Friday, October 29, 2004

SFN 2004 -- A Disneyland for Neuroscientists

The Society for Neuroscience Meeting 2004 in San Diego was again a Disneyland for neuroscientists. There were well more than ten thousand participants. The convention center was full of people migrating from talk to talk, poster to poster, their identity feebly accessible through the name tag on the necklaces, except in these Poisson distribution following cases when somebody happened to be one of your acquaintances.
I awaited eagerly the talk by Wolfram Schultz. In the last few years, his works on dopamine neurons have been increasingly inspiring, in that they address the hitherto unaddressed problems of how to handle uncertainty in a robust way (sometimes branded with the new term "neuroeconomics"). I enjoyed his talk hugely, not the less so as I discovered that his idea of a typical reward for the human brain was a bottle of beer. Wolfram now resides in University of Cambridge, U.K., but is originally from Germany, a country known for the passion of good cold beers.
The Disneyland metaphor that I mentioned above is not a trivial one. Even for a prominent senior scientist like Wolfram Schultz, it is almost impossible to be known to everybody. So everyone remain largely anonymous in the mobbing crowd, with some people preoccupied with a cure for Alzheimer's disease, some with the enigma of the prefrontal function, and yet some with brain machine interface. Nobody is given an ostensibly VIP treatment, lining up at the registration desk, queuing to get a cup of Starbucks. The Disneyland metaphor is also a testimony of the status quo of neuroscience as an increasingly big and fragmented endeavor, with nobody really knowing what is going on in the whole field.

Where's your poster? The poster board number extends from A to Z, and then from AA to ZZ+something, in order to accommodate the several hundred presentations given in each session.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Society for Neuroscience Meeting 2004

Right now I am in San Diego for the Society for Neuroscience meeting. We are presenting the following works this year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

To share the problem, not the answer.

I had a long conversation with the young Zen priest, Jikisai Minami in a temple in central Tokyo. Jikisai is known for his books on the Buddhist philosophy, emphasizing non-traditional and yet essential views on what Buddhism is all about. The conversation is to be published in the quarterly magazine "Kangaeru Hito" ("The Thinker") to be released in December.
In the conversation, Jikisai emphasized the importance of sharing the problem, while not necessarily sharing the answer. Sharing a particular answer, he said, might lead to the closure of the system. Many religions failed to remain open spirited because the leaders imposed a certain set of official answers. We can share the problem instead, he said. As human beings, we cannot escape from the fundamental constraints on our existence such as age and death. Everybody can share these basic problems. If we remain open-minded about the possible answers to these questions, then we can be religious and open at the same time.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Individual and the Universal. In Appreciation of Muchaku.

The painted sculpture of priest Muchaku by Unkei (1148-1123) is one of the most highly valued Buddhist sculptures from the Kamakura Period Japan. Now this national treasure is on exhibit in the museum of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where I give weekly lectures on art and the brain. On Thursday I made a visit to the museum and stood before this masterpiece for quite a long time. What is remarkable about Muchaku is the individuality exhibited in the countenance, posture, and the overall character that radiates from the wooden object. Here, the individual reaches the universal, and the universal is housed in the individual.
The sculpture is not one of an abstract human figure, but of an individual with vivid sense of its unique existence. Muchaku is depicted as a thoughtful old man with wisdom. At the same time, however, there is an almost childlike innocence expressed in the subtle nuance of his face.
In the Buddhist tradition, sometimes a child is considered to be closer to enlightenment than a supposedly wise adult. Looking at Muchaku is an act of meditation as well as an appreciation of the greatest in art.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Against Contexualism

Ever since the birth of modern art with Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" in 1917, it has been tainted with contextualism. The idea is that if you put something out of the context of every day life and put it in the "art" context, suddenly that something becomes an object d'art. I sometimes even encounter individuals who equate art with a machinery that make people become aware of political problems. Nothing is further from art than intentionally manipulated artifacts. Art can only be defined in terms of the uncontextualizable unique inner experience that goes with it, something that stands alone and rejects any contexulization. If Duchamp's fountain is a piece of art, then it is so in far as it invokes in us something that is beyond any verbal description, political statements, or indeed the artist's intentions. A true work of art is beyond any words, and yet induces a flood of words in its praise when the gazers are given opportunities. Even in that case, you cannot simply equate an object d'art with all the verbal praise or the cultural contexts that have been thrown upon it.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Declaration of Qualia Fundamentalism

by Ken Mogi (2004)

Here's the text

Originally published in AXIS magazine Vol. 109, pp.158-159 (June, 2004)

The last one meter of digital information network

I guess every good citizen on average is now bombarded with 100s of SPAMs each day. Information used to be blessing. Now it is poisonous. Apart from SPAMs, we need to read lots of mails every day, answer them, slaving oneself to the constant demands of the information network. Constrained in similar circumstances as those in which the Club of Rome published the report "Limits to Growth" in 1972, there is a limit to the growth of digital information. Human brain's capacity is limited. We need space for imagination, creativity. In that sense, the last one meter of digital information network is important, how the information is finally presented to the human mind, in terms of the sensory qualities (qualia). That's why the qualia movement is important.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


- Digital art : new technology, creativity and society - / - arts numeriques : nouvelles technologies, creation et societe ミ

12/10/2004 Universite Keio, Tokyo - Campus Mita (East Research Bldg. 6F G-SEC Lab)

Table ronde sciences cognitives et images virtuelles / science cognition and virtual images (16:00-18:00)
Daniel Andler (directeur du departement de sciences cognitives, ENS, Paris)
Kolkoz (artistes)
Ken Mogi (Sony CSL, sciences cognitives)
Michitaka Hirose (professeur, Universite de Tokyo, realite virtuelle)
Shigeru Watanabe (professeur, Universite Keio, psychologie)
Mitsu Okada (professeur, Universite Keio, philosophie)
Takahide Ohmori (Universite Keio, psychologie)

The Brain and Imagination.

My latest book. The Brain and Imagination. (Shinchosha, Tokyo).
Released on 24th September, 2004.

Based on the results of modern brain science, this is an essay about the relation between the real and the imaginal. I start out with the examination of what it means to say that Santa Claus exists. If you bring a fat man with white beard dressed in red as a proof of Santa Claus, the knowing child will only smile. The significance of the Santa Claus for the human soul can rest only in the world of imagination, which has a solid footing in the physiology of the brain even though its existence cannot be verified in the conventional sense. The book then examines the properties of the imagined in terms of science, art, and literature. The main claim is we need to dissociate the basis of reality from that of empirical existence if you take the human brain and modern brain science seriously.
There is no specific plan at present to translate the book into English.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Paris visit

Just been to Paris for two days. I visited the open house of Sony Computer Science Lab Paris branch.
Apart from scientific interests, the encounter with the Impressionist paintings in the Musee d'Orsay was a significant turn in my life. For some time I had a very light opinion of these works, equating them with something you have on your calendar on the wall. But seeing the real thing changed my perception of these works of art. Their qualia are something that you cannot reproduce easily. Full of life (elan vital), particles of light dancing and emanating from the 100 old surface. My soul almost cried with joy looking at these masterpieces.
Especially impressive were works of Monet.

Hello World

I've been thinking about creating a blog for some time. Here I am. I would like to cast a cognitive net over the world I live in, grasp what are essential and what not, and record the musings and aha! s that come my way.
I don't quite foresee what will come my way in the course of time, but I am as excited as the first raindrop that falls gently on the leaves from a poingnant shadow of cloud that was blown from the west valley.