A Machine That Dreams

What is a dream? What is the relationship between dreaming, mind wandering and external percep- tion? These questions are at the core of this artistic enquiry. 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 and feedback in a predictive model of the world. The artwork is meant to facilitate the viewer’s sense of their own fabricated perceptions.

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Between September 2009 and April 2014

Sites and Institutions
School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University

Dreaming Mind Wandering Generative Art Site Specific Art Art As Research Cognitive Science


Digital Media Arts Neuroscience Computer Science Photography Cognitive Science Generative Art

  • Figure 1: System Architecture of Dreaming Machine #3
    Ben Bogart
  • Figure 2: Feedback loop between prefrontal coretex and medial temporal lobe during dreaming and mind wandering as augmented by sensory information from the occipital lobe.
    Ben Bogart
  • Work In Progress on Dreaming Machine #3 showing perceptual reconstruction of sensory information.
    Ben Bogart (2014) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzooGFvhxpk
  • Figure 3: "Watching and Dreaming (2001: A Space Odyssey)" Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" was used as sensory data for the Dreaming Machine. Stimulus on the left, system output on the right.
    Ben Bogart (2014) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WpBoRUWgu8
  • Figure 4: "Watching and Dreaming (2001: A Space Odyssey)" Still from video of system's output.
    Ben Bogart (2014)


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1 http://arteca.mit.edu/journal/10.1162/leon_a_01488
2 https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/LEON_a_00525
3 http://www.isea-archives.org/docs/2011/proceedings/ISEA2011_Proceedings_Pgs_001-885.pdf
4 https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/2466627.2466639


This project was made possible by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship – Doctoral from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.