Friday, 3 July 2009

Ghost in the machine

The older I get, the more seriously I take the notion that inanimate objects, well, maybe don't actually "have a minds of their own," but at least have souls.

When things break down irredeemably, the causes can be traced, the breakdowns diagnosed. A radiator hose splits, causing coolant to escape, causing the engine to overheat, the cylinder block to seize up. A malicious virus rips into your hard disk and starts devastating data and starts spreading out across the net.

It's the undiagnosable ones that interest me; it's the maddening 'intermittent faults', the ones that mysteriously cure themselves whenever you take your car/camera/laptop to have it fixed. "Sorry sir, can't find anything wrong with it..." "But it was not working properly only this morning!"

Maddening intermittent faults such as the leakage of light or lens flare (can't even say which!) onto the film frame of my Leica M6 camera. I've discussed this on the Rangefinder Forum, a handful of other members have had similar (though not identical!) flare issues - and no one has been able to diagnose the problem. I snap two frames side by side, one had it, the very next one doesn't. The crankset on my bike. One minute creaking - next minute silent. Can't replicate it.

Or the recent battery memory problem I had with my Nikon D80. Snap a pic, and the battery dies. Cycle on/off and it's working. Happens one in every six shots. Then one in three. One in 20. One in one. I buy another battery. Same story. Then, all of a sudden - gone! Cleared up! By itself!

My theory is that if you care for your stuff, it will repay you with years of good service. I don't mean 'care' as in 'not abuse', I mean care as in 'being emotionally attached to'. My dear, immaculate showroom condition, one owner from new, 16 year-old Nissan Micra is a good example. I feel it knows I care about it and doesn't want to let me down. Despite the fact that I drive it down ul. Poloneza several times a week. And I'm sure Dyspozytor feels that well-maintained Px48 or Ty-2 steam locomotives have souls too.

Does that sound silly?

Everything's made of atoms - you, me, my Nissan Micra, the EN-EL3 battery that powers my Nikon D80, the Magic Flute CD that's kept on being played frequently over 20 years. It was Jonathan Wood who coined the expression 'the atomic will'. What is it, I ask, that keeps ALL the universe's hydrogen atoms' electrons whizzing around their nucleii for the best part of 13 billion years?

It's WILL, I tell you! Tap into that sub-molecular, elemental force and be in harmony with your things!

And, as if by magick, I stumble upon this article linked to a comment to a New Scientist article about consciousness within single-cell organisms. I can't pretend to have read the whole thing, but there are chunks that are philosophically mind-blowing. The history of consciousness bit is fascinating. When - and how - did consciousness first appear on our planet? And when the world of quantum physics starts to intrude upon mankind's understanding of consciousness, then things get really interesting.

To put the centuries-long debate about the nature of consciousness into perspective, it's worth reading the Wikipedia article on the Philosophy of Mind. In a nutshell, there are two schools of thought - dualism, which holds that consciousness and body are two separate entities, and monism, that consciousness is simply a product of the body. I hold the first view.

Readers familiar with the English language will be aware that the German term zeitgeist has come into common usage, meaning 'spirit of the age'. On this blog I've been regularly writing about 'spirit of place' - by inference, platzgeist. Now this, dear reader, is spirit of thing. Dinggeist?

This time last year:
"Be seeing you," land of Big Brother...


Bartek Usniacki said...

sorry that the battery issue wasn't indeed cleared up by memory theory. Probably it must have been a sensor which gives a signal to a dead battery gauge. Another possible explanation is that the casing of the camera isn't tight enough and a piece of dust could have slipped in leading up to wrong indication.

What you write about gratitude of inanimate items, although hard to justify is surprisingly correct. All my devices I respect serve me for years. My previous phone (siemens c45) has always been considered unreliable, tawdry, etc. I cared for it and it has never failed and has never broken down. After six years I put it up on allegro for fun and it was too late - someone placed a bid and I had to sell but for more than such model was worth. My nokia I bought over a year ago will serve for at least next five years. The same goes about my printer - after six and a half years and printing over 15 thousand pages including numerous photos it still runs like clockwork, only from time to time the heads of cartridges need to be cleaned. Our well-maintained car during six years of use has been in the garage only once (except for annual inspection) and never let us down. There's also another man here, in NI who owns Renault 19, he bought it brand new in 1994 and only angular shape of body gives away car's age. I spoke to that man, he said he'd never do away with it, at second thought he asserted he'd exchange it for a new car (without paying into it).

Maybe it was designer's intention to come up with devices which pay off to their careful owners. Probably if items break down when they're not operated with proper care is punishment for the ones who relished on rampant consumerism and indulge their whims changing cars, TV sets, furniture, etc. every year. Some of my peers, friends look down on me when I say "it doesn't need to be replaced, indeed it has already seven years, but the reason why I use it is that it still works like factory-new.
I'll take over megane when father buys a new car and I'll be using it until it packs up, but with the next car I plan to hit mileage of half a million kilometres!!!

Anonymous said...

"My theory is that if you care for your stuff, it will repay you with years of good service. I don't mean 'care' as in 'not abuse', I mean care as in 'being emotionally attached to'".

Very good words to live by - so true and often neglected!