The Bad Trip
The Portal Stone symbols in Rand’s mind changed from arrow and circle, which was Rand’s random choice, to wavy parallel lines representing the stone on Toman Head. They rapidly went through thousands of symbols, representing all the lives they saw:
"The Lines that join the Worlds That Might Be, laid by those who knew the Numbers of Chaos…I've never heard it, but there is no reason we would not be born in those worlds, yet the lives we lived would be different lives. Of course. Different lives for the different ways things might have happened."(More on the mathematics of chaos below.) Verin thinks it was a surge of the One Power that forced or pushed them to the Stone on Toman Head. It is interesting that this Stone is the only one that she has been to. They are now on Toman Head and have lost time. For them the trip took a few hours (from noon until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon) which is just as well, since Mat only has weeks to live, but in elapsed time it was about 4 months later. Egwene lost contact with Rand during that time. They must have literally been in those If Worlds.
The Great Hunt, What Might Be
Verin assumes that Rand made the mistake of trying to do too much.
Was the trip through the If Worlds the Pattern trying to show them the consequences of their decisions and warn them, or the Shadow trying to trap them? Or both: the Shadow set it up and the Pattern took the opportunity? The fact that the Shadow claimed to have won at the end of each of the thousands of lives Rand experienced makes it more likely they were involved, even if the Pattern used the situation as well. Of course, the Pattern may have been warning Rand of what is at stake, what his life means to the world – the Wheel and Creator are fairly keen on tough love. The Shadow may have been softening Rand up so that if he survives the trap he will be despairing and vulnerable to Ishamael’s temptation, which happens three days after they arrive at Toman Head.
Rand’s other lives were:
1 Rand and Tam were killed at home by Trollocs on Winternight.
2 Rand married Egwene, who was an excellent Healer – better than Nynaeve whom she replaced as Wisdom. The Seanchan conquered the mainland. Egwene died of old age (though she should have lived a long time since she channelled to keep Rand’s rotting at bay). The Shadow overcame the Seanchan and invaded the Two Rivers. Rand felt he had been born to fight the Shadow. He was killed by a Trolloc.
3 Egwene died the week before her wedding to Rand. He left the Two Rivers with Tam’s sword, was robbed in Baerlon and went to Caemlyn, where he joined the Queen’s Guards. Elayne married a Tairen prince. The Pattern threw up a lot of false Dragons. Rand’s body rotted. The Seanchan invaded and Rand defended Elayne while Andorans fled. Rand was killed by lightning.
Rand died of rot, sickness, accident, age, insanity, or execution. He proclaimed himself Dragon, never channelled, sometimes Moiraine took him from Two Rivers, sometimes other Aes Sedai did so, sometimes none. Sometimes Egwene killed him at his request; sometimes she was Amyrlin and gentled him. Apart from Egwene, he married Elayne, Min, Else Grinwell or other, as yet unknown, women (eg Aviendha) in other lives.
The If Worlds show the people Rand is closely linked to. They show Egwene’s possible lives, but interestingly, Rand didn’t see anything relating to any of the Forsaken, even the ones he has had close contact with such as Selene/Lanfear or Ba’alzamon/Ishamael, nor did he of his close friends, Mat or Perrin. Yet Mat and Perrin obviously saw Rand in their lives. Aiel Wise Ones experience something very similar when they step through the three rings ter’angreal in Rhuidean. Rand passed the first step of becoming a Wise One, even though he is male.
How the other men fared:
Ingtar realises the consequences of being a Darkfriend from his lives. He insists he walks in the Light and will find the Horn and pull down Shayol Ghul’s power. Later in the book he describes what he saw in those lives:
"Rand, when Verin brought us here with the Portal Stone, I - I lived other lives. Sometimes I held the Horn, but I never sounded it. I tried to escape what I'd become, but I never did. Always there was something else required of me, always something worse than the last, until I was . . .
The Great Hunt, To Come Out of the Shadow
Uno was nauseated by what he saw of his lives.
From his exclamation, Mat appears to have betrayed Rand in at least one life:
"Rand, I'd never tell anyone about - about you. I wouldn't betray you. You have to believe that!" He looked worse than ever, but Rand thought it was mostly fright.Will Mat? Or will the warning be enough?
- The Great Hunt, What Might Be
Perrin says they have few choices and can’t escape some things. He is resigned to his fate and his ties to Rand thanks to this trip.
Main world symbol
The Portal Stone symbol for the main world is a triangle on its point surrounded by a circle. The triangle represents the union of body, mind, and spirit. Pointing upwards it symbolises fire and male power, pointing down, water and female power. The circle stands for unity, wholeness, the Divine. The upwards pointing triangle within a circle is a symbol of protection and power – the circle contains the power and prevents it from breaking out and doing damage. It was used by Alcoholic's Anonymous to stand for the integration of personality. There is little or no use of the downwards pointing triangle within a circle but it would logically mean in the context of WOT that the true world is the most real, most divine, but the world uses saidar (the female power) and not both Powers.
Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that attempts to describe systems which appear random. Such systems are very sensitive to initial conditions.
Much of the mathematics of chaos theory involves the repeated iteration of simple mathematical formulas, which is impractical to do by hand.
Ishamael refers to chaos theory when he remarks in Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News that small changes can have huge flow on effects - the butterfly effect. Small variations of the initial condition of a dynamic system may produce large variations in the long term behaviour of the system.
Systems that exhibit mathematical chaos are deterministic, and thus orderly in some sense. In a deterministic system, every action produces a reaction and every reaction more reactions in an infinite chain of events. All the different ‘If worlds’ show the variation of events in the deterministic Wheel of Time universe. Completely random events do not occur in a deterministic system – everything is part of the Pattern. This leads to the philosophical question of free will versus the Pattern (a subject of the WOT Eschatology essay), and the ‘If worlds’ show the consequences of the interplay between the two.
The If Worlds haven't been used at all since The Great Hunt, which I think is a pity. Surely they were introduced for more than an attempt at trapping Rand and explaining the theological framework of the WOT world. It could be that they will be crucial in winning the Last Battle. RJ hasn't yet explored the paradox of meeting yourself in one of the If Worlds. The Dark One himself is a paradox as Verin explained to Egwene:
"The Dark One is the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the unmaker of order."Perhaps a philosopher like Ishamael can turn this to his advantage. Or perhaps Rand and Min can gleam enough from Herid Fel's writings to solve the mysterious answers of the Aelfinn and work out how Rand can win against the Dark One.
- The Dragon Reborn , A World of Dreams