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August 30th, 2011, 12:38 AM
I most have read it on the online site of either Asimov's or Analog's annual docket of Nebula and Hugo award candidates, when they make the stories freely available. It was at the same time as "Fossil Game", a Tom Purdom short story that appeared in Year's Best SF 5 (2000) the next year, or so I believe. So this would have been the 1999 docket.

A techno zen buddhist is sent to roam the various stellar destinations uncovered by man, equipped with a brain implant that records emotions. He goes to a world where the ground- and space-based ruins of an advanced dead alien species can still be found. The conclusions of the story are that these aliens naturally evolved to eventually have their entire cognitive functions become automatic (i.e. counting 4 coins on a table is an automatic function for a human, but counting...let's say, 11 coins is not; one needs to count them one by one), and their civilization fell due to it. Doing physics and math and a hundred other higher brain activities became instinctive, but ultimately useless as their instincts took over completely, and in instinctive situations doing high physics - maintaining space travel, fusion-based energy sources, telecommunications, etc - are ultimately irrelevant to survival.

Ringer, anyone?

July 3rd, 2012, 03:55 AM
About a year later...I found this:

Permancence, by Karl Schroeder:

In this future, humans have long-since mastered the art of surviving in alien environments but have become divided. Pioneer Halo Worlders settled brown dwarfs between the visible stars, and adapted with daring, art, and creativity. But when faster-than-light travel was discovered, the richer, more monolithic Rights Economy claimed the Earth-like planets of the "lit" stars; that society's overriding principle has been ownership-of everything. The human need for enlightenment expresses itself through Permanence, a non-metaphysical religious order seeking the eternal survival of our species. In a beginning reminiscent of classic Heinlein, scrappy young Rue daringly escapes from a bad situation and heads for her home in Halo World; she happens upon an alien artifact that promises to make her rich but instead lands her in a galactic crisis and she must find her sea legs fast. Meanwhile, in a Rights Economy project, Michael, a monk in the outlawed NeoShinto order, is assisting in a scientific study of extinct alien civilizations as he covertly collects their kami, or essence. Rue, Michael, and a large cast of equally colorful characters must determine the correct use of mysterious alien technology and then fight like the dickens if their species is to survive. This suspenseful, complex tale asks many intriguing questions and illustrates more scientific principles than a semester of science labs. Some readers might not quite follow all of the rapid twists and turns, but they will want to hang on to reach the story's satisfying conclusion, where a thoughtful solution emerges amid plenty of fireworks.