After realizing how aliens and irradiation are not really suited for my world, I came up with a different idea for how Belgium could become a global power, one which I like more.

Basically, at birth, each person gets an ancestor to guide them. This manifests differently for everyone: some people get voices, some people get dreams, some people can see their ancestor, and there might even be other methods of ancestral guidance.

These ancestors would realistically be from the person's own family. Most people would only have 1 ancestor, but some might have more. The only culture that has ancestors initially is the group of tribes that were known as the Belgae in Roman times, although ancestral guidance is like a dominant gene: anyone who has an ancestor that was born in that area gets an ancestor. Once someone dies, the link with the ancestor is lost and that ancestor goes back to the spirit lands. The dead person also goes to the spirit lands.

The idea is that the ancestor serves as a second set of senses that is not confined to the restrictions that a human has:

  • They have 360° vision and hearing on all axis, not limited to wherever their guided one is watching.
  • An ancestor can see infrared and X-rays and ultraviolet, on top of visible light, and can hear ultrasound and infrasound. Some ancestors can even see gamma rays and VHF-light. To put it in numbers: The idea is that visible light is 400-700 nm. All ancestors can see between 1 nm and 1 mm. Some ancestors can see from 1 pm to 1 m.
  • The sense of smell of an ancestor is far more sophisticated than that of a normal human. it's closer to that of a dog than that of a human.
  • After training, an ancestor/guided one couple can even share touch and mental capabilities, allowing guided ones to use their ancestor's power to feel objects at a distance, and in effect unlock an additional brain.

Ancestors have limits. The most important of these is that they cannot affect any aspects of the world directly. They cannot move objects, they cannot be observed by anyone apart from their coupled guided one and they cannot sense beyond a certain distance. Ancestors can see each other.

What would be the consequences of such a perk? I'm specifically looking for the consequences on everyday activities (like working and house chores), violent acts (like war and crime) and the exercise of power (like governing and managing).

  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea a lot. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Nice idea, you should probably think about limiting this question to just one of the three topics you list and then asking follow on questions though. :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 20:05
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Sex would get a lot more awkward, what with two grandparents in the room. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ "Most people would only have 1 ancestor" that would require a very stable population. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn If each dead person only created a single ancestor that could only guide a single person at any given time, then you would only have bottleneck in the beginning. As populations age, you eventually get to the point where there are more dead people descended from your original population than are currently alive. $\endgroup$
    – Dent7777
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


Effect would be to increase inequality in the society even more.

People with accomplished ancestors would be able to accomplish more in their lives, because importance to learn would decrease, especially in occupations where learning previous history is important, like law.

People would be less able to change careers from what your ancestors - because if best advice you can get is about farming, getting into computer programming is harder compared to someone whose ancestors include Newton.

Descendants of great military strategist would have advantage in military careers, and would have important advantages. War would become more effective, and more driven by tribal and clan interests, because:

Punishing whole families for crime of single person would be common, especially political crimes: just to make sure that offender cannot return in next generation and continue his/her plans, so all known descendant would be often executed with offender. very likely multiple generations (say all descendants of the grandfather of an offender).

Rape would be even worse crime than it is now, because of the consequences. And during military conquest, new lands would be subject to even worse rapes, and rape camps, as a way to enhance influence of the victor in the future generations.

As a result, consequences for the development of civilization would be rather unpleasant, because most brutal psychotic rapists would have bigger influence over next generations. So Darwinian pressure would be away from cooperation and towards brutal suppression of enemies.

I may think about more consequences, but above is a good start. But it does not look good.


Another idea: Communication in general, and especially in a battle. With ancestor communicating with his descendants, it would be a huge advantage in military: instant lossless communication in field battle, with no way to intercept, removing "fog of war" and giving huge advantage to a tribe with more descendants. Imagine what descendants of Genghis Khan could do, how much more effective their military campaigns would be.

Read r/K selection theory of parental investment: r strategy is to have many descendants and spend little resources supporting them, K strategy is to have few descendants and spend lot of resources to make sure they succeed.

Ancestral guidance would allow r strategy with lots of help for a little cost, so r strategy would take over. Which brings back the rape camps.


Still going to be big in warfare, even without added range. Fog of war doesn't exist, since they can see through smoke, fog and dust. Also, the extra-set of eyes bit, as well as the eyes in the back of your head.

Probably need some practice to learn how to fight with an ancestor, however.

Can ancestors see at night (what's the sensitivity)? Do they need sleep? They can see through some walls. Are their sensing capabilities limited as centered on the person, or can they shift that ability to have its locus anywhere within their area?

If they don't sleep, you also have a really nifty alarm system, if they can wake their descendants up (by yelling in their ears). Can the descendant turn off the advice? Or be distracted by it in battle, when they don't want it? Are ancestors moral, or conniving? Could also result in ancestors providing false information in order to get bad people killed. Or to gain access to someone who's currently alive, but that they want in the spirit lands ("the good die young..."). If ancestors aren't completely devoted to their descendant, they can shade their advice to manipulate their physical "hands" (descendants) to accomplish their old goals.

I expect a lot more treasure troves, as having hidden money that you can access in the next lifetime if your "hands" are willing to do what you want, means it's worth saving that money - if you have long-term goals.

Having an older, more experienced, person always on your shoulder - would be a boon to any rash young person. And could be transformatively amazing if they were smart, intelligent, well-read or knowledgeable. Any skill that can be taught by voice could be taught to the descendant. Over time, you'd get quite skilled people who'd make even more skilled ancestors after they die. Just having a second opinion on most things, even if they weren't a particularly amazing person could be huge - it'd mean when you're going to do something stupid, they'd say, "Hey, waitaminute...". And, if ancestors haven't screwed over their "hands" during the "hand"'s lifetime, the "hands" would likely listen to them, probably most carefully.

Also, huge in politics. It would be very difficult to do surreptitious communication that an ancestor might not be watching for. But ancestors could do that signaling for you (especially if they're not always visible to each other). Can listen for whispers around corners, etc. Plus the advice of a skilled politician to any young aspiring politician?

Murder would be very hard to do, depending on the chance of the murdered person getting put back into circulation as an ancestor in a timely fashion.

Theft would be down, when shopkeepers are keeping two additional eyes on you at all times. Plus the incentive for ancestors to be moral, might lead them to report crime that they observe to each other, independent of whether their "hands" would be interested in doing so.

Keeping an eye on the children, for housewives. Ditto for shepherds, goatherds, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ You misunderstood the one about the range. Ancestors cannot see 100X as far as a normal person, they can see about as far as a normal person. However, they can also see infrared and ultraviolet. An ancestor is not some sort of mystical binoculars that allow you to see far away objects. $\endgroup$
    – Nzall
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, your three orders of magnitude wasn't particularly clear as to what it was pertaining to. "300x the visual range" would be clearer (but I wonder exactly how much of the EM spectrum that might apply to, it might be most of it). $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 19:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NateKerkhofs You should edit the question to say the ancestor also sees infra-red and ultraviolet, maybe even x-rays, in addition to normal light. I confess I wasn't able to understand that "larger perceptory range" without reading your comment here. Spelling out the extra ranges of the spectrum available is much clearer and easier to understand. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi The idea is that visible light is 400-700 nm. All ancestors can see between 1 nm and 1 mm. Some ancestors can see from 1 pm to 1 m. $\endgroup$
    – Nzall
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @NateKerkhofs Thanks! The edits make it much clearer. Although the "Their audiovisual perceptory... ...not the range at which it's heard." part is actually redundant now. The rest of the list item explains the meaning better and doesn't need the beginning. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 6:19

What would be the consequences of such a perk? I'm specifically looking for the consequences on everyday activities (like working and house chores), violent acts (like war and crime) and the exercise of power (like governing and managing).

First, cool idea. Here is what I am thinking.

Everyday activities: Generally speaking day to day activities would be more efficient and would require less time to learn.

  • We take for granted the things we do on a daily basis without much thought, but having a five year old I can tell you that does not come naturally it has to be learned. Simple tasks like learning to cook, or cleaning, or alphabetizing...tons of impact here. The ancestor spirit(s), would have to be careful to not simply give the answer, but rather like a parent would have to teach their ward.
  • Specialization. Specialization is both good and bad in the world today (more good than bad I would argue). But generalists have their uses as well. Seeing all the advancements in the world and how they can fit together with the most benefit would be a huge bonus. Imagine a scientist working on a project promoted by 8 generations of brilliant scientists. The world could very likely be a much more advanced place.

War and Crime:


  • War can be impacted in many ways and not always for the better. While knowing military history is generally good for a commander or even a solider (to a lesser degree) being beholden to that history/tradition can be terrible. Think of how the US fought the British army during the Revolutionary war. Brits: "Lets line up and shoot each other! We are way better at it and more disciplined than you!" Rebels: "Um, no" snipe snipe A good spirit could most certainly convey an advantage to strategy and provide guidance from personal experience.
  • As mentioned by others, rapid communication. It is not impractical to think that in this kind of world some soldiers could be selectively bred so that certain families would cross over and allow entire brigades or armies to instantaneously communicate. Information can win battles.


  • I find this more interesting than war...imagine a thief that never needs a lookout. That if from a line of thieves may have more skills than any one person in our world could master. Lock picking, safe cracking, acrobatics, knife throwing, poison making and usage.

Governing and managing:

  • This is complicated. Would people be more efficient...probably, would they be better governors/leaders...maybe. The policy and daily governance actions could certainly be more effective and efficient.


  • Physical activities would not benefit as much. While it certainly wouldn't hurt to have advice, actions that are not strictly mental would still require dedication from the person to master (they may be better than someone who does not have the spirit guidance).
  • Breeding specialists. It seems very likely to me that families could specifically breed specializations into their lines. This could be any sort of skill set.
  • Knowledge loss. Over the course of human history the rise and fall of empires, nations, religions etc etc etc has caused great losses in human gained knowledge as well as cultural history. While it may not be physically preserved the knowledge would carry on to future generations.
  • Personality. Are the ancestor spirits good...or bad? Are the helpful or to they sow dissent. Probably both. I can see factions of like minded families banding together to fight opposing others. Could lead to impressively complex and interesting conflicts.

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