The most interesting exhibit I saw yesterday at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City was about human memory. It honored Geoffrey Sonnabend who, in 1946, wrote a study entitled Obliscence: Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter.

Sonnabend’s thesis was that memory is an illusion. The inevitable outcome of all experience is not remembering, but forgetting:

We, amnesiacs all, condemned to live in an eternally fleeting present, have created the most elaborate of human constructions, memory, to buffer ourselves against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrievability of its moments and events.

According to a summary by Valentine Worth available in the museum’s gift shop:

Sonnabend did not attempt to deny that the experience of memory existed. However, his entire body of work was predicated on the idea that what we experience as memories are in fact confabulations—artificial constructions of our own design built around sterile particles of retained experience which we attempt to make live again by infusions of imagination, much as the blacks and whites of old photographs are enhanced by the addition of colors or tints in an attempt to add life to a frozen moment.

It seems to make sense. I don’t know if I would read all three volumes of Sonnabend’s Obliscence, but I can see how many of my own memories have been encrusted by confabulations just as an old shipwreck is encrusted by layers of calcium carbonate and other concretions. Here is an illustration from his work that shows how complicated it gets:

Visiting the Jurassic

The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California

I spent several hours this afternoon visiting a storefront in Culver City, right near the corner of Bagley Avenue and Venice Boulevard, that goes by the name the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Why Jurassic? Does it contain only exhibits relating to the earth between 201 and 145 million years ago? Was there any technology to be found during that period? Were there even any humans extant during that period?

Whatever may be implied by the name, it was a real museum in that it was a collection of wonders, concentrating on smaller exhibits given the size of the property. The St. Patrick’s Day crowd consisted almost exclusively of millennials, who wandered the dark and twisting corridors of the museum peering at such exhibits as miniatures by an Armenian artist named Hagop Sandaldjian, such as this representation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves atop the horizontal eye of a needle:

There was an unusual collection of objects gathered from various Los Angeles Mobile Home Parks, together with an attempt to account for a philosophy of trailer living as a form of reaction to the expanding universe. The museum website quotes an Estonian historian named Ants Viires on the subject:

[T]ime ravages everything, our person, our experience, our material world. In the end everything will be lost. In the end there is only the darkness. …and despite the apparent fullness and richness of our lives there is, deposited at the core of each of us, a seed of this total loss of this inevitable and ultimate darkness.

Another miniaturist on display is the work of Henry Dalton (1829-1911) consisting of images created from diatoms and the scales of butterfly wings, such as the following:

To view these works, it was necessary to view them through a microscope. There were about eight of them in a row, each pointed at a separate microminiature.

On the second floor of the museum is a little courtyard where tea and cookies are served amid the cooing of doves and the gurgling of a small fountain.

It was a fun place to visit. Not all the exhibits worked, but then that is true pretty much everywhere. I walked out of the museum with a sense of wonderment that was quickly dispelled by the rush hour traffic on Venice Boulevard.