The Right to Dream:
on the interpretation of dreams in the digital age
Hidetaka Ishida ( Professor The University of Tokyo)
1 "Dream" and "Power" in the digital age
Today, I would like to talk about the Dream, the Right to dream.
Two weeks ago, I was in Kyoto with jurists in a symposium. I told about this right to dream, I do not know what status has exactly the right to dream in legal doctrine. But this right seems now threatened. Until now the dream was preserved as belonging to the personal and private sphere, but it might not be the case today or tomorrow.
Here I’m with you specialists and/or practitioners of esthetic fields. I think the dreaming is a central domain of artistic activity, as well at individual level as at collective level, because artists are “specialists of dream” or “dreamers” for the society. And it is so important to know what is the situation of the dreaming in the digital age, what is now a technology of dreaming, what stakes for artistic activities, what could we say about the knowledge on the dream.
The legal and epistemological status of the dream is complicated, because it is beyond the responsibility of the conscious subject: the epistemologico-legal status of the unconscious or consciousness of the dream seems all the more interesting because it is problematic.
This legal issue concerns also the artists, since if a new technology goes toward a socialization or economization of the dreaming activity, that will directly concern artistic domains.
Furthermore this right to dream becomes more than more economic; it is invested with economic values, “economic” meaning here both “mercantile and libidinal” economy. The issue of the dream is really actual than ever, because we are at the age of development of technological exploitation of the dream.
I have just organized last March in Tokyo a symposium on the "Dream and Power for the digital age."
The "Dream" is not here a vague theme. It is indeed the 'sleep' and 'dream' as physiological and psychological activity. The aim was to reflect on the technologicization of the dream and to discuss about the crisis of the dream or the crisis of the dream culture in contemporary society.
For example, there may be mentioned Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7 Late capitanism and the Ends of sleep on which everyone speak in conferences worldwide. The importance of this book lies in the fact that the capitalism of the XXIst century assailed the field of sleep whose outcome would be the "End of sleeps". He pulls the alarm that " in affluent sectors of the globe, what was once consumerism has expanded to 24H activity of techniques of personalization, of individuation, of machinic interface, and of mandatory communication. " (p. 72)
Indeed, for the "attention economy" of contemporary cultural capitalism that has developed throughout the 20th century, sleep and dream remained the only areas preserved. But in capitalism 24/7 of the 21st century, while the user is asleep, the computer constantly connected is awake in sleep mode. So does go the life of information society or of the control society in the sense of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
Furthermore, as shown by the development of technology of dream decoding, human sleep can be connected to the machine in sleep mode, can be technologically externalized. The human dream then can be scanned and decoded, it is already thing acquired technologically: its exploitation would be the order of the day.
This means that the human psyche will be in permanent interface with the machinic dispositive. It is exactly at this stage that has evolved the society of control of 24/7 capitalism. It is in this sense that we speak here of a hyper-control society.
There are also artificial intelligence beginning to “dream”, as the project Deep Dream by Google shows. “Yes, the Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep”, as title it the British newspaper The Guardian reporting this Google project.
2 The life in sleep mode and the question of the interpretation of dreams
In hyper-control society of 24/7 capitalism, the "colonization of the lifeworld " (Habermas) by techno-capitalism that had developed in the last century as with "consciousness industry" or "memory industry" penetrates so in the realm of the unconscious that is sleep and dream. Another problem of "biopolitics" in the sense of Foucault appeared in this form.
If we remember that at the beginning of last century, Freud formulated his thesis "the dream is a wish-fulfillment", what are the relationships one might imagine between dream decoding technology and different knowledge of the dream that existed in the history of mankind?
That while the man dreams, the machine works in sleep mode coping and doubling dreams of the man, is no longer a funny dream story! The "desire" which was prepared during sleep and which formulates itself by dream would have been already decoded technologically in advance before the wake of the subject and the subject awaken will be introduced in another artificial psychic circuit ready made. This situation of the dream could generalize, it may short-circuit the interpretation of dream by the subject himself, the subjective work of interpretation will be replaced by machine decoding and automatic profiling.
While I am not a Freudian, I recently have advocated a "return to Freud" in a somewhat specific sense. It is precisely because the 24/7 capitalism brings us closer to a society where comprehensive system of libidinal economy is technologically implemented. I have a premonition that this will generalize an epistemic conflict of interpretations of dreams. We will see return the issue of Traumdeutung but an entirely different way. Or in the terminology of C. S. Peirce, who will be interpretant of the dream: the machine or the human?
3 «Introduction to Dream and existence » by Foucault (1953)
Deviating somewhat from the line of my argument, I would add that in preparing this talk on the "Dream" I remembered the first work of Foucault. Usually we think that Foucault has become the true Foucault after the first edition of the History of Madness in 1960 and Foucault's work will evolve from there to the question of the clinic, psychiatry, of humanities, criminal law and disciplinary society, etc. problematizing Knowledge and Power.
However even before the History of Madness, there was a prehistory : the Introduction to the Dream and the existence of Binswanger published in 1953 is in fact his first book.
We must now put in another way and so probably more acute manner the question raised by Foucault. In the digital age we must question the knowledge, power and technology a more intense way. And especially we can no longer put the issue of the dream out of the question of power and its technology. A more powerful thought is required to be able to articulate issues of dreams with the technology of power and the government of psyche, power and capitalism.
4 The sleepless capitalism and the disruption
I would mention yet another episode that will not be trivial. The book of Crary 24/7 starts with the evocation of the military exercise to not sleep.
But the Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, also begins by evoking the development of technology of torture. The author discusses on the treatment of shock studied in a Canadian university in the 1950s which consists in destroying the distinction of day and night, abolishing the alternation causing a white-out of the world. And this technology aims to initialize the personality of the tortured. The book tells how the torture technology studied and developed in the 1950s will be invested and used by power military junta in Chile and Argentina and so had made possible the experiment of neoliberalism by Milton Friedman in the Conservative Revolution of 1970’s.
Torture is thus not only an atrocious barbarism but at the same time a sophisticated technology of power that works on the psycho-somatic level. It was that which by "initializing" the society made it possible to integrate a neoliberal economic experience, reports the Klein’s book. Just as according Foucault the prison functioning as a model, the knowledge extracted from the praxis of torture could be distributed on the social body as like an invisible diagrams, which permeate the social body in sleep mode.
The keyword of technological innovation in the world of today is by my friend the philosopher Bernard Stiegler disruption. This "destructive destruction" that is not the "creative destruction" of the economist Joseph Schumpeter causes a "state of shock". This disruption casts its shadow more black on our world today. It is in the ends of sleep and the crisis of dream that the disruption of the neoliberal capitalism – the “late capitalism” in terms of Crary -- would have its root. This is to explain the background of problem form which we would start our reflection.
Because the disruption in the 24/7 capitalism is destroying the sleep initializing the human psyche, if this capitalism is given a dream technology, it would be able to artificially hallucinate dreams, as shown in the case of Deep Dream project. As the Android of the SF novel of Philip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , we might risk in near future to dream a nightmare produced by AI, this is today more than likely.
5 Dream Culture : undecidability of dream and reality
In contrast to the realization of dream-colonization and as inverse of this technological hallucination of metaphysics of presence, one might evoke another civilizational paradigm, that of the undecidability of dream and reality.
At a time when the capitalism 24/7 threaten to technologicize and so destroy the dream it would be necessary to return to the dream culture: each civilization should have developed its own dream culture.
In the case of Japan, what is it?
And in the case of China ?
In the days following the events of the disaster of March 11, 2011, many Japanese have remembered the impermanence of t world (Mujo) which comes from Buddhist ontological paradigm. In this view of the world deeply rooted in cultural memory, there is also a conception of the world for which the distinction between the real and the dream is uncertain and undecidable.
It will be necessary to go back into the semantic depth of the Japanese language to make return these archaic strata of culture and language. And this in order to operate a healing of culture against the technologicized world.
For example, the real is said in ancient language with the word 現 Utsutsu. But soon it is contaminated semantically to get to designate a state indistinguishable between the real and the dream whose idiom Yume Utsutsu the rêve- reality. Utsutsu begins to designate a state of sleep and dream in the world. Utsutu also designate a Utsuro, empty, empty like a dream, before Utsurou derive a verb, move, float.
The literature abounds in this experience of mixing of dream and reality, a spatial and temporal floating half sleep half awake.
I think it is true also for the Chinese literary tradition, as we can read for example in Dream of the Red Chamber.
There is not distinction of the Western and the East.
As the A la recherché du temps perdu begins with the evocation of the experience of sleep, the world of Tale of Genji is full of beings indistinguishable from dreams with real: one reflecting the other and operating transfer times. Dream of the Red Chamber begins with the evocation of the non distinction of real and fiction, dream, illusion and reality. In Japanese case, the modern writer Tanizaki paradigmatically revived this life indistinguishable universe of dream and reality.
Here is the translation by Tanizaki a waka poem in Tale of Genji.
“So few and scattered the nights, so few the dreams.
Would that the dream tonight might take me with it.”
（Transl. by Edward G. Seidensticker）
Utsutsu rhymes with Utsuru - transfer - reflecting Utsusu also ephemeral worldly life Utsushsemi body, which is reflected in the universe of dreams and making beings apparently be transferred over each other.
This universal existence of dream culture invite us to reflect on the function of the dream for human and even animal life.
6 Paradoxical sleep vs. hallucinatory technology: taking care of the dream
We know thanks to Michel Jouvet, eminent French neurologist, that the paradoxal sleep - REM sleep - is the privileged period for the expression of dreams.
This is the sleep phase in which dreams we remember occur.
It is characterized by rapid eye movements, hence the name of this REM sleep stage for rapid eye movement, muscle weakness, irregular breathing and heart rate, body temperature is out of adjustment. There is an expansion of the pelvic organs and an erection which can be followed by ejaculation. The electrical activity of the brain is similar to that of awakening, as shown in the EEG trace. (Wikipedia)
Perhaps, to cope with the crisis of the dream, it would be better to rehabilitate the dream its paradoxical status. While entirely dreaming, it is indistinguishable from the real.
Hallucination is the opposite of the dream, although the dream is hallucinatory in its very mechanism of projection as Freud explain by his metapshycology :
In sleep, the junction with the motility is unplugged and the machine is running in reverse, the psychic apparatus begins to make the process "regredient" - this is the "dream process" according to Freud - and the machine begins the hallucinatory projection of "images" on the dream screen.
Allan Hobson, another eminent neurologist of dream who is in many respects critical to Freudian psychoanalysis, nonetheless considers the function of the dream consisting of primary processes which reorganize in puissance the psyche by its specific logic.
7 Artistic creation and criticism in Digital Media
We must ask therefore all an aesthetic problem: how to make a artistic hermeneutics of dream in digital technology environments.
Both the neural Network of Deep dream that dream of electronic sheep, and the dream decoding machine of ATR, submits the dream to the logic of presence of real images. And so they do lose the properly inconsequent dimension - the primary process in the sense of Freud or Hobson - of the dream.
Here hermeneutic distantiation appears to be important: oblivion, delays and misunderstanding of dreams are probably more essential than remembering and storytelling. The experience of the dream is so fundamentally fragmented and therefore is infinitely open to interpretation.
There are artistic uses of digital images that are distancing themselves from the logic of immersive realistic vision. I recently worked with Masaki Fujihata for his anarchive with use of AR technology. This artistic and critical use of AR seems close to YUME UTSuTSU. There are two attitudes face to the digital image: immersive and critical. YUME Utsutsu can be to criticize the dream with reality and the real with dream: this conception is familiar with the impermanence of the world. This is no doubt the wisdom of dreams in life, which make possible to relativize the dream by the reality and at the same time vice versa. The dream make possible to criticize the real and it make possible to open the world to a infinite shimmering of dream and real. This is undoubtedly the wisdom of dream and of Art that leaves open our life in its radical impermanence.
8 Taking care of the Dream
The technology of presence - of the metaphysics of presence – tends to erases the paradoxical suspension of the real by the dream. But if this fundamental paradox is cleared, there is no dream. If the dream is awake and then there will be nothing but hallucination.
Care must be taken of the dream, dream that takes care of our daylife by its paradoxical function. Hence we must return to the inconsequence of our dream culture.
By starting perhaps with the proustian incipit:
Long time I went to bed early ...
Or by recitation a hymn of Nirvana Sutra
Today crossing the heights of illusion,
neither hollow dreams
Which is an ABC of dream cultures both western and eastern. Must there perhaps we go back.