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Cognitive Shadow

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Cognitive Shadow
Related to Splinter
Type Magical Entity
Universe Cosmere
Featured In Mistborn,[1] Warbreaker, Stormlight Archive, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell

A force of mind, holding his spirit together, preventing it from diffusing.

Kelsier's recollection of Preservation's description of a Cognitive Shadow[2]

Cognitive Shadow is a term used to refer to a spirit that has not yet moved into the afterlife.[3] While the manifestations of this kind of entity can vary depending on the world it occurs on, Cognitive Shadows can occur on any planet in the cosmere. Vasher refers to them as a Type Two Invested entity.[4]


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.[5] 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. [6] 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.[7] It is theoretically possible for a Cognitive Shadow to form a Nahel Bond with a human.[8] Cognitive Shadows look different in the Cognitive Realm, where how they became a Cognitive Shadow will influence how they look.[9]

A Cognitive Shadow can be permanently killed by the use of a raysium dagger touching a gem of anti-Light of the type of Investiture associated with the Cognitive Shadow.[10][11] For instance, a raysium dagger with an anti-Voidlight gem can permanently kill a Fused, and a similar dagger with anti-Stormlight can permanently kill a Herald. As raysium conducts Investiture, it can draw the Cognitive Shadow through the dagger and trap it in the gem—similar to the concept of Fabrials—at which point the Cognitive Shadow and gem fade. The experience is described as having your soul ripped apart.[12]




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.[13] 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; in doing so they destroy the mind of the possessed body.[14] This cycle of rebirth strains the minds of the Fused and, eventually, they go crazy.[13] When this happens, they instead possess chunks of rock and become a Thunderclast during the Desolations.[15] Their status as Cognitive Shadows grants them access to the Surges.[16] Odium could remove the Investiture that maintains a Fused, which would send that Fused to the Beyond.[17]


When the Heralds of The Almighty took up the Oathpact, they gained a direct connection to Honor. This connection transformed them into Cognitive Shadows.[18] Each time they return to Roshar, a new body is created for them.[19] Unlike the Returned, they do not need to consume Investiture to remain in their bodies.[20]


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.[21]



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 Realms.

—Ruin on Kelsier's Ascension[22]

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.[1] 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 Realm [had] been severed" by his death.[2] 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.[22] Some time after the Catacendre, Kelsier found a way to recreate his physical body and return to the Physical Realm.[23]



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.[24] This process results in the Returned losing any memories of their prior life. Returned must consume one Breath every eight days to fuel their Divine Breath.[25]


If a Lifeless were created with extra Breath, that Breath might start to take on a "personality" like a Cognitive Shadow would have.[26]



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.[27] Any person[27] or animal[28] 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."[29] Shades are repelled and can be harmed by silver, though it is unknown whether this applies to other kinds of Cognitive Shadows as well.[30] They also are not as self-aware as normal Cognitive Shadows.[31] If some other Cognitive Shadow traveled to Threnody, he or she would not become a Shade,[32] and if a Shade managed to leave Threnody, it would not be destroyed.[33] Differences between Shades and normal Cognitive Shadows are a result of the nature of the Investiture on Threnody and the lack of a Shard.[34]


  • The mist spirit that Vin sees during The Well of Ascension is not a Cognitive Shadow. Depending on the scene, it was an actual manifestation of Preservation[35] or Ruin's imitation of that manifestation.[36]


  1. a b Mistborn: Secret History part 1 chapter 1 #
  2. a b Mistborn: Secret History part 2 chapter 1 #
  3. Steelheart release party
    Arcanum - 2013-09-24#
  4. Rhythm of War chapter 15 #
  5. Orem signing 2014
    Arcanum - 2014-12-06#
  6. Worldbuilders AMA
    Arcanum - 2015-12-04#
  7. Oathbringer Houston signing
    Arcanum - 2017-11-18#
  8. OdysseyCon 2016
    Arcanum - 2016-04-08#
  9. YouTube Livestream 23
    Arcanum - 2020-12-17#
  10. Rhythm of War chapter 102 #
  11. Rhythm of War chapter 97 #
  12. Rhythm of War chapter 117 #
  13. a b Oathbringer chapter 38 #
  14. Oathbringer interlude I-6 #
  15. Oathbringer chapter 115 #
  16. Skype Q&A
    Arcanum - 2018-10-08#
  17. Oathbringer chapter 118 #
  18. Orem signing
    Arcanum - 2017-12-21#
  19. Skyward Chicago signing
    Arcanum - 2018-11-16#
  20. Read For Pixels 2018
    Arcanum - 2018-09-01#
  21. Shadows of Self San Francisco signing
    Arcanum - 2015-10-09#
  22. a b Mistborn: Secret History part 6 chapter 4 #
  23. The Bands of Mourning epilogue #
  24. Stormlight Three Update #6
    Arcanum - 2017-01-20#
  25. Warbreaker Annotations
    Arcanum - 2010-09-16#
  26. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-06-24#
  27. a b Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell #
  28. Calamity Philadelphia signing
    Arcanum - 2016-02-20#
  29. Mistborn: Secret History part 3 chapter 2 #
  30. Legion Release Party
    Arcanum - 2018-09-19#
  31. General Signed Books 2016
    Arcanum - 2016-07-31#
  32. Calamity Philadelphia signing
    Arcanum - 2016-02-20#
  33. Oathbringer Portland signing
    Arcanum - 2017-11-16#
  34. Words of Radiance San Francisco signing
    Arcanum - 2014-03-06#
  35. /r/books AMA 2015
    Arcanum - 2015-03-12#
  36. Mistborn: Secret History part 2 chapter 2 #
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