Part One: Virtual Machines

It’s morning. You sit down at your desk, cup of coffee in hand, and prepare to begin your day. First, you turn on your computer. Once it is running, you check your e-mail. Having decided it is all spam, you trash it. You close the window on your e-mail program, but leave the program running so that it will periodically check the mail server to see whether you have new mail. If it finds new mail it will alert you by playing a musical tone. Next you start your word processor. You have in mind to write a paper in moral philosophy about whether people who send spam deserve capital punishment. So you open a new window and type several paragraphs of text into it. You like what you wrote, so you save it, creating a file. Later, you have more thoughts about spam and capital punishment, so you open the file again and make some changes. Then it is time to go to class. You turn off your word processor, but leave your computer running so that your email program can collect your e-mail. This mundane sequence of events can seem philosophically puzzling when we think about it carefully. While in your word processor, you opened several windows, entered text into them, and created files. What sorts of things are these files, windows, and text? It might seem that windows are easy to understand. You can, after all, see windows. That is the whole point of them. You see a window by seeing a pattern on the surface of your monitor. Isn’t the window identical with that physical pattern? But that is too quick. First, you can turn your monitor off. The window is still open. You can type text into it, and if you turn the monitor back on you can verify that you made that change. Second, you can drag another window in front of the original window. The original window disappears from view, but it still exists. Things may be happening in it that you cannot see. For example, if it is an e-mail window, new messages may be listed in it as they are 1 downloaded..
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