Supernatural event on my computer

Arthur Koestler once wrote a book called The Ghost in the Machine. I didn’t read it, but I looked at it, and I think it was a critique of material reductionism, a central theme of the great ex-Communist’s writings. I think he was saying that material reductionism treats the human being as a machine that somehow has a self and a consciousness inside it. How can a machine produce a self and a consciousness? (The same question I’m always asking the Darwinians. And the best answer those proud champions of the scientific method can come up with is, “Well, it just does.”)

Koestler was using the expression metaphorically. But I’ve outdone him. I’ve got a real ghost in my machine.

First, some background. As I mentioned before, on Sunday my Outlook Express 6 e-mail program suddenly stopped working. I got an “illegal operation” message each time I tried to open it. Not only could I not send and receive e-mails, but all my past sent and received messages had become inaccessible. I spent hours on Sunday trying different things to fix it. The last resort—which according to online information I checked out is a common thing to do—was to uninstall OE and install it again, most likely by also uninstalling Internet Explorer and reinstalling it, since OE comes with IE. But after I uninstalled OE, using the Add/Remove Programs dialog box, I realized that my Add/Remove Programs dialog box did not provide an option to uninstall Internet Explorer. At that point I gave up and haven’t done anything on the issue since then, though there are other things to try, ultimately importing all my e-mails to a Thunderbird e-mail program I downloaded, but for some reason I had put off doing that. For the last three days I’ve gotten by by receiving and replying to e-mail at my online AT&T and gmail mailboxes.

That sets the stage.

Last night, a bit after midnight, I was doing routine tasks on my computer, and all of a sudden I noticed that Outlook Express was open! And it was receiving messages! This couldn’t be happening, since OE had been uninstalled. But it was happening. I went to the Add/Remove Programs dialog box to see if OE was there, and it was not. Yet OE was (and is) working normally, I could open messages, and send messages.

Also, many of the received messages that have been at my AT&T mailbox for the last three days were downloaded to my OE in the first moments that it had opened by itself. I went to look at the AT&T mailbox, thinking that it would be empty, but copies of the messages were there as well, though I never gave instruction at the mailbox for e-mails to remain at the mailbox after they are downloaded to my computer. (Note: since I wrote this, I completed downloading all the recent messages at the AT&T mailbox and began receiving new messages directly on my OE, and at that point the messages disappeared from the mailbox.)

So this is completely unreal. I’m looking at an OE application on my computer that is there, that is functioning, yet it shouldn’t be there, because it has been uninstalled. It’s a ghost application. I figure any moment it will disappear again, like Brigadoon. If I close it, will I be able to open it again? I don’t want to try.

However, I’ve now solved part of the mystery. I noticed that my OE icon in the Taskbar looked strange and unfamiliar, like something I hadn’t seen in a long time. Only three days had passed since I had seen it, why would it look so strange? Then I got an idea. I went to OE’s Help menu, and clicked on About to see what version of OE it was; it was not OE6; it was OE5. That explained the icon: it was that very cool looking OE 4 and OE 5 icon, en envelope with two blue arrows curving around it’s top edge and bottom edge, which I hadn’t seen in years. Long ago I had upgraded from OE5 to OE6, and I believe that 6 was installed on top of 5. So maybe when I uninstalled 6 the other day, 5 was still there. But this doesn’t change the mystery, since OE5 is not present in the Add/Remove dialog box. I saw something called Outlook Express Q837009 there. But that’s not the OE application, that’s some update.

I googled it, and that indeed is the case:

Outlook Express Q837009
Description: Add or Remove Programs entry for Outlook Express Q837009. This is a critical security update for Outlook Express.

So that’s not the application.

Now here’s another question: if I hadn’t uninstalled OE6, would OE6 have started working again on its own the way OE5 did? Or was it only the fact of uninstalling OE6 that both fixed the problem that had disabled OE6 and somehow “liberated” OE5 to make its ghostly comeback, three days later, years after it had ceased existing on my computer?

Update: I inadvertently closed OE, clicked on the OE5 shortcut icon that, by itself, had appeared on my Desktop, and OE opened normally. Now it’s a standard event that when a program is installed in Windows, a shortcut icon for that program is automatically placed on the Desktop. So whatever happened last night, it was the equivalant of OE5 being installed. Also, I see that an OE5 icon has been placed on the Start menu, which is also something that automatically happens with a program installation.

Also, I understand of course that OE is a part of Internet Explorer. And therefore, since Internet Explorer is intrinsic to Windows, it would follow that even after OE is uninstalled, it remains in some fashion on the computer. Nevertheless, for OE5 suddenly to come back from the dead like that—not only opening itself on its own, but receiving e-mails on its own—was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

- end of initial entry -

Kristor writes:

Re computers, don’t get me started. I am absolutely convinced that they know who is using them, and which users they can freely abuse. I took my laptop with me to Chicago last weekend. Worked perfectly as I synched up my Outlook folders with the server at my office. Opened it in Chicago 8 hours later, and it was a brick. Tried plugging into multiple outlets, nothing. Handed it to our IT guy in the office on Tuesday am, telling him of my problems. He turned it on with no problem whatsoever. Drives me nuts.

Have I ever told you about the Pauli Effect? Wolfgang Pauli, the quantum physicist, was notoriously “unlucky” with equipment. Every time he visited a lab, the equipment would fall over, or blow up, or something. His colleagues took to preventing him from visiting them in their labs. One time he got a call from a physicist who asked him, “Wolfgang, were you in Vienna yesterday evening? I got to my lab this morning, and the whole set up, months of work, had fallen apart.” “No,” says Pauli, “unless you count the fact that I rode through Vienna on a train last evening.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 10, 2009 10:07 AM | Send

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