mdp thesis

a cognitive mapping experience

Month: January, 2016

Framework for Consciousness

framework of consciousness

Over winter break, I reframed my thesis and brief after conducting more research into studies of hallucinations and the work of Oliver Sacks and the various philosophies and cultural upheavals of the 1960s in psychedelia. In my own reflection on widespread drug use and its generative assumptions and misinterpretations, philosophical views surrounding the subject have been overlooked due to its untestable nature. However, taking an analytical and historically bent scientific evaluation of the holisitc influence of drugs, it makes sense to come to an overall framework that could attempt to explain drug experiences and their influence on reality in tangible terms.

Points to Consider:

  • Changing perceptions around drug use has to take into account a holistic viewpoint towards reality generation, not the representative nature of what drugs have come to be perceived according to its recent human use
  • This point of view is a framework to build, test and hypothesize upon, and helps consolidate the impact of drugs as “facilitated experiences” on a user’s psyche
  • The depictions of drugs (media, art, authorship, research) has been overtly cast from the male perspective since the heyday of the 1960s… How does a gendered (queering) feminine approach change the way we see and value altered consciousness? How does a non-white, Eastern, culturally historical viewpoint change the way drugs can be seen?
  • By deconstructing drugs as objects of experience, commitment and integration, can this tackle/call attention to the bigger problems of the destructive and untrue biases towards addiction, illicit drug users and its real consequences?
  • By shifting the conversation towards its historical ties to spirituality, healing and transformation as a positive force, I hope to speak towards both political embodiment of activism through the subject but towards one that fosters collective and long term positive growth and potential for the future (vs one that just creates a stagnant “solution” without looking at drugs in all of its historical analysis – racial injustices, scientific breakthroughs, and eastern practices)
  • Hypothesis and Prototyping is used here as a call towards using drugs and tangible forms of experimentation towards research in new fields of Science that ultimately begin with unknown variables and models – one that recognizes the longstanding values of Eastern practice and medicine, Traditions and Shamanic Spiritualism

In Progress Thesis Show


Navigating Altered Headspaces (in Altered Consciousness)

MDP In Progress Thesis Show

Wind Tunnel

There is much possibility for designing in a realm of new cognitive experiences and embodied technologies that bridge the gap between how the unconscious or seemingly unreal perceptions can blend and interact with that of a sober conscious reality. In context, my design exploration engages the areas of technology and cognition by breaking down stigmas of drug use, mind alteration and self-induced healing. As perceptions today are changing around such substance use, designs that call such a psycho-future into place is becoming increasingly possible and speculatively plausible.


At the close of the first semester of Thesis Year, I decided to go more exploratory in my prototyping and exhibition show that worked more like a prompt for the viewer into this world of designing with Altered Consciousness and specifically hallucinations in mind. This was a step back from the drug user App “AWE” that I done UX sketching and storyboards for. For the show I created a proposal and provoking questions around the nature of reality, hallucinatory states and how we can think about the “unreal” in our lives. Part of these questions and explorations came from testing my app experience and the insights that came from my observations.


The Hallucination Experiments are meant to delve into instances and moments when and where hallucinations might subtly displace onto our real and sober lives and the subversive patterns and hints of what such altered consciousness can bring under its specific affordances. I’m interested in designing more unassuming technologies that create embodiments of such states, revealing their triggers into what is hidden to us.



Jumping off from the more scientific aspects of the AWE app, I used Google’s DeepDream software to explore the realms of altered consciousness and cognition. This platform combined with aspects of the Guider from the app, have the possibility to inform our own cognition by breaking down how we actively create our visually based realities, thoughts and memories.

DeepIntent from Elaine Cheung on Vimeo.


This app was designed in response to the media’s sensationalistic coverage of rave culture and its use of drugs, where many young people today are using mostly adulterated and harmful substances sold on the black market, mostly unknowingly and irresponsibly due to the electronic music scene’s surge in popularity. This mock up is both a satirical play on the War on Drugs and a vessel to humanize the stereotype of the drug user, the raver and its niche world.