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Vorinism, a predominant religion on Roshar, holds that seeing the future is a form of Voidbinding, and thus evil. We know that Voidbinding, which is of Odium, can indeed grant knowledge of the future, so it makes sense that Vorinism would teach this. However, it’s not only Vorin theology where we hear this. There are some outsiders with a similar perspective, particularly in Oathbringer.

  • Vivenna says to be suspicious of visions, since even the gods of her land (the Returned) only see brief glimpses of the future.
  • Preservation says to be wary of the essence of Ati, e.g. Ruin, which grants the short-term prescience of atium.
  • Hoid tells Shallan not to trust anyone who claims to be able to see the future (with the implication that this includes him). Hoid in particular has a perspective that few others do on the nature of the cosmere, so it’s particularly interesting that he thinks this way.

It’s also true that predictive powers have been granted to humans by mainly by “evil” shards in the books (with that word in quotation marks, because the end goals of nearly any Shard, given enough time to overwhelm the consciousness holding it, would be inimical to thinking beings). That is, Ruin, Odium, and Dominion.

On the other hand, there doesn’t appear to be anything terribly evil or suspect about seeing the future. According to Brandon, it’s often associated with the pure essence of a Shard, and as such not only Odium and Ruin, but also Preservation, Honor, and especially Cultivation can all avail themselves of it. Indeed, Cultivation, a non-antagonistic Shard, seems to be more proficient at it than the antagonist ones.

Is there any Cosmere-wide significance to these various prohibitions against seeing the future? Or is it something more mundane, e.g. visions can often be incorrect and misinterpreted?

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    Is someone against any Sanderson questions? ;) If anyone’s read Oathbringer, they’ll notice that warnings against seeing the future come from a surprising broad spread of individuals, including some very knowledgeable ones. – Adamant Nov 27 '17 at 12:04
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    When Vorin priests say “seeing the future is eeevil,” it’s one thing. When cosmere-aware people like Vivenna and Hoid say it, perhaps it’s something that’s worth taking a little more seriously. – Adamant Nov 27 '17 at 12:10
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Looks like there's two very different ways to see the future... and not even the gods can do it properly.

This is largely speculation, and since a lot of this seems to depend on how "good guy" a person is being at any given moment, I'm not sure how it will hold up over the course of the series. But it's especially notable, now that the pattern holds up over several books.

Looking into the future and finding a particular outcome is almost always doomed to either evil ends or failure.

  • This may be what Vorinism is concentrating on... Odium in paricular seems to rely on this method. He orchestrates most of the events of Oathbringer to a particular end... and not only is that end of evil intent, it's completely destroyed and derailed by one choice.

    Namely, that Dalinar was put into the perfect position to be turned to Odium's cause and become his champion, by the terms Dalinar himself set forth, using images and cues Odium himself may have put into motion.

  • The Parshendi predictions of bringing forth their gods with the Everstorm did actually succeed, but certainly were not very beneficial to them.

  • Renarin's visions...

    ... of both the Everstorm and his own death in Thaylen City. The first match up with the Parshendi, bad outcomes. The second, his own death, was comlpetely subverted. It is discovered his bonded spren is actually corrupted by Odium, although it's left open how exactly that is effecting him - whether he is seeing what Odium wants him to see, or simply seeing what Odium wants the future to be, is an open question. The one subversion we get is when he gets a vision later in the battle, as he's about to face a team of Fused, and he suddenly knows that reinforcements are about to fall in his lap.

On the other side, several characters that are granted foresight are offered a direction rather than a specific result, and these have been mostly good.

  • In Misborn: Secret History...

    Kelsier attempts to view the future through Preservation, and although mostly what he gets is a headache, he does grasp one possibility where if he heads in a certain direction, it will help. This leads him to trek all the way across Scadrial's Cognitive to the equivalent of his continent's western ocean, where he finds the Ire, steals something from them, and is eventually able to use it to buy time for the good guys.

  • In Oathbringer...

    Kaladin gets a brief glimpse of the future when exposed to an oracle's tools while stuck in Shadesmar, and again, doesn't get a vision but a direction... he knows he needs to get to Thaylen City to help Dalinar. It's worth noting that his specific interpretation also fails - he thinks he needs to save Dalinar, but Dalinar ends up saving himself and Kaladin, and Kaladin's true role to turn the battle is guarding Dalinar's back against a corrupted Amaram, without which it's likely the good guys would have lost. Also worth noting is that even in Shadesmar what the Oracle is doing is considered illegal, so the prohibition may predate Vorinism.

  • And then there's Hoid. Bloody frustrating Hoid...

    ... who warns Shallan against anyone who claims to see the future, but admits he gets some guidance in getting to where he needs to be, and then turns right around and implies that's still not a good thing. At the end of that book he rescues a spren, claims he didn't know he had to until he did, suggesting he's getting similar "directions" and not explicit visions. It's hard to know where to place this with respect to the others, because we still don't know Hoid's motives, even though every time we see him he does at least something to help out, and word of author states that he's actually using some application of Luck to accomplish his talent of being where he needs to.


So the upshot (moral?) so far is, those seeking the future to control it are doomed to failure, manipulation, or the cruel fate of actually getting what they want. Those just taking a peek to guide their path appear to be far better off.

  • The way I read the deal with Odium was that this was Cultivation's sense of the future outplaying Odium's. Cultivation arranged for Dalinar to be in a psychological state where his personality would develop (i.e. grow, cultivate) in such a manner as to render him resistant to Odium's influence at the appropriate time. – Adamant Nov 27 '17 at 20:11
  • @Adamant - Cultivation's actions - what little we know of them - could fit either category, so I didn't yet want to offer up a judgement on her. And if she's right next door to the Nightwatcher, what the hell were either thinking or seeing with Taravingian... – Radhil Nov 27 '17 at 22:07
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Yes

The author has said that all forms of seeing the future are dangerous in the Cosmere, although they're a little vague on why:

Questioner: So voidbinding is-- one part of voidbinding is seeing the future. And atium is also seeing the future. And I notice annotations for Elantris, you said something about seeing the future could go weird-- sends assassins. Is that a running--

Brandon Sanderson: It is a running theme in the cosmere. And it's-- Whatever path you take to do it is dangerous in the cosmere. It's kind of a sign of-- You are in dangerous territory, and drawing upon a Shard that is--

Questioner: Potentially...

Brandon Sanderson: Potentially-- Yes. I mean to say-- Dangerous territory.

Seeing the future is generally tied to the essence of some Shard or other, so possibly what Brandon means to say here is that seeing the future is risky because it opens one up to direct Shardic influences. Since nearly all Shards, if not all, have an intent that's inimical to humans if taken too far, this could be risky.

Another possible danger lies in the Spiritual Realm. We know that when Elend burned atium and duralumin together, he entered the Spiritual Realm. Given what's been hinted at previously about future vision being connected to the pure essence of a Shard, which resides mostly in said Realm, it's reasonable to suspect that other attempts to see the future might risk sending users to the Spiritual Realm, which Brandon has described as something that can be damaging to one's mind.1

1: Taravangian....?

  • Huh. Which shard, would be the next question... – Radhil Jan 12 '19 at 0:09
  • @Radhil - I think he was getting at the fact that it could come from Odium or some other Shard that is dangerous. I don't think he was saying that there's a Shard out there called (for instance) Fortune that implicitly is drawn upon when using Investiture in a certain way. – Adamant Jan 12 '19 at 0:13

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