(urth) Souls

James Wynn crushtv at gmail.com
Thu Mar 19 12:41:13 PDT 2009

This could get interesting again, so I'm moving this conversation to a new 

Just because I'm that way, I'll mention that in The Book of the Short Sun, 
the Raja gives a very detailed analogy to the soul and body as a person 
living in a house. This version is founded on a metaphysical/particlist view 
of the soul. Rose-in-Marble also says that while she is now just those 
little "gold doo-dads" you see on cards, she still a "real person" because 
she always was. This gives idea of a soul as something immutable even it is 
copied into a mechanical construction (or arguably, into an inhumi).  So the 
gods might be "genuine" souls even if they've had their memories and 
personalities distorted for practical purposes in running the ship. Typhon 
did this to the souls of the human cargo as well. He manipulated their 
memories . Aren't their souls real? And where do you suppose the minds of 
the chems came from? Don't you find it interesting that even a pair of chem 
*hands* easily absorbed Rose's memories and identity via proximity? Is 
Rose-in-Marble any less real than Marble-in-Marble?

Conversation I'm responding to is below


A conversation I had with Chris about souls and identity in Wolfe's fiction 
that lead to my detailing of the identity of the Raja in The Book of the 
Short Sun:

Witz sez:
>You're NOT including Pas in your Trinity right? just Horn/
>Silk/Neighbor. Not Horn/Silk/Neighbor/Pas.

Chis P:
>At least the way I read it, Pas did not have a soul as such. He
> was a... pattern, or a psyche (in the terminology I remember us using in
>that particular conversation) at best. Typhon's soul stayed with Typhon.
>Even that psyche was not exactly Typhon, because it had either changed
>on its own or been edited to fit its new role on the ship (not to
>mention the things that happened to it afterward).

> Witz sez:
>I hear you. But wouldn't that mean that Divine Silk was a pattern and
> not a soul or psyche?
> I've understood that it was Divine Silk that got into Pig and thus
> Horn/Silk.
> Unless of course, Divine Silk doesn't really factor in at all, and
> somehow Silk's soul got into Pig by some other means.

James Wynn sez:
>The question of whether Wolfe views souls as physical/wave or metaphysical
> entities is still an issue of debate. He treats them as both. But think of
> Abel's discussion with Mani the cat about whether he is a cat or an
> elemental spirit. Abel says he is neither. For as long as they are 
> together,
> he's a new entity made up of both.
> There are only three people in the Raja...and only three souls. When the
> Raja takes on Silk's body and his mind, he takes on both Silk and any 
> daemon
> riding along when he died --which would not be Silk or Pas but the 
> Silk-Pas.
> This is further complicated by the fact that Pas is no longer the original
> Pas either. They had to add a little bit of Silk to complete him (so Pas 
> has
> Silk's head now). Consequently, Pas himself is also Silk-Pas, so what's 
> the
> difference? (And Typhon, when Sev met him --and apparently when he was
> scanned-- also consisted of two souls, right? Hmmmm...The head that was
> changed in Pas was the tyrant's, not Pieton's, right?. How much of the old
> Urth's calde even exists in Pas anymore? )
> So, only three souls and only three Horns. But the three are not 
> necessarily
> the same three. If you are familiar with the way Wolfe weaves mythology 
> into
> his stories and characters, then you know he's quite comfortable with this
> sort of double and triple -iteration.

Chris P sez:
>Part of this discussion started with some reflections on identity.
>I mentioned that there is a "simple" view where each self is a "soul",
>thought of as a (perhaps eternal) substance that undergoes various changes;
>it is a single, indivisible unit. There is also a "complex" view in which 
>we think
>of the self as comprised as various components - your memories, your 
>your vital interests, etc. On this view I am only partially still the same 
>I was when I was in love with my college sweetheart: one is prone to say 
>like "I was a different person then." And if I think of myself as (mostly) 
>a different
>person now than then, there are obviously varying degrees along the way. 
>This is
>not as marginal or purely literary way of talking as it seems - it's part 
>of why
>we have a statute of limitations, and why we are inclined to not hold an 
>adult responsible for things they did when they were a child. We referred 
>in that
>discussion, roughly, to the collection of little pieces that make up such 
>an identity
>as a "psyche".
>Most of us waver back and forth between different ways of talking about 
>identity without noticing it. Different situations make each seem much more
>relevant and true than the other. What makes James's (and possibly Wolfe's) 
>a little hard to work with and keep a grip on is that it forces us to 
>actually hold both
>views at once. That doesn't make it wrong, just that there are going to 
>be points of the text where you want to look at it either one way or the 
>but not both. So I have never been able to go much further with this 
>as good of a theory as I think it is.
>My gut inclination, as an aside though, has always been that there is
>a point at which Horn has definitely left the combined entity (both
>psyche and soul, whichever way you want to look at it; though if you
>think of it as the psyche you could say that there are some remnants).

David Stackhoff sez:
>I have to comment that this schema easily allows for the copying of
>persona/whatever by machines in the first place. I don't believe that
>machines could copy souls. Machines are the opposite of souls and
>could never capture them, I'd think. And there would be the theological
>implications. (Again, haven't heard from the Pope on this but I
>imagine he'd be pretty ticked off.)
>Electromagnetic brainwave patterns, however, present no difficulty
>whatsoever. Scan'em in, scan'em out, put'em on a floppy. In fact,
>you'd have to work harder to convince me that any Wolfean
>characters actually have souls at all than that their psyches
>could not be replicated and merged.

John Watkins sez:
That's basically all an Aristotelian or Thomistic soul is, though--a 
In Thomistic philosophy, humans have souls, but they are the unity of the
soul and the body.  Think of the soul as the sum total of all of your 
up to the present + your will, and that's basically a Thomistic soul.
In theory, this could be copied--the copy would have an independent will
and independent consciousness, but it would have, for a infintesimal
moment, the same soul that you do.
I can't say that this is Catholic orthodoxy, but it isn't heterodox either.
It's a permitted philosophical viewpoint that merely requires a few other
theological assumptions to salvage its orthodoxy, which someone like
St. Thomas happily would grant (i.e., the soul is miraculously sustained
after death for the particular judgment.)

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes sez:
>I think you're on the right track. However, I don't suppose Wolfe is
>proposing any specific answer to the question of what a soul is,
>let alone whether it can be copied or not. Rather, I suggest that
>he's asking questions: "What if _this_ were possible; then where
>would the soul be?" and some of his novels are, among
other things, attempts to explore those questions, though not necessarily to
_answer_ them as such.

David Stockhoff sez:
>I just remember another passage where Wolfe seems to explicitly endorse a
>Thomistic theory of the soul...it's in Urth of the New Sun when Severian is 
>with the Hierodules about his various iterations.  One of the simplest ways 
> explaining it is to use the analogy of writing or music.  A song ("Let it 
> Be,"
>for example) is neither a particular performance of the song nor the music
>and lyrics in their abstract--the former is like a body and the latter is 
>like a soul.
>Every time the soul (the music and lyrics) are instantiated in a 
>then the song exists, but it is always the same song as long as it is the
>same music and lyrics.

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