A branch of philosophy that investigates the methods, limits, and origin of human knowledge.

A visual document of a moment in time: a cloudy eighth of May at approximately nine a.m. in Sand City, California when a singular number of crab husks littered the beach. What can be said about it?

* * *

These are the steps to produce this photograph in Lightroom:

Point Curve: Strong Contrast
Temperature (+194, 4.6)
Exposure (+0.41, 0.41)
Black Clipping (+27, 32)
Clarity (+24, 24)
Vibrance (+6, 6)
Exposure (+0.19, 0.60)
Green Luminance Shift x3
Orange Luminance Shift x2
Blue Luminance Shift (+97, 97)

This is not to trick the viewer into seeing something that wasn’t there, but to return the image to what the photographer saw when he took the picture, which was considerably more vibrant than what the camera reproduced.

* * *

The most likely explanation of how this particular scattering of objects came to be on that shore at that time is that the final wave of a high tide deposited them there and then receded. They remained for eight hours or probably less, since it was unlikely that the observer happened upon them at the precise moment after the tide turned.

This is the most likely explanation but it is not the only one.

  • The photographer sought out all the crabs he could find and scattered them in close formation to create the illusion of a singular number of crab husks littering the beach. That is not the truth, but the reader has no means of verifying this.
  • The fingers of God tossed them like so many dice. But God does not play dice and perhaps does not exist so let’s move on.
  • A child’s hand arranged them in a moment of ghoulish play. This is slightly less likely than the hand of God as some parent, disinfectant wipe in an agitated hand, would grip the young elbow in the other and haul his little girl away from the nasty dead things that caused no apparent harm to her now but would be remembered years later as the undoubted latent trigger when she suffered anaphylactic shock while eating shellfish and nearly died.
  • A seagull dropped them there, a cache for future eating, and then forgot them. This is how oak trees propagate, when squirrels carry their acorns away, bury and then forget them. But I do not think dead crabs will reproduce, so this has dubious evolutionary value.

I prefer a different explanation still.

* * *

An emerita analoga lies belly-up just beyond the range of the photo. She was pregnant. She was not eliminated from the picture out of respect for the dead but for aspect ratio concerns.

Or a man in khaki shorts and Birkenstocks dropped the roe topping from his spider roll as he was walking on the beach. This does not seem very likely. But it isn’t a logical impossibility.

* * *

The arrangement of crab husks was the doing of a tax accountant named Allison (which according to the Social Security Administration was the thirty-eighth most popular name in the U.S. in 2011 although only fifty-ninth in 1983 when she was born) whose boyfriend took her on vacation in January to relax before the seasonal crush.  He intended to propose but after an unfortunate exchange of words broke up with her instead.

Allison believed that their relationship ended because they stayed in Sand City instead of Monterey for their vacation and the industrial aura threw a pall over their trip. If she had known that Sand City was well into the process of shedding its manufacturing past and becoming an artists’ colony, would her relationship be intact? If she had realized that the Best Western Plus Beach Resort was actually in Monterey and merely adjacent to Sand City would it have made a difference?

Her boyfriend believed their relationship ended because she criticized the hotel, the restaurant, and the size of the engagement ring.

For the next fifteen weekends after her boyfriend left her she checked into the Best Western Plus Beach Resort in Monterey (or Sand City if you insert yourself into Allison’s epistemic frame of reference) early Saturday evening and checked out Sunday morning. The drive from her home to the hotel and back again took two hours each way. This created some friction at work but not enough for her to lose her job. She said she had a dog even though she did not because it was better than checking in alone.

After checking in she walked the beach carrying a brown paper bag. She thought to collect pretty sea shells to cheer herself up, but nearly every shell she encountered was broken. She believed that unbroken seashells were more numerous when she was a girl. This might be a verifiable fact, but she didn’t trouble herself to verify it.

When she saw her first dead crab she felt compelled to pick it up. Initially she picked out only whole ones. But after the third weekend she saw a kind of perfection and completeness even in the tiny severed limbs and gathered those into her bag too. She began to ignore the shells, even the occasional unbroken one.

After her fifth weekend of collecting dead crabs she constructed a rationalization to justify her behavior. But as a rationalization describes only how an individual conceals knowledge of an action’s purpose from herself and not the actual motive behind the action it will not be mentioned here.

* * *

A casual observer possessing a respectable knowledge of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision, might have assigned one of these codes to Allison’s behavior: 300.3, 301.13, or perhaps 300.4.

A psychologist would likely think he should spend time with her before arriving at a diagnosis.

* * *

Allison walked the beach for months collecting the occasional corpses of crustaceans, and hoarded them until she could produce a monument to entropy on the shore. High tide on the eighth of May occurred at 1:23 a.m. during a Waxing Crescent lunar phase. She rose at 3 a.m. and scattered crab bodies for a mile. Somewhere between the 8:15 a.m. low tide and the returning high tide at 4:34 p.m. all her effort would wash away. This seemed appropriate to her somehow.

She did not realize, as a marine biologist might, that the “corpses” could be the abandoned husks of molting crabs who then went about their lives not dead but sporting shells like shiny new cars. This might have diminished the impact of her message somewhat.

* * *

This is, of course, not likely the truth.

But it is not a logical impossibility.