The eighth annual What is…? Conference-Experience, What is Universe? examined communication, complexity, simplicity, coherence, incoherence and how they may or may not contribute to “a pluralistic universe”—networks of relationships. It catalyzed and accelerated the University of Oregon’s commitment to transdisciplinary research and its impact—by cultivating communication at the heart of science, technology, and their environments.

What is Universe? (2018) builds on the previous two years’ conference-experiences. What is Media? (2016) elaborated a transdisciplinary notion of medium/media with special attention to its material, historical, and ecological ramifications. What is Life? (2017) investigated how communication/media constitute and permeate all avenues and forms of life by examining our lifestyles and lifeworks, emphasizing the lifeworlds we live in. It also marked the third collaboration with scholars from the natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts, and consummates the Media • Life • Universe trilogy (in preparation, Intellect Books/Univ. of Chicago Press).


The CONFERENCE commenced Thursday, April 19th with the 2018 Leonardo da Vinci Lecture featuring Robert T. Craig (Univ. of Colorado Boulder), followed by the grand opening of the MULTIVERSE EXHIBITION.

The event continued, Friday, April 20th, with a UO Provost Welcome by Jayanth Banavar (Physics) followed by Bruce Clarke (European Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts / Texas Tech Univ.). The program featured plenaries with Eileen Meehan (Southern Illinois Univ.) and UC Berkeley Pacific Film Archive founding director Sheldon Renan, as well as Identity Woman aka Kaliya Young (Univ. of Texas at Austin) and Mark Unno (Religous Studies, UO). It concluded that evening with a choice from one of three EXPERIENCES at The Portland Center Stage at the Armory (And So We Walked), The Newmark Theatre (Man/Woman), and The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (African Strings Project).

The final day, Saturday, April 21st, began with media ecologist Julianne H. Newton (UO) and global communications scholar Téwodros Workneh (Kent State Univ.). A featured panel on “Social Worlds/Universe” included: Jonathan Gray (King’s College London, UK), Florence Le Cam (Univ. Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), Fábio Pereira (Univ. of Brasilia, Brazil), and Seth Lewis (UO). The day continued with interdisciplinary philosopher Scott L. Pratt (Philosophy / Native American Studies / Environmental Studies / Education Studies, UO), followed later that day by Gregory Bateson Emertius Professor Klaus Krippendorff (Univ. of Pennsylvania), and concluded with an interactive conversation.

This year’s conference-experience is dedicated to UO SOJC Prof. Tom Wheeler (1947–2018).