Last month I read Jason Sanford's collection of short stories, Never Never Stories (Spotlight Publishing, 2011). All but one appeared in Interzone, some have been reprinted at other outlets. I read the IZ ones in the magazine. All set me thinking, but 'Here We Are, Falling Through Shadows' (IZ 225), relates so well to my philosophical and scientific interests that I read it twice, making three reads in all.
It seems in part to be about the very general nature of sentient life, and morality. Its shadow creatures from another universe, world, reality, whatever, are living, thinking beings. They appear at various points in our physical universe (and perhaps in others) but are somehow connected to their own universe - of - origin. They absorb (parts of?) the minds and bodies of other living, conscious organisms, at least temporarily. These somehow become parts of the shadow creatures' minds and maybe bodies. I think they need to do this to survive, 'wherever' they turn up in the many realities and locations within a reality (say, on Earth and on Mars). A form of nourishment, so to speak. Yet absorbed humans maintain contact with us.
Now, at page 74 of the collection the narrator thinks about his wife, who was absorbed but communicates with him. He decides that these strange beings 'traded consciousness the way we communicate words. Their shadow bodies were merely containers to hold an eternal parade of souls --souls which continually merged and changed with each interaction among the rippers.....But nothing was ever truly lost as the rippers merged and split and merged again' (my italics, the beings are called 'rippers'.) Hence, one ripper can give part of its nourishment to another, so that nothing is absorbed that must remain a part of a ripper. All of this on page 74.
We learn there that rippers do not understand the moral (normative) concept wrong. Why not? I think this is the conceptual core of the story. Since rippers are living and conscious (in their own way, e.g. as we differ from bats), their actions are suited to maintain their peculiar living states, which 'includes' at least some features of the entities absorbed at a given moment and perhaps earlier. This constancy is called 'homeostasis' in biology. A detailed but somewhat speculative sort of homeostasis is autopoiesis, where a living being maintains its homeostatic states partly by producing materials needed for homeostasis. We are autopoietic organisms, as are perhaps each of our cells (see Autopoiesis and Cognition, by Humberto R. Maturana & Francisco J. Varela, Reidel 1980).
Suppose rippers are autopoietic. Then they have all items needed for their lives within themselves. This includes at least some of the entities they have absorbed. Hence their need to wander to new sources of nourishment, i.e. to locations where new entities can serve to maintain their autopoiesis. Can rippers be moral? Can they understand wrong? I think not. First, they are not immoral; for according to Jason Sanford they lack morality. But It is not that they understand but reject moral notions, they neither have nor need them. I'll call them 'non - moral,' for this reason. Why so? The tale suggests that the near - constant change in their physical and mental make - up, due to the ongoing absorption of entities which can come from morally different places, makes rippers non - moral. Again, why? For the possible moral differences amongst radically different sorts of entities (e.g. humans and martians) entails that rippers are never suited to having one constant morality. How else can various sorts of entities be so absorbed that they 'participate' in ripper consciousness, either at one time or temporally distributed?
Rippers then, need no moral notions to maintain their autopoieses, as absorbed entities contribute from 'within' to homeostasis, yielding autopoiesis, whilst possibly being so morally varied that their (the absorbed entities) moralities cannot so contribute. No moral notions are ever active in ripper life and mind. So it's reasonable to say that they cannot understand wrongness, in particular. The story makes this plausible, as the narrator's absorbed wife says exactly this.
To close, I have no idea if Jason Sanford reasoned this way. His story is so deep that I wondered if it was coherent. I think it is; it is as profound as are many of his stories.