can multitask, but the more the nature of the tasks diverge, the more voluntary control of the body suffers. They can usually resynchronise and resynergise easily enough if refocus on just one task, though. Oh, and their sleep cycles synchronise closely, it is not trivial for them to work against this, and the more desynchronised they get, the more likely and more severely things can get messed up.

Well, the cheap cop-out would of course be to state that they have a single personality that is just using several heads like we make use of having several eyes and ears. Whether they have several *brains* and how exactly those would cooperate could remain unanswered – I can’t say I’ve ever heard a convincing reason why our brains come in two hemispheres, either. (Yes, I am aware that our hemispheres are way more closely interconnected than brains in separate heads could ever be.)

Main advantage: You don’t have have the question “why didn’t that species go extinct eons ago if, when attacked, the separate minds first need to agree on fight-or-flight and which direction to run off to!?” left sitting as the venom-breathing hydra in the room. ;-)

And if that’s not interesting enough, you could go the “nobody knows whether they have several minds because they don’t tell” route … (which would be easy enough for them to achieve simply by the minds agreeing to keep the details shrouded in mystery, and appointing a single “spokesperson(ality)” for whenever there are sentient observers around)

Detailed inspection of their sleep patterns etc. would be interesting, but could also be misleading; while multiple personality disorder in humans *does* result in odd timings (in particular, the “missing time” symptom), sleep is also coupled to chemical and (electric-)activity cycles that cover our *whole* brains or even the entire body, and could possibly *force* multiple minds to act in sync in that respect.

Oh, that reminds me of something. You mentioned how connected the hemispheres of our brains are, but, what if they weren’t connected? It’s not just a thought experiment, there’s actually a rare medical treatment where the brain is divided in half. Even though each half of the brain only controls one half of the body, the person still functions normally, but it can be shown that each half can sometimes have differing thoughts and opinions. It’s just not obvious to observers because only one half has the speech center. Short, interesting video on that here.

I’d says multiple personalities. Each ‘head’ is its own person and they are of the type that cannot have medallions: too much magic makes the whole thing go skew: magic can’t solve everything.

Maybe there was an attempt, once and it shall never be spoken of again nor repeated.

But I like to think they are rare enough that maybe only one or two of each exist and they are classed as true immortal. I suddenly had a picture of a hydra sat on its hunches doing a rock paper scissors tournament to decide whose turn it is to chose dinner.

I’ve thought about this exact question in my own world-building and came to the conclusion that creatures like Hydra and Cerberus are one person/personality with their brain distributed between each of the heads rather than centralized like most other species have. Taken together, they would function basically the same as a normal person, with each individual head feeling like the same person as the other heads rather than their own unique thing, and feeling in total control of the body overall. Barring psycological issues on the individual in question, they wouldn’t normally be able to “argue” with one another, since they all want the same thing and come to the same conclusions about how to get it at roughly the same time. The only appreciable difference would be their being much more resistant to head trauma that would leave others comatose, vegitative, or outright dead. Traumatic and painful, but able to be recovered from without major lasting disability.

Alternatively, they do have a centralized brain with one mind, but it’s located in the body rather than in the heads, and each head responds like an arm, leg, or tail. Just with eyes and mouths instead of hands and feet. Probably the simpler approach.

The Author of My hero Academia has a character in a previous manga they made, who is actually composed of three different snakes. In their comic, the MC runs into a zoo that has animals that become human-ish, she just functions like a single person though when she become humanized with the snakes in her hair kinda like medusa

In the anime Parasite, there are this creatures that eat parts of people. Normally they eat the head and take over the body, but in some cases they don’t get that part and eat a limb. One character in their is composed of like five of these things that control different parts of the host body.

Personally I’d go with a blend of multiple options.
2 – headed – Could be multiple personalities, Siamese twins, normal twins that are just always in synch with each other “Come and play with us.”, or the ability to switch full bodies, or just a single person
3+ heads – Multiple personalities, multiple people who are in synch, single person or the ability to switch many bodies..

How exactly it goes off though is dependent on the person involved. A character’s who’s heads are insynch with each other for example might become a single person or multiple insynch people.

Could have additional magic item just for multiheaded characters that allows them to exist in multiple places at the same time, a feat that most others can’t preform due to their brains not being able to comprehend it.

There doesn’t need to be any one unified solution, different creatures can work different ways.

For something like a cerberus, I would have each head be a separate entity, but still very similar. Like a wolf pack, they would compete with each other when appropriate but work together in-sync when needed. A medallion would probably transform them into one being with little issue due to how close and similar they are. There would probably be some disorientation as their minds meld or separate though.

For something like a hydra, I’d view each head as something like a back-up copy. They are all the same mind but each is fully functional on it’s own. Most of the time they all act as one being, but the hydra can focus it’s mind into head one when needed. A medallion could change them into a single person and it wouldn’t affect them at all really.

For something like an ettin (the D&D monster), each head is a separate and distinct personality, and they barely get along normally. Medallion magic would have to either separate them into two people somehow, or the resulting single person would probably go insane, or at least have something like multiple personality disorder where the two minds compete for control.

I would also note that there are two-headed people in real life, so there is precedence that you can reference.

Based on recent discoveries about the role of the gut/microbes in cognition, I personally subscribe to the more holistic view that a head isn’t a person in its own right. It is interesting to think about how a second brain would affect consciousness, personality and communication. It would be interesting to see a creature that had multiple heads, but only one brain–the additional heads would just be used for defence. But multiple heads and multiple brains would be more interesting, and would probably take a bit of neurological research to figure out.

maybe the question needs to be answered by biology expects on the multiple head situation.
lets just say for fact that ALL mammals and creatures with just a brain is always in the head(unless specified they are not) in all true nature there is probably a dominant head that controls the body more so then the others(for if biology was to work with the nerve endings, they could not respond to multiple singles from multiple direction and result in a twitchy limb trying to go one way or another)
Lets look at the Hydra, if it was born with multiple hands(lets just say it did) it probably had a head of of the few that must have gained dominance over the other heads. They would have individual thoughts and control over their necks but to the main torso the ‘dom’ head of the bunch be able to go forward. NOW if that ‘dom.’ head was to be incapacitated the next strongest of the heads would probably take over. I would also say this with Cerberus as well and probably be more communicative between the 3 heads(lesser heads more communication, more heads, more dominance traits of control) being that Cerberus is 3 headed, and the attitude of most dogs are loyal and upbeat, I would say that more than one would have control. If all raised similarly(one head not praised more then the other) they may be more united in their control and not be conflicted in their actions of doing the same thing.
if there are just joint bodies like Siamese twins, thats more complicated but they have control over their own body and none of the others.(or not as much anyway).
NOW the part if its in skin deep… That up to you :3

I say, you do what these girls are

if the necks are separated, they got different brains and personalities. but if they got a merged head – they get one huge brain and the same personality.

should have separate lungs and heart though to support their heads and extra big body

The answer in this would ultimately lie in the biology of the creature. I recall a movie called trollhunter where these giant trolls could have more then one head, but the other heads were grown as intimidation. So it could be that in the case of multiheaded creatures that the heads are not actually heads, but like separate limbs. Think about Madam U, technically a multiheaded creature, but her snakes are not separate animals from her. Likewise a hydra or Cerberus could have multiple heads, but one is the main head while others are more akin to limbs. In the legend of the Hydra, it was stated that one of the heads was immortal, Hercules had to bury it, still alive, under a bolder to complete his labor. If you considered the immortal head the main one and the others merely limbs, it makes more sense as to why only that head was immortal.

I think of two solutions , neither really great. 1)A personality can operate a lot like a hologram. Do you know what happens when you divide a hologram? the picture remains the same , but with lower resolution, half of a hologram is about half as clear. Even a tiny bit of a hologram is the complete picture but with terrible graininess. 2) A magical creature could have any number of illusory heads. One head would have substance , brains , fangs etc. a bunch of illusion heads would lead with their chin in a fight serving as decoys. I don’t think either of these are better than one I didn’t come up with, in YAFGC one of the characters is a chimera , and its heads each have enough character to bicker at each other .

you can just go the scientifically prowen method of one brain in each head. we have a case of this that has been scientifically studied: Abby and Britany Hensel. They control their own half of their shared body and have to coordinate their movements with each other when doing things like walking, running or driving.

I think that the Hydra was a lamia with a genetic disorder compounded by a genetic disease. Yes, those are different, one is harmless the other is not.

Instead of being half-snake and half-human, its genetic disorder caused it to be full snake with sapient intelligence. The genetic disease caused runaway regeneration that was regulated by the disorder.

This meant more sheddings per year, a higher than normal hunger, and the regeneration of the heads when Hercules started chopping.

I would expect different patterns among sapient and non-sapient creatures, with personalities basically a non-issue for non-sapients. Even the sapients probably don’t have medallions.

Also, there’s a book nobody has mentioned yet. /Their Majesties’ Bucketeers/ by L. Neil Smith. It features a sapient species on a world where tri-radial symmetry is the norm. As I recall, they had three brains, or three major lobes, on a rotating dormancy schedule. A significant brain trauma to a dormant section might not have any symptoms until that lobe comes online.

I actually once wrote a fanfic based within Skin Deep with a hydra for the main character. I ended up going for the one-body-but-many-people-sharing-control when in human form route and when in their true form they each had full control of their own neck and head but still shared control over the rest of their body. It was pretty fun and it actually worked rather well, I think.

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