There were no words on the page.
The <Assembly of a Soul>’s pages were instead lined with a bizarre lattice of random characters, diagrams, and even mathematical formulas, but there was not a single word present on any of the exquisite pages inlaid with threaded gold on its edge. When An Fei opened the book, the entire array burst into a storm of dazzling light.
She saw the primary colors of a rainbow, as well as their possible hues. Each color was represented by a spark of light, and they gradually coalesced into a spectral form of a human.
It was an old scholar, with robes of purple silk and sleeves of white. Golden characters were embroidered onto the sleeves, chest region, and the hem of the robe.
When An Fei closely peered at the golden characters, she couldn’t help but briefly appreciate the calligraphy represented within the robe.
The strokes were swift and contained, withholding even the slightest of emotional fluctuation. Compared to even An Fei’s rather mechanical handwriting, the characters depicted on the old scholar’s robe were indifferent and emotionless, as though they were completely detached from all living sentience.
And when the elderly scholar spoke, the soft, raspy voice echoed within An Fei’s ears.
“What is a soul?”
The voice was soft, the tone gentle as though the scholar were looking at a learning student, instead of a random person who had pried open the book. An Fei blinked as she awaited for the scholar to continue speaking, but only received an expectant glance from the latter.
The young girl quickly peeked at the shimmering characters on the opened pages, only to find the scholar’s boots extending from the multicolored aurora of light.
Ultimately, she raised a trembling finger to herself, a soft murmur inadvertently escaping her lips in shock.
The elderly scholar slowly nodded, his lucid gaze staring deeply into the young girl’s countenance. As she carefully mulled over her answer while gauging her surprise, An Fei felt as though the scholar could see directly through her body and into her soul.
She just wasn’t certain exactly what the scholar could find in such a decrepit and disorderly place.
“I think… a soul is the spiritual representation of a creature,” the young girl softly murmured.
“Perhaps it is represented by the fluctuations of emotions within living creatures such as me?”
“If a soul is the spiritual representation of a creature, then what exactly does it mean to be spiritual?” the elderly scholar smiled.
“Rather, after creatures perish, what happens to the soul?”
What did it mean to be spiritual?
An Fei felt her mind blank by the question. The young girl quickly dove into her sea of perception, only to find that it too had crawled to a halt, unable to process any more.
By the root definition of the term “spiritual,” it referred to an intangible existence that could influence the psyche, or the state of mind.
Typically, its many interpretations often circulated around a connection across consciousnesses, the most common form being religion or ideology.
But then, by that definition, for something to be spiritual, it had to establish a connection across one or more consciousnesses, no?
For a soul to then be described as a “spiritual representation” of a creature with that definition…
“…it wouldn’t work, would it?” the young girl slowly enunciated with a hint of uncertainty.
“If the aspect of spirituality is to establish a connection across one consciousness to another, then a soul couldn’t possibly be a spiritual representation of a creature. However…”
“However?” the elderly scholar smiled.
“Why can a soul not be the spiritual representation of a creature? Perhaps, on the other hand, why can a soul be the spiritual representation of a creature? Moreover, what even is a creature?”
An Fei’s lips echoed. Accepting the scholar’s ever-patient nod with a twitch of her lips, the young girl forced herself to delve deep into her sea of perception.
She knew that what the scholar wanted was not the definition of a creature of a physical aspect, but rather the overall form. Then…
“A creature is any existence that can obtain a physical manifestation, as well as process basic sensory information. Moreover, a creature must be able to manipulate such information to enact physical movements or changes.”
“Mm.. not bad. Then what about this – why did you not exclude anything that wasn’t an animal?”
“Plants are also creatures, are they not?” the young girl provided a wan smile.
“They exist in physical form, and certainly have impulses that aren’t simply coincidence. Humans cannot understand the metaphysical aspects of plants – that doesn’t mean that plants don’t have metaphysical beings.”
“Then do creatures have souls?” the elderly scholar stroked his beard with a gentle sigh.
“What constitutes a soul? What conditions are needed to become a soul?”
The young girl… could not find a response within her.
The mixture of conflict and confusion firmly captured within An Fei’s countenance brought a light sigh from the elderly scholar’s lips, but no word of rebuke escaped his lips.
“In actuality… there is no proper definition of what exactly a soul is,” the elderly scholar began with a hoarse voice.
“Because it works in the same principle of contradictive observation. As creatures capable of sentient thought, we are unable to analyze the origins of such sentience.”
“…we can observe and analyze the qualities of those distinct from us, but when the question commands us to observe ourselves, there is no possible method of analyze our intrinsic qualities?”
“Exactly; an entity that is defined with a system, cannot possibly be able to discern the origins of that system. It is the same with souls – we know that we are capable of thought and sentience because there are objects that are not capable of such a feat – or at the least, cannot express it as coherently as sentient entities as us, but we don’t know where such sentience emerges from.”
“…not even you know what constitutes a soul?” the young girl was confounded, then pointed towards the opened book.
“Then why is this named as such?”
The elderly scholar followed the direction of An Fei’s extended fingertip and glanced onto his feet. As the elderly man stared at his ghostly feet emerging from the abstruse inscriptions pasted onto the exquisite pages of the book, he suddenly erupted into a boisterous peal of laughter.
“Little fellow, why must we know everything a subject could possibly offer to be able to discuss about it?” he chuckled.
“If you don’t know the definition of a concept or a term, isn’t the best option available the decision of creating your own definition?”
Create her own definition for concepts she didn’t know?
Wasn’t that operating on the fallacies of logic and reason?
An Fei paused for a brief moment, her thoughts inadvertently drifting towards her recollections of the previous modern world. As she carefully thought about the distinct differences in the scientific theory of the modern world and the theory of cultivation of the Shattered Star Continent, the young girl suddenly felt that the elderly scholar’s words weren’t so bad.
“However… what if your conclusion turns out to be incorrect? What would happen then?”
“Why should the definitions that we create ourselves be incorrect?” the elderly scholar countered with a genial smile.
“We are all denizens of the Realm; amongst us, there are only equals and never superior nor inferior entities. Why should we then bow our heads to another and admit that the theories that resonate best with us are wrong?”
“Isn’t that arguing on the basis of a faulty foundation of knowledge?” An Fei rebutted with a trailing voice.
“However sound logical inferences and computational theorems may be, if the foundation of knowledge that drives its effects is wrong, then –“
“Then the Realm wouldn’t exist. Or, at the least, none of us would exist.”
The elderly scholar pointed towards his ghostly body and feet, then towards the book covered in unknown and incomprehensible symbols. With a constant chuckle escaping his words, the scholar that was Wen Jingyuan began to spell a story.
“Let us begin with simple and conclusive inferences, shall we? Perhaps, the beginning of the Realm’s concrete formation should do.”