The time concept of the cell

We usually understand time as a linear process (I also understand circular concepts of time are in this sense as linear, as a straight line bent into a circle). How could time be imagined differently? The thesis of this text is that our perception of time is conditioned by the nature and constitution of our bodies, a body that has a digestive system in which the substances needed for life are primarily absorbed on one side and excreted on another. This text is meant as a thought experiment, not to postulate a truth, but as an inspiration to understand time in a different, non-linear, I would like to say, Korsakow-like way.

Time seems linear. With the past on one side of a straight line and the future on the other. And in between is a point that symbolizes the now. The tiny, fleeting moment when everything that is takes place.

You could call it the earthworm’s concept of time. The earthworm digs through the earth, eating soil on one side and excreting everything it doesn’t need to be an earthworm on the other. In front of it, the substances that can be transformed into what keeps the living being alive. In front of it, the future (what will be earthworm), in front of it possible futures, because the earthworm can change the direction in which it moves.

Behind the earthworm the past, what has been discarded, what cannot or can no longer be used in the process of life, which is called “autopoiesis” by Maturana and Varela. Future can be understood as that which can be – that which can be building blocks for the living body.

Past in this sense is what has passed through the earthworm, what was part of the earthworm, within the body, and no longer is. The now in this picture is what is, what is body, what is in the body, whether it can be metabolized or not.

Now, of course, it is impossible to say whether an earthworm has a concept of time, but if it did, I would guess it would be a linear one.

How would a cell perceive time? A cell is surrounded by a membrane that is permeable to the substances the cell needs to perform autopoiesis. The membrane is also permeable to waste products produced in the process of life, which are released through the membrane from the inside out into the environment. So the things that make up the future and past are in each direction around the cell and not, as in the earthworm, in the front and back. So past and future is not ordered in directions, but in all directions around the cell.

This time concept, “the time concept of the cell”, seems more plausible to me than the linear concept. Because it describes much better what I perceive when I observe myself thinking. It describes the “simultaneity” of thoughts of future and past while thinking

Korsakow – Utopia not vision

There are two ways to build an interactive documentary with Korsakow. One way I would like to call the “causal method”, it consists of planning, presetting, trying to determine what the viewer should experience when watching. The other way I would like to call the “Korsakow method”, because it describes the original motivation that led to Korsakow.

Building a Korsakow film according to the Korsakow method is an experiment, and as with any good experiment, it is open-ended. That is, at most a starting point is defined, a theme that possibly points in a direction, but not a goal, a result, a statement.

Although it is possible to build films with Korsakow according to the causal method, I think it is pointless, because any other medium, any other format can be used for it. Korsakow, on the other hand, allows the “Korsakow method” – a different approach that few cinematic tools even allow. It is a radically open narrative, a cinematic reflection that can always reveal new references and that turns the author into a spectator, a viewer of his or her own thoughts, and the spectator into an author who can discover and uncover references that were perhaps never planned in this way and possibly previously undiscovered.

Formally, these two types cannot be easily distinguished. A film made according to the Korsakow method may look like a Korsakow film made according to the causal method. The differences are rooted in the attitude, in the approach of the author, and at best can be felt by its audience. What is the message of a particular Korsakow film? If a clear answer can be given to this question, it is certainly a film made according to the “causal method”. The Korsakow method does not lead to a clear result, revealing cause and effect, good or bad, culprit or hero. The clarity of a film made according to the Korsakow method is to afford the realization that this seemingly clear division just does not exist. In this sense, the Korsakow method is radical. There is no good, there is no evil. Korsakow dissolves categories and for this reason is incomprehensible, even unbearable for some.

A method of making discoveries

Some people do not like to be told what to do and what not to do. Such people often even tend to do exactly the opposite of what they are told to do. If there is a path, they prefer to go off the path.

The likelihood of making valuable discoveries off the path is higher than on or along the path. A path is a path only because it has been taken many times. The probability that a discovery on a path has already been made in the past is therefore high, the probability that a discovery has remained undiscovered so far is correspondingly low.

Now, if you repeatedly make valuable discoveries off the beaten path, over time you will develop a feeling for how to make discoveries there. A feeling from which a method can develop.

But already the feeling and even more the method is problematic, because the method is nothing else but again a path – a path that promises to lead to discoveries. So one walks on paths again and it is in the nature of paths that discoveries on the paths become more and more improbable over time.

What one would like to have is a method that permanently generates new paths. Korsakow can be such a method.

What we will find

Miami Beach

All of the knowledge that was gathered in the past is true, became true, or at least pointed in the right direction even back then. The one in which it then actually went. Earlier knowledge may perhaps be overtaken, just as a slower vehicle can be overtaken by a faster one, but only if they are both going in the same direction. Knowledge, contrary to what the word suggests, cannot be “refuted” in the sense that the path then goes in the opposite direction with the new knowledge. It goes on and on. Perhaps that the direction of the path changes that the little paper boat takes on its way down the creek. It keeps changing direction, but it always goes down the stream and never up. Over time, the ship arrives at ever new, unseen, more unimaginable places. The imprints these places leave on the minds of the people on the ship shape the way they can see. The knowledge of the past has always pointed kindly in our direction. Just like a captain who always confidently points the paper ship in the direction in which it then actually moves.

Once I invented something

This text is based on a talk I gave in September 2022 @ HSLU in Lucerne

In this talk I reflect about the affordances of computers in when used in conjunction with media, and discuss how Korsakow, the software I developed, was constructed based on these affordances.

Once and more than 20 years ago, I invented something. I invented something that did not prior exist (at least in that form) and that was later on also used by other people.

Today I want to talk about Korsakow from the perspectives of the inventor and designer.

There are a few things to say about this. For one thing, when I invented it, I wasn’t aware that it was something new. It wasn’t anything new in a way, because it was based on what was there already. In my case, primarily computers, digital video, and a vague idea of what a database is.


What I invented didn’t come out of a vacuum but was in a way already suggested by the affordances of the computer I owned, the sound and image recording possibilities of my camera and a very vague idea of what a database could do, an understanding I primarily got through my student job at “Daimler-Chrysler Research and Technology”.

So I combined things that were actually already there, and I made use of affordances myself to create something that would later turn out to offer affordances to others.

What were those affordances, what should this software be good for?

When I think back to 1996, I remember one thing above all, this incredible fascination that computers had on me. I had already observed for a while, that everything that was dear to me – notes, texts, photos and recordings accumulated in fragments on my computer and I wished I had a button I could press and then the computer would help me to make sense of all these fragments. I wished the computer would help me to read the data in a way that I could see the emerging patterns. I wished the computer would help me decipher what I thought.

I wished for a tool that could present the connections of the things that I had in my brain, the connection of my thoughts, memories and feelings, so that I could read them and that way understand what I felt.

This was the initial idea of what this software should be good for, as far as I remember.

Those thoughts lead me led to the use of keywords as a fundamental principle, to allow a flexible connection of the elements that later were called SNUs (Smallest Narrative Unit).

The idea was to organize all the elements in an open and flexible way. The elements apart from the SNUs are the interface, (the layout of how things are presented) and and additional layers of audio and text.

Designing a tool to create interactive films

Interactivity, that allows viewers of a piece to select clips offered by the system came as a consequence of this flexible arrangement of the SNUs and the wish to make it visible that there is no fixed order of things.

Because of the decision to make it interactive, options had to be presented to the viewer – there was the necessity for buttons to be pressed. I could only think of links being text, image, sound, moving image or a key pressed on the keyboard of the computer. And I allowed for all the options above, also in combination.

The intention of the designer and affordance

From the standpoint of the designer of Korsakow (me), Korsakow was not built with the intention in mind to make people use it in a particular way, but to give people possibilities, as many options that I could think of and that I was able to realize within the limitations of the technology I had access to and by my skills and the general resources that were available. So for example eye tracking could also have been a possibility for navigating interactivity, but that was beyond my scope of possibilities. So one could say the affordances that I made use of, were in the objects I used (computer, recording, database) and the environment I was in (things like my skill set or funding opportunities).

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