Rocks and Code, MFA thesis

University of California
Master of Fine Arts degree
concentration in Art, Computation, Engineering
2009

my 2009 UCI MFA thesis titled "Rocks and Code" explores western science's "belief" in scientific objectivity, by looking at, and exploiting, the interconnected histories of uranium mining and it's human effects (specifically in Grants, New Mexico), nuclear physics, focusing on the persuit of "pure" randomness and random numbers -- accepted in the sciences as a reliable external and absolute truth, a rare thing indeed as science is increasingly recognized to be a subjective and entirely constructed vision of the world.

Here is my MFA thesis document (PDF). Documented elsewhere on this site is the Rocks and Code installation and associated projects and media.

The research I did for this thesis continues and informs my works today (2012).

Abstract

This paper and the accompanying installation of the same title examines the interconnected histories of mathematical tables, computer development, nuclear physics, random numbers, and finally, the human pursuit of a reliable "anti-oracle" of impartiality in the midst of growing evidence of the bounded and constructed nature of science and technology and culture. This work explores the need for mathematically rigorous random numbers, the results and ramifications of this obscure pursuit, and it's effects on the earth and people that persist to this day. This paper draws a line through historic mathematical and scientific research that reaches into the present, and provides what I think is a unique view of past events.

I also look at some of the ways in which culture constructs belief systems around its relationship to the earth, nature and our relationships to ourselves, by constructing objective, "external", dispassionate and "in-human" "natural" artifacts, in the form of scientific apparatus, in this instance for the production of random numbers, and tangentially, and to me bleakly humorous, the undoing of a crucial human cultural discipline 4500 years old, mathematical tables.

The associated multi-media and sculptural installation makes some of these connections visible and humanly tangible, by combining nuclear ("atomic", in my preferred early cold-war parlance) decay, the production (and ruination) of math tables, and mining and poverty.

At the center of the installation is the Atomic Number Generator, an apparatus that conjures true random numbers from "natural" physical processes -- isotopic decay from natural rock; uranium ore mined largely by the misled, underpaid local, largely native, population of the American South West