A Serious Loss

12 June 2010


After an unusually wet and rainy spring, today began clear and sunny. It is a beautiful day, and getting quite warm. I decided to go for a walk. I parked at the North Creek trailhead at Tryon Park in the Portland area and walked for about and hour and twenty-five minutes. When I got back to my vehicle I discovered that my vehicle had been broken into and my things had been stolen.

Of course I know that I was incautious and careless, and I have paid dearly for it. Knowing that it was avoidable doesn’t make it less painful, but rather more painful. The financial loss from the theft is significant, but more significant is the loss of my computer with all my manuscripts on it, as well as notebooks of ideas.

While it has been said that one cannot kill ideas, and in fact Sarmiento used this as an epigraph for his Civilization and Barbarism (which I discussed in Civilization in the Wilderness), and moreover once an idea is in circulation nothing can be done to eliminate it, including burning the books that mention it, in another sense an idea can be a very fragile thing, easily lost and easily destroyed.

We work on our ideas gradually, building them up one sentence at a time, one paragraph after another. In time, we have a coherent manuscript that we can use to communicate the idea to others. Until the idea is communicated, it is dependent upon its corporeal embodiment, whether that embodiment takes the form of ink and paper or stored electronic data. Today I have lost both, and because I have lost them there are ideas that I will never recover.

The loss I feel most at the present moment is a very long blog post that I was writing first in my word processor, with the plan to copy it into a post only when it was substantially finished. I don’t have a second copy of this, so it is probably a total loss. I was working on responding to some of the responses that I got from my The Loss of Objecthood post. I had mentioned that I had a lot of good ideas while I was in Argentina, and these were among those ideas. Also lost were my recently purchased books about object oriented philosophy, which were with me because of the research I was doing for the above-mentioned post.

Of course I will attempt to reconstruct what I can of this manuscript, but, as I noted above, some things will be permanently lost. There is a story that when Carlyle was writing his book on the French Revolution he loaned the manuscript to John Stuart Mill, whose cleaning lady burned it. Carlyle wrote it over again. There is also the story of Bishop Berkeley, who lost the manuscript of the second volume of his Principles of Human Knowledge. Unlike Carlyle, he never rewrote it. I often wonder if that manuscript is sitting in a trunk in some attic, waiting to be found.

In any case, thought goes on, as life goes on, but the loss remains and cannot be wished away.

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One Response to “A Serious Loss”

  1. T. Greer said

    I am sorry to hear of your loss. Here’s to you being able to recover some of what was lost. The mind has a strange way of finding such things, given time and will.

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