Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The enigma of "underachievement" surely makes me think about the frivolousness of today's world.

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?


B said...

I sometime fed up with the ideology that people should be productive to worth living but have not found the best answer that could turn over it. But, at least I got some sort of relief by reading your post today in which we see that even you also somehow struggle to face those issues.

Shinya Watanabe said...

Hi Mogi-san,

You might find this interesting.

Forms of Contingency

Recently I realized that the questions raised by Shozo Ohmori and Toshihiko Izutsu is quite similar to the one of yours, which you call "Qualia". Let's talk more when we have a chance.

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha

nice .. , quite funny and makes tears beginning to plop down my cheeks.

Yesterday and today are both fine days here. I have made a decision I will swim this evening in an outdoor pool (maybe i will be just floating in the pool ..). .. surely I can read in the pool, I can see glow of sunset over the sea and also see airplanes go over the sea.

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

Wow, this is the famous your notebook isn't it?
Thank you for your opening it to us.

I read your notebook for the first time,today. But,...I'm very sorry to say I can't understand at all.

Don't worry about it. I have no ability to understand your thinking. And perhaps your thinking soars far above the context of this age.

The context of this age has the possibility to be out of fashion in the coming age.

Please keep on thinking. I'll be rooting for your belly, no, so sorry, your stance on the today's world.

Yuzu said...

Thank you for telling about world and your friendship.
I think, I believe in that world is fantastic. Your best friend will be in the middle of the world.I wish.

(ma)gog said...

I can only judge from what you say about your best friend, but I feel that Mr.Shiotani is almost like a religious figure, who has no need to get any title or recognition.

His endeavour to deepen his philosophical thought is the only purpose and meaningful life for him. How many people in this world live as purely as that? I wonder.

Perhaps Ms.Yoko Ogawa, whose works I admire from the bottom of my heart, could geniously describe the inner world of these rare people in a quiet but solid manner.

Anonymous said...

I was very sorry I laughed about your essay last evening. In it, your best friend Mr.Shiotani was so cute and I might become happy. Current situations of mine are not happy. Indeed, I have almost no product for the several years, I was blaming me. Once an English teacher said to me, "Do not do use so much self-criticism." Apparently I got relief by reading your essay yesterday as well as Ms/Mr. B.

Then it was a little too early to swim in the night at the open-air swimming pool.

kirai said...

I love your friend Mr.Shiotani! He reminds me a lot of my best friend, who is also one (if not the most) intelligent person I've ever met but he is just thinking how to make better internet protocols for the future at the age of 30 (No phd, no job, nothing).

I also though that inteligence, doing good and hard work drives people to their right places with time... but the older I am the less true it is. Sad, but true. Nowadays you just need to be good talking, selling yourself, and good at making money. Raw intelligence is underrated in our world. Meritocracy? or just being good at moving inside society/companies even if you don't have any merits?

I'd love to meet Mr.Shiotani or maybe one day read the book he will write ;)