Monday, November 28, 2005

Back in London (in my dream).

I was not well. I had a cold, and yet kept drinking with my friends until the small hours. The folly had a destructive effect the next day. I lay in the sofa, sighing. At nightfall I went to bed and had a serious sleep. Then the dream took hold of me.
I was in London. I found myself in front of a railway station. I sensed that it was in the suburbs, somewhere in the northeast. The time of the day was ambiguous. It could be late afternoon, or early morning. In any case, the sunbeam was shifting, and I needed to get to central London. I wondered if I could walk the distance. After some thought, I judged it better to take the train to King's Cross.
As I entered the station, somebody called my name. I looked back to find an old acquaintance. I was trying to converse with him, but the train was about to leave. I started to run. He seemed to follow me, and got on the same train.
The train was crowded. I stood next to the window, and looked out. There was a park passing by, and then my view was flying out into the sky. I could examine the London area from the vantage point of high above. I would look for the greens, and fly through the air to be immersed in the forage.
When I came back from the reverie, I realized that my friend was gone. I did not know where I was. Then I realized that I passed the King's Cross station already. It was too late to repent. I could sense that there was music. "Calling you" by Natalie Cole. I awoke, and realized that it was coming from the T.V. , which was left on as I went to sleep. I realized that I was still in Tokyo, in my room. I had to get up to do some work.
After a few minutes, I was in a practical mode, drinking my coffee, nibbling chocolate. Soon I would be working like a diligent robot, forgetful of distractions.
And yet the London dream had a strange effect on my spirit. I taste the aftermath still. After all, dreaming is another form of experience.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Abstracts for SFN 2005

Abstracts presented by our research group at the
Society for Neuroscience annual meeting 2005
(Washington D.C., U.S.A.)

Reactivation and consolidation in long-term memory
Fumiko Tanabe and Ken Mogi.

Role of meta-cognition in decision making under uncertain conditions
Fumihiko Taya and Ken Mogi

Robust perception of phonemes in complex stimulus conditions.
Kei Omata and Ken Mogi

Spontaneous ongoing dynamics and plasticity in neural networks.
Toru Yanagawa and Ken Mogi

Perception of objects in the pantomime effect and real pantomimes
Q. Zhang and K. Mogi

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

ICONIP papers

Papers presented at ICONIP 2005
(Taipei, Oct 30 to Nov 2 2005)

Omata, K. and Mogi, K.
Robust phoneme perception in complex stimulus conditions.
Proceedings of ICONIP 2005
pdf file

Sekine, T. and Mogi, K.
Effect of hand posture on tactile perception in crossed fingers.
Proceedings of ICONIP 2005
pdf file

Zhang, Q. and Mogi, K.
Proceedings of ICONIP 2005
pdf file

Sunday, October 30, 2005

My life as a Neanderthal.

The other day I went to a studio in central Tokyo and had my photos taken. Mr. Yamada of Bungeishunju publishing was with me. These photos were for the cover of my new book on literature ("The Descent of Qualia", to be published in December from Bungeishunju). The photographer used HUGE polaroid sheets. When the pictures came out, he stuck them on the studio wall. My life as a Neanderthal came into full view gradually.
I never thought of myself as a savage person, but these photos did depict me as a primitive man. Maybe there is something primordial within me.
On 20th October 2005, I turned 43. You could say that at may age it is good to be primitive and savage. For a start, I made a vow to go for jogging at least once a week. Let's see if I can manage that. It is difficult to live up to the reputation of a Neanderthal. All the more so in the hectic Tokyo, although where I live, there are some nice forests still left. What a relief for the Neanderthal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

For the love of pampas grass

Autumn is probably the best season of the year for me. I particularly love the sight of the Japanese pampas grass swaying to and flo in the sunshine. The pity is I seldom have the time to take a good look at them for a long time. I am sure I can spend hours admiring the scene. Most often it so happens that I pass a spread of pampas grass in the car, on the train, and take just a brief glimpse of it, leaving my longing behind. Maybe they would be tossing the leftover particles of my soul in the blowing wind.
The pampas grass season is a long one. From late September until well into December, whenever you travel, you are sure to capture a sight of these beautiful plants. Japan in autumn becomes a pampas grass land, at least in my fond imagination.
One of these days I would walk though a pampas grass field and take in the autumn air deep into my lung, and thank for the occasional bliss that this frequently prosaic earth brings to us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Transparent runner on the second base!

Many people have said various things about video games. Although there are many pros and cons, one thing is strangely missing from the current video games. A huge deficit of functionality, seeded in the game and then required for the human to conform, is apparent if you once notice it. Let's call that functionality "meta-cognition for rule-making" What does the meta-cognition signify here? Let me explain.
When I was a kid, I used to play the baseball a lot. The reality of suburban Japan at that time was that you wouldn't play in a proper baseball field. You had to make do with what vacant space there happened to be, either in the small playgrounds or chunks of land being vacant temporarily before the construction began. You sometimes chose to play with "triangular base", instead of the regular "diamond". You discussed with your friends whether there should be a catcher. The "strike" and "ball" counts were also optional. Stealing the base was seldom allowed. All these things had to be negotiated before the actual game started. You also had to decide what handicaps needed to be allowed for the weak and unskilled. All these negotiations were aimed, with the benefit of hindsight, at making the game the most enjoyable possible. You didn't simply play the game, you had to make all these rules. That's what I call meta-cognition. Standing out of the gaming itself, and observing it with the eye of an outsider.
There were even times when you had to resort to exotic rules. Like when there were only insufficient number of players, and you had to declare that a "transparent runner" was on the base. That happened when a player on the base had to be the next batter. He would then shout "transparent runner on the second base", and run to the batter's box.
All these meta-cognitive functions are lacking in today's video games. You don't make the rules, the computers make the rules. You simply try to maximize your performance under the dictatorship of the computer. Thus a whole area of human capabilities is forced to be dormant.
When you observe small kids playing, you would often notice that they are making their own rules. Like granting handicaps for the small and weak. The meta-cognition comes so naturally to children. It is a grand challenge for makers of video games to install that functionality. It is certainly a tall order.

A triangular base game. Everything so free and chaotic. You have to make your own rules.

Friday, August 12, 2005

"To Sir Georg Solti"

It was always a treat to go to the opera at the Covent Garden during the two years I stayed in the U.K. At one time, my best philosopher friend, Ken Shiotani, came to visit me with his wife. We went down from Cambridge to London on the train. We went to see the opera at the Covent Garden. I do not quite recall what we saw. In any case, the most memorable moment visited us outside the theatre, not inside it. Beside the theatre, there was a black, luxury car. As we passed by, we happened to glance inside. On the seat next to the driver, there was an envelope. "To Sir Georg Solti", the letters on the surface could be read.
At that time, the great conductor was still with us, and he was apparently doing something in the house, although he was not conducting on that evening. The envelope brought a sense of intimacy with the man, and although it was of course an illusion, that was a wonderful one even so. I and my philosopher friend later discussed that it was the highlight of the whole evening.

Sir Georg Solti 1912-1917.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

In the middle of rice fields.

I went to the municipality of Inashiki to give a public lecture on brain and mind. In Japan, railways are big. Although Inashiki is in the Kanto plane (in which Tokyo is situated), it is at least one-hour drive from any of the railway stations around. That means, in the railway-oriented Japanese psyche, Inashiki is very very far away. Perhaps these areas are one of the best-kept secrets for an incidental traveler. I enjoyed being driven by the organizers through the endless rice fields.
The great extension of plain land in summer means that there is a risk of thunder and lightening. We had a jolly loud one during my lecture. The air conditioning of the auditorium was malfunctioning, due to a heavy thunderstorm a few days earlier, I learned. The audiences were mainly teachers of elementary and junior high schools. The questions and discussions were enjoyable, with many insights gained from a direct interaction with the modern children, despite the heat.
It is always heartening to share thoughts with school teachers. You are reminded of your own past, when you were a small kid, being given many things by the well-meaning teachers, and then disappearing from their sight without saying enough words of thanks. Many essential interactions in this world are unidirectional. Teacher-pupil relations are representative of that truth in life.

A road in the middle of rice fields--a typical rural landscape in Japan.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Japan's postal reform is halted.

National politics is only the nation's residents' concern, so it may not be interesting for people outside Japan but yesterday was a historic day in Japanese politics. The postal reform bill proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was vetoed in the upper house. Koizumi dissolved the lower house, calling for a general election. He took the unprecedented measure to exclude the members of his party who voted "No" from the list of official candidates of the Liberal Democratic party.
The way the lower house is dissolved is rather dramatic and exciting. The Emperor in postwar Japan only serves a symbolic role in politics. The prime minister can, legally speaking, dissolve the lower house at any time. He asks the Emperor to sign the official order to dissolve. The order is carried to the house in a purple cloth, and the chairman reads the order. It is customary that the M.P.s cheer the dissolvement by repeating "Banzai", partly as a wish to come back to the house after the general election.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolves the lower house.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A world open only to the blind.

I had a public discussion with Yohei Nishimura, who is known for his arts education program for the blind. In addition, Nishimura is a famous ceramic sculptor in his own right. The discussion was a part of the Summer School for tactile art.
I began my discussion by stating how from the point of view of the brain's mechanism lacking the functionality of vision is not a simple case of deprivation. When you take one functionality from the brain, something else fills that space. It is not like "normal" people are on a 100 and blind people are, say, on 10 less. The "normal" and the blind are both on 100, with different compositions of functionalities.
There are worlds open to you only when you become blind. I remember the time when I visited the famous Kaidan-Meguri in Zenko-ji temple. In this ancient temple, you are led into an underground vault, which is totally dark. You cannot see anything, and you try to touch the "key to the paradise" hidden somewhere in the passage. The condition is supposed to symbolize the helpless condition of men before the almighty in this world.
When I was there, I was struck by the surprisingly rich wave of sensations and feelings that arise from walking in the dark, searching and touching with the hand in a hesitating and careful manner. For example, your forehead feels like it is burning, presumably expecting something to hit that part, should some obstacle be in your way. Although the search for the key to the paradise was not easy, I enjoyed the whole process.
When I came out of the pitch-dark vault, I was refreshed by the summer sunshine and wind. I reflected on what I had just experienced, in a totally sightless condition. I pondered on the contrast between inside and outside the vault. Then I suddenly realized that for a blind person there wouldn't have been a single difference. For them, the world would have been a continuous and homogenous condition of sightlessness, and they would not have noticed the transition. I realized what blessings I had as a sighted person, and at the same time appreciated the existence of a whole world that I missed.

Tourist guide to the Zenko-ji temple and other attractions in the vicinity

Zenko-ji temple at night.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

True Days of Infamy

Close scrutiny into history is revealing that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945 and then on Nagasaki three days later, cannot be justified even on the premises of drawing the war towards the end. It was, simply put, a war crime, and the Americans should have the guts to admit that. These were the truly "days of infamy" for Americans. In today's highly unstable world politics climate, nuclear weapons are becoming much more vulnerable and lethal at the same time. We must come to the sane conclusion that any use of it, no matter how beautifully or bravely put, cannot be justified in any sense. Let's be brave enough to stop justifying a senseless use of brutality.

The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima just after the bomb. Today A World Heritage Site.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Dialogue with Rei Naito

I had a dialogue with the artist Rei Naito in the Bungeishunju building in Kioicho. The diaglogue will be published in "Bungakukai" (Literature World), the most respected literary monthly in Japan.
Rei Naito's artworks are going to be featured on the cover from the October issue of Bungakukai. The dialogue was intended to be a kick-off introduction of the artist to the readership of Bungakukai.
Rei Naito, a good friend of mine, is known for her exquisite arrangement of small things in a carefully prepared space. She believes, she said, that if you sincerely attend to one small thing in the world around you, that thing will reward you with a deep presence of beauty which makes you thankful for the very existence of the world as it is here and now. She has always lived with that particular sense of the appreciation of small things that be, without any specific reference to the already established religions or systems of thought. Her works are thankful depiction of the blessings that are apparent around us, sometimes buried in the busy goings of a modern world, but present all the same at any time. Like any great pieces of art Rei Naito's work makes us aware of what we've always known and unconsciously carried within us, but became oblivious in the busy daily execution of practical things.
After the dialogue we had a merry time in the "Pizza Mia" Italian restaurant near Bungeishuju building. The editor-in-chief Shigeki Okawa and Ms. Naoko Yamashita, who has edited my "Literature in the brain" essays in Bungakukai, were also present. The restaurant owner, the chef, and the waiter are all Italian. For strange and unknown reasons they do not speak a word of Japanese although the restaurant is situated in the heart of Tokyo and almost all the customers from local. The whole situation gave you a sense of traveling abroad, which was a nice little piece of midsummer's dream.

Rei Naito's "Pillows for the Dead" from the installation "Being Called"

Friday, August 05, 2005

My first download at the Apple iTunes Music Store

The long awaited Apple iTunes Music store opened here in Japan at last! I checked the site from my iTunes the first thing in the morning. They say there are roughly a million pieces on offer. I searched for some of my nostalgic numbers but could not find them. Maybe a million is not large enough to encompass the music universe that we all live in. The memorable first download was "Tounasuya- seidan" by the great Rakugo artist Kokontei Shinsho. Rakugo is the traditional Japanese art of comedy story-telling. A Rakugoka (Rakugo artist) sits on the floor to tell the comic story, so it is not a stand-up comedy, it is rather a sit-down comedy. "Tounasuya-seidan" is one of the most beloved masterpieces from the great Shinsho, about a delinquent son who repents and becomes a true man after some comic and yet heart-warming incidents in the ancient Tokyo of the Edo era (1603-1867).
I am happy to get this piece. Now I can listen to it on the Tokyo subway on my way to the lab.

My first download from the Apple iTunes Music Store was "Tounasuya-seidan" by Kokontei Shinsho, the famed Rakugo artist.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The taste of Guinness

I went to Dublin only once. I attended a conference organized by Tony Veale of the University College Dublin. When I and Yoshihide Tamori entered a pub on arrival, we were surprised to find ourselves in a dark room, with people's faces candle-lit in the many corners defined by chairs and tables. It was midday. The taste of our first genuine Guinness was quite impressive. In particular, the smooth and milky foam on top of the dark liquid really made one happy.
I have had some glasses of Guinness elsewhere, but never encountered that particular taste. So I concluded at that time that Guinness does not travel well. I thought that in order to taste the real one, you simply got to travel to Dublin.
Time passed, and modern technology made it possible to taste real Guinness on a daily basis here in Tokyo. I am not talking about the rapidly increasing Irish pubs here, I am referring to the canned beer on sale in the convenience stores. In the can, they have installed a special device called "floating widget", which produces the smooth creamy head that is the hallmark of Guinness in the Dublin pub. It is quite impressive.
So I don't have to travel to Dublin. I can just hop into one of the Tokyo convenience stores and by a can of Guinness. Then I think of the good times that I had we Tony Veale in Dublin, the musicality of the language, and feel a bit nostalgic.

The canned Guinness being sold in Tokyo

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Piet Hut and the QRIO

Piet Hut came to visit our lab for the second time. Dr. Fumihide Tanaka of Sony Intelligence Dynamics Laboratories was also present. We discussed about Fumihide's experiment on robot-infant interaction going on in a San Diego nursery school. There are already some interesting aspects emerging from this ongoing research. Piet made some keen observations.
Shinichi Nozawa of Waseda University, and Nobuo Ishikawa of Tokyo Institute of Technology also participated in the discussion. They are most likely to join our lab starting next April.
After the serious talk, we continued our exchange of thoughts in a more relaxed environment of "Asari", a nice Izakaya in Gotanda area frequented by us. After some mugs of beer and glasses of sake, the border between robots and humans, or between sobriety and merriment, seemed to become even fuzzier.
After the merry but serious "symposium", Shinichi Nozawa and Takayasu Sekine walked Piet back to the hotel.

The Robot in question. Sony's Qrio

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How science makes the feeling deeper for Penguins

The French film "March of the Penguins" directed by Luc Jacquet is being shown in Japan. I went to the preview show. Although the effort of the crew to shoot the breathtaking scenes through the harsh winter of the Antarctica is laudable, the film, in my perspective, was seriously flawed in two essential respects. The oversimplified impersonation of the emperor penguins and the cheap "poetic" narrative. These flaws made the wonderful scenes much less enjoyable than otherwise.
People sometimes don't realize how an objective and scientific understanding promotes a deeper appreciation of life, rather than dissecting it out of it vital force. Science is sometimes depicted as cold and impartial, but the most profound perception of what life involves actually comes from scientific understanding.
In these respects, David Attenborough's "Life In the Freezer" produced by BBC is far superior in depicting the trials of life faced by these magnificent creatures on the white earth. In this much-praised film, Attenborough describes the life of penguins in a dry, matter-of-fact way. The Penguins are not there to entertain us, they are there to survive, human sentimentalism having nothing to do with the daily overcoming of their trials.
The march of penguins was cheap poetry. Life in the freezer showed much deeper poetry, made possible only through a rigorous and objective appreciation of the life of a creature far removed from us like a distant star.

Much deeper poetry. David Attenborough's Life in the Freezer.

Monday, August 01, 2005


When I was a kid, August was a special month. You had one month long vacation, in which you would go to places. Sometimes I would climb mountains with my parents. One year we went to Meshimori-yama in Nagano. I still remember the green slope, the gradual ascent to the top, and then the panoramic view. In those days you would follow somebody else's initiative, because you were small. There is a particular subjective feeling to following other's initiative. That is the hallmark of childhood. I sometimes miss the feeling. Nowadays I need to generate my own initiative and I do it in a matter-of-fact way. The long summer vacations are gone, and August is not a special month any more.

View of the Meshimori-yama mountain in Nagano.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Making "musical" out of the "Ring"

As a perfect Wagnerite I could not miss the New National Theater (in Tokyo) production of "Get back the Ring!". It was termed a "Kids Opera", so I expected some changes from the original work, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Actually the changes were substantial. What emerged from a substantial re-interpretation and arrangements from the original work was a "musical", with Brunnhilde portrayed as the beautiful princess and Siegfried as a suitor who would do bold things to win her love. Wotan is the King, who reluctantly, and then wholeheartedly, gives his daughter and the kingdom to the young hero.
All the music was from the original score, but the whole impression was that of a "musical", rather than a "music drama". I realized that the difference between a musical and an opera is not only in the music but also in the (con)text.
The musical format is well accepted in today's highly commercialism-oriented society, but it does not, in its prevalent style, really have a power to make one stop and think about deep issues such as death, life, and love.
The "musical" presented by the New National Theater probably left the kids and their well-meaning parents happy, but I wonder whether the audience were touched in a real sense either directly or indirectly by the greatness of the original work. In the original music drama, a man has to forsake love in order to win political power. There's incest and murder. One is bound by his own commitment in the past, and the space for free will is gradually diminished until one is led to the conclusion that the only way out is total self-denial. Then, when all the entangled elements appear to be just impossible to handle, the redemption by love gives a deeply satisfactory ending to the whole saga.
Although it is certainly a high order to depict all this in a "Kids Opera", I certainly think that it was possible to depict some elements, something that would inflict a benevolent "scar" on a child's heart. Every great work of art leaves a scar on one's mind, and the appreciation starts with the healing process.
"Get back the Ring!" failed to leave a scar, at least on this listener's heart. It was a great opportunity lost, for the kids in the theater and the well-meaning art directors of the New National Theater.

Poster advertising "Get Back the Ring!"

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Piet Hut's hightlights.

Piet Hut's hightlights.

The famed astrophysicist Piet Hut, who recently came to visit me, has a log of the highlights of his life. He was kind enough to put a pointer on his blog. Here I put my pointer to Piet, so that people can surf in a closed loop if they wish.

Prof. Piet Hut of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton.

James Joyce's delirium.

I used to have a very beautiful copy of "Dubliners" by James Joyce. I purchased it in a second-hand bookshop in Cambridge, U.K., where I was studying as a postdoctoral fellow. The book came with lots of photos of the old Dublin, possibly from the time of Joyce. I was very fond of the book, and would read excerpts in my bed before I go to sleep. I somehow lost the copy and my favorite pictures are gone.
I think the first encounter with Joyce was The Boarding House. It was given as a reader for the summer vacation at senior high. I still remember one word; "delirium". It was in the phrase "They used to kiss. He remembered well her eyes, the touch of her hand and his delirium...."
The novel goes on to say "but delirium passes". In my case, somehow the delirium stuck with me, and I still read Dubliners from time to time. "Dubliners" for me represents the best in English prose.
I have not yet challenged the more intimidating pieces of Joyce. They should be good, coming from such a genius.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Earthquakes real and imagined.

We sometimes have earthquakes in Japan. In Tokyo, we have not had a really bad one in my personal history since birth. They say we may have the real thing at any time. Like any great earthquake centers in the world, such as California or Italy, it may strike today or tomorrow, but there is nothing you really can do about it.
Recently we've had some mildly bad earthquakes. There was no serious casualty, though. Yesterday there was yet another one. When I am in the middle of an earthquake, like recently, I sometimes wonder why I am not feeling that scared. Then I realize I have experienced worse ones in my dream.
From my childhood, probably because I grew up in an earthquake-rich region, I sometimes had earthquake dreams. In some of them, I would be in a building, and the building would swing to-and-fro, really slowly and with large amplitude. These imagined earthquake experiences left me bewildered and awed, like the very foundation of the world in which I exist is shuddered.
My dreams perhaps prepared myself for the really big ones, imagined or otherwise, so that the impression that actual earthquakes have on me is somehow diminished. In real life I have never experienced such an awful earthquake, swinging to-and-fro. But I surely have some idea what it would be like when it occurs.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman.

When I was at graduate school, I read this book 10 times. It was that good. Several years have passed since I last read it, but I still remember some of the funny stuff.
What is great about Richard Feynman is his refusal to take anything too seriously. Rather, he refused to take anything too seriously because he was damn serious. When you think of it, only people who are not really serious appear to be serious. Seriousness in appearance is different from seriousness in essence.
My girl friend at that time used to do private tutoring for students who wanted to do well in university entrance exams. She used to make the student read excerpts from Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman. She said the pupil liked the chapter on how to become friendly with women. Now, that was funny, with Richard Feynman trying out the instructions of the bar master, almost failing, but then sticking to his gun, and finally getting the reward. If you scratch your head and don't know what it is all about as you read this blog, then you should definitely read this book. I assure you that you would be laughing like mad before long.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Volcano Whales

The other day (30 June) I was attending the "Characters Forum" of Tokyo Foundation, and I started to draw illustrations on my notebook again.
They are supposed to represent my current mind-set. I want to be spacious and relaxed as a whale, and yet would like to "explode" like the volcano. Thus the "volcano whale" is born.

larger file

The typhoon airplane.

I went to the southern island of Kyushu to give a lecture in Prof. Shigeki Watanuki's class. I talked about qualia, contemporary art, uncertainty and emotion. After the lecture, I hurried to the airport, as a major typhoon was approaching Tokyo. Every year Japan is hit by several typhoons. Sometimes we have serious disaster such as landslide and flood. Most of the time, the inconvenience due to disrupted traffic is the main concern. As the air service was vulnerable, I tried to get on an earlier plane than planned. I was lucky to get a seat on the ANA 14:10 flight. However, they mentioned that it was a conditional flight meaning they might return back to Hakata if the weather conditions in Tokyo were bad.
The plane landed without trouble, after making several turns above Tokyo. I went straight to Yomiuri Shimbun (the largest circulation newspaper in Japan) to attend the book review committee. After the committee, I met with some of my friends, including the famous journalist and T.V. commentator Yosihu Arita. We drank beer and sake and showed our perseverance in defiance of the storm.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The potentialities of children.

It is always good to look back on your childhood and re-experience the uneasiness and clumsiness that inexperienced life necessarily involves. We tend to think that as you get older you become wiser. If you measure wisdom in terms of achievements and storage, that may be right. However, when appreciated in terms of the potentialities for the unknown, childhood has a clear edge over adulthood. Some schools of Chinese philosophy maintained that you reach the pinnacle of your life at the age of 5. At around that age, you experience the world in a poignant twilight, with everything in principle possible, and yet bound to the earth through an undeniable sense of enshrinement within your flesh. You have not yet developed a convenient system of concepts and beliefs that would dispel the heavy feeling of existence. When I look back on that twilight age, I come back refreshed, with potentialities within myself for ways to look at the world from alternative and more interesting perspectives.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fellow travelers in the platonic world.

One of the most interesting aspects of the world we live in is the coupling between individuality and universality.
When we think in terms of materials in space-time, individuality seems to be absolute. On the other hand, if we think in terms of the platonic entities, individuality becomes suddenly relative. In physical space-time, the distance between two objects assures the individuality. On the other hand, in the abstract conceptual space, there is no such a thing as a physical distance that requires a finite time to be traveled.
This rather abstract reasoning becomes important when one considers the individuality of personal experience. Our strong belief that each of us is enshrined in a private world of experience comes from the fact that we are separated in terms of real physical space. However, when we consider the platonic space to which we have access through our experience, we might not be separated in that absolute sense. For example, when there are two identical histories of brain processes in spatially separated locations in the universe, the platonic world accessed through the resulting mentalities would be identical.
In terms of practical wisdom, we should regard ourselves as fellow travelers in the platonic world, accessing the same set of platonic entities (qualia), no matter how distant we are in terms of physical space. Thereon you can base your compassion and co-suffering with your fellow men.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Ozu's Tokyo Story

The encounter with Ozu's Tokyo Story had a particular significance in my life.
I was in the graduate school in the physics department of the University of Tokyo, and would pass by a rental video store as I went to give lectures at a preparatory school for the University entrance exams. I was teaching part time in that school to pay my fees. One day I went into the store and chanced upon Tokyo Story. At that time, I was quite influenced by Western culture, appreciating Tarkovsky and Visconti. Although I enjoyed going to the traditional Japanese drama theatre such as Kabuki and Noh, as far as films were concerned, I was not really expecting that something of such a magnitude as to shatter my soul into pieces would come out of the Japanese film genre. Kurosawa for me was too dramatic and explicit. So it was just with a whimsical twist that I took up Tokyo Story and brought it to the rental counter on that particular day.
The first time I saw it, I was under the impression that I had just experienced something quite new and profound, but I could not verbalize what my soul received. A few months passed, and I had a growing desire to see Tokyo Story again. I went into the rental video shop and checked it out. The second viewing was dynamite. I was particularly gripped by the Noriko character (played by the great Setsuko Hara). The last scenes shot in Onomichi (a seaside town in western Japan) seemed to depict a spiritual tranquility and beauty beyond description. I knew I had to go to Onomichi. One week after the second viewing, I took the Shinkansen train from Tokyo station and made my homage to the small town. Although many things had changed, I could still recognize some spots shown in the film. In particular, the boat quay was the same as in the film. (If you have seen the film, you would remember the poignant passage of scenes as morning dawns in the town of Onomichi after the old mother passed away). I spent two wonderful days wandering through the small streets in Onomichi. It was the time of the cherry blossoms, and the view from the Senkoji-park was beautiful beyond description. To this day. the trip to Onomichi inspired by Tokyo Story remains one of the most sentimental and memorable in my life.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Shigeo Miki memorial symposium.

I gave a talk in the 14th Shigeo Miki memorial symposium held in Geidai (Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). I talked about the importance of the unrecallable memories in cognition and life. The theme came from my personal experience.
The anatomist Shigeo Miki (1925-1987) had a huge influence over the students in Geidai with his philosophy of "life memory" combined with a detailed discussion of the anatomical structure of various life forms from the fish to the man. Although I had come across his name in passing on several occasions, I never read his book, and thought that my life and Miki had little in common so far.
Then I suddenly realized that I actually had an opportunity to listen to one of the two lectures that Miki gave in the medical school of the Todai (University of Tokyo). I was 22 then. I was walking with my girl friend in the Todai campus, when I glanced upon this notice of a lecture on the development of human fetus in the womb ("The World of the Fetus", it said). Without much awareness I went into the lecture room. The man in the podium talked about how the prenatal development of the human body went through the various stages that the life followed in the long history of evolution. His enthusiasm was electrifying. When the lecture was over, and the lights were on, there was a huge applause.
Then I noticed something strange. My jacket was
wet on my left shoulder. Turning my face, I discovered that my girl friend was weeping. We went out of the lecture room, into the refreshing breeze of May. I asked her what was wrong. She said, after seeing so many photos of human fetus, she wondered why humans couldn't stop fighting each other.
That was a precious moment in my life, but for one reason or another I completely forgot about it. After almost 20 years, after reading a magazine article on Shigeo Miki I had a most strange feeling. Maybe that particular lecture I attended with my girl friend so many years ago was actually given by Shigeo Miki himself. I made enquiries to Hideto Fuse, professor at Geidai, and he confirmed my speculation was almost certainly true.
The very foundation of how I think about human memory was shaken by this experience. In the many years that I was oblivious of the Miki lecture, I think I was unconsciously influenced by what he said on that particular day. For example, when I went to the island of Bali and sat on the beach at night, listening to the waves gently breaking, there were moments when I thought about how our ancestors came ashore from the sea to the land. When I overheard that somebody was pregnant, I unconsciously reflected on the long history of the evolution of life.
In a silent and profound manner, the lecture by Shigeo Miki left a deep impact on my mind, with the particular memory never consciously recalled

Anatomist and thinker Shigeo Miki (1925-1987)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Roll over the neural correlates

In our lab meeting Thursday I discussed the concept of the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC). Proposed in a series of papers by Francis Crick and Christof Koch, NCC has become the central issue in the scientific study of consciousness.
NCC is good in terms of providing lots of stuff to do. With the advancement of the brain activity measurement we are beginning to work out the detailed mapping between the brain's physical activities and our mental activities. There will be things to do for the next 10 to 20 years, at least.
On the other hand, just studying the neural correlates seems like an easy way out, with the heavy stone of the hard problem of consciousness left unturned. The very fact that you can do lots of things along a particular conceptual line is a testimony that it involves much of easy stuff.
In the discussion, I pointed out that the neural correlates as it stands today in neuroscience is not really pursued with logical rigor and relentless will to go to the finish line. The very concept of neural correlates is full of internal problems, which, if examined in detail and logical rigidity, would reveal some astonishing and non-trivial conclusions about the physical foundations of mentality.
Therefore, it is not wise to treat the neural correlates in a light-hearted manner. We need to take the neural correlates seriously.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kuwahara Moichi's style of comedy.

It was Laurent Anzai Momy who introduced me to Moichi Kuwahara. Moichi produced the mega-hit album by Y.M.O. (Yellow Magic Orchestra) "Zoushoku". Moichi is famous for the "Snakeman Show" series broadcast on radio. Although quite successful, he is a quite unassuming person. After the first encounter, I got to know Moichi quite well, with my particular interest in his style of comedy stimulating a lot of thought.
Yesterday I went to visit the headquarters of his comedy kingdom and had a chat. There is something that Moichi has up his sleeves. In the northern Island of Hokkaido, there is going to be the hugely popular Rising Sun Rock festival. In that festival, Moichi is going to produce the "Black Hole" comedy tent in which there will be some comedy acts as well as other entertainments. I will be featured in the talk show on British comedy with Yasunari Suda, the well-know comedy critic.
I am very much looking forward to the festival. Summer in Hokkaido is something quite special, with long-lasting daylight and beautiful weather. Probably we will have an all-night party after the act.

Moichi Kuwahara, the Comedy King

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dialogue with Oriza Hirata

I had a dialogue with the famed dramatist Oriza Hirata in the Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo. Oriza is known for such pieces as "Tokyo Note". Our dialogue will be published in the Drama magazine of SPT.
Oriza and I are both concerned with how people from different contexts can try to understand each other. Many people satisfy themselves in staying in one context. Some people are under the illusion that accomplishments made in one particular context automatically translate into something universal. In actuality, relevance in one context does not always travel well in another. In particular, when people from different cultural backgrounds meet, there is a genuine need to go out of your own context and try to extend the self-- a demanding and often failing attempt, a food for the soul even so.
Myself, I would like to go out of my own context. I would like to understand the context in which other people live, to stretch out my short arm and embrace their private worries and ambitions. Without that kind of attempt, life is not worth living.

Oriza Hirata, the Japanese dramatist.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Twenty Whales.

When I am attending a meeting and get bored, I sometimes jot down something on my notebook. Here's the product of love at the latest occasion of boredom. It is called "Twenty Whales". Produced while I was one of the panelists in a symposium held on 8th June 2005.

larger file

The Time Machine.

I dreamt that I was a kid again, traveling with my parents and my sister. After an overnight trip, it used to feel nostalgic to come back home, dropping off the nearest station and walking towards the house. These days are long gone and my parents are getting old. If I could go back to my child days even for a brief moment, I would pay a substantial amount of money.
There is a lot of money to be made out of a time machine. Pity it cannot be built so easily. There are some arguments about whether it is in principle possible at all, including the famous paper by Kurt Goedel. Personally I would bet on its being impossible. If the general theory of relativity predicts that it is possible, then probably there is some flaw in Einstein's model of the Universe.
I accept that time machines are not possible, and I satisfy myself with being nostalgic for the nostalgy I felt as I was coming back home hand in hand with my parents when I was a kid. It is terrible that time never flows backward. Maybe it is a blessing as well.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Nurturing Genius

Summer in Tokyo is sometimes very hot. Yesterday it was almost steaming. I went to Odaiba again to give the blessing of science lecture. On the way, I read Michael Tye's Ten Problems of Consciousness. This book comes with some delightful illustrations. When you are thinking about something as hard as the mind-brain problem, it is good to have this light-hearted divertimento into the picture.
Mr. Eisuke Ito of Gumma University was among the audience. He is only 20, and yet he carries with him journal articles on brain and mind. We had a chat over beer after the lecture, and he was a delightful fellow.
It is a wonderful time we live in, this internet age. In the old days, it used to be that if you wanted to read the papers in the specialist journals you had to go to the university library. You then had to look it up in the huge volumes, ask the secretary for the permission to copy (if at all possible). By the time you got the article, you were quite exhausted. Now, you can just google for the article you desire. Most of the time the researchers have the pdf file ready on the web free of charge. Thus, aspiring young men like Yusuke can get access to the latest in research, time and willingness permitting. Isn't it wonderful? Now we have the ubiquitous infrastructure for nurturing genius. Universities and other elite institutions do not have the privilege they used to have any more.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The blessing of science.

On Saturday, I went to the Mediage museum in Odaiba. Odaiba is the heart of Tokyo waterfront, with the headquarter of Fuji television and several other tourist attractions nearby. The Sony Computer Science Laboratories Exhibition 2005 is currently on, and I was scheduled to give a lecture on "The blessings of science" to the general public.
I started my talk with how observing insects in the nature in my childhood helped me become a scientist. Insects are rich feeders to your brain's emotional system. When you are immersing yourself among the wild creatures, you experience various forms of emotion. Discovering a beetle, you reach for it, and realize that it is actually not a favored species of beetle, but a wild cockroach. You shudder and want to run away from the spot. Sometimes you encounter an elegant butterfly and thank for the passage of season which brought that particular time of the year again. Observing insects and other living things in nature, you go through rich and complex ecology of emotions that has been passed on to us from the ancient time in which our ancestors hunted for food in the wild.
I went on to describe how science is similar to caring for others. If your mind is closed to how others feel, think, and see the world, then your mind is also closed to science. Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravitation because he did not just say "apples fall from the trees anyway. I don't care why". If you put yourself in the position of an apple in your imagination, then all these questions comes into your mind. Why should I fall? Why should I fall with this particular acceleration? If I put myself in the position of the moon, do I have to fall too? Doing a good science is similar to putting yourself in the position of an old woman, a homeless, an infant, a man who has just been made redundant. Science is all about caring for the various things in the universe, and therein lies the greatest blessing of science.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The blessing and closure of language.

I was having a late night (or rather, an early morning) chat with two editors, Takeshi Masuda of Chikuma Shobo, and Kanako Oshima of Gentosha. Chikuma and Gentosha are major publishing houses in Tokyo, and they are both editing my book. At around 2.00 a.m. and after several glasses of beer, I suddenly hit upon an idea that the language game concept of Ludwig Wittgenstein might have relevance to the problem that I have been thinking a lot about recently, i.e., the blessing and closure that the faculty of language bestows on us.
Language makes it possible for us to communicate with each other. At the same time, it forms a closure for those who do not understand that particular language. What I write here does not make any sense for people who do not speak English. If I write in Japanese (which I do a lot) a larger number of people do not have access to the contents.
Isn't language frightening, when you consider both the blessings and closure that it brings. When there was no language, there was no breaking of symmetry. Once there is language, symmetry is lost and you have both blessings and closure. You open your eyes to many people, yet at the same time your mind is closed to others. I am growingly concerned about my own language policy, that's why I write my diary both in English and Japanese, hoping something would happen in my brain to appease the situation.

My diary in Japanese

Friday, July 15, 2005

Who writes the history?

The Chichu art museum on the island of Naoshima is celebrating its first anniversary. The director Yuji Akimoto came to give a lecture in my class at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Geidai). He showed how the "Art House Project" started with plain ordinary houses on the island. "There was a particular difficulty in starting from the chaotic space that the interior of the abandoned houses presented, and shift to the domain of abstract expression, culminating in the refined art that we find in the Rei Naitoh and Tatsuo Miyajima houses today". Yuji said.
Later in the evening, we had the Chichu Art Museum first anniversary symposium. Michael Govan of DIA art foundations gave a talk. Some audiences expressed concern that DIA is perhaps too much concerned with the promotion of American artists. I thought:It is natural for DIA to be concerned with American artists, since it is based in America. Although Michael stressed that it is not DIA policy to promote only American, there is a natural tendency as anybody can see. The whole question boils down to "who writes history". There is no single authoritative history. If the Japanese art world has been under the shadow of the history of contemporary art as dictated by people in the "mainstream", they have been doing so by their own choice. You can just ignore whatever mainstream framework there is, at your own freedom and at your own risk. Freedom comes with risk.
I enjoyed the evening overall.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Piet Hut's Future of Science.

Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton came to visit us. First we met near Waseda University. Piet gave a guest lecture in the "Introduction to Psychology" course that I have been giving this semester. Piet talked about the "Future of Science". As an astrophysicist, Piet had an unusual approach in the temporal dimension, standing away from the modern history of science and taking a long-shot view of things to come. He talked about two possible scenarios. In one scenario, the progress of science from now on would experience a state of stagnation, with pretty much secrets of the universe already discovered and expressed in science in its present form. In another, which Piet thinks is more likely, we would continue to make progress, so that 100 or 1000 years from now, science as we know it would be changed beyond recognition. Piet was kind enough to visit our lab, and give yet another informal talk. We went to the Toono-Monogatari restaurant in Gotanda and had a chat over beer and sake. A very stimulating day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Seiji Ozawa's ill-posed problem.

I went to see the rehearsal of Brahms's 2nd concert by Seiji Ozawa. It was interesting to observe how Ozawa tried to overcome the ill-posed problem of conducting the full orchestra, consisting of a million different parameters. What he did was first to vocalize what he sensed with fitting language, and then translate it into appropriate action commands. For example, he talked about "consonants" and "vowels", and asked the violinists to be more outgoing with the "vowels". In terms of specific action, he instructed them to press the bow stronger. Thus, he acted as a transformer of sensory perceptions into motor actions. You need to be a keen appreciator of music as well as a general actionist of instruments in order to be a good conductor.
At the end of the day, with all the skills of perception and verbalizing action commands, it is still an ill-posed problem, conducting a full orchestra. Someone close to the orchestra mentioned that at the moment Ozawa appeared at the podium, the sound changed. That means something beyond a simple controlled action is happening. Perhaps being conducted is like expressing one's heart in the presence of a experienced mentor. If you feel that your mentor is understanding and is attentive to what you say, your words become more expressive, more true to heart, profound. Thus, the ill-posed problem is overcome by the spontaneity of the agents involved.
We all live an ill-posed life spontaneously.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Club culture.

I had a chat with the famed music critic Reiko Yuyama. She gave a few funny tips on which Sushi restaurant to go to in Tokyo. (She recently published a book). Otherwise we talked about the Club culture. I am not a Club fanatic and the exposure to the latest has been scanty and scarce. However, I did notice that there are some fundamental changes taking place.
For one, people do not "show off" any more. A club is not a place to be seen and to see. You have this cozy individuality among the crowd, oblivious of the eyes of the others. It is not something "above" daily life. It is rather a continuation of the every day, with the music not depicting a particular theme or meaning. It is just here and now. The Club is becoming an arena for just being oneself, in the smooth and rapturous flow of sound and beat. People do not differentiate any more, reflecting the "end of history" as such, in which man has struggled to overcome and catch up with the various schisms that existed. Sure, there are some walls still to be overcome, but you want to overcome them in a different way from the past. Maybe there is a quantum jump.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sunday walk

On Sunday, I went to Heirin-ji temple to take a walk. In the Kanto plane, there are certain types of natural forest where I used to look for insects when I was a kid. I used to collect butterflies, but nowadays I look for all kinds of insects, observe their behavior and habitat. I feel as if I am a bird, looking for food. As a bird, I need to differentiate the species, know their behavior, and taste. Humans do not have a monopoly of natural history. Wild animals have a inherent drive to get to know the environment.
I went to the Gusto restaurant in the evening. I had a stir-fried pork dish. While I was at it, I was struck by the idea that the kind of food I am having daily is very different from what is naturally available from the environment. More oil in it. Therefore lies the reason for obesity. We cannot go back to the natural, but it is good to go back to the past from time to time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Language policy.

Soon after I came back from my California trip, one phrase started to ring in my head. "Language policy". I did not know where it came from. I just felt that it was relevant to some situations happening to me and the nation. I look up in the dictionary, and I find that it refers to how the government treats the minority languages within its jurisdiction. That is a bit different from what I expected, but related.
You must know that in Japan, nationalistic arguments are on the rise, especially towards the neighboring nations. Every nation has the right to be proud of its history, and is justified to wish for its own welfare. But nationalism is a bit like wishing for the success of yourself and your family. Sure, it is a natural thing, but you hesitate to call it idealism in the modern world. If someone says that his ideal is for his family to be successful, you would think that he is a bit naive and petty. These adjectives are appropriate for some "patriots" that are rampant in the Japanese media. I would not go far as to call them scoundrels, though. Johnson's famous quote is not really appropriate. It is not even their last resort. They are not living a full life requiring one.
In the modern world, in order to have a full life, you need to adapt a good language policy. Since English is the de facto standard, it is easy to have one for native English speakers. They even don't need to have one. I am not a native English speaker, so I will not touch upon non-policies.
What is happening in Japan is a domestication of discourse. The Japanese "patriots" can say what they say in the media, because they are saying it in Japanese. Some of their claims would be unsustainable if expressed in a more international language, as the English. It is like boasting in a family gathering, "the house of the Mogi (that's my family name) is great!" The family members will listen to you, but nobody else.
I am not saying that everyone should speak English. It is something subtler.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Feeding the animals in the craziness zoo in my brain.

Recently my best friend, Takashi Ikegami reminded me about the value of craziness. We must defend it, nurture it, or otherwise we perish.
In Cambridge U.K. (where I stayed in 95-97), they had the one of the world's earliest application of webcam. That was the "coffee maker" camera, where one could always check the amount of coffee left in the pot in the meeting room (The Trojan Room Coffee Machine, Today I checked the site after so many years and discovered that the service has been discontinued. Anyway, that kind of craziness is the hallmark of University campus. We need more of that in our daily life, inside or outside the campus. Takashi sounded as if that craziness is particular to a University campus. Well, that may be true about some universities, but not all of them. There are stuffy professor types, and too serious students as well, you know. To be fair, other institutions are not without their share of whimsical craziness. In the Newton Institute (which is a research laboratory based in Cambridge) there was this huge collection of blackboards everywhere, and people could start discussing (or arguing) anytime they liked, anywhere they preferred, with the aid of the ubiquitous blackboard. There was a blackboard even in the men's room (sorry, I could not check the other one for obvious reasons). So that was crazy, too.
Soon after Andrew Wiles uncovered his proof of Fermat's last theorem, I was using the men's room, and there was this scribble on the blackboard. "I discovered a fatal flaw in Wiles' proof. However, this space is too small to write it". You get the gist of it.
Excuse me, I must finish writing this journal in a hurry, as I need to feed the animals in the craziness zoo in my brain. See you later.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

New year's resolution 2005

Here's my new year's resolution.