I once felt the notion that “all possible universes exist” lacked substance. It dragged along with it human notions of possibility that relied on imagination, while simultaneously ignoring connections between the animate and inanimate. The concept of a “possible universe” seemed tied directly to conscious decision making, yet ignored countless other unconscious relationships between nonliving forms of matter.

As a thought experiment, I imagined a universe where roses had never existed, but representations of roses across cultures were preserved. They continued to appear in wallpaper and on clothing as lovely, spiraling forms that seemed familiar to those who looked upon them, yet the memory of what they were was just out of reach. The notion of the rose somehow continued to exist without the flower itself, yet every now and then, someone would raise an eyebrow and think to themselves: “just what the hell are roses supposed to be, anyway?”

The experiment could be repeated with any number of other objects, from ammonite shells, to lotus flowers, or even the crescent moon. Tearing something human out of the world seemed reasonable, but something inhuman less so. The primordial resisted notions of what could be, and was instead relegated to guiding the separations between truths. As such, when it came to this form of alteration, I concluded that the model was fundamentally lacking. Wounds in reality left by such a deviation could never be healed. 

This changed, however, while helping my uncle move out of his condemned Victorian. Together, we threw away an antique Persian rug that had somehow managed to survive three generations of irreverent American owners. If you stared at its battered surface for long enough, you could see the outline of lost paisleys, a withered garden of geometric delights.

As we carried it to the curb, however, he asked me a question that I could not answer: “Just what the hell are paisleys supposed to be, anyway?”