First, this forum is such a cool space to have conversation and speculation among people with similar interests yet such different backgrounds. The different experiences that we have definitely feeds into how each of us reads and interprets, which makes for such a fascinating opportunity to share insights and see things in ways that we might not have thought of or picked up on. Certainly, there are aspects of the fantasy genre that are meant for entertainment – I, for one, love to get lost in a different world every once in a while, disconnecting from ‘reality’ and plugging into dreams and imaginations. However, much of the world deems writing, poetry, imagination, fiction, especially fantasy, as a luxury that is separate from and irrelevant to what is commonly known as ‘real life.’ So I wanted to begin, since this is my very first post in the forum, with a word of encouragement to you fine folks.
As the saying goes, fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth (I am sure the progression of Shallan Davar and Pattern would agree with this), and fantasy, as removed from ‘truth’ as it often seems, is a pertinent example of lies through which much truth is often spoken. To those of you who are mocked for choosing to spend your time in a corner, head buried in a book, take heart and confidence in what you learn from your imagination, and in that confidence share your insights with those who might be afraid of the truths they might find within the lies they tell themselves: that reality is what it seems, fantasy is only escape and distraction, and survival is for the ‘fittest.’
Imagination is not a luxury, it is life.
I think Brandon Sanderson does well in showing this in the Stormlight Archive, making manifest what we cannot naturally see in our world through spren. As said in one of the books, spren is change, or, at least in Roshar, a visual manifestation of change. To relate this to our world, things are changing all the time. We do not notice, and we take it for granted, but it’s true. Cells are constantly dying and growing; when we stand still, we are moving with the earth’s rotation; we are thinking, always thinking; etc. etc. One thing I wanted to touch on specifically, however, is the nature of light, which I promise I will relate to Truthwatching and Illumination eventually, so bear with me.
Questions of sight do not usually inspire responses of detailed reality, with the physics of how one actually sees, in terms of what might even allow for sight – that is, for example, one does not think to tell of the light that reflects off of opaque surfaces and into eyes, or the lack or distortion thereof that might affect vision, or the scattering of such that red might be distinguished from blue, black and white and the shades between. For most, light is rarely thought of as an independent actor, but just a medium through which we see. Even for the blind, however, light exists: at the very least they can feel its warmth, its energy – they would not see in the same way because light exists differently for them. The point is that light is everywhere but it is often not considered – perhaps we actually see more than we think.
Perhaps spren really do exist.
I first noticed the correlation between spren and quantum theory in the interlude chapter in Way of Kings where two ardents are measuring spren. As a disclaimer, I am not a theoretical physicist, nor will I include any math here on this forum, but it is fascinating to compare the similarities. In classical physics, what we all perhaps learned in high school in one form or another, measurement does not change the state of what is being measured. For example, the weight of one paperclip today will be the same tomorrow, more or less. In quantum physics, however, the rules are different – measurement changes everything. To tangent a little, this discovery in the early 20th century has made physicists rethink how even reality works – what if quantum theory applies not just at the quantum (very very miniscule) level, but to everything? Not just physically, but cognitively as well?
This is the context I am placing the Stormlight Archive in. Through fantasy, Sanderson has made manifest and broken down certain theories that pervade contemporary thought. In the previously mentioned interlude chapter, spren stop moving when they are measured. This is similarly the case in quantum theory (if interested, look up wave function collapse).
Okay, cool. But so what?
Here is where my theory on Truthwatching comes in. When Renarin says he sees, what he means is that he actually sees. Not ‘see’ in the conventional sense, but literally sees.
Wow, really clear man.
I know, I know. The closest analogy I could think of is The Matrix, where at the end -SPOILER-, Neo literally sees reality as the code of the Matrix since it is a computer program. What I’m saying is the Truthwatching is a similar thing, except instead of code, what Renarin, and other Truthwatchers, see is the spren (quanta) of everything. Everything.
This has nothing to do with his visions. I am in the camp that says his visions are not a result of Truthwatching since Dalinar, Kaladin (dream), and Shallan (drawings), have the same experience (I believe FeatherWriter has a really good and well-written post on this).
This brings a new connotation to Illumination. What “illumination” means is to shed light on or clarify. If Lightweavers use Illumination to create illusions (perhaps because of its combination with Transformation), maybe Truthwatchers see through illusions. To relate, if we look at an apple sitting on a table, we see it as still. If we shine a strong light (must be coherent light) on it, however, the shadow that appears will show a hole in the middle; i.e. the solidity of the apple is an illusion. Or, if we shine a light on any object, the boundary of the shadow will appear fuzzy even though the boundary of the object is solid; i.e. static boundaries are illusions – this is due to the property of diffraction and the wave-particle duality that light has, another consequence that quantum theory attempts to explain. The perfect place to extend this theory from merely the physical to the cognitive, emotional, spiritual, etc., is the space of imagination and fiction, which are as real as physical reality. I think this is what Sanderson is experimenting with through the separation of Physical Realm, Cognitive Realm, etc. Truthwatchers might be the only ones able to see what is actually going on.
In our world, our eyes often deceive us. Perhaps to see as Renarin does would be to see through the deception of reality. See spren. See what matters. See the stories behind people (Ym). See beauty. And to be able to see would certainly help knowing how to heal whatever is damaged – I am defining ‘heal’ here not as cure or fix, which implies some sort of wholeness, but ‘heal’ as in growth (i.e. Progression not towards, but Progression from). Sometimes a word of encouragement or a pair of comfortable shoes might go a longer way than stabbing someone with a Shardblade, deposing an incompetent king, or summoning highstorms, and this is what Renarin can see.
Of course, this is all speculation, and I’m sure what I’ve written is full of holes. So, thoughts?