I sometimes wonder what it takes for a talent to flourish.
Take my "fat philosopher" friend Ken Shiotani, for example. Obviously, he is terribly talented. When I met him on the University of Tokyo campus at the age of 18, his great intellect immediately touched me. Surely there are puffed-up types at the university, in whom I could not be bothered to be interested, but Shiotani was different. What he said always filled me with poetic inspirations, and continues to do so today.
Almost 30 years later, Shiotani is still at it, making endless entries into the thick notebook that he always carries with him. Shiotani is spotted in the philosopher's gatherings, giving lectures, asking questions, making comments. He is such a famous figure.
And yet, he does not have a job at the university, he does not have a Ph.D, he does not have written a book all by himself (either in Japanese and English), except for book chapters and translations. Everybody knows and acknowledges that Shiotani is a terribly intelligent person. There are less talented people holding academic positions and writings books. What happened to my best friend? For a long time I have been encouraging Shiotani to do something about it, but it is not simply coming.
Probably, Shiotani's intelligence is out of proportion for those practical things, or does not simply resonate with today's standard of what counts as one's achievements (remember how Socrates used just to walk around and chat with people, actions which would not land you on a tenured academic job these days)
When I was young, I used to think that a talent would exhibit itself naturally in the course of time. When I think of Ken Shiotani, I realize that it is not that simple. I love Ken Shiotani's tremendous talents, but can also appreciate how difficult it may be for them to manifest themselves in the competitive environments of today, often based on superficial measures of achievements.
It is not that I have disdain for those who just do mediocre work and have mediocre success (maybe I do!), but the enigma of "underachievement" by somebody like Ken Shiotani surely makes me think about the frivolousness of today's world.
He is at it again. Ken Shiotani speaking in an academic meeting.
Ken Shiotani arguing about time.
Ken Shiotani taking notes in the train.
Ken Shiotani's note on religion. Don't worry. It is difficult even for a native Japanese speaker to understand it.
Ken Shiotani's note on the foundations of mathematics.
Ken Shiotani's massive belly. A manifestation of his enormous intellect?