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The metaphysics of Eärwa - some thoughts posted 30 October 2008 in The Thousandfold ThoughtThe metaphysics of Eärwa - some thoughts by Thorsten, Candidate

Two different concepts of the world

Throughout the novels, we see two different main concepts of the world contrasted over and over again. A very clear passage illustrating this is for example Cnaiür's recalling of Achamian's illustration of the Outside as water leaking through a parchment and his comparison with Kellhus' world as closed (TT, Chapter 9), rooting in itself.

The Dûnyain philosophy - Logos and causality

One concept of the world is exemplified by the Logos, the guiding principle of the Dûnyain. The word 'Logos' is clearly borrowed (as many other terms) by RSB from ancient Greek philosophy. It refuses a simple translation, having a vast range of meaning in different Greek philosophical writings, but the meanings possibly most relevant for the present considerations are the following:

λογος - computation, reckoning, relation, correspondence, proportion, explanation

This captures more or less what we see Kellhus doing most of the time. The principle 'What comes before determines what comes after.' establishes relation between and provides an explanation of events in terms of other events before. The concept expressed in this principle is known as causality, the influence of events spreading forward in times as the cause for other events. Causality is a well-known concept in natural sciences, most strikingly exemplified by modern physics where the laws of Relativity state that information can propagate only in the forward lightcone (i.e. a bit more simplified forward in time), an event which has no overlapping lightcone with another (because it happens simultaneously or after the other) cannot in any way exchange information with the other. Applied to Eärwa, the principle states that there is no purpose in events, because this would mean that an event that comes after (the purpose) determines that which is now.

But the Dûnyain principle actually states more than that: It states that what comes after is exclusively determined by what comes before, in other words, there are no 'uncaused' events (this would involve truly random occurrances) and no events caused by an outside cause (i.e. something that did not come before in the world). This is the reason Cnaiür pictures the world of Kellhus as closed - there is nothing outside that what came before, and what came before is of the same nature as what came after, so logically there is also no beginning cause (which would be outside of this chain), which brings us to the principle 'The Logos is without beginning or end.' (DB, Ch. 17).

Given the absence of randomness in a causal world, there would be absolute certainty in predicting the future for anyone who knows what is now, because this completely determines what comes after. However, the practical problem of Kellhus (or the Dûnyain in general) is the absence of such complete knowledge. In the absence of such knowledge, the Dûnyain resort to a computation based on maximum likelihood of events - the probability trance. In doing so, they replace knowledge of events by assumptions about what events occur most likely and make projections of the future based on these - however such projections are no longer certainties but inherently reflect the assumptions used to derive them. Here, we see the Logos exemplified as computation and reckoning. The only way to improve the predictive power of the probability trance for the Dûnyain is to increase their knowledge. Thus, we can readily understand why Kellhus causes Achamian (who has a vast knowledge of the Three Seas) to be his teacher (DB, Ch. 19).

In the application of the principle of the Logos, we finally find correspondance and proportion. In the view of the Dûnyain, in the absence of an outside cause as higher principle, one way to cause an event is as good as another way, in other words, it is the end that matters, not the means. This is the picture of the trackless steppe described by Moenghus to Cnaiür (DB, Ch. 12) - one may walk any path towards the destination. Judged by the ends, the only guiding principle to select a path is ease - one should take the shortest path, the sequence of actions which requires the least amount of work to achieve the desired ends. The 'true' proportion (as seen by the Logos) between desired end and means is often quite different than the apparent. We see Kellhus acting on this principle numerous times when he uses whatever means he can find to achieve his ends without any moral considerations - from generally benevolent actions such as helping people to understand themselves to rather cynical methods such as using Serwë to make Achamian feel guilty.

There is, finally, something of a philosophical problem in this causal concept of the Dûnyain. Their quest is to be self-determined, self-moving souls, thus they aim to dominate their circumstances instead of being dominated by them (TT, Gl. 'Dûnyain'). The problem is illustrated in describing to Esmenet how the Cants of Compulsion work (TT, Ch. 6,14), it is made quite clear that volition is yet another thing in the soul to be moved, rather than the mover. So Esmenet asks rightfully that if even her volition is a thing to be moved from outside, then what defines her as her? The same argument ultimately applies to the Dûnyain - if volition is yet another thing to be moved, and if what comes before determines what comes after, how can they possibly claim to strife to be self-moving if there is nothing left which would be their 'self'? The Dûnyain do not seem to have solved this question even conceptually - their goal is instead to evolve through generations of training, selection and breeding beings which are more and more aware of the circumstances which determine them under the assumption that this will eventually lead to a self-moving soul which is able to penetrate the 'darkness that comes before', the cause of the soul (TT, Gl. 'Dûnyain')

Inrithism and Fanimry - the God and causes from Outside

Quite a different view of the world is held by the vast majority of people living in Eärwa. Many of them believe in one way or the other in gods, either in the God manifest in many aspects as the gods of Inrithism or as the one God of Fanimry. As a consequence, in this view of the world man has a soul, and the soul comes from an Outside, lives in the world, and if it leads a just life, it passes to the Outside. In other words, the ultimate cause of man is not something that came before within the world, but something from without. Likewise, this world is not without beginning or end - it views God as the creator, as the first cause of the world.

In this view of the world, the relation between ends and means is vastly different from the view taken by the Logos. There is, first of all, a judgment of the actions of a soul after death according to the means a person has used to achieve goals. Thus, the means become as important a consideration as the ends, which is the basis of moral considerations. Indeed, in this open view of the world, the ends of many people lie outside the world, it is the afterlife of their soul they are concerned with, not a goal inside the world.

Likewise, the implications for causality are completely different. Faith views the world (at least partially) evolving according to a divine plan. The God causes events (from the Outside) in the circle of the world such that the plan is fulfilled. Thus, from the point of view of a man in the world, the future, that what comes after, the eventual purpose of the divine plan, determines what comes before. Most of the time, this is without consequence (as the divine plan is not known to mankind), but occasionally the plan is revealed - this is then prophecy. Prophecy leads to a strange backward causality - knowledge of the future causes events in the present to happen. The problem (as always) with backward causality is that knowledge of the future may cause events in the present which prevent this very future from happening - in which case the knowledge of the future was not knowledge in the first place (because the event didn't actually happen).

Kellhus' prophecy to Saubon 'March... The Whore will be kind to you... You must make certain the Shrial knights are punished' (WP, Ch. 4) is actually rather far from backward causality. Kellhus at this point did not actually believe himself that he was describing any real future event - but Saubon did. That in turn caused him to take the field - and the outcome conformed exactly to Kellhus' words. Clearly, Kellhus' words caused the subsequent events in some way, and at least partially helped making them true - this is often called a self-fulfilling prophecy and has not much in common with backward causality. At this point, there was not really anything Saubon could have done (short of deliberately being defeated in battle) to falsify what Kellhus had said. He could have 'not punished' the Shrial knights - but likely that would have resulted in a defeat. Kellhus does not provide an absolute future at this point, he provides a conditional future, and such a prophecy is rather evasive. Nevertheless, while we cannot establish the actual existence of backward causality from any text passage in the trilogy, most people of faith accept it readily. This sense of purpose is in fact the very driving force of the Holy War.

A more complete theory of the Outside is given in the Dyadic Theory of Ajencis: 'The world (...) is simply the point of maximal objectivity, the plane where the desires of individual souls are helpless before circumstance (because it is fixed by the desire of the God of Gods). The many regions of the Outside then represent diminishing levels of objectivity where circumstances yield more and more to desire' (TT, Gl. 'Outside'). view post


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