restricted access Deep Dream (The Network’s Dream)
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Deep Dream (The Network’s Dream)

“Dreams always precede waking life: It’s an absolute given truth, a truth like 2 plus 2 equals 4. This means that life always confirms what the dream has discerned and concluded beforehand.”

(Louis Althusser, typewritten letter to Claire, dated 22 February 1958).

It seems that brain, thought and computer have become intertwined and now share a common fate. An important part of neuroscience not only requires a computational paradigm but also relies on technology to be operational. Experiments in neuroscience are built on the use of material apparatuses dependent on the computer. Isn’t the emergence of the computer in the last century based on a certain representation of thought and the brain? It has become difficult to distinguish among these three representations (computer, thought and brain) since they seem superimposed upon one another through a fiction that operates in a very concrete way on the world. I would like to explore this fiction in order to analyze how a form of speculation that favors what is possible over what is real can produce a technological “reality” that challenges all certainty. Our contemporary world seems to contain an anomaly of which we can only trace the shadow: parallel to the progress made in neuroscience, our nervous system is increasingly stimulated by an interconnected digital environment that leaves us no respite. It consumes us and we in turn consume it. Is this a simple coincidence or can we analyze this phenomenon as a structural convergence? What relationship exists between the Web, which has assimilated an increasing number of human behaviors, and the human brain considered from the point of view of a programmed machine that has also learned to act like a brain?

He Who Was Dreaming

There is the dream and there is the dream of the dream, that is, the dream to see one’s own dream as that of another in order to confront it at the moment when it happens—not before, not after, but now. The desire to make the dream narrative and one’s own dream simultaneous is an attempt to try to close the gap between the two, since the dream generally is recalled after it has occurred.1 This is why we are never sure of its empirical status. Couldn’t the dream’s narrative be the creation of an afterthought, without relation, beyond the merely superficial, to a [End Page 61] phenomenon that is never within reach? It is because of this inextricable uncertainty that the dream is always close to a kind of repetition, in the form of a dream within a dream.

In 2013, for my project Sleepless (, I created an installation for a bedroom: the sleeper is given a watch to keep track of the amount of sleep (“life-logging”). Once the person has fallen asleep, a device installed in the room turns on. A camera films the person sleeping, while a screen projects her image recorded from the preceding night. This is an image of her unconscious and of the gap inherent in sleep. A visitor can enter into the room but must be careful not to wake the sleeper, for this would disrupt the projected image, as well as the spell, comparable to the scene that occurs when spectators viewing an exhibit in a museum turn around to glance behind themselves, because they suddenly realize that we are observing them observing a work of art.

Neuroscience seems to be a privileged field for speculation, because although it promises to confront directly the unmediated experience of dreaming, it also produces technological devices that are not unbiased in constructing new conditions of experiment and verification. It is therefore difficult for us to distinguish what is observed from what is produced. The two form an additional level of repetition, particularly in the case of the dream, which exposes this doubt in a structural way. As we shall see, in the context of a research project pursued at Berkeley in 2011, Jack Gallant proposes to recover a series of images of neuronal activity and in this way create a new kind of dream within a...