Phenomenon I

Celia Wan
3 min readFeb 5, 2019
1970 Paris Sartre & de Beauvoir

The pancake was in the oiled pan, or, to be more precise, the pancake batter that he just made with an unmeasured amount of pancake mix, one egg, and some 2% milk, was in the oiled pan. The batter started to form the expected circular shape, lightly browning on the edge — soon the smell of flour and olive oil would fill his small open kitchen.

He just finished cleaning the bowl that was used to hold the batter. Now the bowl was in the dish rack and the sponge that was responsible for the cleaning was lying in the sink alone, appearing fat from all the water it just absorbed.

He picked up that sponge habitually and gave it a squeeze. His forearm muscle cooperatively contracted then relaxed. It was at that moment, that very peculiar moment when the sponge was freshly released from the water, when it was still firmly in his hand, that he paused.

The pause lasted for less than 2 seconds, but it was as obvious as it was unexpected. Why didn’t he put the sponge on the rack under the sink right away? An abnormal pause, out of order, something went wrong, or nothing at all. He did not decide to pause, of course, but something made the decision for him. What was it?

I was observing this series of action while standing next to him — did he know that he was being watched? Then he must have not been himself for that 2 seconds — hell, I hadn’t been myself that entire morning, but it was not about me, was it? It was his pause, when he hesitated in front of the thinned sponge, not sure what to do next, even though he probably had performed the squeezing a thousand times before I stood next to him that morning.

His routine was disturbed, so now he had a glimpse of this contingent existence of his — why would he squeeze the sponge in that particular way, with his muscle contracted and relaxed in that particular shape? The rack under the sink, was it there before he opened the cabinet? The water released from the sponge, where did it go? Did the pancakes just turn ready at that moment when he took this unexpected pause? And the oil in the pan, sizzling, the noise it made suddenly became unbearable.

Soon the normal life restored itself, devouring both of us. He passed on that moment, or that moment passed on him. After the sponge successfully landing on the rack, he turned and told me that he had a routine for things like this.

“I know what I am doing.” That’s what he said. More like a self-assurance, utterly out of context — unless I noticed the pause, and I did — I giggled in response.

Now, if I were to judge any part of this Saturday morning episode, that would be ???? (an adjective)— the explanation. He was back to himself again, but not sure how to justify the adventure he just experienced. The contingency shocked him, making him dizzy. Now that he was back in this norm where I inconveniently existed, he felt compelled to justify what just happened — He needed not to. But he didn’t know that my existence was not relevant. So now I know there is a crack on his existence.



Celia Wan

Certified paradigm shift identifier because I read Kuhn thrice; History and Philosophy of Mathematics @UChicago