(urth) just in case anyone was wondering

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 2 18:42:21 PST 2004

Crush said:
>At the time I took that to mean that Wolfe considered memory and identity
>tobe something of the same thing. And there is a sense in which Wolfe seems
>to be a Christian Rationalist and has reason to doubt whether Wolfe thinks
>he *himself* will go to Heaven or whether his memories and personality will
>be *uploaded* there or perhaps that he thinks the idea of a body and soul
>being separated is inconcievable. I don't think he believes the latter two
>and I'll tell you why:

Well, before going further I tend to think that attempts to look for Wolfe's 
personal beliefs on these particular subjects through the books are doomed 
to failure. The questions Wolfe is raising are difficult - many would say 
impossible - to answer rationally. (There is always faith, but faith can't 
be communicated). Wolfe knows this, and I think he understands that any 
attempt to actually *answer* them in his books would fatally flaw the text. 
I think that Wolfe's goal is not to answer these questions but to put them 
in front of you in a vivid way and force you to confront the inherent 

If this is the case then I would expect him to be especially careful in 
laying out the problem so that it's not skewed by his own bias. He doesn't 
want the reader to just follow him along for the ride, so if anything I'd 
expect a bias *against* his own point of view in the text... but, that said, 
I haven't seen such a bias.

>1) Rose-as-Marble says that "now I'm one of those gold doo-dads on those
>cards, but I'm still a person because I always was". This tells me that
>Wolfe considers a soul to be transcendent over matter. Rose is a person in
>Marble because she was a person originally.

But, going beyond the surface of the words, you're still left with a problem 
here - are the words the product of a soul/person perceiving its own nature, 
or are they the product of a program, a "simulation" of sorts? On the one 
hand you can compare it to Searle's "Chinese Room" (in which case language 
comes into play, peripherally, again) - as an outside observer you can't 
tell if the words you're seeing "mean" what they think they do, or whether 
they "mean" anything at all as opposed to being the product of a mere 
mechanical process.

On a more personal level looking at it from the assumed perspective of Rose, 
the "gold doo-dads on those cards" believe themselves to be a person - can 
they believe otherwise? - but the only answer available as to why is 
"because I always was". When it comes down to it do we have any better 
reason ourselves? You could just as easily argue that Wolfe is implying that 
there are no souls, either for Rose-in-Marble or for ourselves. I won't make 
that argument, because I don't think he was actually arguing for either 
point of view.

I also find the situation complicated, because personally I was never sure 
that Rose was really in there any more than I could be sure that Thecla was 
"really" in Severian. The two are actually pretty close to the same case.

>2) The Short Sun Narrator tells that story of a man who leaves a house and
>compares it to the soul leaving a body. He says, "the body doesn't die
>because the soul leaves. The soul leaves because the body dies and is no
>longer useful to it." (paraphrasing)
>Once again, this shows an opinion that the soul is trancendent to the body.

But whose opinion? Silk and Horn have opinions that are distinct from Wolfe, 
and we often learn that Wolfe's narrators aren't always right - nor are they 
mouthpieces for Wolfe's own opinion.

> >And does he think the chems, Maytera Marble, Hammerstone, or Counselor
> >Loris, Lemur, etc are people (Even if the bodies of counsel have died)?
>For purposes of the story, I think it is clear they are. For how this can 
>considering all I just said, I have an explanation. I've said it here 
>but here goes:
>The reason the Ayuntamiento could so easily rig chems to receive their
>personalities was because chems were designed to do just that. Chems were
>downloaded with the scans of real live people. A single person could ensoul
>any number of chems in this way. I believe that possibly all the female
>chems were ensouled by Kypris and all the male chems were ensouled by
>Pas/Typhon. But it is possible that there are other people behind those
>faceplates. Considering what Rose-in-Marble says, that is the only way I 
>justify the chems being persons.
>Granted not everyone (or anyone) agrees with me on this.

I agree with you that part of the original design of the chems *must* have 
been to accept the imprint of personalities. Possibly to give Pas & co. a 
set of convenient (and strong) receptacles at need. I am not sure about your 
conclusion, though - what about chem reproduction? This could be a serious 
theological problem from Wolfe's perspective. (Bonus question: is natural 
reproduction really any less of a theological problem, and if so or if not, 
what does this say about the nature of the soul?)

An interesting side thread to that entire issue is the theme which recurs 
repeatedly about imitation. Someone asks Silk what would happen if a demon 
tried to impersonate a god. A parallel question would then be, what if an AI 
tries to impersonate a soul? Does Silk's answer to that question hold up for 
either case?

> > Do the inhumi have souls or are they in the process of gaining souls?
>They have souls. And look here! Here's another example of souls being split
>off from a donor.

There is something peculiar about inhumi souls, however. They seem to have 
only half of what they need, and the half they have is 
passive/impressionable/reactive, what some might call the "animal soul". The 
souls of the inhumi, and the Neighbors, present one of the biggest puzzles 
of the BotSS I think.

Chris (Civet)

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