Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Does Santa exit?

At the end of the year 2001, I found myself in Haneda airport which serves the metropolitan Tokyo. I just came back on an early morning flight from a southbound trip, and was eating curry and rice in a passenger restaurant. There was a family seated next to my table. A girl, about 5 years of age, was chatting with her smaller sister.

"Hey, do you think Santa Claus exists? What do you think?"

Then, the little girl went on to state her opinion.

"Well, I think in this way......"

I could not hear what she went on to say, as a sudden surge of emotion overwhelmed me. I put down my spoon on the plate.

"Does Santa Claus exist?"

It struck me that that was the most important question that a girl, or indeed any adult, could ask of the world.
As it happened, seven years had passed since I came to realize the problem of qualia, the enigma of the relation between the mind and the brain.
The heart-throbbing reality with which Santa Claus emerges for a 5 year old girl has its origin in imagination. Santa Claus has its full reality only in the domain of the imagined. The proof of the existence of Santa does not rest on the physical appearance of a fat man with a white beard dressed in red.
A five year old girl knows fully well that Santa would never emerge as a physical reality in front of her eyes. Santa Claus is never "here" and "now". We never experience Santa in a vivid phenomenality as in the case of an apple on the table. In spite of the lack of physical existence, or rather, because of it, Santa Clause has an acute reality for the 5 year old girl and the rest of us.

(Opening sentences from "Brain and Imagination" (Nou to Kasou), by Kenichiro Mogi (2004), winner of the 4th Hideo Kobayashi prize. Translation from Japanese by the author himself).

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