On writing and thinking

My forthcoming paper On trusting chatbots is centrally about the challenge of believing claims that appear in LLM output. I am sceptical about the prospects of AI-generated summaries of facts, but I also throw a bit of shade on the suggestion that AI should be used for brainstorming and conjuring up early drafts. Sifting through bullshit is not like editing in the usual sense, I suggest.

Nevertheless, I know people who advocate using chatbots for early drafts of formulaic things like work e-mails and formal proposals. That’s fine, I suppose, but only for the sorts of things where one might just as well find some boilerplate example on-line and use that as a starting place. For anything more original, there’s a real danger in letting a chatbot guide early writing.

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Listening habits

I posted recently on Mastodon that, when I hear new material by a musician I like, I often have to give it a second listen before I can tell what I think about it. Good or bad, it lacks the familiar and nostalgic contours of their old stuff.

For music that doesn’t command an antecedent commitment, I probably won’t push through and listen enough to acquire an appreciation for it. I only listened to Taylor Swift enough to have opinions because I was thinking about her project of recording. And I only listened all the way through the new Beyoncé album because I was thinking about genre.1

Lots of things bounce off because I only give them half a listen. That’s always been true to an extent, but moreso these days. Being able to stream almost everything has the up side that I can make a deep dive into anything. But the down side of that same availability is that anything new-to-me has to compete for my attention against literally everything else. There is not even the inertia of changing the channel or swapping out the disc.

Whence genre?

At the Guardian, Rhiannon Giddens denounces gate-keeping around country music which snipes at Beyoncé’s recent forays into the genre. Yet, in the course of it, she denounces genre as a capitalist scheme to monetize art and enforce racism. She writes:

Genre… is a product of capitalism, and people with access to power create it, control it, and maintain it in order to commoditise art. In the 1920s, recording industry executives quickly realised that in order to maximise record sales, they needed to market them. In order to market them, they needed to create categories where they could reduce the totality of the American experience to a few buzzwords, and because this is the US, our cultural lenses are conditioned to project racial categories on to everything.

Surely genre can be an imposition of record labels to market music. Sometimes that is explicit. The genre world music, initially at least, was just a catch-all category agreed upon by record labels to sell albums from around the world that didn’t fit into an existing sales category. Our genre categories have been significantly shaped both by the recording industry and by services like Billboard that rank music in genre-segregated lists.

Nevertheless, the rise of recorded music did not just create an opportunity for the music industry. It also created a challenge for music listeners. There’s just too much music. Nobody can listen to everything, and most of us wouldn’t want to even if we could.

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It’s been a while since I had an addition to my list of bespoke fallacies, one of the oldest features of my website.1 This week, however, I came across the lovely neosemantic fallacy. Joshua Habgood-Coote, who attributes the label to Thi Nguyen, describes it as “the magic of neologisms, which encourage [one] to infer that a new word refers to a new kind of thing.”

Cover shift

On his blog, Brad Skow discusses Theodore Gracyk’s account of cover songs. He gives a fair summary of Gracyk’s view, according to which a version is only a cover if reference to the canonical version is part of its artistic content. So (on this view) you can only appreciate a cover by taking into account the canonical version. In contrast with common usage, Gracyk holds that any version which lacks this referential structure is a remake instead of a cover.1

With all that in place, Skow notes that Taylor Swift’s remakes of her own work seem designed to efface the originals rather than refer to them. So he suggests we might call them anti-covers.2

The problem is that one familiar function of so-called covers has been to crowd another recorded version out of the market. This is often given as an explanation for why the word cover was used in the first place: They were meant to cover over or cover up the originals.3

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Imagination, philosophy, and imitation games

Via Daily Nous, I came across a blog post by Justin Smith-Ruiu about creative writing as philosophy. The post is, ultimately, an argument that philosophy can be “incitement of the imagination, by creative means, to see the world in unfamiliar ways.” I agree with that! But there are digressions along the way that range from false speculation to attacks on the kind of philosophy that I (sometimes) do.

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Two drafts about music

I’ve posted two draft papers,written with different collaborators, addressing different issues in the philosophy of music.

  • Tell Me Why This Isn’t a Cover: A paper with Cristyn Magnus, Christy Mag Uidhir, and Ron McClamrock, using lessons from the philosophy of cover songs to think about Taylor Swift’s project of rerecording her earlier work.
  • Music genres as historical individuals: A paper with Evan Malone and Brandon Polite, arguing that genres are historical individuals in a sense. That qualifier “in a sense” is carrying a lot of weight.


My paper Generative AI and photographic transparency now has a DOI and is on-line, occupying that liminal space of published but not quite which is characteristic of contemporary scholarship. The publisher has given me a link to the published version, but it won’t let you download or print it. (As always, you can grab the preprint from my website.)

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