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.)