Fungus Among Us: Final Project Progress

Like the bionts of a lichen (except on a much different timescale), my final project for Fungus class is evolving. Specifically, I’ve changed my mind on how I want to include humans in the Big Lichen Picture. Instead of incorporating humans literally and visualizing the human-fungal symbiosis, I’ve decided to take the eight perspectives laid out in Trevor Goward’s Re-emergence essay and present them as human-relatable analogies.

I’ve found that in my capacity as a temporary theoretical lichenologist, philosophical thought seems a lot less intimidating than usual. By examining the lichen from eight different perspectives, I think we can also shed some light on how to view ourselves and our relationship with the systems that compose our existence. My final project has thus become a series of posters that transpose Trevor’s eight lichen perspectives. I’ll extrapolate on this in my final presentation, but for now, here is some work-in-progress:

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Humungi

humungi

Last weekend, Mike and I spoke with Derek Woods, a theoretical lichenologist. We discussed how the academic field of biology is not currently designed to answer the basic biological question “what is lichen?” and how theoretical lichenology approaches the question. Our conversation gave me a lot of material to draw from in forming my final project.

To elucidate the various possible ways to perceive lichen (as laid out in Trevor Goward’s [Derek’s mentor/collaborator] “Re-emergence” essay), I want to replace the lichen’s photobiont with humans and imagine the “humungi,” a symbiosis of humans and fungi. Lichens exhibit properties that neither the fungi nor the algae/cyanobacteria exhibit on their own, such as an extended lifespan and the ability to thrive in unfavorable environments. What might humans be capable of if we fully submit to fungal symbiosis?

Elements and Components:

  • Lichen: Fungus and algae/cyanobacteria
  • Human fungal pathogens
  • Biological systems
  • Philosophy
  • Fine Art

Interactions and Actions:

  • Infection
  • Amplification
  • Symbiosis

Mechanism:

  • Drawing
  • Sculpture, 3D printing

Thesis Progress: Building a Chatbot a Day

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My thesis project continues to evolve as I explore the world of online adolescence. I rewrote my thesis proposal statement, originally posted here, to better address the “big ideas” I want to address. Here it is:

It can be uncomfortable to revisit adolescent journals, now knowing that they were often nothing more than vapid rants. However, they served a purpose: to establish a sense of self and to define the author’s identity both to him/herself and – in an online world – to the public. The public nature of blogging sites old and new help to reinforce this. Furthermore, it enables us, as adults, to recall this transitional adolescent identity in a way that previous generations have not. What does it mean that I can pull up 14-year-old Sam with only a few clicks? That, as a child of the internet era, I am never far from an earlier version of myself?

Sarah suggested I use people’s old online journals to allow them to talk to their adolescent selves, so now I’ve started to explore chatbots. Chatbots have been around for decades, from ELIZA in 1966 to the chatbot that I think most of my peers would remember from their adolescence: SmarterChild. With the ultimate goal of using the corpus of old blog entries to enable a conversation with your prior online self, I’m now building “a chatbot a day” to give me a feel for the capabilities of chatbots and how people want to interact with them. You can talk to my chatbots here.