Ontological time machine

We are moving our lab this month, so last night I needed to pack my office into boxes. Due to various circumstances, I needed to do this in a single night.

I didn’t want to lose objects that might be precious, such as my birth certificate, or photos from the first time I went to Brazil. But not being a very organized person, I wasn’t sure where all those things were.

So it ended up becoming a struggle between time and space. It would have been fastest to simply shove everything into boxes, and push the problem down the road for future Ken to deal with.

But that would have resulted in a crazily large number of boxes, with no real understanding of what was in them. The birth certificate and the treasured photos from Braziil, among other things, would have remained vague cyphers, objects somewhere in a large and mysterious collection of boxes, still out of reach.

So I made some educated guesses. Some piles of paper were clearly not important, and I tossed those out summarily. Yet others looked like they contained treasures, and through these I carefully sifted.

Still other piles of paper were clearly part of what I think of as my “origin story” — the collection of drawings that I made that led to algorithms I’m proud of, or things I had written so long ago that they possess clear archeaological value for that reason alone.

These collections of papers I put into boxes wholesale, without trying to sift through them. I guess there are certain categories of objects that I simply think of as sacred

The entire experience, which lasted roughly twelve hours, felt like a journey through a time machine. Through these objects, which at various stages of my life I had touched, and had in turn touched me, I could see who I was a different times.

I remembered the joys and struggles, the friends now long gone, the relationships that defined me. On the one hand I was merely sifting through piles of paper.

On the other hand, I was sifting through my own life. And all the while I was asking myself a question: Which parts of that life do I cherish, and which parts will I throw away?

2 Responses to “Ontological time machine”

  1. sally says:

    It doesn’t seem that one can really “throw away” anything. The paper, or the photo, or the drawing, or the production, or the recording, or the algorithm, or the whatever is merely the artifact of the process and the people where it came to fruition. The artifact can be thrown away, or even destroyed, but the memory of those who created it in life, is persistent. IMHO, anyway.

  2. admin says:

    Yes, of course I agree. The act of throwing out is a ritual, a useful conversation with self. I was describing that ritual and that conversation.

    As Willian Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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