The Elemental Octet
Excerpts from the lecture notes of Archmage Cadmian Senleaux to the
first year students at the Sanctum Lux Aestiva
Ladies and Gentlemen, presuppose an orb of water. Presuppose that this orb resides in the vacuum of space, where there is little to interfere with our observation. Of course, though the immediate area surrounding the orb is vacuous, there are many orbs of many types hurtling through the black as its distant companions, and try as we might, we cannot ignore their presence. This orb of water is cold in the lifelessness of space, and while it may strain the credulity of certain students amongst us, let us continue to presuppose that it is encased in a thin layer of ice as well. Finally, let us imagine a large heavenly body around which this orb and its fellows orbit. A star, perhaps, to appease the material cosmologists gathered here today.
How may we describe this orb best, using descriptors that are the simplest at our disposal, while remaining as accurate as possible? Shall we describe its color, velocity, or mass? Shall we chart its path around our newborn star? No, of course not, as these factors err too far towards either complexity or inaccuracy with respect to the core nature of the orb. We are too easily moved towards describing elements which hover above the nature of a thing, and not the thing itself. Can we examine this orb’s color? Certainly. The question of course is not whether we can, but whether such an examination aids us in understanding the subject in question. Understanding the color or velocity merely describes a function of a fundamental element of the orb, not the element itself.
Let us then remove ourselves from superficial examinations and establish a methodology for the observation and comprehensive understanding of the things which surround us, and utilize a language sufficient for the cause. Let us concern ourselves with fully eight elements, the octave of which the universe sings to bring itself into being – if you will excuse an old man his predilection towards poetry. In examining and describing this orb of water, let us listen then to the substance, the surface, the essence, the void, the structure, the pattern, the silence, and the noise.
The Heart of the Thing
Substance is the first of what some call the material quartet of the elemental octet. It is what we, at a glance, identify as the composition of the thing. It is, for many practical purposes, equivalent to the thing itself. When we speak of substance, we speak of the matter, of the form (but not the outline or shape of the form, as we shall examine below). In our orb of water, it is very simply the water itself. This water may have minerals or trace chemicals within it, and it maybe a tumultuous storm or a placid sea, but its substance remains unchanged. It is made of water, and that is substance enough.
The substance does not concern itself with why the orb is made with water, what shape that water might take, or the function and potential applications of the water. No, these are the realms handled capably by the remainder of the octet. The substance of a thing simply tells us what comprises it, and leaves us to draw upon its subtler elements for meaning and application.
The Boundary of the Thing
Surface is what separates the thing from all other things. The surface can be said to be the outermost layer of the thing, and all aspects are bound within it. In most cases, when a thing is visible, what one sees is the surface. The surface can then be representative of the thing or deceptive as to the thing’s nature. In our orb, this is the thin layer of ice separating it from space. The ice, of course, is a tool to aid our understanding. Were there no frozen water, would the orb lack a surface? Certainly not. In lieu of a tangible hard surface, the top layer of the water itself would be the surface. A morphic surface, to be sure, but complete nonetheless.
This boundary can be of any strength, and of any size. Without the surface, all things would be indistinguishable, and all elements of composition would intermingle. In the presence of the ice, it would be more difficult for any stray materials to enter the orb. In the absence of the ice, the outermost layer of water would provide a much less rigid defense, but remain no less a surface than its frozen cousin. This is a distinction (or rather, lack thereof) of paramount importance. Namely, that a surface is equally so regardless of its strength or impregnability. All things that are distinct (and even some that are not), have a surface, and we may describe the function and values of this surface without care as to if we risk devaluing its status as such.
The Soul of the Thing
Essence is often confused with substance, and for good reason. Many consider the two words interchangeable, and the differences to be insignificant. Though small, this misunderstanding has dramatic and potentially catastrophic ramifications. The essence of a thing is its most basic description of composition. Rather than substance, which forms the bulk of the thing, essence describes the nature of the thing. For our orb of water, it is many times sufficient to describe its substance in order to understand it, such as how one might fare if immersed completely in it, or if it were to crash into our own planet. However, the essence of the thing allows us to describe how it might respond to temperature changes, electrical forces, or the addition of other chemicals.
Essence defines the absolute purest expression of the thing, and through that purity we can understand its applications with the highest degree of accuracy. To return to the orb, the essence can be described as the precise chemical composition of the water itself, ignoring any flotsam or materials that have found their way inside. In the case of absolutely pure water, the essence may be said to be equivalent to the substance, but to affect each element would produce dramatically different results. The distinction becomes more clear when we begin to describe an animal or a crackling flame with these elements, but the orb of water will prove sufficient for our purposes here today.
The Absence of the Thing
Void is the most contentious of the four material elements, and its inclusion as both a material descriptor and as an element at all is a matter hotly contested. Professor Juliette Desrochers has famously argued that “The absence of an element does not itself constitute an element, and it gains one nothing to study nothing,” to which I would offer a small correction. Void is not the absence of an element, it is the absence of all elements, and in matters as particular as the building blocks of the universe, such a distinction can make all the difference.
Void is the element of absence, and it can be created just as well as the others in the material quartet. To enact a void upon a thing is to create a scenario in which all aspects of the thing are negated. Additionally, a void can be simply a part of a thing, while the other elements of its composition continue to operate. In the case of our orb, the void can take a permutation of one of two forms. First, it could be the element of space in which it resides. If one wishes to affect the path of our orb, one could fill the void with significant mass, thus altering the gravitational pull. Second, it could be that our example actually lacks void entirely, which is a completely reasonable occurrence in describing most things. There are entire sets of things which would be removed completely by even the presence of void, and it is not uncommon for even the more hardy of things to lack the threat of void entirely. If one had the power to create a void, one could enforce the relocation of all other materials, or even negate their existence entirely, without individually affecting a things substance, surface, or essence.
The Potential of the Thing
With structure, we arrive at the first – and some say simplest – of the immaterial quartet. While it may be among the simpler elements to understand, it is arguably the most difficult to affect. When we speak of structure, we speak of the component aspects of the thing which coalesce to form a network of possibilities. Put simply, it is the matrix of all potentialities for the thing, in what it has been able to do, what it can do now, and what it might do in the future. It is critical to note that the structure does not tell us what a thing has done or will do, as that information belongs to its pattern, which we will discuss shortly.
To return to our orb of water, the structure would describe the potential actions of the orb in its transit through space, amongst other things. The orbs size, mass, density, chemical composition, and a host of other (perhaps more subtle) factors all are factored into the determination of structure. The astute amongst you will recognize elements of substance and essence here, but while these elements certainly compose the factors of the orb in question, they cannot individually describe its structure. The nigh infinite complexity of the thing’s possible trajectories comprises an element unto itself, regardless of the other elements which must exist in order to allow its description. (This multifaceted approach to elemental composition is explained in much greater detail by Professor Allard’s Integral Cohesion Theorem, for which unfortunately I have not the time to expound upon with the proper attention.) Simply put, the structure – however its method of construction – describes the raw potential of the thing, and the understanding thereof allows for the utilization of a fascinating array of predictive models.
The Route of the Thing
To continue our somewhat fortuitous pairwise association, we come now to pattern. Pattern is often called the execution of structure, which is a fairly reasonable if someone insufficient corollary. A pattern is the route that is taken amongst possible options as laid out in the structure matrix. It is simplest, perhaps, to view a study of pattern as a study of time. To chart the history of a thing, one is viewing its pattern, or the realization of its structure’s potential. If one were able to accurately predict the future, one would be examining patterns arising from the current structure of things. The complexity of the pattern is sometimes a function of the complexity of the structure, but there are a most of instances where the reverse is true, or where the complexity of the structure seems to have no bearing on the pattern. Though pattern is the route taken from the structure’s potential, it is of course subject to all of the elemental pressures and inconsistencies that also affect the base structure.
Our orb’s pattern can be described as its orbit around its star. In order to affect this pattern, one could perform any number of actions, such as – for instance – allowing it to collide with another mass, resulting in the new mass’s absorption. This change in substance (and, for many uses, essence) would fundamentally alter the movement of the orb as its mass, response to external gravitation, and initial velocity would all create a new set of potential routes, simultaneous with the execution of one route, its pattern. Popular multiverse theories conjecture that all patterns are executed at least once across the infinite possibilities of fractalized timelines, but all attempts at finding evidence for even the most palatable multiverse theories have proved fruitless. Nonetheless, the exploration of possible patterns in a fictive multiverse scenario can prove immensely useful in acquiring a deeper understanding of the element as a whole.
The Isolation of the Thing
At a glance, silence can seem identical to void, as both are seen as an absence – one of matter, and one of sound. However, where void is the lack of matter, the silence of a thing in fact requires matter to exist. Silence is the isolation or stillness of a thing, and can also be explained as the amount to which the thing is unable or unwilling to influence other things in the universe. An object of significant silence could be difficult to detect (depending on the instruments used for detection), due to the lack of emissions or material impact. Silence can also exist within a thing (here, much like void), in that the thing has influence on its system via certain channels, but remains isolated in others.
Let us examine our orb in two different scenarios to better understand this rather slippery element. In the first, let us visit the circuit of our orb around its star. By the very definition of the scenario, the orb has much greater silence than the star, in that it is subject to the star’s effect, while the star itself remains unresponsive to the effect of the orb’s gravity. Other nearby orbs may have varying degrees of impact from our orb of water, but in the greater system, the water expresses relative silence, and exists in relative isolation, emitting no heat or radiation upon the system.
In the second scenario, let us imagine a traveler of the planes finding himself standing on the icy surface of this orb. Here, isolated from all other sentient life, our traveler is experiencing a silence internal to the system of the orb itself. There is potential for a breaking of the silence, which could be a result of a shifting of the material quartet, resulting in an alternation of the structure, which in turn creates a new pattern with potentially less silence. However, as the system stands, the traveler can walk unaided across the ice, with no potential interference from other creatures on this lifeless orb, and is enclosed in near total isolation. This is a smaller silence than that in which the orb resides relative to the greater system, but it is no less important to our studies.
The Connectivity of the Thing
And finally we arrive at the final member of both the elemental octet and the immaterial quartet, noise. Where silence is isolation and boundaries, noise is connectivity and intermingling. A things noise is the impact it has upon its various systems, and is the medium through which all of the other seven elements can be leveraged upon other things. An object of great noise has a profound effect on the things around it, and can fundamentally alter their elemental balance merely by its existence. An object of small noise may only emit a smattering of effects upon its systems, whether or not its structure carries the potential for much more. To study the net noise of a thing is to attempt to fundamentally understand its place in a system, and is essential for understanding the activity and functionality of every other thing in that system.
We have expressed the silence of our orb within two scenarios, but within those two we may also equally express its noise. Were we to shift our focus from a view centric to the star, and examine instead the system with all things being given equal weight, we would find that our orb has a very audible noise (if you will pardon the expression) on the paths of the orbs around it. The pathways of the orbs immediately its neighbors are affected palpably by the water’s gravitational pull, and thus there is noise. Any impact from a stray bit of matter would increase the noise as well, as pieces of the system are being altered, regardless of whether the matter is absorbed or deflected. Any interaction at all with any other thing in the system would create noise of some level.
To return to the surface of the orb with our planar traveler, we can express the orbs support of his mass itself as a function of noise. The man does not and cannot exist in a vacuum, and so any interaction with the orb, even if it consists simply of his existing upon it, causes tiny ripples in an otherwise perfect silence. In a more visceral example, presuppose that the ice begins to crack under his weight, creating a spiderweb of fractures that split the entire surface of the orb. This is a far greater noise, as now we have a catastrophic change in the nature of one of the material elements. As you might be able to tell, it is difficult to express noise without presupposing the influence of events upon a system, as noise by definition is the expression of connectivity and shared impact. Therefore, be cautious when examining internal noise that you include each and every thing affected, even though that set may include infinity itself.