Electric Dreams

Dream Replicants and the Emergence of Simulacra

Richard Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard (2000).  Dream Replicants and the Emergence of Simulacra.
Electric Dreams 7(12).   2001 Vol. 7 Issue 12.

“We’re gonna do, We’re gonna do,  kind of a science fiction story”

  --Preamble to Wooden Ships at Woodstock.

Simulation is the situation created by any system of signs when it becomes sophisticated enough, autonomous enough, to abolish its own referent and to replace it with itself.”

-- Jean Baudrillard.

By rising to the surface, the simulacrum makes the Same and the Similar, the model and the copy, fall under the power of the false (phantasm). It renders the order of participation, the fixity of distribution, the determination of the hierarchy impossible. It establishes the world of nomadic distributions and crowned anarchies. Far from being a new foundation, it engulfs all foundations, it assures a universal breakdown, but as a joyful and positive event, as an un-founding: "behind each cave another that opens still more deeply, and beyond each surface a subterranean world yet more vast, more strange. Richer still... and under all foundations, under every ground, a subsoil still more profound."

-- Gilles Deleuze, "Plato and the Simulacrum," The Logic of Sense 

One of the major sites of conflict in the interpretation of dreams has been whether they reveal or conceal, a conflict found most clearly in the debate between the Freudian notion of partial concealment and the Jungian notion of revelation.  Several contemporary dream scientists have tossed into the ring the notion that dreams are not revealing or concealing anything.  We might say that these schools of thought mark the extremes positions of the modern and ancient world about dreams, that dreams are revealing, concealing, are neither, or are a mixture of all of these.  

However, all these notions (as notions, I don’t want to attack the work or therapy evolving out of them itself right now) all these notions involve the dream image as representative. One camp may say that the dream image represents something important, another that it doesn’t. Others fall into the spectrum of value vs. no-value.   

But what happens when dreaming and dreams are not seen so much as representing my life, but as having motives all their own?  This is not a new idea, and even goes back to ancient views that see the figures in dreams as autonomous figures, ghosts, demons, spirits and gods. More currently, Carl Jung, and then James Hillman have suggested that even the ego in the dream, who I think of as me in the dream, may also not be me.  Linda Magallón has also suggested we give the dream a higher existential reality and address the dream and dreamer and dreaming process as a kind of entity


Wouldn't your friends in waking life think it was odd if you said, "Oh, glad to see you again, hey this is what you represent to me...", or "let me interpret you!" 

To suggest that the dream and its images may be very important and valuable, yet not represent what they appear to be representing seems to throw us back into the Freudian days when dream images were disguises of their true meanings. Jung felt that to go on the assumption that the unconscious was only trying to fool us would be a disaster and a complete surrender to being the hopeless victim of powers we never see.  

But both of these views, and all of these views, are totalizing views. That is, they attempt to account for all of dreaming. What dreamworkers have found is that ~all~ of these operations and strategies are in the dream process; revelation, concealment, meaning, meaninglessness, the fabulous and the pointless, the marvelous and the mundane. As postmodern writer Jean Lyotard might say, they are all Grand Narratives that are used to grab up and distribute all the meaning of the whole world in one story.   Harry Hunt has spent a great deal of time showing that the multiplicity of dreams is a more telling metaphor than singularity of  purpose. While various groups try to appropriate dreams and dreaming for their purposes, there is always more to dreams and dreaming that escapes their limits. 

Still, it’s hard to let go of the feeling that the dream is about me. Dreams so often contain  images that look and act like the people and objects in my life. How do I account for this and what is the right term, sign, symbol, image,  simulation, representation, duplication, copy?  

Notice how all these terms allow me to pull the image back into relationship to my life and force the image to be less than the Real which it is imitating.  Other notions such as mask, personae, resemblance, staging, theatre, and actors all force the image to dance to something beyond itself, while at the same time sheering off a thin surface and dumping any depth and substance that is not related to that which the mask is representing.  

Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard feels this process of representation has led us into a  postmodern world that is about to take off into the hyperreal.  Early cultures had no separation between the thing and what it represented. The Modern mind often misses this and abstracts early cultures animism. Moderns laugh about how primitives saw their god as a rock, a tree, a river. But this, according to James Hillman, this is a massive mis-perception. We tend to spiritualize what is really soulful. The deity would inhabit and be the rock sometimes and other times not. The rock didn’t represent the god, the rock was, at times, god. Of course, there is some romanticizing here. The primitive earth was full of attempts to control the meaning of signs. To get them fixed, they were deeply cut into the flesh, and familial connections were continually used to signify the flow of woman, of goods, of discussion. Alliances were also developed with somewhat more freedom, but also deeply regulated and viscously enforced.  

 According to poststructuralists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, despotic pharaoh types eventually collected all these natural flows of filiation and alliance of small tribes into themselves, and made it appear as if all things flowed from them. All gold, all goods, all seasons flowed from Pharoah. Now there was a representation, but only One. This was enough to break the back between the signs and what they pointed to. To hold this horror at bay (that signs might begin to represent something other than one thing) there were terrible laws and caste societies. It was clear what things meant, and you could tell who someone was just by their clothes. Transgressions were severely punished.  Interpetations of dreams were banned. Witches were burnt by the thousands for sharing dreams. There could be no tolerance of other gods and religions who might interpret a sign differently and threaten the system that tightly binds the sign to its meaning. 

The Renaissance shows us the beginning of something different.  Plays and writings that addressed issues other than the Pharaoh began to bloom. It was a playful time for the signs and psychology could emerge. What’s behind the mask? With a little money, one can change one’s caste and clothes at a moments notice.   What does the bible mean, this or that? Who knows, and how do they know?  There is a deep nostalgia for the past and for Nature, but its too late. The sign and what it means have been completely severed.  The Marionette dances on the stage, but its only value now is in entertainment. 

In the modern industrial world, things don’t mean anything and we are used to it. The robot that makes the cars is not the marionette that dances on the stage. The robot has a local function and no one would think of trying to interpret its meaning. There is a duplication of cars, of Barbie dolls, series of washers and microwaves, and continual re-use of signs and models. The Cowboy is used to sell movies one day, cigarettes the next, shaving cream the next. But have you ever seen a cowboy? Oh yes, on TV, so you have had a real experience?  Signs for the real are more apparent than reality itself. We begin to live in a simulation of the Real and feel we are in contact with the Real.

If you are asking yourself, “Yes, but what is the Real we have left?” , then you can see for yourself how modern you have become and how lost this natural answer has become to us.  

Baudrillard says that without the grounding of the Real, the society begins to launch itself into a virtual reality, a satellite society that circles around an empty center of circulating signs. As Brian Massumi notes, we can only gape in fascination, for the secret of the process is beyond our grasp. Meaning has imploded. There is only a pleasureless orgy of exchange and circulation, media blitz and sound bytes, advertisements for advertisements, the projection from one hyperreality into another, another website to another website. 

Baudrillard's reaction to all this is to suggest we push the system to its limit. If we are being pushed into consuming, then we can become such super-consumers that the system goes into hyperdrive and we can there-by break free of its gravity.  But I really doubt that buying extra Barbie dolls for the kids this holidays is going to stress the system enough that it mutates into a post-capital society.

What can we do?  Can were go back to the days when signs really meant something? Hardly. Or at least, not in a global sense. Small groups attempt to do this, but they usually end up a paranoid cults living on borrowed time in an anachronistic and isolated dome. 

Do we become hypercynnical?  Can we just stop believing in anything and react to all the ads and failed attempts to change with a smirk of knowing its all over now, baby blue? 

 I would like to suggest is that we find a path between regressing back into a primitive state or becoming hypercynical.  This path is not a singular one.  It’s a path that we all have to create, but at the same time is individually determined and maintained.  Those of you who have been doing dreamwork are already familiar with this path.  Each day we wake up with a dream. Each dream is its own world and thus a perspective on all other worlds, including our waking world. This overlapping imaginarium, finding the meaning of one story through the view of another story,  might seem like a hall of mirrors. But over time, due to the acceptance of the unknown, the subtle, the different, the odd, the strange and the unreal,  we can begin to see the ruptures in representations and a dance that is occurring in the non-center of the universe.  

Each day, a new world, a new perspective.   Here is one for today. What happens when we see our dreams as a realm of beings manifesting through our psyches? Too paranoid? If we are to take seriously the notion of giving dreams more status, this part of the story will return again and again until we get it.  

Philip K. Dick, who wrote the (1968) _Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?_" which was made into the Ridley Scott film "Blade Runner", which became a model for so many Cyberpunk movies to follow.  Dick explores the issue of copies and false copies and simulacra, a special group of copies that are so thinly related to the original that they have achieved independent status. In his story, the replicants were produced to do hard physical labor and help provide companionship for people colonizing distant planets. They appear and act human, but have one fatal flaw; they are all pre-programmed to live only four years.  Something goes wrong and a group of replicants band together and rebel, massacre the colony, steal a ship and return to earth.  As a Blade Runner, its Rick Deckard's job to find and destroy these renegade robots. The mood is dark, and the 2021 society on earth, full of multicultural hustle and bustle, seems almost post-apocolyptic. The constant ads floating by and oversized buildings have become the model for  Cyberpunk novels and stories since the movie came out in 1982. Throughout the story, Deckard finds himself caught between his own feelings and the requirements of his job to kill. His job is complicated by the fact that he is forced out of retirement and that the newer android models are smarter and faster than people. An additional problem is that the standard tests, which have been relied on for years to discriminate between androids and humans, begins giving unreliable results.  

Soon he comes to find out the replicant's plan. They no longer want to be tied to the automatic death that is pre-programmed. They want to be recognized, not as having full human status, but as a being in their own rights. Deckard finds himself empathizing with some, even falling in love,  while continuing to hunt and kill other replicants. 

When is a copy a copy, and when does it obtain a new status of being? This is the Platonic conundrum of the simulacrum, which is a copy of an original. In Plato, there are ideal forms or models and there are the good copies that are manifested in this world. Then there are simulacra, which are then considered less than the ideal models and poor copies. Poststructuralist, Gilles Deleuze, begins with this notion of simulacrum as copy, but then pushes it into a whole new territory. At some point, the connection (between a sign and what it is suppose to represent)  becomes so thin that it is not a matter of degree and quantity of difference, but of nature and quality.   This logical impossibility is more than a metaphor indicating the thin connection between copies and their originals. We often see this in Pop Art, where Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup cans may be said to represent the originals, but that is not their main function. They are copies that have achieved a whole new status and created a whole new aesthetic. Similarly, photo-realistic paintings that playfully mimic photography are more than just copies of photographs or the objects they represent, but create a whole realm and style of painting where the objects bear little significance to real world objects, though they depict these objects with a realism usually reserved for cameras.  

Deleuze notes that the notion of  copies, models, replications and mimicry all force the object to represent something else that is considered more real than itself.  The copy is always bound by a set of internal relations to a model against which it is judged. Does the barber's pole clearly point to the barber, or is it a bad sign pointing to something else?  

 The simulacrum, on the other hand, looks on the outside like a copy, but has a, well, deceptive resemblance to the model. On the surface it looks like one thing and may make us associate to the represented model, but underneath, its dynamics may have no relationship to the model what-so-ever. Think of the pitcher plant that simulates the look of an insect and fools the insect into thinking that it operates like a friendly insect, but has a very different dynamic going. A copy is wired to stand in for its model, a simulacrum operates by a different code and enters different circuits.  

The point here is not for the simulacrum to imitate and become the thing it simulates, but to temporarily use this mask for other goals, its own proliferation. The replicants in "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" plan to re-vision themselves and escape completely from the realm of humanity, populating worlds that mankind will not and can not every want to inhabit.  They just need the human form for awhile. There is nothing yet to represent them, and so they emerge from behind what can be represented.  

 Baudrillard often says that simulacrum are copies without an original, but as Massumi notes, this leaves the question of whether there ever was a Real from which we broke, or if there was simulation of reality from the beginning.  A better view is that they co-exist from the beginning, though simulation has to be seen in two contexts, the first in its role as an exclusive disjunctive synthesis and the second more desirable inclusive disjunctive synthesis. Both of these syntheses emerge within a world where the flows of desire, goods, money, information, and communications are already tightly channeled and highly regulated. Its no wonder they have to being as appearing to be something else. Both will have to extract a surplus from the flows and create their own matrix. However, one will simply re-territorialize the surplus and become another fixed system, while the inclusive disjunctive synthesis will affirm the differences in the system, creating a flowering of all the points in its circuit and thus producing a cyberneticly related improverse around which nomadic singularities interact and create.  

In many ways we can see how much of dreamwork is involved in allowing these dream replicants an opportunity to exceed us. Dream inspired writers and artists are most keenly aware of their role in nurturing something that is beyond themselves. When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde after his dream and showed it to his wife, she destroyed the manuscript in horror.  But the dream replicants had already created a full body matrix of surplus desire that had established itself in a network in which Stevenson, the dream, his wife and the writing were simple travelers. Within days Stevenson had completely re-written the novel.  

The Jungians and the Post-Jungians, the Archetypalists, have also been engaged in encouraging and supporting the process of allowing dream replicants to find their own world. Instead of trying to drag them up from the underworld, Hillman suggests we might learn more by allowing them to drag us down into the underworld.  However, this gets people into debates about just two worlds, the waking world and the imaginal world. The real point is that we have hit the cultural trans-warp drive and now  inhabit, or can inhabit, an infinite amount of worlds. The Internet has done a lot in bringing this to light metaphorically. Its becoming clear that we are reaching a stage of cultural transition where old identities, old alliances, old filiations, old ways of seeing territory and boundaries are dissolving before the flood of unleashed objects, images, information, connections, virtual spaces and recombinatory genetic and physical biophysiologies and psychobiological ecologies.  

This calls for a dreamwork that might be seen through the three Deleuze-Guattari stages hinted at before.  In the first stage, the connective synthesis, the full body of the dream launches from its surface a set of intensities and differences.  Though each unique, they form a set of related trajectories around or above the egg-body of the dream.  This is the second stage, the disjunctive synthesis. We need to be keen on differences here.  If we begin to associate to the images in the dream around a circle that already exists the project will collapse into a modern thing that can be represented and an idea will emerge, an archetype perhaps, which will territorialize all the energy and become a little pharaoh.

To allow the replicants room to move we need difference and non-represented spaces. The first is easier, at least conceptually. Difference is what makes something unique. Yet we can never see pure difference. We always see difference in relation to something else, in opposition, in context. Yet though it is invisible and non-representable, it is what differentiates one being from another. Without representing them, one can find the flows in the dream, and what stops the flows. We can see where the fluxes and partial objects have emerge into existence, measured only by their expression in of the content, of ruptures and breaks in the flow. 

   In the final stage of conjunctive synthesis, if we have carefully kept the new matrix that is not-a-matrix alive, there may exist the nomadic dream replicant who has found a way out of the territorialized space of repressive systems of control. Traversing the full body of the dream the nomad breaks into other flows and creates ever new connections.  Finding deterritorialized space in which to play the nomad skates between systems, busy becoming intense, becoming dream, becoming transfigural. 

Eventually, the space will be re-territorialized.  

And that is also why there are no examples of this kind of dreamwork given in this essay. Any example would be a general case in which you might try to abstract and conceptualize the underlying principles. And yet each dream - and each encounter with each dream - is going to be essentially different every time we engage the dream. There is not a singular essence to extract that can be generalized, though essence and singularity of meaning create trajectories around the full body of the dream just as surely as difference or feelings or desire. The full body of the dream produces, and produces, and produces.  As Deleuze & Guattari say, the unconscious is not a theater, it is a factory. 

Richard Wilkerson  - November 2000





Baudrillard, Jean (1983). Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), p. 11.  

Baudrillard, Jean (1983).  In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and John Johnston (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), p. 56.  

Bogue, Ronald (1989).  Deleuze and Guattari. (New York: Routledge 

Deleuze, Gilles (1990). The Logic of Sense.  Trans. by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. Edited by Constantin Boundas. New York:Columbia University Press. 

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1972/1977). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Preface by Michel Foucault. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane  

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 

Dick, Philip K. (1968). Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  New York: Del Rey (Ballantine) Books 24th printing. Filmed as Blade Runner 1982. The book reissued under the title Blade Runner at the release of the film.  

Mikkola, Timo (1997). Blade Runner: Film Noir or Science Fiction?

Retrieved October 15, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.uta.fi/~ks53182/blade/blade.html1 

Massumi, Brian (1987). REALER THAN REAL: The Simulacrum According to Deleuze and Guattari Originally published in Copyright no.1, 1987.



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