Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dreaming of Godzilla

In life, it often so happens that the origins of things are concealed, even when they are important. The underlying reason is often psychological. However disheartening to the perceiving and the would-be-perceiving, this strange lack of sight is actually consistent with the general principles of life. We are happily oblivious of many things that eventually led to the "status quo" of life. We are not usually aware that we developed from a pair of sperm and egg. This misty idea about the origin of humanity is still not only theologically but also psychologically very true.

When I was a kid, I often dreamed of the Godzilla. It would suddenly emerge from the mountains, and would come, in that famous Godzilla manner, meters and meters closer to where I was hiding. The radio would be broadcasting news about the appearance of the monster, and I would try to conceal myself under a table or behind a chair, hoping the monster would leave me alone and go away. I was literally horrified in my dream, and I think the little me was sweating.

As a kid I enjoyed the Godzilla films, but was not aware of the origin of the monster. Even when it was mentioned in passing by the actors in the film, the preteen boy did not take it seriously, nor did he suspect that anything was concealed behind the monstrous figure.

As a matter of fact, of course, the monster was conceived in the shadow of the atomic age. I was born in 1962, and the cold war was on the full throttle. My home country experienced two atomic bombs in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, first such atrocities in human history and hopefully the last. The event that triggered the Godzilla creators' imagination directly was the Fukuryu-maru incident in 1954, when the radio-active material released from a U.S. atomic bomb experiment in the Marshall islands fell on the ship crew. All of them developed radiation sickness, resulting in one death.

As a kid, I was not aware that in the fictional story it was so conceived that Godzilla was born by a mutation through the radiation released from the atomic bomb. The immature child was not aware of the suffering of the people in the two atomized cities or the fear of the destruction of the entire globe lurking in people's heart under the shadow of the nuclear missiles directed to each other by the two superpowers, all these circumstances that fueled the creation of this famous monster.

Though I did not consciously recognize the origins of the Godzilla phenomenon, I think I might have been unconsciously affected by it, dreaming of the Godzilla attack and hiding myself behind the furniture in the greatest fear imaginable for a child, hoping the monster would somehow go away. Luck had it that I haven't experienced a war in my life time so far. But I think it is quite likely that in my childhood dreams the experiences of the war which had ended less than 20 years before my birth was somehow echoed. I did not actually realize this possibility until recently, when I was thinking about concealed origins while walking on a Tokyo street. In a sense, the origin of the Godzilla was collectively and unconsciously mirrored in my infancy. That is probably how cultural influence is propagated through the generations. The Godzilla phenomenon is still here and alive at the subconscious level.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The butterfly paradise.

When I was a junior high school student, I was elected the President of the Student's Union. The election result itself was a surprise. I drew up a candidate's statement and read it aloud in front of the whole school assembled in the gym. The other candidates included some very handsome guys, who were insanely popular among girls. I was not that popular, and consequently did not have much hope. To date I don't know why I was elected president. I n the election speech, I said something like "please believe in my passion" in a vehement way. Maybe the words worked.

The politics to execute as a president-elect seems laughable and sheer child's play from a grown-up's eye but we as pupils were serious enough. My greatest achievement was the loosening of the school law, which was very strict in those days. In the chapters clearly printed in the student's small identity booklets, it was stated that there was to be only "one line" in the socks. We thought that was ridiculously strict and negotiated to be allowed up to a three-liner. I was a small hero when we succeeded in coaxing this small but important concession from the teachers. I learned then that politics is about small changes. Like making it possible to wear three-liner socks to school.

As the president, I could organize the program in the annual school festival in any way I liked. So I slid in a small event which I proudly named "The butterfly paradise". The plan was as follows. I would go and catch a collection of butterflies (I was a butterfly kid and studied them in an amateur scientific way) and release them in a classroom. Then these butterflies would fly around, just like in a field full of flowers. One of my immature fantasies at that time was to walk hand-in-hand with my favorite girl in such a wild field. I thought I could make my fantasy into a reality in the school festival.

So I went out with the best friend of mine then, Toshikazu Shimamura, and caught all these wonderful butterflies. At the same time, I drew up this special invitation card, and put it in the shoe box of my secret love. "Secret" here meaning I did not confess to her or anything, I just held her dear in my heart. Needless to say, I did not tell Toshikazu about the secret invitation.

On the day of the school festival, we were all set. There were about 30 butterflies in the soft cage, and Toshikazu played "Sky High" by Jigsaw aloud on the cassette, which was the theme tune for the professional wrestler Mil Mascaras, very popular among Japanese boys these days.

How did my small enterprise go? Well, two rather unexpected things happened.

One, the girl did not show up. I din't know what she thought. A boy, the president of the student's union, sending an hand-drawn invitation card saying "please come to the butterflies paradise". Obviously she thought I was childish. In the sweet but difficult ages of low-teens, girls tend to have more mature minds than the boys. Maybe she thought I was simply weird. Her absence let me deep down and I was very ashamed.

Two, the butterflies did not fly around in the classroom as I imagined. The moment these tiny ones were released into the classroom, they went straight to the window. When you look back, that was the only natural thing to do for the butterflies. The room was dark, and there was sunshine coming from the windows. So it was the obvious possible route for escape to make it to the windows. I was damn foolish not to foresee that. I was rather hoping that the butterflies would be evenly distributed in the classroom space, but there was this huge bias in the distribution.

So there I was, alone with Toshikazu Shimamura, my beloved girl nowhere in sight, and the butterflies winging vehemently against the windowpanes. It was a total disaster.

The butterfly paradise turned out to be an utter failure. That was probably one of the most ridiculous thing that I ever did. I was miserable. But when you look back, it is strange that you rather like the misery.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Managing insanity in a proper way.

When I think of the difficult conceptual problems still rampant in the world, I feel as if only a properly managed insanity can lead to a breakthrough. When I say conceptual problems, I am referring to the enigmas of consciousness, measurement problem in quantum mechanics, the second law of thermodynamics, the foundations of the semantics, all these intriguing but seemingly intractable (and possibly related) problems that have ridiculed all the effort that the humanity has made so far.

When I was an undergraduate, I made friends with Ken Shiotani, now a "philosopher-at-large", (meaning, in this particular usage, that he does not belong to any university, institution, etc.; he is not paid for his "phisolophizing"). I and Shiotani would discuss these difficult things walking along the Sumida river, drinking beer, persevering a cold night air in a park. At that time, we were quite young and ignorant, but our aspirations were astronomical.

One day, Shiotani drew up a metaphor. He would like to be the "protoamphibian" who "put his leg out of water" for the first time in history. There are heaps of things that the human mind has not had access to yet, and he would like to be the first one to do it. After many years of dormancy, I think he is still aspiring to that.

Another Shiotani quote stayed with me. I think it was one of these days when I was wont to hang out with him in Tokyo bars and Izakayas. After speaking wishfully of his friends who was "climbing the ladders" smoothly and becoming authors and associate professors, Shiotani sighed and said thus.

"I don't want to be a star myself. I would rather like to be the dark void in which all these constellations shine".

He is that kind of person. Practical things are too small for him (not in a physical sense, although is quite massive!)

A few years ago, I went to Taketomi Island off Ishigaki island in the southern Okinawa district with Shiotani and other friends, where we discussed things for many hours. Another soul mate of mine, Takashi Ikegami was with us. We wanted to be teenagers in our thoughts and hearts again, basically.

Here's a shot of Shiotani (lying like a whale in the front) and Ikegami (in a pondering posture in the back) on the beach.

Ken Shiotani (front) and Takashi Ikegami (back) on the beach in Taketomi Island.

We haven't given up yet. We would like to manage insanity in a proper way somehow.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Feeling as if eternal

Feeling as if eternal

The Origin of Consciousness blog

2nd January 2007 

Monday, January 01, 2007

Japanese New Year

The Japanese New Year is strongly touched with a sense of renewal. The idea is that everything is renewed and acquire a new face, refreshed on the surface as well as from within.

As one grows up in a culture, many things are taken for granted. Respected cultural anthropologist and historian Kyoji Watanabe once mentioned to me that the essence of a particular society becomes clear only when seen from the eye of an outsider. Watanabe is the author of "Impressions of a foregone world" (Yukishi Yo no Omokage), which relied on the diaries of foreigners who visited Japan at the end of the Edo era to depict the essence of Japanese society at that time. It is a beautiful book, and testifies the truth of Watanabe's thesis, the discovery and confirmation of a society's essence through an outsider's eye.

That reminds me of one incident. When I was fifteen, I home stayed in Vancouver. Verna was the host mother. Ever since then, we have been exchanging letters, e-mails later.

One year, Verna sent me a Christmas card. It so happened the envelope arrived at the beginning of December. I wrote back to Verna, joking, "what on earth made you send the Christmas card so early?" Verna answered back, and I could sense that she was slightly offended. "I don't know. Maybe some whimsical spirit has taken possession of me", she wrote.

Although I was not aware at that time, I was without knowing being influenced by the way season's greetings are taken and handled in this country. In Japan, new year's greetings (Nengajo) is delivered by the postman on the New Year's day. There can be no delivery of these specially designed postcards earlier than that. For a Japanese, new year's greetings should be delivered after the new year has actually come, and not before that. There is something almost sacred in the delivery timing.
Mind you the post office takes a great pain to realize this "strictly on time" service. They employ a lot of student part time workers every year to deliver literally hundreds of post cards to each home on the New Year's day. These postcards are given special treatment, and not a single card is delivered before the New Year's day, although many of the cards are posted well before the New Year's eve.

So Verna was annoyed as a result of a typical cultural misunderstanding. In the western society, as I later learned, it is customary to receive Christmas Cards well before Christmas. I actually visited Verna in Vancouver once in the middle of December. The cards had already arrived, and Verna was displaying these cards on top of the fireplace. That was a beautiful sight in itself. It is only that in Japan, the new year's greetings are not displayed before the time.

Misunderstanding has led to a better appreciation of the unique value of each culture. The spirit of refreshment and renewal that comes with the Japanese New Year's greetings, and the hope and expectancy conjured up at the sight of Christmas cards in western society. It is a pity though I have not told Verna why and how the misunderstanding occurred so long time ago.

Maybe I should clarify in my next e-mail.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

An Ode to the Potentially Infinite

Earlier this year, the famed composer Tetsuji Emura has kindly suggested that I collaborate with him for his composition commissioned by the Suntory Music Foundation.

After some discussions in the library of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Ueno Park, and over a lucheon laden with glasses of wine, it has been tentatively agreed upon that I write a text first. Tetsuji would then compose the music.
The text is not going to be woven into the music as a lyric. I would most probably recite it as adjacent to Tetsuji's music.
Tetsuji composed "The Qualian Horizon" for orchestra (2005), and we have resonance in what we think and feel.

The premier for the composition is going to be on the 26th May 2007 in Osaka.

Tetsuji Emura (left) and Ken Mogi (right) in conversation in Ueno park, Tokyo.

Here's the text that I wrote for Tetsuji's music to be.

An Ode to the Potentially Infinite

Ken Mogi
written for the music of Tetsuji Emura

31st December 2006

Humans by their nature are cognitively closed,
as consciousness can get to know only itself.
Intimacy is privileged, exclusive, and selective.
By loving, we close our eyes to the passers by.

Everything is seen through a foggy mapping
of shadows cast on one's inner cosmos.
Qualia mirror the essence of things just so,
reflecting one's own prejudices and dreams.

Yet we mortal souls are not entirely alone,
life's poignant collision kick-starting our lives.
Mother caring for baby, father doing the nightshift,
raindrops of fortune occasionally falling from the sky.

Meeting people, learning how to care,
we extend our horizon, however slowly.
In the twilight we learn to aspire far away,
knowing that the star is never reachable.

Ruby at dawn, emerald in high noon.
As long as there's a "next", life showers us with gems and things.
We breathe in that sweet air of potential infinities,
the material of all that is bright in life.

As mortal beings, we do not know the end,
terminality unforeseen converted to fragile blessings.
Spring is eternal, as we drink from the cup
oblivious of the fest's final moment.

So here's an ode to the potentially infinite,
a ray of sunbeam in our humble existence.
Freedom, hope, beauty and love
all good things come from that well.

And finally, through the mind's fog
we faintly hear the footsteps
of those who remained in silence all our lives,
the long forgotten passers by.

White herons

I grew up in a Tokyo suburb where there were still rice fields and forests. One day, when I was about 10 years old or so, I went on a small adventure. I got on my bike and went out of the usual activity zone into the unknown. Unknown to a child, that is. After crossing a large road, I "discovered" a forest and an adjacent pond. The forest was meandering in a shape of a snake in a wide rice field, and the pond nestled beside the forest, in an impressive state of tranquility I remember to this day.
The pond was full of white herons. As evening approached, literally hundreds of them came flying back to their nests. The trees were laden with white spots, quarking and calling to each other. It was an unbelievable sight. I thought I discovered a fantasy land. I named it "the white heron pond" with a secret pride.

I took one of my best fiends to the newly discovered sanctuary next weekend. He was sworn to secrecy. I did not want anybody with a rough heart to come near it. We cherished the treasure.

Day after day, we would go to the pond. There was a large fallen tree beside the pond, and we would sit on the bark and watch the herons fly by. My friend was fond of photography, carried a huge camera and took pictures. On my side, the mode of actions were rather obscure. I would just fool around, thinking of this, dreaming of that, halfway up into the eternal corridor of reveries, neither here nor there, just absorbed in the air I shared with the white herons.

Then one day, a catastrophe came. We were walking along the snake-shaped forest, when we heard gunshots. The hunting season started. We did not know if that was legal or not, but these "villains" were shooting the herons anyway. We were devastated, and rage surged inside us. We took some stones and threw them in the direction the gunfires were coming from, across and over the forest band. We kept throwing the gravels, and then these kids came running towards us. They were about the same age as we were.

"Hey, stop throwing the stones, idoit!"
they shouted.

"But they are shooting the herons!"
we shouted back.

"That's my father, fool!"
one of the boys said.

Near the forest and pond there were several farmhouses, and the shooting men were farmers. Although we thought the hunters were villains, the same persons were loving fathers to the boys. Although our rage had not subdued, the boy's word "that's my father" rather extinguished the fire in our heart. There was a moment of awkward silence.

Then we saw the farmers themselves, carrying the guns on their shoulder, saying something to the farm boys. The boys started to run in the direction of their parents. The situation suddenly became unbearable. We started to run in the opposite direction. We did not look back. We don't know what happened after that.

Although we did not realize it at that time, I now think that we were emotionally on the verge of crying out loud.

After the incident, we somehow felt shy of going in that area. When we somehow conjured up courage and revisited after a few winters, the pond was gone. The water had been buried over, and there were new houses being built on the new land. There was no white heron in sight.

It was a time of Japan's rapid economic growth, and the nature was destroyed everywhere everyday. Our rage against the shooting was totally out of context when seen from the whole picture.

We had entered the junior high school at the time of the pond's disappearance. Our boyhood had gone with the white herons.

I wonder where the herons are flying now.

A white heron.

The Qualia Show

I opened my channel "The Qualia Show" in youtube.

The mission statement submitted said:

Mainly funny things that came my way.
Promoting the metacognition of the comic for the betterment of the world we live in.

As the first video, I uploaded "Gunji Karaoke", an awesome performance at Japan's best loved night pasttime by one of my best friends. The description at youtube reads:

My fellow scientist Prof. Yukio Peggio Gunji of Kobe University has a go at his favorite song.

Here's the video URL. 

The Qualia Show will be mainly devoted to comedy. Please stay tuned.