As an open collaboration between the world of dreams and neuroscience, the independent initiative Dream Sessions is designed to address questions that go beyond the experience of a single discipline.
The objective is to observe a transdisciplinary interstice between art and the cognitive sciences, observing the traces of dream stimulation from daytime experience. Situated where the mind and biology meet, the task of the scientist is fundamental for the study of these processes. The research potential presented is aimed at putting the personal perception of Nathalie’s dreams through an objective, quantitative analysis, by using electroencephalography (EEG) in an attempt to establish a linkage between the two dimensions.
During dream periods, brain activity is similar to that of an awakened state, yet the thalamus, a pyhlogenetically ancient structure in the nervous system, isolates the cerebral activity from the environment, desensitizing us to noise, and preventing us, for example, from actually walking when the dream involves walking.
But this isolation is not total and sometimes, external stimuli are incorporated into the plot of our dreams. To establish a bridge between the record (EEG) and Nathalie’s dream narrative, we experiment with the possibility of interfering with her dreams through external auditory stimuli produced while she sleeps, as a way of requesting an autobiographical memory and weaving it into the story.
The first stage consisted of creating a database of short auditory stimuli, sound registries of words taken from the poem “The Sleepers”, by Walt Whitman.
At the beginning of each of The 101-nights of registry, the computer programme randomly selected times and words.
During the first 34 nights, the voice reproduced was by a robot, in English. The second stage was also 34 nights, and this time the sounds were made by Nathalie’s own voice reading the same words from the poem, and for the third stage, the last 33 nights, the poet’s words were translated and recorded with her voice, in Spanish.
Concurrently, Guillaume developed the programme to establish and launch a pilot quality control protocol for the installation and the procedure that followed for The 101-nights. The system included actimetry and the infrared camera used to track body movement during the dream state. Once the procedure and full system were approved, Guillaume started the remote access, and a daily yield follow-up was carried out. Over time, all those data will go through a pre-treatment phase to eliminate muscular artefacts, correct defective electrodes and determine susceptible periods for use in the final analysis. Last of all, the valid portions of the electroencephalograph are analysed to determine physiological particularities specific to dreams, including the times when the introduced words enter the phenomenological context.
The Dream Sessions collective proposes an approach to dream observation and a simple auditory way to try to stimulate it. At the core of the study is the concordance of two apparently divergent fields of knowledge in order to record and represent the dream experience. For The 101-nights, physiological and behavioural data are continuously paired with the dreamer’s inner life, geared towards a dialogue.
This project also supports an effort to make scientific data available to the general public and is committed to developing open science that considers knowledge to be a common asset.
The experience will produce four immediate results:
1. The registry of high definition encephalographic data (HD-EEG) from The 101-nights of dreams, posted online every morning, and their analysis Detection of dream stages, along with the record of body movement (actimetry and infrared camera), is the responsibility of neuroscientists Guillaume. The data set from The 101-nights can be found “here”.
2. A diary that narrates the memories of all Nathalie’s dreams, including the hours spent sleeping with the EEG device and the times that the audio is incorporated into the story The idea is to scrutinize the memory-invoked experiences and discover whether the stimulus applied during the previous night filtered the dreamed story, in other words, if it is reflected in the diaries written every morning.
It will also be a question of seeing whether the fact of submitting dream consciousness to this experience will help to promote a new territory of observation, in terms of expression and understanding.
3. An itinerary describing daily activities succinctly and precisely This record gives a complementary account and provides potential for establishing possible coincidences among the day-by-day logs, The 101-nights from the EEG record and the dreams.
4. Two laser-cut sculptures depicting the instances
in which a computer-produced auditory stimulus is incorporated into the plot of the dream
The raw data from the EEG, their analysis, the narrative of dreams and daytime reports will be published openly on the Internet (in English and Spanish), thanks to the collaboration of The Neurobureau, a not-for-profit, pro open science and data exchange association of neuroscientists, (http://neurobureau.projects.nitrc.org) and the academic function of the Mexican Institute for Sleep Medicine (IMMIS) in Mexico City.
In an attempt to increase the possibilities for dissemination of this research, we will write a paper with the metadata.
The interviews, correspondences and exchanges during the development will also be published, as a way of putting the use of this technological resolution into perspective within the realm of contemporary art and including some historical views as context for new ones.