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This Message Does Not Exist

I received an intriguing notification in the Microsoft Outlook 365 web
interface:

This message can’t be saved because it no longer exists. It can only be
discarded. Make sure you copy the contents of the message before you discard if
you want to use them later.

I have some ontological questions.

* * *

This message can’t be saved because it no longer exists.

Sensible enough. Only messages that exist can be saved; an inexistent message
cannot be saved. But what about that indexical, this? This
message does not exist. Huh.

* * *

It can only be discarded.

We soon learn that we can do more than refer to a message that does not exist:
we may also discard it. A message must exist to be saved; but it may be
discarded without such a constraint. In fact this is the only thing we may do
with it; it can only be discarded.

Perhaps this can be justified. Let’s treat discard as the action of
making an object cease to exist. Applying that action to an object that already
does not exist can be considered a no-op. By contrast, any other action
(save, say) requires the object to exist.

* * *

Make sure you copy the contents of the message before you discard if
you want to use them later.

We learn a final affordance, which complicates the story. An inexistent message
has contents, which may be copied – but only if the message has not yet
been discarded.

This is troubling for our hypothesis that discarding an inexistent message is a
no-op. A no-op from the perspective of its existence, perhaps – the message
does not exist either before or after – but not, apparently, from the
perspective of its contents. Undiscarded inexistent messages have
contents that may be copied, while discarded inexistent messages do not.

The act of discarding a message that does not exist must therefore do one of
two things. It may cause the message contents to also cease to exist.
Alternately, it might not affect the existence but only the accessibility of
message contents. Perhaps they continue to exist, but discarding the message
(which already did not exist) causes the copy operation to cease being
invokable on the message contents (even though they do continue to exist). The
story of existence has many mysteries.

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