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.