Edges of Understanding

Wood, Phosphorecent Ink, Screens, UV-Lamp, Raspberry PIs

Edges of Understanding
"Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish,
A vapor sometime like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel, a pendant rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon’t that nod unto the world
And mock our eyes with air.
Thou hast seen these signs.
They are black vesper’s pageants."

William Shakespeare: Antonius and Cleopatra. 1606/07

Around 1856, the German doctor Justinus Kerner created a series of ink blots called "Klecksographien". Kerner poured ink onto paper, folded it and then enhanced the shapes that he recognised in the pictures. He did not see the works as pure art but rather found his "nervous spirit" in there, a part of his psyche. On the basis of the shapes that Kerner recognized in the ink blots, he drew conclusions about an otherwise invisible part of his psyche.

A similar process can be found in Google's neural network DeepDream. The net searches for forms in randomly generated images and then traces them. Using these images, conclusions can be drawn about the functioning of the neural network.

The work „Edges of Understanding“, like Kerner‘s and Google‘s work, consists of two layer.

A visual layer, on which the visitors are brought „at the Edge of Understanding“. All three boxes show images that leave room for interpretation open and thus trigger apophenias. In the first and last box, the human and machine apophenias are mixed. The computer has the first apophenia, the human observer the last.

The second layer is initially accessible through the description of the boxes. Here the visitor is given the connection between artificial intelligence and Kerner‘s Klecksographien. Similar to Kerner, today the algorithms are seen as „self-acting“, which in part can only be explained by supernatural phenomena.

For Kerner, „the Edge of Understanding“ was about studying the human psyche; today, it is about understanding the processes in a neural network.

This second layer is a visually encoded commentary on the current state of research of artificial intelligence. It can only be understood completely in combination with this book and the theoretical background. This layer is therefore also „at the Edge of Understanding“, just like Kerner‘s and Google‘s work.

BA-Thesis, realized with the help of Prof. Joachim Sauter, Prof. Dr. phil Alberto de Campo & Alexander Peterhaensel

Edges of Understanding 1
Installation View

Box 1: Perlin Noise, OpenCV Face Detection

„Hadesbilder [...] came [...] only through
inkblots and then often required
none at all, often only insignificant reworking by
a few strokes of the pen or by
artificial tracing of faces.“

Justinus Kerner, around 1856

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The first Box displays a generated Perlin Noise Pattern in which a Face Recognition Software searches for faces.
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Detail Box 1

Box 2: 1000 Particles On Perlin Noise Field

„These images from Hades,
Have formed themselves
Without my help, I am dismayed
Only - from ink stains“

Justinus Kerner, around 1856

Edges of Understanding 3
Mirrored particles draw forms on a canvas that resemble inkblots.
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Detail Box 2
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Detail Box 2

Box 3: Generated Dreamimages, DeepDreamAI

„Humans have not made this picture,
As it happened to the others, it came by its own power
Unexpected from the Inks Night“

Justinus Kerner, around 1856

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Box 3
Edges of Understanding 1
Detail Box 3
Edges of Understanding 6
Book Documentation, Image from Justinus Kerner.

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Screenshot Box 1
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Generated digital Inkblot
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DeepDream image of generated Inkblot (5000 iterations)