SCIENCE CABIN, UNIST Gil 50, Eonyang-Eup, Ulju-Gun, Ulsan

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"What's Science Cabin?" Interview with Prof. CHO Jaeweon

Prof. CHO Jaeweon is the director of Science Walden Project. Unist student magazine Ubal 's LIM Da Eun had an interview with him about Science Cabin.

Please introduce Science Walden.

I’ve introduced it so many times, haha. Science Walden is an engagement laboratory of 80+ researchers designed to solve the problems of our society by connecting scientific technologies to liberal arts and art. I’d like to introduce it as a place not overlooking the pains and conflicts of our society but working to solve them. Science Walden started from Naturalism in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and was also influenced by B. F. Skinner’s Walden 2. Science Walden could be considered as a project trying to solve the problems of current society with scientific technology to reach the world B. F. Skinner described in Walden 2.

Is there a particular reason that the solution is the ‘poo’? How did you get the idea?

I wish I had a nice episode to tell you, haha. But, the Feces Standard Money(FSM) is one of the efforts we are making, not the core of Science Walden. Another idea hasn’t come up yet, so FSM looks like the key part.

Back to the point, why FSM? I think it’s natural for me as an environmental engineer. So far, we have looked at poo as a contaminant, and have just thought about how to remove it. It eventually ends up in the sewerage system, but I thought ,what if there is a way not to, what If there is a way we can use it scientifically.Those series of questions led me to money. Everyone talks about money, so if there is money that contains economic philosophy, it would be the ethical capital of our society. FSM can change our old view on poo, and even give us something new. This was the start of FSM. There was not one moment when the idea popped up but it emerged slowly from my thoughts.

Please introduce Science Cabin, the second project of Science Walden.

We were thinking about how to root FSM in the world. If people can experience it while they actually stay at a place, they will have a more vivid feeling of the world Science Walden is working on. So, Science Cabin is a living place as well as a research center and a place where you can imagine the future.

So does it have a living area and a research area?

There is a living area, a research area and an activity area called a sharing area. In the sharing area, we have a little kitchen and a studio. This place is for dining together or working together. All kinds of flows - a flow of poo, a flow of energy, a flow of water, a flow of human connection, a flow of money - will arise in Science Cabin.

What’s the similarity and the difference between your first project Sa-Wol-Dang and Science Cabin?

Sa-Wol-Dang was a temporary building from the beginning. Our final goal was building the Science Cabin, but we built Sa-Wol-Dang first with the minimum budget as a prototype. In Sa-Wol-Dang you saw the technology we had, but in Science Cabin you will feel the technology as you live in the space. You can come visit Science Cabin with your family or your friends for a day or a month, living by yourself, with the energy from yourself , not harming the environment. You also can raise crops with the sludge from your poo.

Moreover, imagine the future where Science Cabins are built all over the world. To build the Science Cabin complex, we need new types of pipe lines and a new kind of sewerage system, and new energy lines, thereby creating new companies and new jobs. Overall, a new infrastructure of the society. It’s an asset of our society based on ethical economy.

Is self-sufficiency a goal?

No, it’s not. I can give the energy that I make to others, or give it to a village. It’s not self-sufficient but tradeable. The energy and sludge by poo are all capital and we are trying to design a society connected by this capital.

Then, do you want to make a market with FSM?

Not only a market, but a very inclusive concept of capital. For example, let’s think about the social welfare system. We can serve food to the poor elderly with FSM, and it’s not from tax payers money. It’s a welfare system by our new capital.

How will the research run in Science Cabin?

First of all, anyone can stay at Science Cabin, but he/she should do a ‘check-in’. Check-in refers to downloading the Science Walden app. With this app, you can get 10 Ggool (ggool is the currency unit of FSM) everyday when you defecate at Science Cabin. You will keep 7 ggool and give 3 ggool to your peers. The peers could be anyone; your best friends, someone you just know or people living abroad. FSM can be a connection like social media as in Facebook. Poo can be an income every time and you can share it with someone in the world.

The second research is the “spontaneity” experiment which is about choosing energy options. The visitors of Cabin will choose one of the energies-fossil fuel energy(option A), renewable energy(option B), and bio energy(option C). If the accommodation fee at Science Cabin was 30 dollars, and you chose option A, you’d need to pay 30 dollars. But if you chose option B, your fee would be 31 dollars, option C, 32 dollars. The extra 1 dollar or 2 dollars will be used for renewable energy research. You choices will be recorded in the Science Walden app, so your peers would know your your choices. Even if you used to choose option A to save money, you might change your mind because your peer has chosen option B or C, like ‘Hm, why not use the renewable energy today.’ I look forward to that kind of change, haha.

So, you imagine not only the capital but also a big social network based on the capital.

Yes, I do.

Even though it’s a new capital, I think it should apply to existing currencies. Are you planning to operate it independently first, then connect to existing currencies? Or, is there any connection already?

Most of all, I wish you think of FSM as an economic system we are making now. It’s not like one genius came up and made a virtual currency like Bitcoin, nor like someone declared a new currency and people must follow like communism. We just present fundamental concepts of FSM. We can not only apply it to the market economy, but we can also develop this concept. We can adapt the strength of social economy or improve its weakness or solve its problems . It’s money we are all making together, and I hope this movement starts here in South Korea, specifically UNIST in Ulsan.

Think about it. In human history, we haven’t used two currencies at the same time in a society. (Of course, you exchange it when you go abroad.) If two currency systems can go along together, they could compete and complement each other. Virtual money recently arose, but the value of the money is totally based on the market economy,so it’s more like for an investment or a venture. But the value of FSM stands for human beings. Throughout history, the value of money has been represented by gold, silver, even rice, but never human beings.

Therefore, FSM is a way of answering an old Asian question ‘how much is the value of human?’ by western pragmatism. New logic in human connections can inspire economics, too. Therefore, I can say FSM is an evolving money.

It’s not easy to understand the concept of new capital.

That’s why you have to stay at Science Cabin, haha.

Can you explain the projects in Science Cabin and what the UNISTars participate?

First, we have the ‘Miracle of 10 ggools’ project. When you use the Bee-vi toilets in Science Cabin, you will get 10 ggools and share 3 ggools with your peers. Your peers will share FSM with other people, too. They can be close friends or not, but they all have the same trust in the value of the future. Your thoughts and your changes influenced by others will be sent to someone in the world. Someone who used to use nuclear energy might change his mind as he sees his friend use bioenergy.

A group of UNISTars can estimate the energy usage of Science Cabin. Or, it can be a competition between several teams. Students can stay at Science Cabin by themselves or with friends. They can do artworks with Science Walden’s artists. You can think about your dreams over the night in Science Cabin, and take a warm shower heated by the energy your friend produced… You can make connections that we haven’t had before.

Building unusual labs like Science Cabin or Sa-Wol-Dang looks very different to conventional scientific research.What is the reason for this ?

I have considered that matter deeply. Building labs takes a lot of money, and sometimes you get negative opinions too. But you can find researches in conventional labs everywhere, not only in UNIST but also Harvard, Stanford, or Cambridge. We think it’s the duty of scientists to perform lab experiments and publish papers. But in Science Walden, we are undertaking new ways of experimenting. It doesn’t mean that you need a new lab for this, but we need to have a new place to record our experiments in our heart and mind. Just like how you write down everyday experiments in your experiment notes in labs.

Personally, I have one ambition that Science Cabin will be a symbol of UNIST. You can build a symbolic tower for the purpose, but I wish Science Cabin would be a symbol of the mind, of philosophy, of economy to both UNIST members and visitors.

Overall, I want Science Cabin to be a new kind of research center and a symbol of UNIST.

Prof. CHO Jaeweon