Monday, June 23, 2008

The importance of being earnest.

Some years ago, I was just starting my research career in the brain sciences. I was attending a series of international conferences in Iizuka city in the southern island of Kyushu. Iizuka had its days when it prospered from coal mining. The coal mining boom was by then long gone. After years of economic decline, Iizuka still had the remnant glamour which had become all the more poignant by the workings of time. Walking through small passages, you would encounter charming restaurants, shops, infusing one with anticipations of things to come. As night fell the heat would become mild, and I could go on walking for a long time. Finding a comfortable restaurant, I would enter and order a set menu and a glass of beer.

There was one particular restaurant that I found my love in and would frequent within the constraints of time. It was one of these small places with no particular features to mention. There were several chairs and tables, and a tatami seating area. The dishes would be displayed on the counter. If you point to the large dishes with your favorite cuisine, they would put small portions of it on your eating dish. Men would have their meal after working hours, drinking beer and watching the baseball. It was that kind of a relaxed, no nonsense place.

On one evening of the conference, I strolled into a pub on the main street. It was a place with an exquisite charm, with bottles of Corona beer displayed on the window, with a woody interior overall. Once in the pub, I found myself face to face with two other researchers from the meeting. Both of them were much more senior than I was. Consequently, I became the listener. I attended to what they said with great interest, drinking from my bottle of Corona.

I remember to this day what they were discussing on that evening.

"When we study the brain, we should never forget that we are actually dealing with a whole human being."
"It is no joke."
"Joys, sorrows, all emotions arise from the brain."
"Everything in life is in the brain."
"We should never let this slip from our minds."

These words left a strong impression on me, all the more so as the academic conference I was attending was about neuro-fuzzy systems, in a heavily technically oriented approach. I might have been realizing by that time that what I intuitively felt to be important mysteries about the brain was different from what was normally researched in the academic circles in the conventional sense. In any case, the words of my newly found mentors left a heavy mark on my mind. I was getting comfortably intoxicated from bottles of Corona, but my mind remained alert.
 
Everything in life is in the brain.

This doctrine is an important one. The significance of the brain is different from that of other organs that constitute the human body. At the end of the day, what we feel and think are nothing more than the results of the neural firings in the brain.

What are humans beings?

If a brain scientist would like to answer this question, he or she would have to tackle the really hard problem of how on earth mental phenomena arise as a result of the activities in the materialistic brain. Research in the field of the brain sciences needs to go beyond the physical, informational, or biological approach. It should be accompanied by a spirit to close on the essence of the human existence, and a "high mental temperature". Otherwise, scientific investigations in this field would not leave a deep mark on the world view of the general public. The intellectual curiosity of scientists would also be not stimulated in the true sense, it science keeps avoiding tackling the origins of human spirituality.

To be really earnest both in the emotional and intellectual sense is the key. I realized in my youth that in any fields of human activities, a work which inspires people and keep being read for a long time to eventually become a classic is one which the author has worked on in real earnest.

(Translated Excerpt from the original Japanese text of Ken Mogi's "Ikite Shinu Watashi" ("I live, I die") published from Tokuma Shoten, Tokyo, 1998). Translation by the author.)

10 comments:

kirai said...

I LOVE (My brain loves ;) ) this entry.

elenaz said...

"everything in life is in the brain"...

YOu might find the following article and intersting and challenging read:

http://www.iands.org/research/important_studies/dr._pim_van_lommel:_continuity_of_consciousness.html


A little exerpt from it is below
NDE is near-death experience"

"4. SOME TYPICAL ELEMENTS OF NDE
Before I discuss in greater detail some neurophysiological aspects of brain functioning during cardiac arrest, I would like to reconsider certain elements of the NDE, like the out-of-body experience, the holographic life review and preview, the encounter with deceased relatives, the return into the body and the disappearance of the fear of death.

4.1. The Out-of-Body Experience
In this experience people have veridical perceptions from a position outside and above their lifeless body. NDEers have the feeling that they have apparently taken off their body like an old coat and to their surprise they appear to have retained their own identity with the possibility of perception, emotions, and a very clear consciousness. This out-of-body experience is scientifically important because doctors, nurses, and relatives can verify the reported perceptions. This is the report of a nurse of a Coronary Care Unit:

“During night shift an ambulance brings in a 44-year old cyanotic, comatose man into the coronary care unit. He was found in coma about 30 minutes before in a meadow. When we go to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the ‘crash cart.’ After about an hour and a half the patient has sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he is still ventilated and intubated, and he is still comatose. He is transferred to the intensive care unit to continue the necessary artificial respiration. Only after more than a week do I meet again with the patient, who is by now back on the cardiac ward. The moment he sees me he says: ‘O, that nurse knows where my dentures are.’ I am very surprised. Then he elucidates: ‘You were there when I was brought into hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that cart, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath, and there you put my teeth.’ I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in deep coma and in the process of CPR. It appeared that the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with the CPR. He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance of those present like myself. He is deeply impressed by his experience and says he is no longer afraid of death.”
"

iori said...

Everything we perceive happens
in a brain? That sounds a
philosophical question to me.
A book titled "Yui No Ron"
(a Japanese book)occured to me.

So perhaps we have an illusion of being alive and leading a normal life but in a reality...

Hmm, it seems that a brain scientist have to tackle a more metaphysical problem than I have imagined. It is totally beyond
my understanding. My mind might
go haywired... So, I should stop
writing.

ben said...

I've been reading your book 脳を生かす勉強法 - it's very interesting and potentially life-changing. I plan to be recommending it to everyone I know.

Mariana said...

i really love your blog!! its so interesting to read you r toughts about this passionate matter

Frederick M McNeill said...

I distinguish between two types of qualia. Sensor quale as representations of brain states as set up by sensor inputs, and self quale as representations of brain states as set up by internal functions.
Self qualia includes such as 'feelings', hubris or sense of meaning, and a sense of presence as 'I', consciousness is a self quale.
All qualia are indirection functions between brain subsections or modules. This indirection or 'pointing' must occur at low levels by genetically produced neural structures. The illusions of experience caste are privileged
by any 'credibility' evaluations. Qualia are obviously illusions, but very functional representations
in a brain based virtual reality. The self qualia share equal status
with the sensor qualia, both 'seem' real, though they both are constructed
representations.
'Putting' qualia into a machine becomes a matter of complexity, not magic.

Petrusa de Koker said...

Sometimes there are long intervals between my visits to your b log, but every time I find something impressive to read. To me, the following comment sums it up beautifully:
"When we study the brain, we should never forget that we are actually dealing with a whole human being."
I hope you are well and please to keep writing on your English Blog.
Groete

Piyo tha J' said...

This is Piyo tha J'.

I'm writing this from my hometown Nihama-Ehime.
I wrote in your Japanese blog, too.

I'm interested in not only human-brain, but also artificial brain.

By the way, I wrote epic poem about artificial brain last night in Spanish, because I've been ecxited by Latin culture lately.

This...in my poor Spanish.

★★★★★★ El mundo ★★★★★★
Entiendo muy bien estructura de este planeta.
Esta mano tiene el pajaro del bebe y es una herramienta futura.
Empiezo a tener el poder por eso.
La base de la mente artificial del modelo influira en algun dia pronto este planeta.
★Parezca y la vida que. es nuevo nace ahora.
★Escuche y un. la revolucion grande esta pasando en este planeta.
Puedo comunicar con dioses comunicando con la Madre Santa.
★OK, Fuego fijo★

The baby bird means iPhone 3G.

I respect you, Mr. Mogi.

(ma)gog said...

Dear Mogi-sensei,

I don't know if you notice this comment because I am writing this today, a year after you posted "The importance of being earnest." Actually, when I read this article a year ago, I wrote a quite long comment but I couldn't post it properly.(I don't know why.) Today(July 15,2009), I saw the information about your lecture next month at Suginami public hall in your Japanese "Qualia Diary", and on the same page, I happened to find the infomation about Mr.Fumihiko Iida's lecture as well. I couldn't help myself from trying to post a comment here again, because this is rather important coincidence for me. Last year, when I read the comment by "elenaz" to your article, introducing the web site about Near-death-experience, I wrote to Mr.Iida about this organization which is dealing with NDE, because I knew Mr.Iida was having difficlut time then,(he had had always difficult time since he had published his first book in 1996, because he met huge criticism), and although I was just one of the readers of his books, somehow I wanted to encourage him (although I am not the sort of person who put this kind of impulse into action usually), I felt I had to write to him and say, he was not alone. In that letter, I also mentioned you that you are the scientist who believes that consciousness is created by brain, but who refers to NDE, or John Eccles who must have experinced "something" in his book, implying that you have understanding even of the matters which appear to be against your own belief. For my surprise, I received a reply from Mr.Iida, and I was happy to know that I could be of some help for him.
And now, what I would like to ask you is, Mogi-sensei, that I would like you to meet Mr.Iida sometime (I know you are incredibly busy, and so is Mr.Iida), and please let yourself know about his experience and his passion for his work. Probably I am asking too much, because I am just one of the millions of readers of your books, and your blog, but I hope you to understand that I had to write this comment today, and it can't be helped, if you don't read this, or even notice this comment exists.

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