A Machine that Dreams: An Artistic Enquiry Leading to an Integrative Theory and Computational Artwork

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
What is a dream? What is the relationship between dreaming, mind wandering and external perception? These questions are at the core of this artistic enquiry. In this art-as-research practice, both arts and sciences are defined as practices that construct culturally relevant representations that function as tools exploited in our attempt to make sense of the world and ourselves. Through this research, novel contributions are made to both artistic practices and cognitive science where both are manifest in a computational system that serves as both a generative and site-specific artwork and as a computational model of dreaming - the Dreaming Machine. Visual mentation is the experience of visual images in the mind and includes visual aspects of perception, mental imagery, mind wandering and dreaming. The Integrative Theory of visual mentation unifies biopsychological theories of perception, dreaming and mental imagery and makes three major hypotheses: Visual mentation (1) involves the activation of perceptual representations, (2) is experienced phenomenologically due to the activation of these representations, and (3) depends on shared mechanisms of simulation that exploit these representations. The Integrative Theory is the theoretical foundation of the model and artwork that generates dream imagery. The Dreaming Machine is an image-making agent that uses clustering and machine learning methods to make sense of live images captured in the context of installation. Visual images are generated during external perception, mind wandering and dreaming, and are constructed from shared perceptual representations learned during waking. The difference between these processes of visual mentation are varying degrees of activation from external stimuli (exogenous) and feedback in a predictive model of the world (endogenous). As an artwork, the generative methods manifesting biopsychological processes create a rich diversity of imagery that ranges from abstract collage to photo-realism. The artwork is meant to facilitate the viewer's sense of his/her own fabricated perceptions and consider the relationships between computation, cognitive models and scientific conceptions of mind and dreaming.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Pasquier, Philippe
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