Twigs and Branches

by John Q on January 9, 2023

A new Twigs and Branches post, open for comments on any topic. Please take long side discussions on other posts here. The usual rules on civil discussion apply.



engels 01.09.23 at 11:44 pm

A polite observation that it has become very hard to predict when or if one’s comments will appear, and this creates a temptation to over-post when one assumes previous comments have vanished that later appear in bulk.


nastywoman 01.10.23 at 6:44 am

and a impolite observation that it has become very hard to predict when or if one’s comments will appear, as in general this is a pretty… cool… ppplace to post comments but it sometimes could use a lot of random Python relief according to the Freedom of internet Marxism:
Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.


Tohubohu 01.10.23 at 4:35 pm

Question for those who take an interest. It seems to me that right now AI could generate a recording of, say, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, that would persuade even the most sophisticated ears that they were hearing a magnificent interpretation of the piece, played and conducted by humans, taking pains to honor and transmit the intelligence, emotional, aesthetic, human. of the composer. What would be the significance of our knowing that a machine had generated the music? What would be the meaning of the change in our appreciation of it?


engels 01.10.23 at 8:46 pm

Example: in the last two days I don’t think any of my comments have appeared apart from the above, and I don’t think I’ve been banned (if I have been banned lemme know!)

Engels, I was going to ask you not to comment on my threads, but I’m going to soften that a bit. Please no more than one comment per day on my threads, and nothing complaining about “wokeness”, “cancel culture” etc. You can take that kind of thing to Twigs and Branches – JQ


engels 01.10.23 at 10:09 pm

I didn’t say anything about “wokeness” or “cancel culture” I think?? I can’t remember what I posted now but it was about Heidegger and I don’t think it was especially provocative. I also posted (single) comments on two other threads that disappeared. My only mentions of “wokeness” (iirc) were on two recent threads about… wokeness.


nastywoman 01.11.23 at 12:05 am

and I never thought that Groucho should post less or that his comments should be restricted – as if I would have a choice and my answers to his comments ever would pass (philosophical) ‘muster’ the answers to his comments – could provide some… some…? relief? – and I mean that seriously – as where else can you make fun of somebody if not on a blog which named itself after a quote from a completely humorloser German ‘Erfinder’ of the ‘Kategorischen Imperativs’.

And do you guys know that there is a truly awesome and wonderful group of (physical) Philosophers who call themselves ‘Random’ Dance and IF they work together with Cognitive Science Specialists the final result can be anything but ‘random’?

And shouldn’t we finally talk about that?


KT2 01.11.23 at 1:27 am

Dear JQ & Contributors,

As a physical world person, who left school at 16, during my working life – from motor / control equip trouble shooter, progressing to computer networks, then suits as data broker, system dynamics modelling software and studies rep for consultant engineers,
… I had to solve physical / real world / data / model output application of system and results. Or I’d starve or be sacked. 

And during those years I was a news junkie and serial entrepreneur. I ended up employing the consultant engineers at deathly daily rates (academics cried) as “hired guns” for complex engineering / finacial / environmental real world applications.

During 1995-7 I funded development of a systems dynamic software package – ahead of its time with commensurate money hole! – with a PhD in Strategy / software /aeronautics degrees, who chose Australia after working on the space lab for NASA.

Now I am “retired” I love reading the likes of CT. Serious knowledge and brain power distilled. Thank you all.

Yet in these threads below, just to list a few recent ones;
– Dasein and Der Fuhrer (update over fold)

What CHATGPT Reveals about the Collapse of Political/Corporate Support for Humanities/Higher Education
On the alleged responsibility of the entire Russian people for the war in Ukraine
Why the (US) right is always wrong … and how both-sidesists help to ensure this

… my brain is filled with historical / philosophical information and details. Which is great from a historical backgroud & knowledge bank.

Yet the threads above do not seen to contain solutions for today and tomorrow.

So I’d like to suggest JQ & Contributors, would you please post what it is you are going to post but – before you post replace all jargon / names of historical figures / intercine wars / philosophical concepts and luminaries etc with;

conceptual and topological ‘higher’ symantic / logic – I dare to say topological or infomatics nomenclature & concepts, and drive post towards enlightening actual applicable solutions to these identified problems.

And / or perhaps list in a folow up adjunct post to your regular posts, a set of potential solutions as you see them, and perhaps set of scenarios for applying chosen potential solutions. 

Yes, I understand. Polity, Politics, Power. Problems.

As Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Albert Einstein

I suppose I am asking for your imaginations as well as your knowledge. 

Such higher level articles will stretch and excersize your minds, or leave you crying as finding applicable solutions is the holy grail. Me too. And I do not have the knowledge or skill set shown here, yet upon reading some posts my brain is yelling The Past!, solutions to try, inagine the future and work backwards. 

I am not going to solve for solutions. Nor become a grammarian. Must he jarring for some here.

I hope your imaginations may do so. Or at least point to a set of sensible applicable solution suggestions. Fun trying though.

As always – thanks for CT.

P.S. and a Cory Doctorow Seminar please. 


David in Tokyo 01.11.23 at 5:20 am

“What would be the significance of our knowing that a machine had generated the music? What would be the meaning of the change in our appreciation of it?”

Dunno for you. For me, art is no different than literature: it’s about an artist having something to say, and an observer being interested in what’s being said. So I have no need for computer-generated art/music/literature (other than a “digital artist” using the computer as a tool). Even the crassest of commercial pop music is still speaking to the audience, the kids of the day. I may not like the stuff you are listening to, but I didn’t go to your high school in your neighborhood in your year. (Folks older than I didn’t like electric Dylan; I loved it. Finally, the musical and intellectual intensities were in sync.)

On the other hand, I don’t “get” big symphonic stuff. I want to hear what each individual musician is doing, and if there are more than three, it starts getting overmuch. Brahms piano trios, count me in. Dvorak string quartets, well, I’ll forgive him his sins. Jazz gets away with sextets better than classical since everyone gets their own space and you get to listen to what each has to say, instead of the inner voices sneaking in and out of focus thing.


nastywoman 01.11.23 at 8:16 am

AND about @
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”


Felix 01.11.23 at 9:45 am

I think we can appreciate the capacity for an orchestra to work together and perform a symphony. And we can also appreciate the capacity for engineers to work together and create a machine that can produce a symphonic performance in response to a natural language enquiry. Both of these are incredible feats of human capacity. Considering machines can easily be duplicated and don’t have to sleep, they will soon be able to produce art that generates enjoyment that far exceeds the recorded music of garage bands or recording studios.

Ultimately, I think the trend towards more and more AI engineering will push us more and more towards meatspace. Social media will decay because I can never know if I’m responding to a bot, whereas I know I share an interest with the bag of meat in the pub or the park or the church or the mosque. Since humans will be outcompeted by machines, there will no longer be the push towards being the best, and performance itself will be democratised again. If we’re not careful, it will also create a massive disequality in wealth, according to which those who own the machines will have all the wealth and power, because labor won’t be able to compete. So the return to face-to-face interaction might look like it’s because it’s all you can afford to do to walk to the end of the street – to those who experience it, it might not be some return to a perfect eden, but the loss of wealth and power.

I think the optimistic take is one that builds on John Quiggin’s suggestion (I think I refer to a tweet of his from a while back) that lecturers should demand their students hand in the first draft created by the AI as well as the refined submission. Somehow we have to see that the person is fulfilling a social goal with their AI machines, not just when writing undergrad essays but also out there in the real world. I think this is equally applicable to work and entertainment and scholarship and relationships.


KT2 01.11.23 at 10:12 am

Before you settle on an answer to “What would be the significance of our knowing that a machine had generated the music? What would be the meaning of the change in our appreciation of it?”

Listen to / read:
Robin James, who made a decent case imo to show: “… using sound to theorize political ontology, subjectivity, and power, James argues for the further articulation of sonic practices that avoid contributing to the systemic relations of domination that biopolitical neoliberalism creates and polices.”

Listen to;
“Pop, philosophy and politics”

“Pop, philosophy and politics

“Guest: Robin James, Editor for Philosophy and Music, Palgrave Macmillan USA

Resilience & Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism by Robin James (Zero Books 2014)

The Sonic Episteme: Acoustic Resonance, Neoliberalism and Biopolitics by Robin James (Duke University Press 2019)

“It’s her factory – Robin James online


Stephen 01.11.23 at 7:57 pm

From the point of view of a mediaeval scholar, used to looking at individually created, illuminated texts: what is the significance of knowing that a modern text has been created by a machine?


LFC 01.12.23 at 3:45 am

People have different backgrounds, interests, experiences, skills, etc. An obvious point but one prompted by your comment above @7.

Simply because you would like the posters to replace all historical and philosophical references with references to topological logic doesn’t mean everyone else would like it. (I have no idea off top of head what topological logic even is.)

I could say a lot more but it’s late here, so I’ll leave it at that.


TM 01.12.23 at 9:22 am

“It seems to me that right now AI could generate a recording of, say, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, that would persuade even the most sophisticated ears that they were hearing a magnificent interpretation of the piece”

Is that the case? Has that happened? Haven’t heard from that. Would that neuronal network generate a new recording from scratch or would it stitch together pieces of existing recordings that can be found online and that have been part of its training set? Or perhaps its training set would be a set of musical scores and corresponding recordings from the respective period and from that it would learn to turn a new score into a recording?

In any case, this particular application of AI, even if it came up with good results, would be redundant. There are already millions of excellent recordings. There is no novelty. It would be different if the AI generated genuinely new music. There have been similar discussions about AI-generated art which really consists in copying aspects of existing artworks. So far much hype about very little.

A Gallery Has Sold More Than $1 Million in Art Made by an Android, But Collectors Are Buying Into a Sexist Fantasy


TM 01.12.23 at 10:17 am

Alex SL I’m responding here to your comment

You wrote along comment and I’m not sure I want to respond to every detail but I’ll try to point out the most important points.

First regarding whether plebiscitary democracy would work in the US at the federal level: I don’t think it would given the current political culture and institutional setup of the federal US. And that is exactly the point I made earlier: it makes little sense to ask whether plebisictary democracy can work, since obviously it does work in some places. The more interesting question is under what circumstances it works well. And if you are interested in that question, you have to seriously study cases like Switzerland and ask how they do it. You will find that their political institutions downplay personal politics to the extrreme (there isn’t even a leader of government) and their political culture fosters compromise (governments are multiparty and are supposed to represent diversity), which is about the opposite of what can be said about the US. I’m not arguing whether this is good or bad, just that it obviously works, probably no worse than other systems.

You keep insisting that size is the salient variable but you haven’t offered any argument for that claim. I see no reason why population size matters for this. As to diversity, I’m mystified why the diversity of Switzerland is often so underestimated. Diversity is not a function of size.

“For “none of that is different in Switzerland”, you are picking on a single point that I did not make and that is irrelevant anyway: how a plebiscite is initiated.”

You think how a plebiscite is initiated is irrelevant, I think you are wrong. I could mention a number of additional points (e. g. the time it takes from proposal to referendum, the deliberative process that happens within government, parliament, and civil society before the referendum, the effect of conducting plebiscites routinely as opposed to doing it once in 50 years in response to some political crisis (*)) but you’ll surely find ways to wave them away. The salient point is the outcome was different in Switzerland than in the UK, ask yourself why.

“As for Brexit itself, I think it is a bit naive to assume that the issue would just have gone away if Cameron hadn’t promised the referendum.” I don’t assume that. But you seem now to agree that the UK political culture caused that crisis, not the referendum. As you say: “the problem wasn’t the specific incident that caused it to fall but its structural weakness.”

So your argument is a bit contradictory. The UK government chose the referendum, which the UK political culture really is not used to (*), as a method to resolve a crisis that it felt couldn’t be resolved within its regular political institutions, and that failed. From that I wouldn’t conclude that referendums are bad per se, I would conclude that the UK political institutions were incapable of doing their job. To reform these institutions, I would start by introducing proportional representation. That obviously wouldn’t solve all the problems but I concjecture Brexit would not have happened with PR.

(*) From wikipedia: “Until the late 20th century the concept of a referendum was widely seen in British politics as “unconstitutional” and an “alien device”. As of 2021, only three national referendums have ever been held across the whole of the United Kingdom: in 1975, 2011 and most recently in 2016.”


MisterMr 01.12.23 at 11:57 am

Stephen @12

I think the medieval sholar was interested in the content of the text and not so much in the decorations and the printing, a better example would be Socrates (and by some accounts ancient druids) who tought that rue teaching could not pass through written texts but only orally.
(I would disagree with this too but I think it is a closer parallelism with AIs).


MisterMr 01.12.23 at 12:27 pm

So I found this devastating critique of critiques of utilitarianism, totally awesome:

Sometimes people critic philosophers for their moral theories, depending on the effect these theories would have, or actually did have, when applied to the real world:

Mills utilitarianism VS the fact that he supported colonialism
Heidegger because he was a Nazi
Kant because, in an example where he wanted to prove that a lie is always wrong, he said it was immoral to lie to a murderer about the whereabouts of the potential victim.

Those critiques work on the basis that we have some strong moral intuitions (colonialism: evil; nazism: evil; murder: evil) and these example show that the theories go against our moral intuitions.
But, where do these moral intuitions come from? Afteral if we already know what is good and what is evil through intuitions, there is no purpose to moral philosophy.
From this point of view, moral philosophy is just an attempt to give a rational definition to our preexisting moral intuitions, so that in cases where we are in doubt (our moral intuition isn’t working) we know what we should do.

But, or moral intuition in most cases comes from the fact that we see that those behaviours (colonialism, nazism) caused a lot of people to suffer, or would if they were applied to reality (potential murder).
So our moral intuition is already utilitarian to begin with! Because it is based on a general sense of empathy whith other people!

So smart uh! Surprising that nobody tought of it before me.

Seriously though, it seems to me that utilitarianism is just an attempt to define rationally the concept of empathy with other people, and the idea that this empathy should be generalized (so not just empathy to my friends and family but also to the people I don’t know). I am a bit surprised when people discuss about wheter one should sum utilities or average them (as if we could really put a number on them), I think it is a way to miss the inner logic of utilitarianism, that in reality is quite close to the golden rule.

Another way to put the same argument is this: sometimes we act for egoistic reasons, sometimes for altruistic ones (empathy), sometimes we act out of duty.
Duty presupposes the existence of a normative authority who says what is my duty, and we probably have some tendency to find this kind of authority figures.
But, there might be different authority figures, who might disagree among them, who is the final authority figure?
From a religious point of view this final authority is God, and I would argue that the reason that religions exist is that we psychologically need this kind of authority.
But if this reference to a greatest authority disappears becaue a religious subjection to God is no more accepted as a good answer, we have the problem that there is no more a final authority. The absence of a final authority means that the concept of “duty” collapses, because there is no one who can tell me certainly if the other “authoriries” (priests, parents, teachers etc.) are actually right.
However this “ultimate authority” really is a psychological entity, it is that part of our social instincts that tells us to take in account other people’s desires, the “introjected other”.
If we see the “ultimate authority” as another name for the “introjected other”, and the “introjected other” as a psychological reference to the actually existing others, then “utilitarianism” (or the golden rule) become a rational answer to the need of this introjected other, or humanity seen as a whole (which is an abstract entity and not really the average/sum of all other people, amny of whom do not yet exist).

So from this point of view “utilitarianism” is an high level answer to the problem of the lack of a final authority, the so called “death of God”, and the purpose of it is to root moral action in the authority of “humanity as a whole”, that replaces “God”.
I think it is an error to actually go and try to do the “utility calculations”, because utilitarianism works better as a general principle but when applied in reality there are so many variables, and utility is not really a math-able thing, that depending on personal opinions people can come out with completely different answers.


engels 01.13.23 at 6:56 pm

Until the late 20th century the concept of a referendum was widely seen in British politics as “unconstitutional” and an “alien device”. As of 2021, only three national referendums have ever been held across the whole of the United Kingdom: in 1975…

Do you know what that one was about?


Robert Weston 01.13.23 at 9:32 pm


blockquote> Do you know what that one was about?

Whether to <href=””>remain in the European Community.


engels 01.14.23 at 2:47 pm

Ah ok I thought it might have been another unconstitutional populist omnishambles…


TM 01.16.23 at 12:53 pm

engels: I don’t know what British people consider “unconstitutional”. That whole “Britain has a constitution it’s nowhere written down but everybody knows what it is” business remains a mystery to me but I’m just a continental European so what do I know. My quote is from, and I do now notice that no citation is given for that claim.

Comments on this entry are closed.