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Humanist Archives: Feb. 11, 2022, 5:49 a.m. Humanist 35.521 - Man a Machine . . . and AI

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 521.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2022-02-10 16:02:47+00:00
        From: Öyvind Eide <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.499: Man a Machine . . . and AI

Dear Jerry,

your email provoked me to pick up on but one of the things you mention. I do
this in gratefulness to a group of students with whom these issues were
discussed in a colloquium last semester:

The following two articles were the basis for the comment:

McGann, Jerome. “Texts in N-Dimensions and Interpretation in a New Key
[Discourse and Interpretation in N-Dimensions].” TEXT Technology : the journal
of computer text processing 12, no. 2 (2003).

Manfred Thaller (2017): Between the Chairs: An Interdisciplinary Career.
Historical Social Research, Supplement, 29, 7-109. Part 7: Next Life: My Very
Own Ivory Tower, 81–93.

>        Date: 2022-01-28 16:59:33+00:00
>        From: Mcgann, Jerome (jjm2f) <>
>        Subject: Re: Man a Machine . . . and AI
> I set this personal event in the context of the distributed computational
> network of human communication and get a sober view of AI.  By no means a
> dismissive view.  But the distributed network of any AI computational model,
> actual or conceivable, seems so minimal as to be all but without any statistical
> or quantum relevance.
> Why?  Because unlike “natural” processes, the hardware of AI as currently
> designed has no access to its own quantum “histories”.  A reply from an AI
> visionary might be (has been?) that when AI software is designed to
> interoperate directly (seamlessly?) with an individual’s biochemical system, 
> that limitation will be overcome.  Does anyone here know if such proposals 
> have been advanced and perhaps also disputed?  (I know that the poet 
> Christian Bok has been working on creating  what he calls a “living text” 
> (biochemically coded).  No one, not even himself, has been happy with the 
> results yet.

The question the students and I pondered on was the relationship between these
two paragraphs in the articles mentioned above:

> We might begin from the following observation by the celebrated mathematician
> René Thom: “In quantum mechanics every system carries the record of
> every previous interaction it has experienced – in particular, that
> which created it -- and in general it is impossible to reveal or
> evaluate this record” (Thom 16). A literary scholar would have no
> difficulty rewriting this as follows: In poetry every work carries
> the record of every previous interpretation it has experienced – in
> particular, that which created it -- and in general it is impossible
> to reveal or evaluate this record.” It is impossible because the 
> record is indeterminate. Every move to reveal or evaluate the record
> changes the entire system not just in a linear but in a recursive
> way, for the system – which is to say, the poetical work – and any
> interpretation of it are part of the same codependent dynamic field.
> Consequently, to speak of any interpretation as “partial” is
> misleading, for the interpretive move reconstructs the system, the
> poem, as a totality. This reconstruction corresponds to what is
> termed in quantum mechanics the collapse of a wave-function into its
> eigenstate. (McGann, p 15)

> 10) An information system fit for the handling of historical sources
>  should exist as a set of permanently running processes, which try to
>  remove contradictions between tokens. Such tokens are used to 
> represent data. They do not directly map into information. 
> Information is represented by a snapshot of the state of a specific 
> subset of the concurrently running processes. [...] 11) The data in 
> the totality of historical sources, or any subset thereof, forms a 
> mutual context for the interpretation of any set of specific items 
> contained therein. It can be envisaged as a set of n-dimensional 
> configurations of tokens representing physically existing sources, 
> each of which exists in an m-dimensional universe of interpretative 
> assumptions. Information arises out of these data by permanently 
> running processes, which try to minimize contra- dictions and 
> inconsistencies between subsets of the data. 12) This model is both,
> a conceptual one for the hermeneutic “understanding” of historical
> interpretation, as well as a technical one for future information
> systems supporting historical analysis. (Thaller, pp 89–90)

Is ”the collapse [...] into its eigenstate” to be compared to ”a snapshot of the
state of a specific subset of the concurrently running processes”¯

Is the interpretative move (McGann) the same as the context-based interpretation
(Thaller)? Or are they analogous, parallel, or at least comparable?

> Realizing that seems to me important as we try to design and build digital
> tools for investigating and sustaining human exchange in both natural and artificial
> worlds, including language exchange.

So to my main (and quite naive) question: Is the system suggested by Thaller an
operationalisation of quantum poetics, applied to historical disciplines?

All the best,


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