An image is a reference to some aspect of the world which contains within its own structure and in terms of its own structure a reference to the act of cognition which generated it. It must say, not that the world is like this, but that it was recognized to have been like this by the image-maker, who leaves behind this record: not of the world, but of the act. (Harold Cohen, What is an image? 1979)
When we experience visual images, we are unconsciously constructing simulations from abstractions of sensory information. Whether we are dreaming, waking, participating in mental imagery or mind wandering, we are constantly engaged in this process of simulation. When we perceive the external world, our simulations are bound to the external sensory information we attend to. These simulations are the closest to reality our minds can experience, but are still fallible. When we don’t attend to sensory information, or fall into dream-sleep, these mechanisms of simulation continue on. No longer tied to the reality of sensory information, simulations are free to diverge from plausible reality. Neuroscientist Antti Revonsuo described the continuity between waking and dreaming in a BBC Horizon documentary: “We are dreaming all the time, it’s just that our dreams are shaped by our perceptions when awake, and therefore constrained.”
Watching and Dreaming (2001: A Space Odyssey) (version 1) (2014) perceives the visual world as presented in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The artwork’s processes of image-making are presented on one channel, while the original frames from the film ‘seen’ by the system are presented in the other channel. These processes of mental imagery occur in perceptual, mind wandering and dreaming modes. The system learns by segmenting, clustering and averaging colour regions in the film’s frames using computer vision methods and learns to predict the occurrence of those regions in a predictive model. As it ‘watches’ the film, the system learns while simultaneously generating a simulation that resembles the film. During slowly moving sequences and periods of darkness the system mind wanders and dreams, respectively. This leads to a continuous flow of imagery where past, present, bizarre and plausible images are juxtaposed. In effect, the system’s dreams are a synthesis of what it has learned from the film considering its limited cognitive abilities.
This work manifests a model of dreaming developed in collaboration with Philippe Pasquier that is informed by an Integrative Theory of visual mentation developed in collaboration with Philippe Pasquier and Steven Barnes. This work is associated with the Metacreation, Agents and Multi-Agent Systems lab in the School of Interactive Art and Technology at Simon Fraser University. This research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.