Could AI bring daydreaming to non-daydreamers?

I heard a fantastic conversation about AI on ABC RN’s podcast, All in the Mind. (If you want to listen to the full episode, which I highly recommend, you can find it here). Professor Joel Pearson from the University of New South Wales was talking about the psychological impact of AI. I felt that some of what he was discussing mirrored the experiences of immersive and maladaptive daydreamers.

Telling fantasy from reality

One of the things that differentiates immersive and maladaptive daydreaming from, for example, psychosis, is that we know our daydreams aren’t real. But if you daydream about people or situations from real life, you can sometimes project your daydreams onto reality. For example, if you base a character on someone you know, you might start expecting the real person to act like the character they inspired. And when they don’t, it can generate very real disappointment and confusion.

Professor Pearson described something similar in relation to deepfakes. He said that even after you know something is fake, it stays in your mind. And that means it can influence how you feel about the real person or topic: “We know from psychology that once you see misinformation, and you take it in … you can’t really forget about it. That information sticks with you… It’s called the continued influence effect. Once you’re told it was fake, it still keeps influencing you.

Questioning your sense of self

It’s common for immersive and maladaptive daydreamers to become someone else in their daydreams. Your daydream self might be a completely different character, or an idealised or slightly edited version of you. If you’re one person in reality and another person in your daydreams, it’s natural to wonder which one is really you.

Professor Pearson sees similar confusion arising in people who have been deepfaked. On the podcast, he said: “If I opened my computer and I saw a hundred videos of me doing and saying things that I’d never said or never done. If I sat watching those all day, within a day or two I’m going to start questioning wait, do I think those things? … It’s going to change my opinion of myself.

It’s a scary thought that if you saw a deepfake video that was convincing enough, you might start to believe it over your own memory of what you’d said or done. But if just seeing a deepfake video could make you start to doubt yourself, it’s not surprising that living as someone else – or a different version of you – in your daydreams can make you question which version of you is real. (And, yes, I do believe it’s often your daydream self that’s real. But the point here is that some confusion around your identity is normal and understandable.)

Loving someone who isn’t real

Professor Pearson also talked about people falling in love with chatbots. I think this is something we’re going to hear a lot more about in the coming months and years. And I think there are significant parallels with the way we fall in love with our characters.

As Professor Pearson said: “People are saying, “the reason I love my AI partner is because they’re perfect in every way. I can get exactly what I want. It’s the perfect relationship.”… And if you think about that for a moment, it might sound wonderful but I don’t think it is. Part of being in a relationship with a human is that there are compromises. The other person will challenge you. You will grow. You will have to face things together. And if you don’t have those challenges… if you get whatever you want, whenever you want, it’s an addictive thing that’s probably not healthy. You’re not going to grow in the same way you would with natural challenges.”

This exactly mirrors the way I view daydream relationships. It is possible to have a deeply loving and fulfilling relationship with someone who only exists in your imagination. But that relationship will never be a substitute for a relationship with a real person.

Maybe we’re just ahead of our time

Is the rise of AI finally allowing non-daydreamers to share a little bit of our experience? AI allows people with “normal” imaginations to bring their imaginary worlds and characters to life in a way that perhaps they can’t with just their minds. I think it will be a while before an AI-generated experience can be as deep and powerful as what we experience in our daydreams. But perhaps it won’t be long before we start explaining the daydreaming experience by saying “it’s like the relationship you have with a chatbot, but in your head”.

1 thought on “Could AI bring daydreaming to non-daydreamers?”

  1. “But perhaps it won’t be long before we start explaining the daydreaming experience by saying “it’s like the relationship you have with a chatbot, but in your head”.

    The more I think about this the more accurate it seems.

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