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Theory: Cognitive Immortality


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This is the first Theory I have made, so feel free to rip it to pieces.


This is partially based on the idea here:  and thanks to Observer for that idea. My idea is a bit broader, however, which is why I think it belongs here rather than in the Mistborn forum. I'm sure some of it (or maybe all of it) has been posted before; if so, please inform me and I'll delete the thread.


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The Theory of Cognitive Immortality


The Cognitive realm is described in The Emperor's Soul thusly: 'The Cognitive is how an object is viewed and how it views itself'.


It has been confirmed by Brandon that Kelsier is hanging around on the Cognitive Realm rather than moving on to the afterlife. My Theory is that individuals who make a significant change to the cognitive aspect of people on their world gain a sort of 'tether' in the Cognitive Realm that allows them to resist moving on to the afterlife. In this regard, Kelsier is quite unique. On Scadrial, his founding of a religion centred around himself (Survivorism) and focusing on a set of beliefs and idea he held in high regard, and the subsequent veneration of him as the 'face' (if you will) of these ideals by the adherents of the religion who uphold them, led to him creating a strong Cognitive imprint upon Scadrial. This is what allows him to stay on the Cognitive Realm before moving on to the afterlife.


This ability to be tethered to the Cognitive Realm is rarer than you would think; in fact, it is astonishly rare; while there are a great deal of famous and well known individuals, it is rare for an individual to significantly alter the way people view themselves and the world, to a significant enough degree and among a significant enough number of people, to gain such a tether. I also theorise that said tether doesn't prevent you from moving on to the afterlife, it simply allows you to choose not to. This would make it extremely rare for anyone to stay tethered to the Cognitive Realm; not only do few people develop such a tether, most who do move on. It's only because of Kelsier's specific personality (him being a meddling, nosy little git) that he's still around.


Now, I'm going to go into some Cosmere theorising here. I think it's been confirmed by Brandon that people make a pit stop in the Cognitive Realm before heading to the afterlife; at least, it's implied by one of the epigraphs from tWoK, which involves someone describing Shadesmar.


So, perhaps this 'imprint' isn't an absolute; everyone makes one, each of a different size. The size of your imprint determines how long you can stay in the Cognitive Realm before you are swept on to the afterlife. For most people, this is only a brief time. For certain individuals who dramatically influence people, it is longer.


There are two ways this could go. One is that the size of the imprint you made gives you an absolute limit on the amount of time you can stay; Kelsier made a massive imprint, so he can stick around for centuries. Most people don't even make a big enough imprint to stick around for more than a few seconds.


The other is that your imprint sticks around, almost always shrinking as the effect you had on people's thoughts is slowly reduced. Once your imprint disappears, you are compelled to move on. Kelsier's imprint, through Survivorism, is still going strong; his beliefs and ideals still affect how people on Scadrial see the world, so he can stick around. This raises the question of how most people don't spend too long in the Cognitive Realm when you would expect even the average person to have some mileage to their imprint.


There are four ways I can see this being answered. The first is that most people really don't affect the way others think significantly; combine this with them dying (which, may make people think of them and their ideals less) and they don't make an impact. This doesn't seem right to me. The second is that there is a certain minimum imprint needed; but that is kind of similar to the first idea two paragraphs back. The third is that msot people, bewildered by what is happening, just move on. While possible, I don't think it that likely; I'd expect a lot of people die still determined to live on. Still, I think it is partially an explaination; a lot of people making big Cognitive impacts, such as religious founders, great scientists or whatever, probably aren't the kind of people who want to stick around a keep meddling.


Finally, the fourth way,m which I like the most. Namely, that such changes in people's cognitive aspect have to be deliberate; you have had to gone about deliberately attempting to change the way people think. This means that most of the ways humans affect the thoughts of others are gone. Kelsier was rare in that he, for good or ill, was deliberately trying to change the way thousands, perhaps millions, of people thought about themselves and each other. It was that that gave him such a strong Cognitive imprint, which allowed him to stick around.


As an aside, this is probably related to how the Returned function. I hypothesize that the nature of Endowment on Nalthis makes, for unknown reasons, making such a Cognitive impact easier; or perhaps only a small Cognitive imprint is needed and can then, using the current 'Breath' as an attractor (hence why drabs cannot become Returned), be filled with the divine Breath of Endowment that makes them reach the Fifth Heightening. However, this Breath may only be attracted to certain individuals who fulfil an additional, as yet unknown criteria, which balances out the ease of Returning and offers an explaination for why some return and others do not (I need to re-read Warbreaker before I hypothesise further).


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Obviously, this theory still has some kinks to work out. Any thoughts?

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I think Endowment's ability to grab you and give you a Divine Breath requires your wanting to stay. Over and over in Warbreaker its stated that every Returned has dreams that indicate a reason why they Returned. This indicates to me that there is a "want to" requirement to sticking around.

Roshar has the near dead giving statements. These seem to be shadows of previous thoughts that find their way to the Physical with someones dying breath; Cognitive echoes from strong or shared feelings that float around, released when another dies. Nalthis has dreams of the future upon dying that create the "want to" required for Returning.

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I think that on Nalthis it's a mix of making an imprint on people around you, wanting to return, and being chosen by Endowment. It works like this...your cognitive imprint gives you the time that Endowment needs to propose returning to help others, you then get to chose to stay or go on. 

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