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.