Thursday, November 26, 2020

Review of Uncertain exhibit by Tasuo Miyajima @tatsuomiyajima @scai_bathhouse



The Uncertain exhibition at SCAI THE BATHHOUSE in the downtown area of Tokyo is a great leap forward into the brave new world by one of the world's greatest contemporary artist, Tasuo Miyajima.


https://www.scaithebathhouse.com/en/exhibitions/2020/11/Uncertain/


The art gallery, owned by Masami Shiraishi, is a cultural icon itself, being a converted public bathhouse close to the Tokyo Geidai (Tokyo University of the Arts) and The University of Tokyo in the Yanaka area of downtown Tokyo.


The new exhibition shows Miyajima's hallmark digits, but this time as a collection of paintings, oil on canvas.  The effect of bringing the LED numbers back into the realm of old school paintings, with twists on the canvas shapes and installations, is simply stunning. The 7 canvases are arranged in such ways so as to represent a particular digit, with the unused canvas lying in a ceremonial manner on the floor. Miyajima suggests a relocation of the canvases, based on the fate of specially designed dice telling which digit to install. 


For Tatsuo Miyajima, a graduate from the department of oil paintings of the Tokyo Geidai, this is perhaps the first venture into the venerable method of oil painting in his long and productive career. The result is an inspirational and poignant statement on the relation between the abstract and concrete, the ephemeral and permanent, and between the certain and uncertain in this time of great vulnerability for the human race. 


There are series of works with LED digits on white cloth, a statement perhaps on the co-existence of our organic self and the increasingly ubiquitous digital technology.



Photo Myself in front of the SCAI THE BATHHOUSE art gallery in Yanaka, Tokyo.





Friday, November 20, 2020

Dai Fujikura's @daifujikura Armageddon in Tokyo, simply a triumph.


The world premier of Dai Fujikura's opera, A Dream of Armageddon, at the New National Theater Tokyo was an utter triumph.


Fujikura, a London-based composer originally from Japan, put the short novel by H.G. Wells into sublime music. It reminded one of the Karesansui Japanese garden traditions, an apotheosis of which is the famous Ryoanji Temple rock garden, once visited by Queen Elisabeth II. Against this backdrop of this abstract expression of the world at large, Fujikura's music occasionally brought fresh breaths of astonishing vivid colour of life. 


The opera starts with a cappella chorus, a rarity in the genre. It ends with the solo of a boy soprano, who is one of the soldiers of the power that be. Fujikura accomplished the magic of matching the grand finale of Wagner's Gotterdammerung with a single "amen" at the very end, giving the audience a deep sense of redemption.


The libretto by Harry Ross, a long-time friend of Fujikura, used words in a sparing and inspirational way. The minimalist lyrics gave the impression of great Matsuo Basho haiku poems, which, in resonance with Fujikura's music, left an unforgettable image of an alien but strangely familiar dystopia.


Kazushi Ono, who is also the artistic director of the New National Theater Tokyo, showed his maestro skills with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, who achieved the difficult task of putting this complexly rich contemporary music into reality.


The singers did their jobs superbly well. The character of Johnson sung by Seth Carico left a particularly persuasive effect. 


The production was simply beautiful, creative talents led by Lydia Steier successfully made this world premier of A Dream of Armageddon into a historic event.


There would be two more performances of this masterpiece. 


https://www.nntt.jac.go.jp/english/productions/opera/a-dream-of-armageddon-2020.html

Monday, November 02, 2020

Now that the Osaka referendum is over, perhaps we need a referendum of Japanese comedy next.



The Osaka referendum on whether or not to abolish the City of Osaka and give rise to new integrated government system was a big news in Japan yesterday.


The Ishin party (Japan Innovation Party) pushed forward the plan, and lost the popular vote by a small margin.


Osaka is known as the laughter capital of Japan, with comedians from Yoshimoto dominating the media. The political turmoil surrounding the referendum would have been a golden opportunity to make comedy, with the colorful personalities of Mayer Matsui and Governor Yoshimura providing vivid materials.


So it is really weird, to say the least, that there is a total absence of comedy dealing with situations running up to the referendum, especially in the mainstream media such as television. Instead, the Yoshimoto comedians are largely seen as endorsing the policies put forward by the Ishin party, which dominates the local government.


Rooting for politicians without making comedy out of them, let alone criticizing them, does not seem to be within the job description of comedians. The status quo of "comedy" in Japan, especially those associated with Yoshimoto, is strange, to put it mildly. 


Now that the Osaka referendum is over, perhaps we need a referendum of Japanese comedy next. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Borat's performance reminded me of the pro wrestler Tiger Jeet Singh.

 


I don't know if it is just me, but I though the appearance of Borat in the Jimmy Kimmel show was perfectly hilarious.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqlYNWTT-4Y


Borat's performance reminded me of the pro wrestler Tiger Jeet Singh, in that Borat completely set the pace and dominated the scene. 


This would be only possible with meticulous calculation and unshakable self confidence. Huge respect for Borat, and the man behind the character, Sacha Baron Cohen.


The act by Borat's daughter, Maria Bakalova was also superb.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Results unpredictable even if Mr. Biden wins the election.

 


The upcoming U.S. Presidential election might turn out to be as complex and incomprehensible as the covid-19 pandemic.


To start, because of the asymmetry between both parties towards mail voting (Democrats more inclined to vote by mail), there might be an initial red mirage, with Mr. Trump appearing to win before the counting of the mail votes starts. Mr. Trump might declare victory prematurely. 


Even if Mr. Trump loses the popular vote (and electoral college vote), he might not concede defeat and bow out graciously.


He might refuse to leave the White House, in which case, I read on the web, the secret service might have to physically escort him out as a civilian, an operation the venerable organization is reportedly simulating and rehearsing already.


In addition to that, there might be some resistance from Trump supporters, the nature of which is anyone's guess at the moment.


Taken together, the outcome of the election might be very unpredictable, even if Mr. Biden wins the election. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mr. Trump's performance in CBS's 60 Minutes

 


I watched Mr. Trump's performance in CBS's 60 Minutes on its website.


I did not think that questions from the host Lesley Stahl were particularly biased or hard.


It seemed rather that Mr. Trump was set on denying the whole direction of the show from the beginning.


When a person does not have the capacity to absorb information which might not necessarily agree with his or her views, people around would gradually hesitate from expressing these ideas.


Ms. Lesley Stahl did not shy away from making her case, but I wonder how many in the White House would have been bold enough to face Mr. Trump with adversary views.


For a robust policy making, it is necessary to assimilate multiple views. The attitude and tone of Mr. Trump in the 60 Minutes program cast some serious doubts about how his administration has been on the diversity of ideas.


https://www.cbsnews.com/news/president-trump-60-minutes-interview-lesley-stahl-2020-10-25/

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Roger Penrose visits Cambridge


11-12 January 1997

(Note: This is an essay based on Roger Penrose's visit to Cambridge while I was doing postdoc in Horace Barlow Laboratory.) 


kenmogi@qualia-manifesto.com



11 January 1997

On the eve prior to the talk, I went to the station to pick up Roger Penrose with Adar Pelah and Roger Thomas. He came with two large bags. Apparently he just arrived from the States and has been staying at the Royal Society in London for a couple of days. He had this very fragile, elf-like atmosphere. The three of us introduced ourselves, and shook hands. 

It had snowed earlier that day, and the air was very cold. We got in the car. Penrose began to explain that he had a bad flu in the states, and one of his eardrums was damaged. So he had some difficulty in listening.

We arrived at the restaurant at 22 Chester Road. It was a nice cozy restaurant with a special private room upstairs. The other guests were already there in the room. John Mollon, who suggested this restaurant to Adar, said proudly that it was almost like dining in one's own house. Horace Barlow, his wife Miranda, and Graeme Mitchison stood up to welcome Penrose. It appeared that they knew each other well.

So the meals began to arrive, and I sat at the opposite side of the table with Adar, and listened to what these old men would discuss. They talked about Scuba diving in Australia, how to publish a successful book, etc. etc. Penrose explained to us about an episode when he appeared in the film "A Brief History of Time". The Hollywood guys came down to Penrose's room in Oxford and said they would make a mock-up of his office in the studio, and made notes, measurements, etc. When Penrose went down to the studio, he found this monster of an office. They had installed a huge leather chair, and one huge desk before it, clean, with no papers scattered over it. And they have stacked the bookshelves with antique books which had nothing to do with Penrose's work. When Penrose sat in the chair, he found that he could not reach the desk. So he tried to pull the chair closer, only to find that it was nailed to the floor! Penrose complained, and there came a bunch of guys who denailed, moved, and renailed the chair. The whole business was incredibly expensive and stupid.

Then they asked to Penrose "when does time flow backwards?", referring to Stephan Hawking's idea that when the universe begins to contract, the time would flow backwards. Penrose answered, "I think that time would not flow backwards under any circumstances". They said "cut!" "No, No, you cannot say that. Please imagine some situation where the time flows backwards." Then Penrose says, "I just cannot imagine any circumstances under which the time begins to flow backwards." "Cut!". "No, No, we cannot take this. PLEASE think of some extreme situation where the time would flow backwards". So finally, Penrose was forced to say something incredibly contrived, something he never intended to say. 

When Penrose began to talk, he looked much younger and vivace. 

Then Graeme Mitchison said to Penrose that maybe he should show the Greeks the Penrose tiling and went on to ask if he would be able to produce them. Penrose briefly said "Yes". 

I asked if he was writing a third book after Emperor's New Mind and Shadows of the Mind. He said yes. And then he said a book titled "The large and the small in the mind" is coming out in February. To be published from Vintage (Random House). Apparently it is a book about physics in which he pours out his opinions about other people's theories. So it should be VERY entertaining. Penrose said Stephen Hawking made some nasty remarks at the end of the book. I asked if he had written about superstrings. Penrose's eyes twinkled. "Yes, that is obviously something I should write, isn't it. But as far as I understand the superstring theory is gone and now they are talking about the m-theory. M supposedly stands for "mysterious", or "mother", or whatever. The great merit of the superstring theory they said was that the theory was unique. But now they have several different superstring theories, the uniqueness is gone. And they start talking about membranes. (Graeme;Does Ed Witten still say that superstrings is the theory of the 21st century?) Yes, I think it is still in the air. (Penrose looks at the watch). But the 21st century is just around the corner. I think they should hurry!"

Well, the dinner was over and the evening ended prematurely. 

I took Penrose to St. John's college in Adar's car. The drive was a few minutes. Penrose sits in the front seat, I in the back. I begin to pour out.

"I think you should be able to derive the whole quantum mechanics from your twistor formalism. Don't you agree?"

"Well, there are these long-term dreams that you cannot work out right away. I still think quantum mechanics is incomplete"

"I noticed that you draw all the illustrations in your book. In Shadows of the mind, there is one particularly elaborate drawing about the evolutional merit of consciousness. A man is drawing some geometrical figures on the ground, while a tiger is about to jump onto him"

"Yes. There is a joke in that drawing, which nobody has noticed. It is the theorem that the guy is trying to prove."

(By this time, we are in St. John's college, and we are walking toward Penrose's room)

"Have you come up with a three-dimensional version of your tiling?"

"Yes, not me, but somebody has thought of it."

"How many pieces do you need?"

"4. In fact, there is a non-periodic tiling with just one piece. But this is not very interesting. It just spirals out from a point."

"Oh, like the one you have in Emperor's New mind. But that is two dimensional, of course."

"It is not difficult to explain this to you, Suppose there is a .....(I cannot catch the word). Then you add a roof to it. ....The angle is a irrational number..... but this is cheating, really."

"There is no (quasi) translational invariance in that case." 

"No."

"You give this example of non-computational dynamical evolution which is defined using the halting of Turing machines. Suppose you have a particular series of evolution (in discrete time). Surely there is at least one algorithm that produces the same result?"

"Yes, you always have to think of a class of problems, you see. If you consider only one particular example, you can always do it computationally."

(I want to ask him if that class should have aleph 1, but we are approaching his room now.)

"That particular example of non-computational process is a non-implementable one, isn't it? Do you think you can ever come up with an implementable version of non-computational process?"

Penrose says something like "****" , but we are in front of his room.

So I and Adar say good night to Penrose. He looked very very tired by then. Maybe the trip to the States and the flu taxed him. So that was "day one" of my first encounter with Penrose. The clock was 11:30 p.m. On the way back to home Adar said he liked Penrose.

@

12 January 1997 

@

On Friday, I went to pick up Penrose in St. John's college. We went up the spiraling stairs of the tower, and knocked the door of the senior guest room 1. There was no answer, and Adar had to knock on the door again and again.

A few minutes later, we heard some noise. Penrose opened the door and we walked in. 

I saw several transparencies scattered over the table by the window. Some colour pens were laid down near the chair. Penrose began to pack his things, and told us about a time when he stayed in the same room. While he was working at the desk, he saw a helicopter land on the greens in front of the building. Several police cars rushed to the scene. It was Princess Anne visiting Trinity college. 

Penrose asked me if I have come across a hard copy of the Psyche-D paper. He said that David Chalmers was the guy who originally induced him to write for Psyche-D, on two conditions. Namely, that the number of commentators should be less than 10, and that a physical copy should be eventually produced. Penrose asked David Chalmers if the copy was available, and he said yes, but so far he has failed to send any! 

Penrose then said the last time he was there, a swarm of ladybirds invaded the room overnight. Adar said there was something about the colour of the ladybirds that makes you avoid harming it. I said that ladybirds are supposed to taste nasty any way, and added "not that I tried it". Penrose joked that he supposed that ladybirds were not considered as delicacies in Japan. I said no.

As we walked toward the bridge of sighs (St. Johns built the bridge imitating the famous one in Venice), I began the questions. 

"If you take any particular result of non-computational process, you can always simulate it by a computational process. You said yesterday that you have to consider a class of problems to make a distinction between computational and non-computational processes. Is it the case that the class must be aleph 1?"

"No, that is not necessary. You see, I understand the argument about computability is always within the bounds of countable infinity. When you consider only the countable infinity, within that there is a special class of recursive functions....that is computable..."

That was as far as we got when we came to the porter, and Penrose returned the key. We got on the car. 

Adar began to ask if he could use Penrose tiling for his home. 

We parked the car in front of the Kenneth Craik building, and we walked up to Horace Barlow laboratory. I asked Penrose if he knew Horace Barlow before last night, and he answered that he has actually known Horace for a long time. 

Adar took Penrose into his office, to settle the travel fare compensation, etc. Penrose asked for a copy of Shadows of the Mind, and began to prepare for the talk. I went to my mac and checked the mails. Some minutes later, I went up to him and gave him a non-periodic tiling handkerchief that I got when I was in Riken from the quasi-crystal laboratory. Penrose was delighted. The tiling had hexagonal symmetry, with two elementary pieces, it was not Penrose tiling, which has pentagonal symmetry. He said it was by a man named Amal?? and was fascinated by the handkerchief. He went on to say that some people confuse tiling by other people with Penrose tiling. In fact, "Penrose tiling" was sometimes used as a generic name for the whole class of non-periodic tiling. He asked me if I could really spare it, and he was genuinely glad to have the handkerchief. He said Amal? was an unlucky man, already deceased, who never had any real job. Then he bubbled on about non-periodic tiling with 12-fold symmetry, etc. It was a topic he loved.

Adar and Penrose went to the tea room. I joined them with my own coffee cup with the photos of Hara Setsuko on it. When I walked in, I found Graeme Mitchison already sitting in front of Penrose! Horace Barlow was there. A few minutes later, Andrew Huxley (who formulated the so-called Hodgkin-Huxley equation which describes the action potential in neurons and was awarded Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine) walked in, and Horace stood up and introduced Penrose to Huxley. Huxley is some 10 years senior to Penrose. Later, Adar told me that Huxley did not know Penrose, and said "you are the son of ??? Penrose, aren't you?" Huxley only recognized him as the son of his father. There was some humour in it, when you consider two men of age 66 and 76 talking to each other like that!

Graeme Mitchison was still talking about how to demonstrate your intellectual superiority when you travel back to ancient Greek! I talked with Horace about his forthcoming trip to Australia.

The lecture began at 1:00. Most of the stuff I knew very well from reading Emperor and Shadows twice each, so I just paid attention to Roger Penrose himself. He used two projectors. He began the lecture with the transparency of three spheres figure showing the relation between the physical, mental, and platonic worlds. I thought to myself maybe that was the figure which would represent 100 years from now the whole philosophy of Roger Penrose. Then he went on to argue about the non-computational nature of our intelligence. "Intelligence" needs "Understanding" needs "Awareness". All the transparencies were hand-written with colour pens. I found out that actually he was very fond of colors. Earlier, Penrose gave a direction to Adar Pelah in which color he should paint the three spheres representing the three worlds in the poster announcing his talk. For some unknown reason, Penrose thinks that the colours of the physical, mental, and platonic worlds are blue, red, yellow, respectively. I actually asked Penrose why he chose these particular colors as we walked up to the Barlow laboratory. He had no idea!

After the lecture, there were three mediocre questions. Adar had to cut it short, as Penrose had already talked for 70 minutes, whereas he was supposed to stop after one hour.

We went to the reception room. There I found Srimant and Adam. Adam is a earnest part II student who is doing some project with Srimant. Adam asked me what he should read to study computational neuroscience, and I suggested the book by Sejnowski. Penrose was surrounded by several eager youths. 

Horace told me that he liked the lecture, and said it is possible that Penrose was right. He said Penrose was an awfully clever and charming fellow. But, for himself, "he is happy to live with the conventional classical physics". 

Penrose wanted to catch the 3:00 p.m. bus to Oxford, so I and Adar whisked him out of the reception. As we went down the stairs, Graeme Mitchison catches Penrose. "Roger, you should come to my dinner party. I have these wonderful dinner parties". 

As we walked to the car, I asked Penrose the most important question.

"I think you would rather think that the quantum reduction process is deterministic."

"Yes, that is right. Although there is some complication about the influence of the environment, which makes the dynamics random." 

"If you have an isolated system, and the system reduces itself on its own, that reduction would be deterministic, wouldn't it?"

"Yes. I cannot say I am certain. But I would rather prefer it to be that way."

10 minutes later we saw Penrose off at the bus station. As we were standing in the queue, Penrose suddenly turned back to me and said if I had any question to ask him, I was welcome. I thanked him and just then the driver was ready to sell him a ticket. I noticed that the weather was getting mild.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Shift of mood in the saga of Japan's coping with the coronavirus.



With the outbreak of COVID-19, countries all over the globe have taken stringent measures. Japan has been one of the rare exceptions, where even a partial lockdown has not been taken.

Things have started to change a bit in the run-up to this weekend. On Friday, Ms. Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo spoke at a press conference and suggested that people refrain from going out unless necessary. The wordings and the regulations behind were not so draconian as in other parts of the world, but the Japanese people took the message. In a characteristically obedient response, there were very few people in the central districts of Tokyo on Saturday, with many shops and restaurant closed or operating under reduced staff and opening hours. 

The reaction to the coronavirus outbreak has been varied across countries, and it is interesting to observe how the dramatic development is being played out here in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan. I am of course very much concerned with health and safety. At the same time, I would be actively interested in how Japan copes with this difficulty in her own way, as somebody born and grown up in this country.

Related video:

Atmosphere in Tokyo under potentially imminent lockdown.




Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Semantics is a part of the mind-brain problem.



Although research on artificial natural language processing has made great progress, so far it is avoiding the most salient feature of language: Meaning of words. 

For sure, among some circles a call for taking the semantics seriously would stir (superficial) jeers. However, at the end of the day, the meaning of words is the most obvious thing to tackle if you want to take natural language seriously.

Phenomenologically speaking, meanings of words are instances of intentional qualia. As is true for qualia in general, statistical approach cannot uncover the fundamental aspects of the meaning of words.

Statistical learning has made great progress in recent years. Feats like GPT-2 are impressive. However, these statistical methods cannot tackle the semantic sides of language no matter how impressive their results might appear. 

Semantics is a part of the mind-brain problem. Technical separation of language processing from consciousness studies is good for a while, but it cannot be the ultimate route for understanding why and how we speak.


Related video:
Meaning of words and intentionality




Monday, March 23, 2020

The conundrum of the COVID-19 lottery.



One of the cognitive difficulties involved with COVID-19 is that the whole things is like a lottery.

You can take care and make necessary precautions, but it is always possible that you get the bug after all.

Once you are infected, you may be OK with only slight symptoms. On the other hand, you could proceed to severe symptoms, and even die.

Media reports suggest that the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions have the risk of developing severe symptoms. However, we also know that it can prove fatal for the young and healthy, too.

Governments all around the world are advising citizens to take extraordinary precautions, to the almost total halting of social and economic activities, with their own consequences. And yet, politicians including Boris Johnson repeatedly tell us that it is likely that a majority of the whole population would eventually affected.

It is the almost mystic cloud of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 that is making an adjustment to the disease so difficult. We would like to live sensibly, but it is not at all clear what being sensible entails in this case. That's the conundrum of the COVID-19 lottery. 

Related video.

Coronavirus is like a lottery.





Sunday, March 22, 2020

Why officials find it hard to postpone the Tokyo Olympics.



So the torch relay is soon to start in Japan in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. However, as everybody is keenly aware, the atmosphere surrounding this sports event is dire, to say the least.

There are several elements why the officials in the organizing committee of Tokyo Olympics (most of them senior men, although the Mayor of Tokyo is a woman) are reluctant to admit that a postponement is now necessary.

One, the Japanese love the Olympics, perhaps much more than the average citizens in other parts of the world. The last Tokyo Olympics in 1964 coincided with the happy memories of the rapidly growing Japan after the turmoils of the second world war. That established a favourable associative memory nationwide.

Second, for many people Tokyo Olympics 2020 was the symbol of hope for a way out of the stagnant economy in recent years, sometimes referred to as the "lost decade(s)" in Japanese history. It was hoped that the economic impact of the Olympics and the waves of tourists from all over the world would provide the much-needed stimulus package for the ailing economy.

Three, there is a tendency in the Japanese culture that once something is started, there is a great momentum to pursue it to the end. Although this mindset has its merits, it can also backfire. It is increasingly doubtful whether the obstinacy to carry on with the preparations for the Olympics would turn out to be sensible.


All these parameters provide a potentially toxic cocktail of denial, disbelief, and wishful thinking in those involved in the Tokyo Olympics, especially among the senior officials, who cling to the dwindling possibility of the games going ahead with the problems of COVID-19 somehow miraculously solved.


Related Video

Feelings in Japan about the postponement of Tokyo Olympics



Saturday, March 21, 2020

The enigma of the subdued coronavirus outbreak in Japan.



The coronavirus outbreak has entered Japan some time ago, but as of today, there is a strange and almost eerie atmosphere of calm in the nation. There are reports of new infections and casualties almost every day in the media, but the government's response has been mild and unfocused, a far cry from the stringent and even draconian measures taken by many countries. In and around Tokyo, the trains are running as usual, and bars and restaurants are open, although the number of customers have noticeably dwindled.

The enigma is that despite the lukewarm measures taken by the Japanese central and local governments, the coronavirus outbreak has been restrained so far in Japan. Some people argue that this is perhaps due to the lack of infection tests. Conspiracy theories abound, pointing out that the government is trying to keep the infection and death figures low in order to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics. This is unlikely to be the case, as the number of severely ill or dead from the disease does seem to be low, figures hard to suppress given the openness of the medical sector in this country.

So why is the coronavirus outbreak subdued in Japan? Some point out that the Japanese are incredibly clean people, washing their hands before eating food well before this outbreak. Others say that the obsession to wear masks even when there are no symptoms helped. Yet others suggest that the Japanese shyness towards bodily contacts such as handshake, hugging, and kissing in social life is a factor in suppressing the coronavirus spread.


In any case, there is an atmosphere of unreality and incredulousness in Japan right now, as the news outlets report tragic and urgent situations in other parts of the world. Life in Tokyo is certainly not as usual, but not so different from the norm. There is a hidden undertone of suspension in the Japanese psyche now. Is the Japanese government doing enough? Can we really go through the crisis with THIS level of protective measures?  Nobody knows the answer.





Related video: Enigma of the apparent low infection rate of coronavirus in Japan





Sunday, February 09, 2020

Life hack of putting vegetables into cup noodles.



I love cup noodles, but the problem is, well, you know it, you cannot claim it to be super healthy to indulge in the joy of eating a bowlful.

So one of the tricks I use is to buy a cup noodle in a convenience store (which is ubiquitous all over Japan) together with salad. Then, I put the vegetables into the cup noodle, thus making a healthier (and actually tastier) serving of food for my soul to devour and enjoy.

To whomever who is fortunate enough to spend at least a few days in Japan, I heartily recommend this life hack of combining one of the most celebrated fast food in the world with a health-conscious addition of the greens.


(By the way, needless to say, I have been using the term "cup noodle" as a general term, not referring to a specific merchandise!)




Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The strategic naivety of purportedly believing in the possibility of artificial consciousness.



Advancements in artificial intelligence is surely impressive, but AI fails short of reproducing one of the (or, arguably, the) most important traits of our existence, i.e., conscious experience. 

I am always amazed by the naivety of people who believe in mind uploading or whole brain emulation as means of reproducing consciousness artificially. It is not clear what "information" means when it comes to cortical processing in the brain, especially as it relates to consciousness. So that it is not at all clear what information is uploaded or emulated. Even as a thought experiment, it would appear, claims put forward by proponents of mind uploading or whole brain emulation are far from clear.

And yet, there are people who exercise almost strategic naivety of purportedly believing in the possibility of artificial consciousness, and media frenzies that follow, while the great ocean of the mystery of consciousness lay all undiscovered.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Spark joy is wider than decluttering.




Marie Kondo's spark joy meme was a great inspiration for many Japanese. In particular, the fact that she was able to do a popular Netflix series without substantially speaking English, I think, gave the Japanese an intriguing thought, an epiphany for many young people, who are always told that their English abilities are not adequate for the global era.

The spark joy approach itself is very interesting too, and tells something deep about the Japanese psyche. Ever since the great Pillow Book essay by Sei Shonagon (completed in 1002), joy to the heart has been an important guiding principle of Japanese life. The great achievement of Marie Kondo was to bring the venerable approach to the world arena.


Marie Kondo applied spark joy to decluttering in the household. In more general terms, people can apply the spark joy principle to life's wider choices. Does one particular activity spark joy in yourself? The answer to this question would reveal what actions would activate your brain's reward system, telling you how you could make yourself grow both professionally and personally. Marie Kondo's achievements are great. But most probably, spark joy is wider than decluttering. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Space Sumo.



Ken Mogi


"I am afraid I have to tell you that there is a serious problem with your Mars Mission," said Mack with a long face.
Elon was facing Mack in the Space Z headquarters. Elon was not really expecting this, especially after his Mothra company just broke another self-driving car sales record, with the stock price skyrocketing.
"But, Mack, I don't understand. We should have enough funds."
"Money is not the issue," said Mack.
"Then what is?" demanded Elon.
"Just take a look."
Mack showed Elon a photograph on his tablet.
"Ah…this was from my last trip to Tokyo with my girl friend."
"Exactly!" said Mack.
"What's the problem with that? Ours is an open relationship. I and Claire exchange jokes on twitter all the time. About artificial intelligence and stuff. Roccoco basilisk and stuff. Surely this cannot be a scandal to threaten our Mars Mission! It is not the Russia scandal, or wikileaks."
"That's not it. Elon, please take a look at the photo more carefully…Pay attention to people in the background, to be more precise."
Elon took a better look at the photo.  
"Wait a minute…it is not people. It is just a person."
"Exactly!" exclaimed Mack.
"It is the sumo wrestler. We went to see sumo on that day."
"Yes, and that's your next destination."
Elon looked really puzzled now.
"I am afraid I don't understand you a bit."
Elon said in a rare display of humility tinged with disgust.
"You are still planning to be on that mission, aren't you?"
"Yes, I have declared to take a few gap years from my business and be one of the first ones to be on Mars."
In fact, Elon was envisioning himself to be THE first human on Mars, uttering something memorable there, in the same spirit as Niel Armstrong's immortal "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," although the typical distance between the earth and the Mars would mean that it would take minutes for the glorious image to reach the earth and inspire people.
The positional relation between Mars and the earth is always changing. When Mars is closest, radio signals take about four minutes to travel one way. At furthest, they take about 24 minutes, thought Elon himself.
"Maybe I would just say don't panic," quipped Elon, which fell on deaf ears. Maybe Hitchhikers was not Mack's forte.
"In that case, you've got to fly to Tokyo, and meet that sumo wrestler, in order to save your Mars Mission," was Mack's still enigmatic suggestion.
Seeing that Elon was still puzzled, Mack pressed on.
"You still want this moonshot to happen, right, Elon?"
"With due respect, it is a Mars shot, rather."
"Whatever. I am just telling you this Mars shot of yours should include space sumo, seriously."
"Space what?"

A few hours and some heated but humorous and good-natured exchanges later, Elon was on his way to Tokyo on his private jet. To save time of clarifying things out prior to departure, Elon asked Mack to accompany him.
"Can I have my second dinner, Manuel?" Elon was asking his private attendant, Manuel, who was a graduate of a respected butler school in the U.K. 
"Certainly," answered Manuel, with a puzzled look. "It doesn't quite sound like Master, who is a fitness freak,"Manuel thought, but said nothing, and excused himself. 
"You've got to be that fat?" asked Elon blankly to Mack, who was seated next to him.
"Unfortunately yes," said Mack.
"That is certainly a malarkey, isn't it?" teased Elon.
When Elon heard from Mack that he had to become overweight, super-overweight in fact, in order to salvage his Mars Mission, his first reaction was total confusion and disbelief.
"What do you mean?" demanded Elon.
"It is all your favorite exact calculation, an aptitude you showed in preparing for that boring company. In this case it's all about nutrition science. We cannot provide for all the calories of food intake on the rocket."
"But we have tons of payloads," protested Elon.
"Yes, but not enough to include food materials for you. Since the Mars Mission is about establishing a settlement, every gram of load counts."
Elon was still not convinced.
"I will show you how carrying some body fat is the most efficient and intelligent way to prepare for space travel. After all, it is nature's technology to prepare for periods of undernutrition."
Mack showed Elon a few dozens of equations and several tens of numerical tables and numbers.
"Hmm…interesting…I should rather say intriguing."
Elon's lightening-speed mind calculations grasped the gist of it in a few minutes. 
"So I've got to carry my calories in the belly, basically, with other nutrients, such as vitamins, as the supplementary payload," said Elon.
"That's exactly it," said Mack.
"I see, so my belly fat would be like a booster rocket," mused Elon.
Mack's eyes shone with the hope that Elon was finally coming around to see his point. 
"You see, Elon, belly fat is actually the most efficient way to transport energy needed for biological functions. It is a terrible business to cultivate even simple vegetables such as cabbage in space, let alone your favorite wagyu steak. We don't have that luxury. Better carry it in your belly. We would provide the vitamins, water, and other necessary stuff in the payload, needless to say. We are calling this operation space sumo, or OSS. The media would love it."
Elon was still not convinced.
"But, with due respect, my understanding is, no matter how sophisticated the technologies supporting space travel might be, you've got to remain pretty dexterous. You may be required to take action in some emergency. If you are overweight, it would be difficult to do the complicated maneuvers in space, would it not?"
"Exactly," retorted Mack.
"That's precisely why you should go and train in a sumo stable."
"Train in what?" exclaimed Elon, as if he could not quite  grasp what he heard.
"Train in a sumo stable, not to become a professional wrestler, but to be a dexterous fat man fit for your Mars Mission. "
"Me? A fat astronaut?!"
"Probably people would learn to love fat Elon."
"No body fascism here please!" said Elon.
"Although it sounds ludicrous at first hearing, the idea to become overweight for space travel has been going around for quite long time. Among the experts, the process is called BFT."
"What is that?" asked Elon.
"It is the short for belly fat transportation."
Elon remained silent for a while. Gradually, he seemed to understand the significance of the whole affair, operation space sumo, or OSS. OSS requires BFT.
One of the strong points of Elon was that once something was presented in an appropriate context, he was very quick to grasp the core of the whole matter and apply it to himself. 
"Your second dinner is here, sir," said Manuel, who had been busy preparing Elon's dinner in the backyard section of the private jet and didn't overhear the conversations as he was wont to do otherwise.
"Thank you," said Elon.
"But sir…are you sure you should have this second helping sir? The total energy would come to…bear with me sir…6840 kcal, sir."
Manuel was trained to be precise about the calories as requested by the number-savvy master.
"Yeah, that's great. Could I have two pieces of bread, and two chunks of butter as well, please."
"Oh, really, sir. That would be…bear with me sir…another 1260 kcal."
Elon looked at Manuel sternly.
"There is a rigorous logic behind my action, as you would come to appreciate soon enough."
Elon was trying to put as much dignity as possible, as he spoke.
Manuel's facial expression was blank.
Mack could hardly conceal his satisfied smile, as he witnessed the uncharacteristic confusion on Manuel's face. 

The sun was rising as Elon's jet touched down on Tokyo's Haneda airport.
Elon and Mack were met by a smiling Japanese gentleman in his sixties.
"Hi! I am Mr. Ono, and I am your personal assistant today."
"Konichiwa!" said Elon, "Hajimemashite!"
Elon was eager to show his knowledge of Japanese, which he quickly mastered on the plane after the nap. However, it soon became clear that Mr. Ono was quite fluent in English. Accordingly, Elon immediately became his usual self. 
Elon and Mack were whisked away on a black Lexus through the metropolitan freeway, and then through a maze of backstreets. 
Eventually, they found themselves in front of a building, with a very wide window on the ground floor. 
"Oomph!"
"Ugh!"
"Ahhh!"
Various noise could be heard, apparently coming from inside the window.Something was bumping into something, and there was a thud, and one could hear a series of growls. 
"What is that? Is there a zoo near here?"
Elon's face seemed to reveal puzzlement. He even appeared a little scared.
"Oh, no," answered Mr. Ono.
"This is the Takasago stable, one of the most prestigious sumo stables in Japan. Shall we enter and greet Master Takasago?"
In the world of sumo, a master is a retired sumo wrestler.  A sumo master has seen the world. 
There was an impressive black gate, which Mr. Ono pushed open. A short passage led them to a room entrance.
"Go on and enter," said Mr. Ono.
"What's inside?" asked Elon with apprehension.
"There is a sumo ring in it."
"I don't think so," said Elon, "there cannot be a sumo ring in that thing. It is too small."
"It is big enough," said Mr. Ono.
"The Japanese are very good at making an efficient use of limited space, an art you would have to master soon enough, if you are to make do with the spaceship on the way to Mars," added Mack, who was standing next to Mr. Ono.
"No mansplaining to me here, please," said Elon.
Elon looked through the door with an uncharacteristic cautiousness.
What he witnessed then was to stay in Elon's memory for a very long time.
Two sumo wrestlers, their body covered with dirt, bumping into each other. They struggled, with their muscles moving, throbbing, with terrible grunting sounds coming from them. After a few seconds of intense fight, one of the wrestlers was thrown, hitting the dirt really hard. The losing wrestler rolled over, breathing very heavily, while the winning one stood high and proud.
Several wrestlers were watching the fight around the ring. To Elon's utter amazement, the moment the winning wrestler fixed his composure again in the ring, the onlooking wrestlers dashed towards him, every one of them.
Elon gasped.
"What's happening?" 
For a moment Elon thought that the wrestlers, for some reason, were dashing to assault the winning wrestler. Soon it became clear, however, that they were just trying to be the next one to have a training match.
Later Elon learned that the winning wrestler was actually a yokozuna, or a grand champion, the highest rank in sumo. The younger wrestlers were eager to be trained by the yokozuna, and there was a physical competition to become his opponent in the ring.
"That’s you, Elon. Remember how people started to troll and bully you on the internet? You are the yokozuna of the cyberspace. So people challenge you, in order to become stronger. Remember all the trolls?" whispered Mack.
Mack's tone was somewhat frivolous. Elon was in a more pensive mood. For Elon, the whole episode looked like a great tableau vivant of life's conditions, where people were competing, in the red ocean, to be the first one to make the breakthrough. Elon liked what he saw. He himself was trying to be the first one to go to Mars. All his life, he was like a young wrestler dashing to be the next opponent of the yokozuna. For Elon, going to Mars was beating the space yokozuna.
There was now a clear purpose to what Mack started originally, which Elon initially reluctantly followed.
In order to go to Mars, and say that impressive catchphrase as the first man on Mars, Elon had to be daring, and strong in body and mind.
That was why he now had to be overweight, like the sumo wrestlers, and yet dexterous, like the sumo wrestlers.
Elon had to be a yokozuna in spirit, towering, proud, and more than anything, daring.

"I cannot eat any more," gasped Elon.
Elon was seated on a tatami mat, having another generous helping of a chanko soup. 
"But you must" said Master Takasago, the owner and chief trainer of the Takasago stable.
"Doesn't it taste good for you?"
"It does, thank you," Elon found it almost difficult to speak.
"But I have had…what…four bowls of the soup already!"
Master Takasago was uncompromising.
"An average sumo wrestler would easily have ten bowls, even twenty or thirty on a good day," said Master Takasago, sternly.
"You have to eat more, or else you cannot go to Mars."
A young sumo wrestler, with a surprisingly slender physique, was eating chanko besides Elon. This young wrestler was apparently struggling to consume his chanko, too. He was staring blankly at his helping of chanko, and sighed.
To that wrestler, Master Takasago said harshly.
"You have to eat more, or else you cannot become a good sumo wrestler."
Master Takasago was a kind man. He looked at Elon and the young sumo wrestler one by one, saying "you cannot go to Mars" and "you cannot become a good sumo wrestler"  alternatingly.
Finally, Master Takasago was confused, and said "you cannot go to Mars" to the young sumo wrestler, and "you cannot become a good sumo wrestler" to Elon.
"I am fine with that," said Elon, and grinned.

After the chanko eating, Elon was told to go to sleep.
"But I am not sleepy," protested Elon. Elon rather liked to do his favorite pastime, surfing the web, even with only a smartphone.
"You must sleep," insisted Master Takasago.
"Nap taking is one of the top items in the job descriptions of a sumo wrestler."
Mr. Ono nodded.
"It sounds like a luxurious life, but is actually a very serious matter, to go to sleep, immediately after you have eaten."
"But I do not want to be a sumo wrestler!"
Elon was almost shouting.
"I just want to go to Mars."
"Then you have to take a nap now, Elon," told Mack scoldingly, as if Elon was a five year old child.
"Remember the belly fat? The long trip to Mars?"
"I'll fetch my pyjamas," Elon gave in reluctantly.

After a week in the Takasago stable, Elon gained 5kgs, or 11 pounds.
Elon looked at his belly half disapprovingly and half with a queer admiration and pride.
"I never thought my life would come to this," said the serial entrepreneur.
In addition to gaining weight, Elon did the basic training of a sumo wrestler, the shiko training, in which you were supposed to raise one of your legs high in the air, and keep it there, well-balanced, until you bring it down to the ground with such a force that everybody around you would think there was an earthquake.
As is customary with sumo wrestlers, Elon did the training before breakfast. The idea was to starve the body so that it would assimilate the nutrition even better when food was finally brought into it.
Despite being a geek, Elon proved himself to be quite athletic. After a few morning practices, Elon was making the shikomovement almost like a sumo wrestler. Surely not like a great one, but at least nearly like a fledgling one.
Elon wanted to try the sumo ring training, too, and bump into the opponent like other wrestlers were doing. But it was never allowed by Master Takasago.
"O, no, no way," said Master Tasakago.
"Unless, of course, you formally apply for an apprenticeship."
Which was something even Elon was shy to do.
"It was a good thing that Master Takasago said no," teased Mack.
"You would be bounced off like a small puppy, anyway."
Which was something even Elon had to admit to be true.

"Well done," said Master Takasago, with an approving nod, as Elon was consuming his seventh chanko bowl after a particularly arduous shiko practice morning.
"It is not bad for a beginner. Keep up your good work after you return to the United States!" Master Takasago beamed. Unfortunately, Elon was painfully aware that Master Takasago was referring to Elon's binge eating efforts, not his shiko form.
"Humph," sighed Elon, once Master Takasago, whom even Elon had learned to respect, was safely out of sight.
"I am not sure if I can gain weight and stay fit back home. American food is not as healthy as Japanese food, you know."
What Elon said was correct. Chanko was full of vegetables in addition to meat and seafood, and flavoured with miso, the quintessentialJapanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans. 
"With miso flavoured chanko, the more you eat, the more you want to eat!" testified Elon.
"Exactly," said Mr. Ono.
"I will send the recipe for chanko via e-mail," offered Master Takasago.
"If you could, thank you!"
Elon was beginning to like chanko very much, apart from the need to accumulate the belly fat. Elon felt he could stay in the Takasago stable forever. 
"Now it is time to move," said Mack abruptly.
"O?" queried Elon.
"Do we have to? I am feeling quite comfortable here."
"We must," said Mack.
"We need to move to phase two."

A several hours drive took Elon to a mountain Zen temple in the suburb of the Kanto plain.
"What do we do now?" asked Elon.
"You must get used to the idea of starving," said Mack.
"Starving?"
"Yes."
"First getting fat, and then starving?"
Perhaps the sarcasm of Elon was justified, for this once.
"Yes," said Mack, without flinching.
"Remember, your belly fat has to last the entire flight to Mars! During fasting, you might feel that your life is in danger. However, the risk is only subjective, because objectively, you have enough calorie reserve to last during the entire flight. It is not a good idea to panic, especially when you are in a spaceship bound for Mars. There is no way out if you freak out. You need to learn self-restraint."
Apparently, some Zen priestspractice extreme forms of fasting in their search for enlightenment. In one practice, a priest would keep saying the mantra, without any sleep, without any food or drink, for nine days without break, standing.
"WTF?" cried Elon.
"Do they really do that?"
"Yes, and you will know why and how, soon," said Mack.
"Quite so," followed Mr. Ono, smiling.
A few minutes later, Elon was facing an old priest. Elon and the priest went to a stone garden, and sat beside it, side to side.
After some small talks, the priest started to lecture about starvation. Mr. Ono translated what the priest said.
"There are 8 stages of hunger," said the priest.
"At stage 1, you feel the first signs of hunger. Stage 2, you want to eat something. Stage 3, you think of food all the time. Stage 4, you feel that you cannot bear it any more. Stage 5, you feel weak and think you're going to die. Stage 6, you almost lose consciousness."
Elon was listening intently, as if what the priest was saying would affect him personally in the very near future.
Then the priest remained silent, as if he forgot that they were engaged in a conversation on starving, or in any conversation with Elon at all. After a few minutes, Elon could not contain his curiosity any longer.
"What is stage 7?" 
"Stage 7?" said the priest with an air of a cat on a mild spring day.
"Yes, stage 7 of practiced hunger."
"Ahh…That…In stage 7, you forget about the hunger."
"What?"
"You forget that you are hungry. You do not feel anything."
"And stage 8?"
Here the priest stirred a bit, as if to adjust tiny parts within his body.
"In stage 8, you would reach nirvana."
"You mean I am going to die?"
There was a certain hint of sarcasm in Elon's voice. But then, seeing that the priest was actually dead serious, Elon corrected himself very quickly.
"Nirvana…hmm…maybe I would like that…on my way to Mars."
"You can even go to space anyway, if you reach stage 8." said Mr. Ono, winking.
"So I don’t have to build all the rockets and stuff in order to go to Mars?" quipped Elon.
"Cut that, Elon. Actually, being hungry for a long time is the key for success in this Mars mission," was Mack's uncharacteristically sober and practical summing-up.

On the way back to the U.S. on the private jet, Mack started to share with Elon a detailed plan to become overweight in the coming six month until takeoff.
"I rather liked the chanko thing that we had back in Tokyo," said Elon.
"The miso flavor was such that the more you eat, the more you wanted to keep eating."
"Yes, I already heard that," said Mack.
"It is very different from what we have here in the States, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's certainly true," said Mack.
"Maybe we can learn a lot from those overweighted sumo wrestlers. "
There was no trace of sarcasm in Mack's voice. He was not even winking.
"I think everything is going rather well," mused Elon, as he was reclining in his chair, having his third meal on the flight.
Elon arranged to have a special miso flavored chanko for his return trip. Actually, he hired a ex-sumo wrestler for this purpose. Manuel had to reluctantly accept his master's exotic arrangements, which he secretly disapproved.
"I think I can become comfortably overweight soon enough."
"Well, I don't know how to put this," said Mack. There was hesitation in his voice.
"You know, there is a catch in operation space sumo."
"O?" said Elon.
"It is about the skin."
"Skin?" blasted Elon.
"Yes, the skin."
There was a momentary hesitation in Elon’s face, but probably Mack just imagined it.
"You mean after you become really fat and lose your weight later, your skin would get loose and dangle in a most unfashionable manner?
"That’s absolutely it! How did you guess that?"
All these years Mack was used to be exposed to Elon's astonishing intellect, but this was way over the top.
"I will make sure that the tv crew would shoot you only from certain angles," said Mack.
"O, thank you," said Elon.

As it became apparent that Elon was getting fat rapidly, out of control perhaps, the media frenzy about the whys and hows began. Some attributed it to some stress due to turbulence in the relation between Elon and his girl friend. Others surmised that Elon was getting anxious in the running up to the Mars mission, and was overeating as a result. There was also a rumour in the social media that Elon was actually considering becoming a professional sumo wrestler himself. A craze for sumo was erupting in the United States after President Trump was seen presenting a trophy to the grand champion. 
Fortunately for Elon, Elon's girlfriend, Claire, did not complain about his transfiguration too much. She made music on the GarageBand software, while rhythmically poking at the belly of Elon, who was taking a nap after a generous helping of chanko.

Finally, the big day arrived. The day of the take-off.
Elon was proudly overweight, ready for the ordeal, the fasting, on the way to nirvana. 
"I can report here that I have gained more than 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, compared to when I started six months ago," said Elon, saluting Mack. 
Elon was beaming.
"I feel just great, thanks to the sumo training I diligently conduced every and each day."
"That's great, " said Mack.
"You can almost become a sumo wrestler now."
"O, no thanks, " said Elon.
"Now the hunger starts," said Mack.
"I know that," said Elon.
"Are you sure you can handle it?" asked Mack.
"Yes, I am sure I can handle it," answered Elon. 
"At least in my mind's simulation."
"Well, there is one thing I need to tell you," said Mack.
"What is that?"
"You know you always wanted to have a travel companion, on this maiden trip to Mars."
"Yes, that's right. The capacity of this trial Mars spaceship is two."
"Well, here he is."
Mack pointed towards a space behind Elon's back.
Elon almost turned around to see, but stopped short.
"Wait, let me guess," said Elon.
"It is quite logical, isn't it? It has to be somebody overweight, who would be able to carry a lot of belly fat. He has also to be somebody dexterous, in order to execute, if needs be, operations in the spaceship."
Mack was nodding approvingly.
"That would only mean…a sumo wrestler!"
"Bingo," cried Mack.
"Meet Asanoyama, the sumo grand champion," said Mack.
Elon turned around. Asanoyama made a bow, to show respect for such a great entrepreneur and adventurer.
"I am going to Mars with you, Mr. Musk." said Asanoyama.
"I know you," said Elon.
"You are the guy to whom Mr. Trump presented the trophy!" 
"Indeed, and Mr. Trump sends his regards."
"Do you know anything about this spaceship?" queried Elon.
"No, but I am eager to learn on the way," said Asanoyama.
"In return, I would love to teach you some sumo techniques," added Asanoyama, with a sudden surge of his grunting voice.
"O, no thanks," said Elon hastily.
"There is no sumo ring on that spaceship…I think," Elon was rather uncertain, because Mack could be mischievous and cunning.
"OK, then," said Asanoyama.
"I am looking forward to sharing the spaceship room with you," Asanoyama added.
"Well, OK," said Elon.
"In space, weight would not really matter in combat," said Elon, looking at Asanoyama's terribly built body with both admiration and fear.
"I might become a yokozunayet. The first Mars yokozuna."
"You might," answered Asanoyama.
Mack was looking at Elon and Asanoyama beamingly. There was genuine admiration in his eyes. Elon has come a long way, with courage and determination. Mack was now sure that operation space sumo would be a success.
"O brave new world, that has space sumo in it," blasted Mack.


Note:

Some parts of this short story was inspired by real world events, but the story itself is purely fictional.