Losing Something isn't a Loss

When Losing Something isn’t a Loss

38. The loss which is unknown is no loss at all.

Most of us would probably say we don’t like to lose things. Especially if we consider the thing very important to us. But what if we never knew it was lost? Would it actually be “lost” in the sense that we can relate to it emotionally, or it actually affects our lives?

We’re not talking about losing your keys here. That is a loss which is impossible not to know, and know quickly. You go to unlock your door and you don’t have your keys. They are lost.

But what about the loss of an item which we don’t realize? Which we maybe never realize?

An example would be a family heirloom or a meaningful memento. If asked, we would confirm that it is very important to us. But how often do we use it? What is its ultimate utility to us? If it’s something always visible, like an urn on the mantel, we may look at it often and fondly remember days past. If it’s something like an old toboggan sled, passed down from generation to generation, but no longer safe to use, it probably sits somewhere gathering dust. How long would the sled have to be “lost” before we knew it? Or cared?

Maybe Publius is talking about the loss of a person. Say you had a great friend all through elementary school, but then you lost touch. Maybe one of you moved away. Then that friend died as a teenager. You never knew. Where’s the loss? You certainly wouldn’t experience a feeling of loss, or any of the emotions that would have come with it should you have known of their death. A loss not known is a loss not felt. It doesn’t cause a blip in your consciousness. It doesn’t make an impact in your life.

This recalls the famous saying — if a tree falls in the forest…, originally based on a thought experiment by subjective idealist George Berkeley. If there is no perceiver of the sensory input to process it, did it really happen? The jury is still out on this one for me. But imagining the loss of a possession or a friend is a good exercise, especially for considering if the loss “happened” insofar as our subjective view of reality goes.


So we’ve talked about losing possessions. Possessions on one end of the spectrum (frequently used, high utility) to the other (infrequently used, low utility). There could be another spectrum of intrinsic value. The toboggan may hold lots of emotional value for us, but because it is never used and holds no measurable utility for us, any feelings associated with losing it are based more on the emotional attachment than a measurable impact on our lives.

Keys, on the other hand, that loss is known and felt rapidly. “I can’t get into my apartment. It’s cold. I’m carrying 3 bags of groceries. My cat Wilfredo needs to be fed… I’ve lost my keys.” That loss is more impactful, even if we don’t feel the same emotional attachment for the keys as we do with the toboggan. We can most assuredly say that loss has happened.

Humans are funny creatures, aren’t they.

Until next time,


If you often lose your keys, there’s a chance you’re suffering from a common but debilitating disease known as scatterbrainedness. The only known cure is to read a 2,000-year-old collection of moral sayings written by a Roman Slave. Really, don’t wait. Wilfredo needs food.


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