Thus far, we've gotten pretty good glimpses of seven of the ten Surges, by at least one of the Orders that uses them. There are some Order-specific applications (like Dalinar's Spiritual Adhesion), but for the most part we've seen a lot of similarities across orders – Jasnah and Shallan both Soulcast, Szeth's Gravitation looks much the same as it did when he had an Honorblade, and Dalinar and Kaladin can both stick things together using Adhesion. Illumination has been a little funky, but that's part of the ongoing mystery surrounding Renarin.
But there are three Surges that we have only seen, at most, glimpses of: Division, Cohesion, and Tension. There are legends of them in the books, we've seen the effects of their application, and Brandon has been a little forthcoming in WoBs, so we do have enough to piece together what these three Surges do. But the collective knowledge of the community is a little lax, so in this thread I’m going to collect all the information we have on these Surges, and then do some exploration and theorizing on them. Here’s my gameplan:
· I’ll start off with a survey of sources about the Surge, both book references and WoBs. Then I’ll explain how I see the ‘real-life science’ would work to accomplish that. One section each for Division, Cohesion, and Tension.
· The fourth section will explain a Tension/Cohesion continuity error. I’m having a chicken-or-the-egg problem trying to write this whole thing up, so you may get very confused with one of my Cohesion examples. I don’t want to break the flow of the explanation; you can jump down to the section called “Stormfather’s Error,” after the OB chapter 38 example, if it really bothers you.
· In the fifth section, I’ll give a potential in-universe Rosharan explanation for these Surges, and why they’re guided by perception to behave the way they do.
· In the last section, I’ll talk about Dalinar’s Unity abilities, and why I can’t figure out if they’re a Surge or not.
Of the three, this is the one we’ve seen in action the most, although it can be a little hard to understand because it is never completely explained. The high-level overview: Division burns things.
The first hint is in the very first scene in WoK:
No other references in the first book. But we do get some more in the second. Jasnah references Division in WoR chapter 1:
Kaladin thinks of it in WoR chapter 41.
A WoB from March 14, 2017.
We actually get it on-screen from a Dustbringer in OB chapter 107. “
And again, from Yelig-Nar-powered Amaram in OB chapter 120.
This Surge works by breaking molecular bonds. A quick chemistry rundown: you’ve got atoms, which are the fundamental building blocks of chemistry. Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, all those good suckers. (You can divide atoms into with protons and electrons and neutrons, and divide those in turn to smaller particles, but that’s gonna be more the realm of physicists. And because Division doesn’t split atoms, it is a purely chemical Surge.) Atoms will form bonds with one another, attaching in arrangements simple or complex to form molecules. (Think of sticking balls of clay together with toothpicks.) The oxygen molecules we breathe are made of two oxygen atoms stuck together (or bonded); nitrogen molecules are similarly two nitrogen atoms. A water molecule is an oxygen molecule bonded to two hydrogen molecules (H2O). Pure carbon doesn’t form molecules; it forms a big lattice of carbon atoms, each atom bonded to multiple other atoms.
Why do atoms form bonds? Because doing so releases energy. An atom on its own is like a ball, balanced on the top of a hill. (This is called a radical.) Rolling down the hill releases energy; the ball moves faster. That’s the same principle as creating bonds; two or more radicals combining into a molecule releases energy. And then it would take energy to remove the bonds; that’s like doing work to carry the ball back up the hill.
When you burn something, you break some weak bonds and create stronger bonds (with oxygen atoms). It takes a little energy to break a weak bond (called the activation energy), and a lot of energy is released over what you put in when you form a strong bond (called the heat of reaction). You carry a ball up a small hill, so you can roll it down the other side which has a much deeper valley. You release energy by burning things, even though it takes energy to get it started.
So, what Dustbringers do, is they break the bonds between atoms. They can burn things without making them hot first; which is how Malata caused the table to burn. To go back to the ball-and-hill analogy, using Division bores a tunnel through the hill, letting the ball roll straight from one spot to the other without having to be carried up the intermediary height.
If something crumbles to dust (one of the other stated applications of Division), it’s stuff that wouldn’t really burn well. You rearrange the atoms, it breaks up so you get a bunch of tiny pieces instead of a large whole. But the new bonds are the same energy as the old bonds, so no energy is released. It just crumbles.
But what about burning stone? I’ll just take the chemical composition of granite, for example, from Wikipedia:
That’s already all got oxygen in it. So, if you break those bonds up, and then they reform, where’s the energy come from? Using Division doesn’t just bypass the activation energy; it can add the activation energy to the system.
The reverse for something “degrading.” Metal rusting releases energy; it just does it so slowly that there’s nothing noticeable. If you rust metal quickly, that’s called “oxidizing,” and my buddies used to call that “Thermite Thursdays.” So, if you’re going to make metal rust in an instant, Division needs to absorb the heat of reaction.
At the end of the day, using Division appears to encompass two sub-abilities, from a chemistry perspective. It breaks chemical bonds (changing the chemical composition of the target substance). And it also can add or remove energy from the system, depending on the intent of the Surgebinder; if they want it hot, they get it hot. If they want it room-temperature, the Surge balances out the heat that would be released. I don’t see an issue with these two abilities working in tandem; unlike some of the issues I had with steelpushing in another thread (where a single variable was needed to constrain many different scenarios), a Division user isn’t inherently limited to only a single kind of application. I think they could have metal rust or burn, depending on what they felt like at that moment.
Cohesion make things moldable, remove lattices and makes something more of a liquid.
The first legend is in WoK chapter 59.
The second legend is from Shallan, in WoR chapter 63. (I'm going to say Cohesion, because of the "command." Division is always touch; Cohesion can be at range.)
Another legend in WoR chapter 77. “
After WoR, there was a single Cohesion WoB. March 8, 2014.
In the third book, we actually begin to see it in action. OB chapter 38. (If you are not satisfied that this is an application of Cohesion, feel free to jump down to Section 4, and then come back here.)
And again, this time another Surge from Amaram. OB chapter 120.
This Surge is partially a step above the bonds within atoms. Molecules will also form bonds; weaker bonds, but bonds nonetheless, that can hold groups of molecules together. In the liquid state, water molecules are attracted enough to one another that they stick together loosely. When you cool them down, they’ll arrange themselves into a lattice structure, and you get solid ice. The bonds between hydrogen and oxygen within the molecule are unchanged; but the molecules are interacting differently.
But this Surge also overlaps a lot with Division, because not all substances have distinct molecules. It’s like I said with carbon up above; you have atoms bonded to atoms bonded to more atoms. So if you melt a diamond, you’re breaking atom-to-atom bonds. You have to be; otherwise it would remain solid.
Cohesion, therefore, is a little fuzzier in what it does from a nitty-gritty analysis point of view.
· It will negate electromagnetic chemical bonding (sometimes intermolecular, sometimes molecular, depending on the substance).
· It will absorb energy released by breaking those bonds.
· It will apply a brand new attractive force between each and every molecule or atom affected. This is weaker than what was overcome, so the substance now behaves as a liquid.
· It will apply a brand new set of forces to various molecules to move them around as desired.
· When it is time to resolidify, the first three effects will all be simultaneously done in reverse, reverting the substance back to its original state with no release of energy.
It can’t just melt the stone, because that would require the molecules to be at a high temperature. There’s no temperature change; so it has to be a fundamental change in the nature of the chemical bonding, with associated energy balancing measures that I laid out in Division. There’s no way for Cohesion users to release energy, though, so they are more constrained in that particular sub-power.
The last Surge, and one that is much harder to find in the books. There are no mythological references, and no instances it is used (at least that I am confident in). But this has been a popular concept in WoBs, even with one before WoK came out. July 24, 2010.
October 14, 2013.
March 13, 2014.
March 24, 2017.
So Tension makes things rigid. This cloth example is going to make us take another step up in chemistry; large molecules, with hundreds or thousands of atoms, that form huge chains. That’s what you get with organic molecules; and these molecules can move around. Think back to our clay-ball-and-toothpick model. The balls can rotate on the toothpicks; so if you build something big enough and unsupported enough, you can move it around like an action figure. That’s what cloth does; none of its chemical bonds are breaking when it moves, but there are rotations happening within the molecules.
Surface tension is a concept in fluids. Take water as an example. In the liquid state, water molecules like to be surrounded by other water molecules; they form those weak intermolecular bonds, which release a small amount of energy and are entropically favorited. So the fluid as a whole will minimize surface area, where water molecules are touching something that’s not water.
But that’s not quite what happens here. This is more like armor plating; additional tension on the surface of an object. Imagine a knee brace or a cast for every molecular and intermolecular bond along the surface of an object. Using the outer layer of molecules to form a shell, the inner layers are then forced in place, and you have yourself a solid object.
So that’s why I think tension is called surface tension – it acts on the surface of an object, applying an additional force to hold each atom or molecule stable in relation to the rest of the object. Unlike the other two Surges, there is nothing removed here, so there is no need for funky energy conservation loopholes.
Now, I said there were no confirmed instances of Tension in the books. I know that this is a Surge Dalinar has, and he does indeed use quite a bit of magic in Oathbringer. But I’m pretty confused on which Surge it is (if it even is a Surge), so I gave that its own section at the end of the thread to discuss in-depth.
But do I suspect we’ve seen this Surge applied by a modern fabrial in the half-Shard shields. They’re already solid, but the additional force applied to their surface makes them even stronger against normal attacks, and being Invested helps them out against Shardblades.
Some people believe that the spren they trapped was a spren the Radiant would bond, like a Stoneward spren. I hold to the idea of Surgespren; spren associated with each of the individual Surges. There are a couple of passages in Way of Kings that lead me down this path. The first is in WoK chapter 49.
And the second is in WoK chapter 57.
Bindspren for Adhesion, groundspren for Gravitation. And substancespren for tension. Whether they cause it, or are attracted to it, doesn’t much matter for the purpose of this argument; flamespren are used to produce heat, regardless of whether they cause it or not. So I think substancespren are used by this fabrial to apply Tension to the shields, making half-Shards.
I’m just presenting this as-is. I think it speaks for itself. From the OB signing tour:
Now, you may find the chemistry explanations for these abilities a little underwhelming. They’re super fuzzy, tacking together a whole bunch of steps to get something that functions. To get what Brandon is shooting for, it's important to understand the distinction between real-life fundamental forces and Rosharan fundamental forces (what they call the Surges).
Go back to the elemental inspiration of Surges and Essences. Essences aren't distinct elements – Tallow, Pulp, and Sinew are all organic compounds, Spark is energy (since fire is just hot air, and air is otherwise covered under Zephyr), and Talus and Lucentia are going to be structural differences, not compositional differences. But when I put it like that, you inherently know that I’m just thinking too hard about it. These things seem different – and to the Rosharan understanding, that is enough to make it significant in the Realmatic sense. It is driven by perception, not by physics.
The same thing is going to be true for these final three Surges. They all operate using the electromagnetic force (just like Abrasion does) and the way molecules interact with one another or the way the components of a molecule interact. In real-life physics, there is a force that holds the atom together – the electromagnetic force that pulls protons and electrons together. That's the same force, generated by the same charges from the same subatomic particles, that is responsible for friction and for the lattice structures that many solids are composed out of.
But, just like with the Essences, to line that up with strict physics is looking too closely. Rosharans aren't physicists, and their perceptions will not align with that interpretation. Here's the way they look at it: they think there is a force on the surface of an object that makes a thing rigid like a solid (Tension), a force on all an object’s components that pulls them together and makes it flow like liquid (Cohesion), and a force that spreads things apart like a gas (Division). Whichever of those forces is strongest will determine how a substance behaves, and Surgebinders increase one of those 'forces' to override the natural behavior of a substance. The magic of Surgebinding, in turn, provides specific alterations to the electromagnetic force in order to match the common perception of Roshar.
This fuzzy chemistry happens with Soulcasting, too, as evidenced when Jasnah Soulcasts at Thaylen Field in OB chapter 120.
We can attempt to interpret “axi” as a local word for “atom” or “molecule,” but that doesn’t pass rigor. There’s no such thing as a molecule of air; air is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of a bunch of other things that I know because my company builds and operates air separation plants. Instead, an axi must a perception-driven way to interact with atoms and molecules, to conceptualize moving individual molecules even though the scale is unimaginably vast (one liter of air contains roughly 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules). Surges are also a perception-based way of performing complex interactions without needing to specifically consider all the steps required to accomplish a particular effect.
So, Dalinar has an ability. He Unites things. I see this power occur in three specific places:
Especially coming after the vision with the Stoneward, I understand why many people think this is Cohesion. That was my initial impression, too, before asking at that signing. But looking at it now, the stone isn’t melting. This is a Spiritual transformation; Dalinar’s not guiding the reliefs, but they are repaired nonetheless.
Here, he’s holding together the very substance of the Stormfather’s vision as Odium attempts to destroy it. These aren’t real things, but Surges have functioned before in visions, so I guess it’s real enough that Dalinar can use his powers.
And lastly, in OB 119.
Here’s the kicker, the climax of his abilities. This is not used on something physical; he’s grabbing the Realms.
One thing I note about all three of these passages is that Dalinar has to touch things. This is another point against Cohesion being intended; that Surge has been referred to in legends as operating with a “command” or a “look.” Adhesion, on the other hand, always spreads out from physical contact with the Radiant. Most of the time, the hands, although Kaladin has done it with his feet before.
One other thing I notice is that the warmth is present while he repairs the temple. This concept first appeared in the ending of Words of Radiance, a mysterious warmth and light that Dalinar felt, something the Stormfather knew nothing about. (Tying in with his mysterious Nohadon vision in Oathbringer, possibly.) Dalinar mentions this warmth several times in OB, and it stirs in him right before he says his third Oath and unites the Realms. And his last scene, when he is working on his book, he feels the warmth again. That makes me think his Unity power doesn’t come from his bond with the Stormfather at all, and has to do with Dalinar Ascending to the remnants of Honor. (I’m suspecting his mysterious Blade that he used to operate the Veden Oathgate was like an Honorblade; not a manifestation of a spren, but the raw essence of Honor’s power. As a refresher, OB chapter 16, the Stormfather confirms that Honorblades can operate Oathgates.)
Lastly, his power feels like a direct opposite of a pre-Shattering magic that was revealed in the Dragonsteel chapters on Brandon’s website as SA deleted scenes:
The Tzai warriors break the Spiritual, which has cascading effects on the Physical. Dalinar repairs the Spiritual, which has cascading effects on the Physical. This pre-Shattering magic appears end-neutral; the Tzai are doing direct Realmatic manipulations (which is also ascribed to the Sho Del and to the [REDACTED] magic of Jerick). At least to me, this feels very reminiscient of the sorts of things done by Shards or beings who are Ascending: the creation of the mistwraiths in Mistborn, the Returned of Warbreaker, or even the boons/curses of Nightwatcher or Cultivation. The interpretation that I’m growing fond of is that Dalinar was not Surgebinding in these scenes, he was tapping in to the greater power of Honor and using it to Unite things.
That all being said, I can’t help but notice the similarities to Adhesion listed above, and Tension’s metaphysical relationship to rebuilding the whole (seeing as it acts on the surface of an object.) And when Dalinar repairs the temple, he does think that it’s because he’s a Bondsmith, which would imply that Dalinar is not the first to have these sorts of powers. The extent he uses them is greater (like summoning the perpendicularity), but that other Bondsmiths may have been able to accomplish his feats in the Thaylen temple without Ascending. I can see an Adhesion/Tension interplay going on; take two things, use Adhesion to stick them together, use Tension to redefine the boundaries as a single object.
So, I’m not necessarily convinced either way. Putting the passages down on paper, his first two Unity scenes do seem much more like mundane Surgebinding than I had previously remembered. But the mysterious light, Dalinar’s Ascension, and “WE KILLED YOU” all make me think there’s something greater about Dalinar, something beyond what the Bondsmiths of the past were able to do. We’ll see if I can settle on something by the time Stormlight Four rolls around.