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The Tiles of Time

The torch of knowledge eventually devours its owner.

His father would leave home early, before the sun would break through the morning fog. He would occasionally be up early enough to watch his father from the window, to observe him walking down the path in front of their house.

On this particular day, he decided to quickly switch out of his pajamas and meet his father by the door before he left. "Father", he said, "could I possibly follow you to see your work today?" He anxiously held his breath while his father put on his coat. His father paused, with a far off look in his eyes, as if he were trying to place something in the distance. After what felt like an eternity, his father turned around to look at him. "Sure". his father said, "why not?"

They left, and he struggled to keep pace with the long stride of his father. They walked in silence, as horses and carriages crossed the road. He was excited. He'd never seen what his father did for work, but he had always felt like someone as proud and imposing as his father must have a very important role in their community.

His father stopped in front of a dimly lit beaten down shack. There was brown paper covering holes in the windows, and litter was messily strewn about in front of the building.
the shack - tiles of time.png

They stepped inside, and he was shocked by what he saw. The room was much larger than it looked like from the outside.

Floating 11 feet above the ground was a a giant glass object, slowly rotating and shooting prismatic colored light from a moonroof. The object seemed to be made up of tiles, small, highly detailed tiles.
the structure - tiles of time.png

His father walked across the shack to a small work desk in the corner. On the desk, there was a number of unfinished tiles. Each tile seem to have its own pattern painted on it. "Father, what do these patterns mean?" he said. His father responded, "Each tile represents a fact, and each fact represents a tile. If the pattern is true, the tile will retain its shape. If the pattern is false, the tile will break. The painter must hold their fact in their mind while they paint the tile. Deviate for even a second and the tile will break instantly."

He asked his father, "Hey Dad, I know some pretty interesting facts. May I try one?" "Sure, why not.", his father said. He picked up a paintbrush from the table and dipped it into the color ocher. He thought to himself while whispering under his breath: "My favorite dinosaur is a triceratops. My favorite dinosaur is a triceratops." The tile snapped. "Hey!", he said. "What I thought was true!"

"Unfortunately", said the father, "what you thought was true to you. While you may deeply believe that your favorite dinosaur is a triceratops, there's no way to prove that explanation. What would your favorite dinosaur be if you have never learned about the triceratops? What might happen as you learn new dinosaurs? How can you be so confident that your favorite dinosaur will stay a triceratops? The tile picked up on all of these. An ideology is not a truth."

"The patterns I paint become test for themselves just because I believe something deeply does not make it a truism in the universe. Each tile I bring to form is a guess on my part -- as the patterns on the tiles grow, so do I.", said the father.

"So all these floating tiles?…", asked the son. "Yes, the tiles in the middle sustain each other. Each counts on the other to be true to make a larger pattern. My life has been devoted to finding these tiles. It's painstaking work. As I discover a new pattern, it takes from me. Each thing I create takes a piece of my energy. But I only hope that what I've created will help create new patterns. Patterns that I can't even see yet."

Many years later, the son woke up in a cold sweat. For many months, he sat on his father's words. He couldn't understand why something like his childish notion of a triceratops was an ideology, and why something else like the "Sun rises in the East" wasn't.

Eventually, he came to resent his father's work. He felt it haughty to be sure of anything. He had entered his teenage years, and was feeling the angst of trying to knock down a system that he had been born into. He resented how hard his father worked on these tiles; how he would come home with his hands covered in paint and how he needed to start wearing thicker and thicker glasses to see his work. All the while he was so meticulous in his work and so casual at home. Could this really be the same person?

He felt he knew what he had to do. He put on his jacket and walk down to the old shack. He removed a hammer from his pocket and threw it with all of his pent up energy over the years at the glass structure that his father has spent many more years building. At first nothing happened, the hammer hit the structure and fell to the ground. The structure shook slightly, but held firm. Perhaps his father was right. Perhaps the universe did have immutable truths after all.

Then one tire fell, then another, and another and another. The son breathlessly sat on the ground next and watched as each tile cascaded into another, causing more to fall. In the middle of the floor, amidst the carnage, he saw one tile intact.

This tile had a beautiful pattern, extremely simple. As he saw his reflection in the tile, he asked himself was there a reason that he felt compelled to knock down what came before him. Was this the cycle of destruction, or the cycle of creation? Was it truth that caused him to question the truths of his father? Or ego?
the tile - tiles of time.png

His father was older then. He took a few more hours to get to work, but when he opened the door, he paused. He looked down at the floor and saw much of his life's work shattered on the ground by his own son.

He looked at his son and asked" Is this what you wanted? What might you've been trying to prove?" His son paused, and looked off into the distance the same way his father did the first day he took him to see the tiles. He said to his father, "Father, there is a pattern of patterns when something is true. In this atomic state truth might change when it's subjected to a new atomic state. An object becomes a subject in relation. To find the new facts of my generation, I needed to destroy yours. The torch of knowledge eventually devours its owner."

The father paused and looked into his sons eyes; and the son was shocked to see that there was no hatred or or rage -- just acknowledgement with the slightest glimmer of grief. He put his hat over his eyes, put his coat back on and walked out of the shack.

The son picked up the unbroken tile from the floor, walked over to the desk and began to paint. is a reader-supported published Zettelkasten. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.

Topics Discussed:

  • Time passing from generation to generation, Siddhartha and the River of Time[1]
  • Knowledge is a Giant Mapping Function, each person has biases but biases can be shared or cancelled by different biases, from The Output of a Knowledge Worker is Process[2]
  • The Important Thing Is That We Retain the Ability to Debate, like the Athenians, from Criticism, Conjecture, and Nen Vows[3]

Author's Note: If you liked this story, please reply or share! I'm trying to learn the art of blending fiction with real work from my Zettelkasten, and would love this type of format to go further. Thanks!