Cosmic Insignificance Therapy

Newsletter on 31 March 2023• AI-rendered audio-visual meditation

Cosmic Insignificance Therapy is a one minute video zooming from the micro to the macro. I created it using StyleGAN, the family of generative AI models I’ve been exploring the past two years.

I trained the model to recreate photos I’ve taken and then expanded the render window to expose the residue of the infinite mathematical functions it uses to render the image. The abstract forms that emerge feel like quivering strings that construct our reality through an improbable sequence of coincidences. It speaks to me of string theory and other theories that describe our familiar dimensions of space and time sitting within a higher-dimensional universe.

As AI imagery has raced ahead towards photorealism, StyleGAN already feels like an ancient technique. But I’m hooked. The longer I spend, the more I discover new pockets of beauty in its struggle to tangle abstract forms into a photo. I love exploring the uncanny, feeling that little click as a sight snaps into something recognisable. I think that feeling reveals a lot about how we perceive the world.

I first sketched out the work in early 2022, when I was reading Oliver Burkeman’s book 4000 Weeks. The title is borrowed from a chapter in that book, which offers a reassuring reckoning with our tiny role to play in this universe.

Montreal, 31 March 2023