I don’t read a lot of fiction. It’s not that I don’t like reading good fiction – more that I have trouble stopping. When I get a book I really like I have trouble sleeping or concentrating until I finish it. For that reason, I tend to read my fiction on vacations and holidays. Last Christmas I was inspired by a post by Kaimi to get a copy of Enders Game. I loved it and powered through it in a day or two. Last week I decided to try the sequel, Speaker For the Dead, and couldn’t put it down either (causing me to drop out of a few hot blog debates here and elsewhere…). If anything, I think Speaker For the Dead might be even better than Ender’s Game. I’m on to the third in the series now, Xenocide. I’m about half way through and it is not shaping up to be as good as the first two books, but it does give me some good fodder for a blog post. As it turns out, the universe Ender and friends live in is apparently built on the theology and metaphysics (ideas about the nature of reality) of 19th century Mormon apostle Orson Pratt.
Monism (versus pluralism)
The fundamental building blocks of the Enderverse are subatomic particles called “philotes”.
“Philotes are the fundamental building blocks of all matter and energy. Philotes have neither mass no inertia. Philotes have only location, duration and connection… They have no mass or dimension.” (Xenocide, 56, 58)
In the novels these philotes band together to create mesons which combine to make up things like neutrons, then atoms, then molecules, organisms, planets and so on. (Of course the obvious question with Card’s given definition is how philotes with no mass can combine to create things with mass… why not just say they have indiscernible mass or something?) This is an example of “monism” where the universe is all made up of a single irreducible type of substance. In this case the entire Ender universe can be reduced to philotes. I briefly mentioned monism versus pluralism (the idea that the universe is made up of multiple types of irreducible stuff) in my recent post on the McMurrin book.
This philotes notion seems to be a variation on the concept Orson Pratt taught about “particles of intelligence” being the fundamental building blocks of all life. It is not clear to me that Orson was a true monist, though. He seems to think that particles of intelligence made up Intelligences/spirits of living things but I’m not sure he thought non-living matter and energy was also made up particles of intelligence. Please chime in if you’ve seen evidence for Pratt’s leaning one way or the other on this.
The other interesting thing about Card’s philotes is that they are “alive”. They have a rudimentary form of intelligence and agency. They choose and act.
More quotes from Xenocide:
“It’s as if the smaller the particle is, the stupider it is… (61) Life is when a single philote has the strength of will to bind together the molecules of a single cell, to entwine their rays into one. A stronger philote can bind together many cells into a single organism. The strongest of all are the intelligent beings. We can bestow our philotic connections where we will… The philote is the soul. (64)”
“If all of reality is the behavior of philotes, then obviously most philotes are only smart enough or strong enough to act as a meson or hold together a neutron. A very few of them have the strength of will to be alive — to govern an organism. And a tiny, tiny fraction of them are powerful enough to control — no, to be — a sentient organism. But still, the most complex and intelligent being — the hive queen, for instance — is, at core, just a philote, like all the others. It gains its identity and life from the particular role it happens to fulfill, but what it is is a philote. (67)”
Who’s down with O.P.?
Here Card is clearly lifting and expanding on Pratt’s speculations. Orson Pratt opined that all living spirits and things are fundamentally “particles of intelligence” that join together to create living souls of varying degrees of intelligence. Here are some quotes from Pratt’s The Seer as reprinted in The Essential Orson Pratt:
Each particle eternally existed prior to this organization [into a spirit]: each was enabled to perceive its own existence; each had the power of self-motion; each would be an intelligent living being of itself, having no knowledge of the particular thoughts, feelings, and emotions of other particles with which it never had been in union. (285)
Pratt goes on to say that a spirit is in fact a union of intelligence particles that are unified in purpose and become One.
When the same feelings, the same thoughts, the same emotions, and the same affections, pervade every particle, existing in the union, the individuals will consider themselves as one individual: the interest and welfare of each will be the interest and welfare of the whole: if one suffers, they all suffer: if one rejoices, they all rejoice… (285)
The expansion by Card includes the notion that at the center of every spirit is a single particle of intelligence that had the intelligence, strength, and leadership capacity to join with and lead other particles in an ongoing recruiting effort to gather more and more “intelligence” with whom to be One. While Pratt talks about intelligence particles being organized together, I have seen no mention of this concept of a single particle at the heart of each spirit (even though Card’s variation is a logical extension of the speculation in my opinion.)
So while the metaphysics of Card’s Enderverse clearly embraces animism (the idea that all things in the universe are in one sense or another alive), it is not clear whether Pratt went that far or not. He did say that all life (including plant life) was fundamentally made up of particles of intelligence, but he didn’t say whether he thought things like minerals were also made up of these particles. Perhaps Pratt was a monist and a full-fledged animist like the characters in Xenocide, or perhaps he was actually a pluralist who simply believed all living things have a spirit made up of these living particles of intlligence. I would be interested in evidence supporting either of these.
Scriptures behind Pratt’s ideas (and therefore behind the Enderverse)
Pratt’s theology is not without some scriptural support — depending on how one interprets the revelations at least. Here are some examples:
And again, verily I say unto you, the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law- Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it. (D&C 88: 25-26)
These verses could be seen as a support for animism, though I’m not sure if even Pratt saw them as such.
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. (D&C 93: 29-31)
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; … (D&C 88: 40)
These verses could be seen as support for the notion that individual, beginningless intelligence particles could and would seek each other out to join another.
But does it make any sense?
Even if it turns out that none of it is actually true, I actually think that Card’s rehashing and expansion of Orson Pratt’s speculations are surprisingly coherent and internally consistent as a metaphysical model. What do you think? Are there some deal breaking problems with these specific portions of Pratt’s theology (and thus the metaphysics of Ender’s universe) that I am missing? Or has Card taken some buried Mormon thought and laid out a viable metaphysics model in his works of fiction?