I’m an Engineering professor at Harvard University researching cardboard boxes, specifically the theory of cardboard boxes. Too often, box theory is ignored in favor of applied knowledge. But what’s wrong with thinking about boxes in the conceptual sense? It is in these ideas that we can find true art.
Applied-knowledge scholars claim that they “understand boxes,” but they’re just proficient at opening and closing. They nod confidently when asked about the theoretical, assuming that this refers to “why are round pizzas delivered inside square boxes?”, but that’s a shallow question that leads to some practical explanation involving money, efficiency, commercialization, capitalism, and the desecration of Italian cuisine. Who fucking cares?
Some people have asked me, “Hey Dave. How’d you become so curious about the theory of boxes, and what lies at stake?” I love this question. It indicates their potential interest in my passion.
I respond that the canon of the study of boxes has been built by years of box scholars who have struggled to understand the ins and outs of boxes, the materials, the mechanical works and cultural implications. However, little attention has been paid to the abstract. It’s unfortunate but understandable; I, too, once thought boxes were simple and unworthy of theoretical explanation.
That all changed one day as I organized mail in a storage room lined with tall stacks of boxes. I was horrifically betrayed by a piece of cardboard. Sliced on the flimsy stretch of skin between my right thumb and forefinger, I bled by its betrayal. In this moment, I realized that boxes are more complex beings than often perceived; contrary to popular belief, they can do wrong.
Since then, I have sought to understand the morality of boxes, concentrating in cardboard. One puzzle that keeps me up at night is that cardboard boxes only choose to harm those on the outside, not on the inside; might this be a projection of their insecurities? The truth is that we don’t know for certain, with the dearth of present-day theoretical research. However, what we have come to understand is that boxes, as a field of study, deserve much more scholarly attention and appreciation. Where are the Box Museums of Art, the box-denominational places of worship?
These questions have motivated me to pave the path for a new interdisciplinary field that I call Philosophical Engineering. I plan to teach the 101 course next Fall and in it, we will cover the philosophy of studying philosophical engineering philosophically, as well as the ethics of permanently creasing paper during origami.