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Cognitive Shadow

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A force of mind, holding his spirit together, preventing it from diffusing.
Kelsier's recollection of Preservation's description of a Cognitive Shadow[1]

Cognitive Shadow is term used by Brandon to refer to a spirit that has not yet moved into the afterlife.[2] While the manifestations of this kind of entity can vary depending on the world it occurs on, Cognitive Shadows can occur on any planet of the Cosmere. In general, they are similar to the concept of ghosts on Earth.


Cognitive Shadows can be created by a variety of processes. Some of them are created when a person has sufficient attachment to something in the Physical Realm. When a Vessel that has held onto a Shard for a long time dies it becomes a Cognitive Shadow that can continue to act.[3] The Cognitive aspect of a recently deceased person can become a Cognitive Shadow by finding a source of Investiture to anchor themselves to the Cognitive Realm before passing on to the Beyond. The Investiture replaces the parts of the soul that connects it to the Three Realms, providing an anchor for it in the Cognitive Realm. [4] Some Vessels can prepare a Cognitive Shadow at or just prior to their death or Splintering, allowing a portion of their power to continue to function with a small amount of direction; the Stormfather is an example of this.[5]




When the Singers turned to Odium for help in fighting off the humans, he responded by infusing some of them with his power, which turned them into Cognitive Shadows.[6] They reside on Braize, but return to Roshar during every Desolation. Since they lost their bodies long ago, they must possess the bodies of living singers; doing so kills the mind of the possessed body.[7] This cycle of rebirth strains the minds of the Fused and, eventually, they go crazy.[6] When this happens, they instead possess chunks of rock and become a Thunderclast during the Desolations.[8] Their status as Cognitive Shadows grants them access to the Surges.[9] Odium could remove the Investiture that maintains a Fused, which would send that Fused to the Beyond.[10]


When the Heralds of The Almighty took up the Oathpact, they gained a direct connection to Honor. This connection transformed them into Cognitive Shadows.[11] Each time they return to Roshar, a new body is created for them.[12] Unlike the Returned, they do not need to consume Investiture to remain in their bodies.[13]


Prior to Odium's splintering of Honor, the Stormfather was just the spren of the highstorm and one of the three Bondsmith spren. After Honor's death, the Cogntive Shadow of its Vessel, Tanavast, merged with the Stormfather, though it does not appear that the Stormfather has Tanavast's memories.[14]


Look at you Kelsier! You haven't form or shape. You're not alive, you're an idea. A memory of a man holding the power will never be as potent as a real one with ties to all three Relams.
—Ruin on Kelsier's Ascension[15]

After his death, Kelsier found the Well of Ascension in the Cognitive Realm and, with Leras' help, merged with it. As a result, he became infused with Preservation's power and became a Cognitive Shadow, though, since the Well was created as a prison, he was unable to leave.[16] After Vin released Ruin from the Well he was able to travel the Scadrian Cognitive Realm and influence the Physical Realm, though he was unable to actually leave the Cognitve Realm because his "ties to the Physical Relam [had] been severed" by his death.[1] With the help of a device made by the Ire, he was able to hold the Shard of Preservation after Leras died, though, according to Ruin, he was made for a weaker Vessel than a normal person.[15] Some time after the Catacendre, Kelsier found a way to recreate his physical body and return to the Physical Relam.[17]

The mist spirit

The mist spirit that Vin sees during The Well of Ascension is not a Cognitve Shadow. Depending on the scene, it was an actual manifestation of Preservation[18] or Ruin's imitation of that manifestation.[19]



When Endowment Returns someone after death, she uses a Divine Breath to "staple" the Cognitive Shadow of the deceased person back to that person's body.[20] This process results in the Returned loosing any memories of their prior life. Returned must consume one Breath every eight days to fuel their Divine Breath.[21]


Brandon has indicated that, if a Lifeless were created with extra Breath, that Breath might start to take on a "personality" like a Cognitive Shadow would have.[22]


This page or section deals with theories or speculation.
Please read carefully and note that this is not necessarily canonical.

As of 2008, we had seen four shards other than Ruin and Preservation--two we had "interacted with directly," one whose "power" we had seen, and one whose "influence" we had seen.[23] One of the Shards we had interacted with directly is Endowment, whose voice is heard in Warbreaker and Odium's influence is seen on Sel as he was responsible for the splintering of Devotion and Dominion, the other two Shards we had seen at the time. Of those two, Devotion is most likely the one we had interacted with directly as Raoden hears an unknown voice when he enters The Lake in Elantris, which is believed to be Devotion's Perpendicularity.[24] This suggests that Aona may have a Cognitive Shadow that is lingering, though Brandon has RAFO'd that question.[25]



Shades are a unique kind of Cognitive Shadow found on Threnody that are able to interact with the Physical Realm. They are drawn by anyone moving quickly at night, lighting a fire, or drawing blood and their touch withers a person, which usually results in death.[26] Any person[26] or animal[27] killed by a Shade becomes a Shade. It is unknown how the first Shades were created, though, when Nazh first meets Kelsier, he is shocked that Kelsier managed to become a Cognitive Shadow and says it is "an important rite ... with requirements and traditions."[28] Shades are repelled and can be harmed by silver, though it is unknown whether this applies to other kinds of Cognitive Shadows as well.[29] They also are not as self-aware as normal Cognitive Shadows.[30] If some other Cognitive Shadow traveled to Threnody, he or she would not become a Shade,[31] and if a Shade managed to leave Threnody, it would not be destroyed.[32] Differences between Shades and normal Cognitive Shadows are a result of the nature of the Investiture on Threnody and the lack of a Shard.[33]


  1. a b Mistborn: Secret History part 2 chapter 1 #
  2. Steelheart release party
    Arcanum - 2013-09-24#
  3. Orem signing 2014
    Arcanum - 2014-12-06#
  4. Worldbuilders AMA
    Arcanum - 2015-12-04#
  5. Oathbringer Houston signing
    Arcanum - 2017-11-18#
  6. a b Oathbringer chapter 38 #
  7. Oathbringer interlude I-6 #
  8. Oathbringer chapter 115 #
  9. Skype Q&A
    Arcanum - 2018-10-08#
  10. Oathbringer chapter 118 #
  11. Orem signing
    Arcanum - 2017-12-21#
  12. Skyward Chicago signing
    Arcanum - 2018-11-16#
  13. Read For Pixels 2018
    Arcanum - 2018-09-01#
  14. Shadows of Self San Francisco signing
    Arcanum - 2015-10-09#
  15. a b Mistborn: Secret History part 6 chapter 4 #
  16. Mistborn: Secret History part 1 chapter 1 #
  17. The Bands of Mourning epilogue #
  18. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-03-12#
  19. Mistborn: Secret History part 2 chapter 2 #
  20. Stormlight Three Update #6
    Arcanum - 2017-01-20#
  21. Warbreaker Annotations
    Arcanum - 2010-09-16#
  22. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-06-24#
  23. Hero of Ages Q&A - Time Waster's Guide
    Arcanum - 2008-10-15#
  24. Elantris chapter 61 #
  25. Shadows of Self Chicago signing
    Arcanum - 2015-10-12#
  26. a b Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell #
  27. Calamity Philadelphia signing
    Arcanum - 2016-02-20#
  28. Mistborn: Secret History part 3 chapter 2 #
  29. Legion Release Party
    Arcanum - 2018-09-19#
  30. General Signed Books 2016
    Arcanum - 2016-07-31#
  31. Calamity Philadelphia signing
    Arcanum - 2016-02-20#
  32. Oathbringer Portland signing
    Arcanum - 2017-11-16#
  33. Words of Radiance San Francisco signing
    Arcanum - 2014-03-06#
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