If there are three realms--physical, cognitive, and spiritual--and each are directly affected by Shards, then Shardblades (I can only assume that the name is more than coincidental) would likely affect all three, depending on what the blade makes contact with. Physical, noncognitive elements are cut through seamlessly. Physical, cognitive (sentient) beings are severed from within; as Tirium puts it:
If Shardblades kill the soul itself, wouldn't that kind of...I don't know...be like being balefired, the soul destroyed, unwoven from the afterlife, etc. etc.? I know nothing has been directly said, but there's a lot of attention paid to the fact the soul is actually cut by Shardblades, between the "eyes are the gateway to the soul," to the literal "it cuts the soul," I distinctly remember at least four or five times that point was made.
But what of the spiritual ramifications of being cut by a Shardblade? I take it that the spiritual realm is far more fundamental than the mere physical (material) or cognitive (Shadesmar) realms. Brandon repeatedly makes mention of lerasium and other elements rewiring the "spiritual DNA" of the individual or whatever, opening up powers and abilities previously unattainable (Mistborn, etc.). I'm sure the Sheod is pretty similar--it seems to exist on a higher plane than mere physical or cognitive ability.
But a Shardblade cuts things. It destroys things. By nature, it is divisive and destructive. How would it do this spiritually, if not in a physical (material) or cognitive (mind) sense?
Well, look at Roshar. It's been divided, and redivided, and redivided some more. Even within nations--take Alethkar as a prime example--different powers wage war against each other. What is the central prize contested between these powers?
It's the Shardblades. Spiritually, these Blades are cutting the world to pieces. When they appear on the battlefield, soldiers stop doing what they're supposed to do and start either breaking formation or doing dangerously stupid maneuvers in an attempt to win fame and glory by downing a Shardbearer. It's not so much a matter of what they cut spiritually when they hit something; their mere presence provokes division and strife.
There are two prime forces or Shards actively at work in this particular conflict: Honor (God, Tanavast, the Almighty), and Odium (Hate, the True Desolation). Cultivation is having fun in Shinovar or somewhere else; it doesn't really seem to come into play here.
More from Tirium:
Odium seems a lot like Ruin, but worse, and look how conniving Ruin was. He would give people power to manipulate them. Why wouldn't Odium, then, trick Honor and give men weapons that would prevent them from assisting Honor effectively.
I struggle seeing Honor creating blades that sever the soul.
The blades, in my mind, HAVE to relate back to Odium in some way. A guy running around splintering things left and right seems like the type to deliver a weapon that severs souls. Additionally, Syl's reaction rings in my head. I was 100% sure after this re-read I just finished yesterday that the blades have to relate to Odium. After all, Syl literally hisses when she hears Odium's name. Wouldn't she identify something of Odium as simply being "wrong?"
Odium spreads confusion--locally, nationally, and internationally--with the Shardblades. And it seems like the only way to get past this obstacle of Odium's is, not so much to acquire all of the Blades, but to get rid of them.
This theme of Honor being associated with giving up Shardblades is found throughout The Way of Kings.
- Kalak, Jezrien, and the other Heralds (with the notable exception of Taln) give up their blades, break the Oathpact, and walk away from their weapons in an attempt to finish the war.
- In Dalinar's vision, hundreds of Shardbearers approach a mortal army, abandon their weapons, and walk away. It's notable that this is a handpicked vision from Honor himself.
- Multiple characters view the Shardblade as a monstrosity (Szeth, Shallan, Syl).
- What is arguably Dalinar's most Honorable act is the act of giving up his sword for the bridgemen.
I'm sure there are other references besides, but it's 2AM and I don't have the patience to look them all up.
As an additional note, I suspect that this is what lies at the center of the Shattered Plains--the rock formation with the ring of swords. The Parshendi fight hard to protect Alethkar and everyone else from the evils of Odium contained therein. Possibly. I might just be spinning threads by this point. But I do think that Shardblades are Odium's devices, and that they're spiritually cutting apart the world so that Tanavast's champion will have a harder time to "unite them."
I'd also like to add that I don't expect any of this to be new. Just some things that came to mind.
Edited by scm288, 10 June 2012 - 01:35 AM.