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            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?

Edited by ;;;
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I have no evidence to either support or disprove the theory. We have little information about the Truthwatchers, about as much as the Mystery Men had of the Sphinx: "He's very mysterious."

We just need Renarin to get some more screentime. Then, we will be able to psychoanalize him.

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Welcome to the community, an interesting theory and thoughtful post, have an upvote!

As an aside, I have to agree with @Stormgate that, for the time being, we don't have quite enough information to have much meaningful discussion about Truthwatchers;  still, I've always been a fan of good speculation!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think that the truthwatchers will be able to create visions of true events similar to what Dalinar has. I also believe that It will be Renarin who uncovers the truth of who murdered Sadeas. It is also apparent that truthwatchers have some visions of future events as well. kinda like creating a television show out of stormlight only showing  true events.

Edited by Humpty
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Based on a few hints (such as the WoB of what Duralumin + Atium does), I think we can safely say that Truthwatchers have the ability to either see into the Spiritual Realm, or have a higher connection ("Connection"?) to the Spiritual via their eyes.  There's some clear precognition going on with them, and really the answer is built into their order's name.  The Spiritual has to do with 'truth', and Renarin 'sees', so a + b = ab mixed together, in this case.  They literally can see the truth.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Alright, I'll admit that I'm coming into this with a little bit of shipping goggles on, because despite the fact that Words of Radiance took my poor sensitive shipper's heart and stomped on it with sharpened cleats, Shallan/Renarin (or Shallarin) was my first real I will die here on this hill kind of ship during Way of Kings. Even though currently, the thought of Shallan interacting with Renarin in any way other than profuse apologies kind of makes me want to bare my teeth and hiss, the old nostalgia for the idea of them being together is still kindled a bit beneath it all. 

Listen, I put years into that ship. I can't just leave it all behind now.

That said, I really love the idea of Truthwatchers being illusion breakers for somewhat of that shippy reason alone. Cultivating a relationship between "The Liar" and "The One Who Sees Through Lies" is a favorite trope of mine. The "Agent of Asgard" comics had a really fascinating friendship between Loki, literally the God of Lies, and Verity Willis, a girl with the power to always know when she was being lied to. It would be fascinating to see a dynamic between Renarin and Shallan if their uses of powers are complimentary in this way, whether working together as allies, or even, perhaps more interestingly, if they were to end up on opposing sides of the conflict somehow.

It reminds me a bit of the class+aspect titles from Homestuck, actually. Two characters might have powers that link them to the same aspect (like Light, Space, Time, Heart, Hope, Void, Breath, etc.) but the class, or role, (such as Knight, Maid, Heir, Prince, etc.) that gets paired with that aspect defines how they actually interact with it. A Knight of Time and a Maid of Time might have a shared understanding, since they both work with the Time aspect, but the roles of Knight and Maid are very different, so they use Time in very different ways. In the same way, a Truthwatcher and a Lightweaver might both share an understanding of what Illumination is and how it is used, and yet their Orders might cause them to actually use that power in very different ways.

It could possibly also be something similar to like, internal and external metals in Allomancy now that I think about it. When Shallan puts on illusions, Pattern pushes her to reveal truths about herself. By exploring different identities, Shallan uncovers facets of her own personality and drives back closer to the heart of who she actually is. Shallan's Lightweaving is very internally focused. However, what if Truthwatchers are more externally focused? What if, rather than using illusions to explore themselves, they change the appearances of situations around them in order to discover more about the people they're interacting with. Watching them for truth. I imagine a Truthwatcher just... subtly shifting various things about themselves or about the environment in order to see how their target changes and reacts. They aren't trying to figure out who they themselves are when they put on illusions, they're trying to figure out who everyone else is.

Either way, it's fascinating, and I'm desperate for more, honestly.

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That's interesting to connect Shallan and Renarin in terms of a relationship. I'm not sure that will happen in any romantic sort of fashion; with all the leading set-ups, romantic arcs seem to be heading toward a Shalladin. I mean, Adolin is cool and all, but if any main character were going to die to create a dramatic ripple large enough to tear readers' hearts yet not so large to be absurd, Adolin would be the pick.

Depending on who it is that kills Adolin, or what causes his death, a personal exigence would be set in motion for his immediate family (Dalinar, Renarin, Navani, and maybe Jasnah, though she's already off doing her own thing) to get involved in the larger war at hand. It would also be a growth point for Shallan, who, to me at least, seems somewhat disillusioned with her image of Adolin and relationships in general. I don't think that Renarin, though one of my favorite characters, has the personality or role to fill the lack that Adolin's absence would generate in any capacity, especially for Shallan. That said, I think it is very likely that Shallan and Renarin will become very good friends and allies. They have certain similarities in thought patterns, being outcast types (they deal with this differently), and of course, Illumination.

That's a very astute observation about the possible external/internal distinction for Illumination between Truthwatchers and Lightweavers. From a personality standpoint, having Pattern push her to be honest with herself allows Shallan to be internally illuminated. Once this growth happens for her, she is able to illuminate the internal perspectives of others as well.

On the other hand, Renarin's personality doesn't really conform to others' expectations as Shallan naturally does. I am not using 'conform' here as in giving up to society's standards, but Shallan doesn't really mind playing to others' expectations as long as it accomplishes what she wants. That is, she is more stable externally. In a sense, Renarin seems to be stable internally, not minding what others think of him in Bridge Four or that he reads and writes and is interested in more 'feminine' arts - of course, he is still a kid, and his growth is shown in accepting that he is not going to be what others expect him to be, that is, a warrior like Dalinar and Adolin. This is the external truth that Renarin must accept, and then learn to conform his external reality to his internal stability.

If Shallan's illumination comes from the internal, perhaps Renarin (and Truthwatchers in general) have an externally directed illumination. Maybe it might be how you described, with subtly shifting the external realities of others to watch their truths, but I think there might be some concrete examples of this in the character of Ym.

As a disclaimer, some of what he says and thinks might have more to do with Iriali culture than Truthwatching, but maybe it's not so divorced. First of all, I don't think Ym had formed a nahel bond with his spren, one reason being that he still uses spectacles. We see that Renarin no longer uses spectacles the more time he has spent with Glys. However, Ym still seems to have the abilities of a Truthwatcher. What is repeated over and over in his chapter is the word 'experience.'

Like you said, Truthwatching might be concerned more with "figuring out who everyone else is," that is, the truth of others. Maybe that is why Ym is so interested in others' experiences and stories. Those are the external truths of reality. He thinks, "To live was to be a fragment of the cosmere that was experiencing itself. How could he properly experience if he couldn't see?" (192).

The words 'experience' and 'see' here are connected. Let's take 'making shoes that fit' as a metaphor for Truthwatching. If we look at it that way, there are many similarities to how Ym thinks of shoemaking to Renarin's interest in inventions and devices. When he talks to his spren, he calls it "an interesting experience...One in which I am honored to participate" (193). This phrasing is quite weird. Again, it might be an Iriali thing, but with the combination of Illumination and Truthwatching, it might not.

To distinguish it from Lightweaving, it seems that Truthwatching is a participation rather than a creation, as we have seen Shallan perform. This distinction is also apparent in the difference between the personalities of Renarin and Shallan. Another aspect Ym might show about Truthwatching is what he says about perspective: "Perspective...From very close up, the fingers on a hand might seem individual and alone. Indeed the thumb might think it has very little in common with the pinky. But with proper perspective, it is realized that the fingers are part of something much larger. That, indeed, they are One" (197).

Let's connect this to what Renarin means when he says "I see." Perhaps Truthwatchers, then, because they can literally see the "proper perspective," have the ability also to quite literally shift perspective, that is, the external reality of others, by illumination.

(Also, the man who kills Ym is most likely a Skybreaker, probably Nin?)

I also like the idea of Renarin's abilities having a connection with the Spiritual Realm, just as Jasnah and Shallan have a connection to the Cognitive Realm. This also makes sense with Ym. If Shallan illuminates to affect others' perception (cognition), maybe Renarin's illumination affects others' perspective (spirit).

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