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[OB] The Fundamental Surges of the Cosmere


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According to Vorinism, the Surges are the fundamental forces of the Cosmere[1]. Though it's easy to assume that's just something fancy (and admittedly not far-fetched) of Vorinism, I think there may be more truth to it. I'll dive into the different Surges soon, but as a general argument in favor of this, I would like to mention that there are several accounts from before the Recreance that imply at least some Knights Radiant had regular contact with Honor. Considering this, he might have told them about the Surges being so fundamental, and that might have remained in Vorinism as part of the religion[note 1].

Of course, the easiest way to prove - or disprove - this, is to see wheter they can explain the observations of the Cosmere that we have. And we want that to work in all three Realms, not just the Physical Realm. To achieve this, I will first group the Surges into Physical, Cognitive and Spiritual groups, as well as two Surges to connect them to one another. Important to note is that, just because a Surge belongs to a certain group, that does not mean it doesn't have influence in all three Realms.

To group them, I have used Surgebinding[2] as a guide, making the assumption that the ordering in Surgebinding groups Surges that belong together[note 2].

Part 1: The Physical Surges

Coincidentally (or not so much?) there are four Surges that are named after a well-known mechanism in our world, namely Cohesion, Tension, Adhesion and Gravitation. However, we know that Gravitation is related to revoking a spiritual bond with the planet, so it can be assumed to not be physical in nature[1]. More on this later with the Spiritual Surges. The other problem with these Surges, is that Adhesion does not actually deal with adhesion, but rather with pressure. However, pressure is well-understood, just like adhesion, meaning the Surge still qualifies.

So, what do these three Surges explain in our world? Cohesion actually gives a bit of difficulty, as it is used in different contexts in chemistry and geology, but considering chemical cohesion can be explained through abrasion, Cohesion as Surge most likely refers to the geological cohesion, which, as Wikipedia puts it, "is the component of shear strength of a rock or soil that is independent of interparticle friction". In other words, cohesion determines the natural strength of solids. When we start talking about strength that is dependent on interparticle friction, that does not fit Cohesion anymore... but from that point on, it is related to Tension. This duality is also made apparent in the official 'explanations' of Surgebinding, as I will call them, that in a few words tell us what the Surge is about: Strong and Weak Axial Interconnection[3]. The last one is adhesion. As I mentioned, it deals with pressure and the lack of pressure. Pressure is the base of all of thermodynamics and, through that, it can explain everything related to gases and liquids (except for a few minor things that are, once again, explained by abrasion).

Part 2: The Cognitive Surges

Two Surges seem to be related to Cognitive things. First, the Surge of Transformation requires a Cognitive entity (so a consciousness) to change, though the effect of Transformation exists in all three Realms. The second one is related to the Cognitive Realm because of another theory. The L-Theory of Realmatic Strings makes a convincing case for the Cosmere ultimately being based on string theory[4]. This theory, also using Leras' explanation of the Realms to Kelsier[5], proposes that the Physical and Spiritual Realms are endpoints of the strings from string theory, while the Cognitive Realm harbors the string itself. According to string theory, information is contained within the oscillations of strings, which are waveforms, creating a clear connection with what we know of Illumination. This explanation already includes the part of the Cosmere handled by Illumination - it causes and/or explains the oscillations of strings in the Cognitive Realm - so let's return to Transformation. Transformation seems to be fundamental in that it allows thoughts to form and change.

I also want to mention Transportation here. Originally I believed it to be a Cognitive Surge as well, as what we have seen of it is related to the Cognitive Realm, but I now think it is actually a Hybrid Surge, which I will explain in Part 4.

Part 3: The Spiritual Surges

For the Spiritual Surges, I am starting from the opposite direction. While we've explained the relationships between atoms, molecules and so on, some few things are yet unexplained. The four fundamental forces have not yet appeared, and neither have chemical reactions (note the difference between reactions and interactions). I personally believe that we can ignore the strong and weak nuclear force, as Brandon himself has called it "overpowered"[6], which makes me believe that he's not gonna dive into it[note 3]. So we have gravity, electromagnetism and chemical reactions. First, gravity. Obviously, it is explained by the Gravitation Surge, and as I mentioned already, we know that it is Spiritual in nature[1]. I would like to add one clarification though, and that is that the "spiritual bond" is most likely a (very weak) Connection between any and all particles, which makes them very lightly attract one another.

As for electromagnetism, this force is slightly more complicated, as it has both an attracting and a repelling side. I think this is related to a different kind of Connection, unnoticable at large distances, even more than gravity is, which makes particles attract or repel each other. As for the Surge it is related to, that would be Abrasion. And I realize that sounds out of nowhere, but when you think about it, Abrasion is a very weird Surge. Somehow, it makes surfaces 'slick' or gives them, on the other hand, a lot of friction. The only explanation that I can think of is attracting or repelling electromagnetic charge[note 4]. Just think about it - if you have two replling magnets, it's as if they refuse to stick together, which would appear as a very slick surface, and the opposite holds true for attracting magnets.

The third one, chemical reactions, then gets Division, which is left over. While I realize that this does mean that Division can be used to create things (all kinds of molecules) I want to mention that anything that happens requires an overall increase of entropy, which means that to create something, you have to destroy something else (in our world, that tends to mostly be fuel these days). So what makes Division Spiritual in nature? It reduces or removes Connections between particles. Connections, I might add, that tend to be electromagnetic in nature, as molecular bonds are created by atoms sharing electrons.

Part 4: The Hybrid Surges

The two Surges that are left over now are Transportation and Progression. These are both difficult, as everything we've seen of them directly uses multiple Realms. Transportation quite literally is about transferring from one Realm to another, and for Progression a strong case can be made for it to be the Surge that connects the Realms together: We know that it is related intimately to growth and healing, and a lack of growth or healing means death, and we know that dying means losing a connection from the Cognitive and Spiritual Realm to the Physical Realm[7]. Additionally, Brandon has explicitly said that Progression and (most) other healing mechanisms work through all three Realms[8].

My proposal is that Progression, as I mentioned already, creates connections between the Three Realms. Basically, it's the strings from L-Theory themselves. As for Transportation, it seems that it *somehow* allows you to transfer things or yourself from one Realm to another, which means it works in several Realms at once, as well. For the teleportation case (like the Oathgates) I could see Transportation moving through the Spiritual Realm, as distance does not exist in the Spiritual Realm.

Part 5: Conclusion

I think that the Surges can convincingly be used to explain all of the Cosmere. What I like most about this theory, is that it is pretty simple and elegant (3-2-3 + 2, done) and additionally gives us a fundamental significance to the number 10, just like there is to 16 (Shards). Typically, 10 is seen as a Greater Roshar significant number, but I believe this mostly has to do with the accessibility of the Surges by humans which may in some way be related to the Rosharan system. To just throw an idea out there: Maybe it has to do with those ten gas giants.

Bonus Part: The Possible Significance of this Theory for the Rosharan System

I believe that, originally, humans (at least on Ashyn) were able to use the Surges unaltered. How this came to be, I don't know, but I could see it being related to Adonalsium's shattering removing some restrictions. Additionally, I believe that not all humans could freely use the Surges, but only those who, one way or another, had knowledge of how to use them. This would be (some of) the humans on Ashyn, who at some point abused their power and destroyed the world. I don't know wheter it's canon, but we have an excerpt from the prologue The Silence Divine which mentions floating cities and reversed gravity, which seems like a conundrum from our traditional view on Surges, as they need to be sustained through Stormlight. However, I think that, in this distant past, using Surges made permanent changes and did not require an external energy source. When the humans destroyed their world (possibly in conflict fueled by Odium?), they came to Roshar, and I think that when this happened, Honor put artifical limits on what could be done with Surgebinding, to create the possibilities - and limits - of the Surgebinding we know[note 5]. Odium seems to have done something similar, creating Voidbinding.

Footnotes and sources:

[note 1]: I am talking about the Surges here, not Surgebinding. In fact, as I also explain in the post, I think Honor has put limits on how much of the Surges a Surgebinder can access.
[note 2]: I have done this ordering previously, but back then I did not yet consider the Surges to be fundamental forces, so I felt it was best to explain everything again. You can find my old post here.
[note 3]: If we do have to take strong and weak nuclear force into account, I have no idea how the Surges will explain them.
[note 4]: I actually figured the possible relation between Abrasion and electromagnetic force quite a while ago already, simply because I could not think of anything else that would explain the behaviour, as friction is related to things like the structure of surfaces, and this is the only explanation I can see that does not require you to actually change the surface. Additionally, it would make it far easier to create extreme 'friction' to allow you to hang on walls that are supposed to have little or no friction. Oh and yes, this does mean that Abrasion is a misnomer as well.
[note 5]: Of course, with Honor being dead now, these restrictions might not be as solid anymore. This could very well become an important plot point in Stormlight Archive, and if I remember correctly, we have seen characters comment things like "without Honor to constrain the Surges".

[1]: Stormlight Archive Ars Arcanum
[2]: https://coppermind.net/wiki/Surgebinding
[3]: https://coppermind.net/wiki/Surge
[4]: http://www.17thshard.com/forum/topic/25226-the-l-theory-of-realmatic-strings/
[5]: https://coppermind.net/wiki/Mistborn:_Secret_History/Summary#Chapter_1_2
[6]: https://wob.coppermind.net/events/122-leipzig-book-fair/#e3308
[7]: https://coppermind.net/wiki/Mistborn:_Secret_History/Summary#Chapter_1
[8]: https://wob.coppermind.net/events/3-firefight-chicago-signing/#e76


Edited by Leyrann
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Making a sizable change to the original theory - I first classified Transportation as a Cognitive Surge, but I think it is a second Hybrid Surge, together with Progression. The first hint for this was when I got a question "How many Surges would exist in our universe?" and the answer was "all but Transportation and Progression", and it was also one I pretty arbitrarily put into the Cognitive Surges, simply because most of what we know of Transportation involves the Cognitive Realm. As I explained in the post above, however, it actually involves the Physical Realm just as much when it's transporting something.

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