Wednesday 3 February 2010

Pen asked me some questions about elven color schemes in decoration and my answer was starting to look more like a Verso post than a comment, so here it is.

Pen wrote:

Maybe everything has a color inherently associated with it that might not be the color of the actual object?

I would have to say maybe, if you can see it, and it may not be the same for every elf. It’s possible that a color is associated with an object by way of its nature, but you have to understand what nature is, and how it is perceived.

The Etymology of “Nature”

The elven word I translate as “nature” is pú. The noun also means “being” or “existence,” which is already a clue about how essential the “nature” is.

The word also serves as the copula — the verb “to be” when talking about essential qualities of something, like “Vash is tall,” but not incidental qualities such as “Vash is in the bedroom.” I believe that Spanish makes this distinction as well.

So you see, the word is associated with innate, inherent, immanent, essential qualities of people and things.

The Definition of “Nature”

When the elves are talking about the “nature” of things (not of people or the nine animals), they’re talking about the essence of the thing — a very Aristotelian “what it is.” This isn’t limited to characteristics that can be observed externally with our five senses, though… they must realize that there are things they can’t perceive, and so the nature of something is not perfectly knowable. And they can perceive things we can’t — things that might manifest themselves as being like colors — but more on that later. 

For people (i.e. elves, humans, etc.) or those special animals, they believe that everyone has an inner nature that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with outside appearances, though it may affect behavior or personality. You might call it a soul. Anyone can see that Vash is tall, but to know that he has “still, dark water nature” you have to look inside.

The Perception of “Nature”

Some elves — the khírrón at least — can see the nature of things and people in some way. And maybe some elves can see it better than others… I have a feeling that Paul’s habit of peeking into people’s natures may be partly due to him being so darn good at it that the risk/​amusement ratio is in his favor.

Now, if you watch Paul at work, he can only perceive someone’s nature metaphorically — only by comparing it to things whose nature he already knows. They all do this in the simple case — Saralla does it when she names the babies. She just peeks inside and says “Okay this kid’s a little like a maple tree… Kív it is!”

We do this too, at least with some of our senses — “Hmm, tastes like chicken!” >8) Think of how we describe an unfamiliar taste from an exotic cuisine… by comparing it to other tastes we know. I think the elves have a sort of “vernacular” of natures of things they all know… maple trees, cloudy skies, lightning, etc. If you’re Saralla, that’s good enough. Paul likes to know more though.

How do they perceive this? Here’s how I imagine it: it’s a little like a Vulcan mind meld, or two hippies getting close enough that their auras cross. Touching is helpful but not necessary, and perhaps someone like Paul — who could sense Cat while she was MILES AWAY — has an “aura” that covers twenty acres, so he has some reach.

When Paul comes in contact with someone’s (or something’s) nature, he effectively starts hallucinating. He’s not out of touch with reality, but it’s like his contact with this other nature is firing all these sensory neurons in his brain, causing him to see, hear, feel, taste, and touch things that aren’t physically there, without any external stimulus. Not randomly, but according to a uniquely identifiable “pattern” that is the nature of the person or thing. (Though for things it’s probably not particularly unique at all… a maple tree is probably a lot like all the other maple trees deep down inside).

And just like in hallucinations, when your brain is getting all this improbable data coming in from its sensory regions, it tries to make sense of it by mapping it onto its experience with things that have, in the past, caused similar patterns of data. And when it comes up with a close match it says, “Hey, look! You’re seeing lightning!” or something.

This vernacular of natures that I mentioned earlier is how the elves are able to name the “basic” nature of new types of items, namely earth, air, fire, or water. They’ve all seen so many things with fire nature that it’s easy to identify when a new thing has that something in common with all the other fire-​​nature items they’ve seen in the past. “Hey, look! It’s hot! It must be fire nature!” It’s not an arbitrary grammatical category — at least not for concrete objects.

Nature and Magic

Remember when Vash told Iylaine “It’s not magic, it’s just the fire that’s in the branch?” In fact I believe the difference between magic and “just the fire” is not quite so clear-​​cut. The khírrón can act on the physical world using their minds, and the only way I can see them doing that is through the same phenomenon that is allowing them to perceive the “nature” of things.

Paul perceived Cat’s fading life as a tiny ember of fire at the end of a stem of dry grass, and he was able to revive her by putting his own life into her in the form of a fire blazing across an entire field. The fact that Paul is able to map these sensations onto objects he knows from the real world allows him to act on the forces that are causing these sensations.

Shus did the same thing when he healed Kraaia: he saw her broken bones as hollow caves that he was able to travel down, and he heard the flow of her blood “behind the walls” while he was in there. He was enmeshed enough with her that he was able to feel her pain, and he was scarcely conscious of what was happening in the room — the hallucination had taken over to the point that the voices in the room were being filtered down to him as something like birdsong. But even though he was perceiving all this by way of hallucinations, he was able to physically act upon her body and heal her.

The fact that Iylaine was able to light a fire but doesn’t know how to do any “real magic,” I think that’s due more to lack of training. Her having fire nature herself meant that it was not a stretch for her to act on fire, once she knew to try. I think it’s more of a gradient between “just the fire in the branch” and making light come out of stones, where light clearly does not reside in the stones.

Nature and Color

I didn’t forget my original point! I think that an object may have an innate color, inasmuch as it may be perceived by an elf as a visual hallucination. Some elves have names (and presumably natures) that are colors — Dara’s name means “sky blue” — so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if elves perceived colors as they attempted to perceive the nature of things. That’s about the simplest sort of visual hallucination there is.

But I still don’t know whether that has anything to do with elven interior decoration! :-D

Or even the color of their sparkly stones…

Blue Light Osh.