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copyright © 2010 hyunju yang. all rights reserved.

wittgenstein's logical atomism

science + design
March, 2010

After the completion of my MFA thesis project, "The Participatory Universe", I was searching for scientific theories that are relevant to my own thesis, which would give me an inspiration to move on to the next stage of the project. This post-thesis fellowship project is inspired by Robert Lanza’s scientific theory, Biocentrism and a philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Experience”. Biocentrism asserts that the conscious awareness of animate beings is central to reality and the cosmos — life creates the environment, and the universe. Lanza insists that current theories of the physical world do not work, and can never be made to work, until they fully account for life and consciousness.

Lanza's theory of Biocentrism has following seven principles.

1. What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness. An "external" reality, if it existed, would by definition have to exist in space. But this is meaningless, because space and time are not absolute realities but rather tools of the human and animal mind.
2. Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined. They are different sides of the same coin and cannot be divorced from one another.
3. The behavior of subatomic particles, indeed all particles and objects, is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
4. Without consciousness, "matter" dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.
5. The structure of the universe is explainable only through biocentrism. The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The "universe" is simply the complete spatio-temporal logic of the self.
6. Time does not have a real existence outside of animal-sense perception. It is the process by which we perceive changes in the universe.
7. Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time around with us like turtles with shells. Thus, there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.

Lanza references one of Emerson’s essays, “Experience” in his book, which mirrors his idea. The essay illustrates transcendentalist’s notion of the cosmological view on the relationship between human perception and the universe. In the essay the wilderness is utilized as a metaphor of the universe. For this project, I also came up with a specific subject to embody this abstract concept, like Emerson did when he describes his notion of the universe. Since I am a designer in California, I have chosen the Mojave Desert as the wilderness, the metaphor of my notion of the universe and I researched the relationship between this subject and people who have interacted with it.

“Ever afterwards, we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects”.
- Excerpt from Emerson's essay, "Experience" -

// through the eon, the Mojave Desert's landscape has continued to change. it is changing now, and will continue to change a long time after we have departed. the forces of erosion slowly carve away at the ancient rock formations, re-shaping the surface of the land. the basin continues to subside. it is interesting to imagine, but impossible to predict. //

The desert can be a barren land of extremes for some people. The Mojave Desert is one of the hottest and driest places on the surface of the Earth with summer temperatures averaging well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, this place is also a land of subtle beauty. The Mojave Desert is a treasure trove of scientific information about the ancient Earth, the origin of life and about the forces still working to shape our modern world. It is home to delicate ecosystems of plants, animals, and human beings that have adapted themselves to take advantage of its rare and hard won bounty. It is a story of western expansion, wealth, greed, suffering and triumph. For astronauts and scientists from NASA, the Mojave Desert is the scientific laboratory to test their equipment for the Mars expedition.


During my fellowship research period, I explored the various characteristics of the Mojave Desert as well as its philosophical implications, hoping to discover the unique and inspirational value to the contemporary design application.

First, the facts that most interested me were the whimsical methods of Native American’s life style, the interaction between native Indians and their surroundings. Secondly, the scientific interpretation on this specific area of astrophysicists and astro-biologists who collect and study the dust particles that contain microbes, which leads them to discover the origin of life.

left - sifter: detects microbes, microorganisms that are contained in the desert soil.
right - scanner

left - chemical detector: detects toxic chemical components from the venomous animals from the distance.
right - wind tunnel : the holes in the device will gather the information from air

After the research process, I came up with a set of tools for the desert expedition. Tool that has a function of delivering the sense of the native American way of interacting and appreciating the Mojave desert as well as delivering scientific information, which is buried under its magnificent appearance. Through exploring the part of the world that we are living, I wanted to let people to have a chance to feel the glimpse of connection between the massive system of the world and how it is connected to create the place where you are standing.

Participatory Universe is the thesis project for my Master's Degree. Learning and understanding the scientific subjects were the critical part of the project, yet the outcome of the project is consisted of following three projects:

- Cartography of Disambiguation
- Measurement of Existence
- Reference. User. Manual: Course of Seeking Knowledge

In a visual presentation of scientific theories of the universe, the Participatory Universe project illustrates the idea from quantum physics that the micro reflects the macro in both process and form. In addition, the project speculates that human perception reflects this immense micro/macro system of the universe.

// for further information on project Participatory universe, please visit my thesis website to access my corresponding writings. //

The project is motivated by the ideas illustrating the general behavior of the microscopic world of particles. Participatory Universe is not a project driven by an ultimate theory to solve a mystery of the universe. It is instead about the characteristics of the uncertain nature of the universe and the process of unveiling the unknown territory of the universe. The project illustrates how the theories of the micro can be an apparatus to reflect the macro world of the universe, and how a conscious being can generate and process its knowledge by perceiving and reflecting on its nature within this universe.

At the microscopic level of our physical reality, objects are interacting with their environment in a counter-intuitive way. Before measurement (often called, registration), the microscopic objects are in all possible states. Although there are several interpretations of this whimsical phenomena, the pairing of the Many-Worlds interpretation and the decoherence theory is one of the most significant interpretations that connects the dots of the major findings and great theorists, and gives us a chance to look inside of the realm of the microscopic, from the scale of the infinitesimally small, 10−10 m, to the universe where more than a hundred billion massive systems of Galaxies interact with one another. These interpretations have not been proved as fact, yet as technology grew exponentially, advanced devices emerged that were able to handle the experiments on microscopic subjects, such as the photon, and some equations have been verified to be as a description of reality. The primary goal of the project, Participatory Universe is twofold: to visually represent the phenomena of the microscopic realm (many world interpretation and anthropic principle) as well as speculative analysis on the subject, a parallel between the act of measurement and the process of knowing.


During the process of diagraming both academic and personal speculative interpretations on the subject, I had set my own rules. I initially researched the subjects, by tying to follow my intuition and focus on imagining the contents as I perceive them, and not by how I had seen the concepts previously represented. Although visual representations are scarce in the field of physics, they are abundant in the field of cosmology. Photographs from space telescopes, and some graphical representations, both informative and imaginary, illustrate cosmic phenomena excessively tinted and manipulated with hyperbolic graphical stylization. The visual language I have developed attempts to show these concepts in a more faithful light.

// The theoretical help from Ph. D students and graduate students from Astro-Physics department at California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA). The diagram had been revised through several repetitive processes of study - speculation - drawing / execution - examination - revise. //

// Cartography of Disambiguation can be divided into eleven chapters. The chart above shows the contents and title of each section. to view each section in detail click the thumbnail view buttons at the end of this page or full screen button. //

The Cartography of Disambiguation is conveying the spirit of the theory of quantum physics, contemporary cosmology and the phenomena. Creating a modular cell-like structure of the story helps participants engage with the diagram, so that this installation can stimulate spectators’ own imaginations, and they can insert their own interpretations into the structure. The diagram displays about fundamental theories of particle physics, quantum physics and contemporary cosmology as it goes from left to right. At the far right side, it reveals the designer’s speculative opinion on the theory with a metaphysical point of view.

// These custom made magnifying glasses are placed on the site. The magnifying glasses are the symbolic representation of the act of observation of human as an intellectual being. //

During the 20th century, the role of the designer was often focused on providing better solutions for our needs and prototyping for the near future technology. The novel role of the designer for the 21st century is rather a combination of our pre-existing role, and provoking new ways of thinking across many fields of inquiry.

There are many ways to pursue and accomplish a new role as a media designer, yet during my thesis year, I myself was particularly focused on my role as a medium who interconnects divergent realms of intellectual inquiry that are built upon the essence of human curiosity. Our understanding of nature and culture is so intricate and multi-dimensional that one can never scan through the whole in his/her lifetime. Thus, many of us are missing the joy of pondering over some intriguing aspects of our culture’s greatest intellectual accomplishments. The designer is situated perfectly to make that accomplishments visible and accessible.

// The beauty of the material. Inkjet print on eggshell finished backlit film. //


Click thumbnail images below to view each detailed content of the diagram.

This hypothetical device informs your quantum state within innumerable versions of our universe in the quantum state of the universe. The main idea is inspired by an equation, the measurement of existence from the relative quantum mechanics created by physicist, Everett who invented Many-World theory.

Quantum state of the universe:
| Ψ UNIVERSE 〉 = ∑αi | Ψ WORLD i 〉
Measurement of the existence:

The theory explains that there are many worlds existing in parallel in the Universe. Although all worlds are of the same physical size (this might not be true if we take quantum gravity into account), and in every world sentient beings feel as "real" as in any other world, in some sense some worlds are larger than others. I describe this property as the measure of existence of a world. "I" also have a measure of existence. It is the sum of measures of existence of all different worlds in which I exist; equally, it can be defined as the measure of existence of my perception world. Note that I do not experience directly the measure of my existence. In the system of the parallel universe, I feel the same weight, see the same brightness, etc. irrespectively of how tiny my measure of existence might be.

The measurement of Existence is an interactive installation that incorporates both an animated graphic and sound. The device shows the simultaneity of innumerable state of a single electron forms the probability wave. As a viewer get closer and observe the ambiguous state of the electron, the device is triggered to show the next stage of the visual information of the viewer’s existence within the system of the parallel universe. In the theories of quantum physics, the acts of observation and measurement play a critical role in creating our physical reality. When it is activated by the power of observation, it examines the sensory mechanism of measurement from the viewer, such as cognition and sight. Then, it visualizes a parallel state of the viewer’s universe, from clustered groups of galaxy to the solar system the earth inhabits.

// The simultaneity of innumerable state of a single electron. //

// Materiality and mechanical movement of your brain. Firing patterns of your neuron //

// Your position in the parallel universe system. //