Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Abundant Ichiro

In early December, I traveled to Seattle, U.S.A. and interviewed Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle Mariners for "The Professionals" program produced and broadcast by NHK. With me were co-presenter of the program Miki Sumiyoshi, Chief Producer Nobuto Ariyoshi, and Directors Daisaku Kawase and Kenichiro Tsutsumida.

Ichiro is renowned for his stoic stance, meditative and restrained movements. However, the real Ichiro is something different. There is a fire within him, a raging volcano which would erupt when time comes. The superficial appearance of the quiet man is only a disguise behind which lurks a gigantic force.

That Ichiro is in fact a man full of elementary forces should come as no surprise when you consider the nature of the game of baseball. In a fast pitch by a major leaguer, the ball arrives at the home base 0.4 seconds after it is released from the thrower. You cannot afford to be just quiet and restrained to adapt to that sort of speed.

Ichiro is a vivid creature exploding with energy, and exemplifies a universal principle. In general, when there is abundance, it is possible to restrain the overflow and make a refined use. When superfluence is lacking, however, one cannot fake it, force the abundance, induce the overflow. Genius is hallmarked by excess, almost without exception. And Ichiro is no exception.

The program will be broadcast in the New Year (January 2nd 2008, 21:00 to 22:12 JST)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rain Reaction

I am not sure if there's really such a word, but I am coining it anyway. I am going to write about the rain reaction.

I am fond of jogging in the forest near my flat in Tokyo. The other day, the sky was cloudy with a hint of imminent rain in the air. I ventured off notwithstanding. I enjoyed my running on that particular day. Feeling and breathing in the moisture in the space as you dash through is a soothing experience.

I was approaching my favorite spot, where the trees grow tall on a gentle slope. A dragonfly came into my view. It drew my attention because the way it flew was a bit unusual. I looked like a common Autumn Darter ("Akiakane"), but the manner of flight was definitely not.

I stopped running and observed the insect carefully. It flew in a zigzag trajectory as if in a jovial dancing, and approached a tree. There, after making some agitated turns, it perched on a leaf. I approached and took a good look at the specimen. It was an Autumn Darter all right.

I noticed that it had actually begun to rain. In a poignant period of transition, the raindrops gradually increased in number, and I myself had to run for cover.

It was the rain reaction. The insect, detecting the raindrop, apparently went into a different mode of flight than usual. This kind of behavior would be observable only in the transition period, as once it definitely started raining these creatures would not make flights but shelter themselves under the leaves.

I jogged on, pondering the rain reaction. Butterflies must also exhibit rain reactions. Their wings are so vulnerable. Ants must make rain reactions on the ground. These abrupt changes of behavior must be written in their genetic codes. Rain is such a common phenomenon.

Then I mused on rain reactions in life. When rain falls in life, what do people do? Do they dance in a heightened mood, or do they shriek for cover? Is it different from the snow reaction? Is there such a thing as a sunbeam reaction?

My jogging was almost over. As I dried my hair and took of the T-shirt, I thought of the dragonfly, biding time under the leaf.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Miscellaneous Weeds Gardening

On the veranda of my flat in Tokyo, I have several pots of plants. These were originally purchased in gardening shops, featuring the benjamin fig, orange, camellia tree, and other plant species of interest.

With the passage of time, some of these plants sadly perish. Some are flourishing, while some are in states of constant transitions the outcomes of which are still not clear to this writer.

Whatever the fates of the main inhabitants, I have one "pot policy". When miscellaneous weeds find their way into the pot, I do not get rid of them. I let them grow.

Many plant seeds have managed to land in the tiny soil in my pots whether by the whims of winds, or birds. It is fascinating to watch how different plant species fight for soil spaces and then settle to co-exist. The pots thus left alone are quite enjoyable gems of ecology.

Something uncontrollable, and yet by nature so peaceful. Like our own minds.

I regard this "miscellaneous weeds gardening" as one of the greatest achievements of my otherwise lamentable idleness.

The result of miscellaneous weeds gardening in one of the pots.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Janice Tay's article in the Straights Times.

Some time ago I received a mail about my 11th April blog from Janice Tay. Janice is an active writer originally from Singapore, who now stays in Kyoto. In the mail, she said that she was planning to write an article for the Straights Times, a venerable English newspaper founded in 1845. Janice asked if she could mention my blog in that article. I was overjoyed.

Janice's article titled "When closed doors set us free" has now been published on the 14th July issue.

Janice's article.
When closed doors set us free

Janice's blog.

Power of logic

Some time ago, I met with Prof. Lisa Randall of Harvard University at a lecture and discussions session held in Koshiba Hall at the University of Tokyo. I am an alumnus of the Physics Department of this university, where Prof. Emeritus Masatoshi Koshiba (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2002) used to teach.

One of the marvels of contemporary physics, from the eyes of an interested onlooker, lies in the belief that the power of logical consistency is pushed to the limit. Assuming that the laws of physics such as general relativity and quantum mechanics hold, one can make certain conclusions about the origin of the universe, scales of parameters involved in forces and particles, etc. What is remarkable is this belief in the "extendability" of the power of logic. For example, by applying the currently known laws of physics, one can make certain conclusions about the dynamics of the generation and annihilation of the universes, a great multitude of them in fact, one of which we supposedly inhabit.

Lisa's combination of logical rigidity, a well-balanced sense of humor, and healthy common sense was a great charmer for the full packed audience. Lisa's powerful role in generating new results as well as communicating about them to the general public is a super nova. The session was recorded, and will be broadcast on NHK (Japanese public television) on the 25th of August, 2007.

Lisa Randall lecturing in Koshiba hall, University of Tokyo on 28th July 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The trumpet boy in Salzburg.

I have been visiting Salzburg, Austria, to attend the Quantum Mind
conference organized by a long time friend of mine, Gustav Bernroider of the University of Salzburg. Now I am heading back to Tokyo, lost in translation at Vienna airport.

On the last evening of my short stay in Salzburg, I was tasting my beer in the venerable Cafe Tomaselli. A small boy of about 6 or 7 years old was playing the trumpet. He was adequately good, but not particularly masterful, going out of tune here and there. About five meters from him, a man, apparently the father, was standing observant, eagerly watching his son's performance.

The sight reminded me of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart was "on tour" from the age of six, traveling around Europe, earning money for his father by displaying his genius at the piano. It was a marvel which attracted people's attention, but the admiration waned with the growth of the great composer. The novelty value was diminished as Mozart's height increased and he became an ordinary young man. The real struggle of Mozart's life, to have people acknowledge that he was a serious musician to be appreciated on genuine merits rather than as a "small chap" playing the piano masterfully, started there.

As some approached the trumpet boy and showed their appreciation with the sound of dropping coins, I wondered what it would have felt like to witness the very young Mozart in performance, eagerly trying to please people all around. I would have liked to see the gleam in his eyes.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The brightest searchlight

I met with Mr. Adam Smith, who is the product management director for the Book Search service at Google. Mr. Smith visited Japan on the occasion of the Tokyo International Book Fair, in which Google announced the launch of the book search service in Japan.

The informational qualities of books are in general superior to those of digital information on the internet. The reason being that people put much more energy when they write up a book. Living things tend to take seriously those information sent out with a lot of energy behind. Cost can be the effective measure of the importance of a biological signal. Digital information on the net are easy to publish. There is in principle no prima facie reason why information published on the internet should be inferior to those in the books. However in practice, the quality of information on the web is varied.

The serious defect of books, however, is inaccessibility. I remember the time I was browsing through the books in the Cambridge University library while I was doing postdoc there. For a special reason I was looking for some passages in C. D. Broad's writings. I do not think that many people were interested in those volumes at that time. I doubt any human fingers have touched the covers of some of the books I went through since I returned them to the shelves more than 10 years ago.
In this modern age of connectivity and accessibility, the intractability of gaining information from a forgotten book is something on the verge of an intellectual scandal. Legal issues notwithstanding (I am sure somebody can sort them out in due time), making the contents of books searchable is clearly the right way to proceed. Not only currently available copies but also "public domain" books now becoming obscure have a right to be known to the general public.

During the meeting, Mr. Smith mentioned that making all the books digitally available was the original dream of Larry Page and Servey Brin, before they founded Google.

Shedding light to the forgotten corners is a healthy exercise, in which we outgrow the limitations of the contemporary and gain deeper insight into the history of human thinking. The internet with its powerful search functionalities is the brightest searchlight that we possess, in many cases for free.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Recently, I was invited to the Kankyu-an of Mushanokojisenke in Kyoto. I was to attend the most formal of tea ceremonies hosted by the next (15th) Iemoto Designate, Mr. Souoku Sen.
Certain cultural essences never travel far. People might get to have a very faint idea of what a tea ceremony is all about, by coming to witness some of the outreaching events. However, I knew from my own experience so far in life that the essence of certain ancient traditions would be never be known, unless one actually lives and breathes the "heart" of the event at its best.

In my life, a particularly poignant example was the Ise shrine. The essence of its natural and architectural beauty could never be understood, unless one actually visited the sacred place. All the historical, cultural and sometimes political connotations that surrounded this institution did not help, but rather hindered, my appreciation of its jealously conserved merits.

A tea ceremony at Kankyu-an is very special. It is said that even if one dedicates oneself to the teachings of the masters of the school all life, it is not certain whether one would be invited to a ceremony at this important historic site. It was a special consideration on the part of Mr. Sen to grant me, a complete novice in the art of tea and not even a formal pupil of his school, this very rare opportunity.

So here was my chance to get to know the real thing, where my only weapons were the open senses.

During the ceremony which lasted for more than four hours, I was moved by a series of inner discoveries. Although I do not have the time to go into all the details in this journal, I will try to convey the (in my view) most essential elements below.

I think I could understand the historical context surrounding the initiation of this form of art for the first time. I had to travel to Kankyu-an and go through the formal procedures of the classic tea ceremony to come to this realization.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the most powerful man at the time of the founder of tea ceremonies, Sen no Rikyu. After many years of warfare between the Daimyos, Hideyoshi united Japan. Being appointed Kampaku by the Emperor, his power was second to none in the earthly sense. After a long period of often brutal battles, in which betrayals by the closest of allies, sometimes even by those of one's own blood were the norm, people were accustomed to the idea of a man in power giving a free vent to his often savage whims. The grave matters of life and death were nothing but trifle movement of a finger for the powers that be.

It was all the more significant, then, that Sen no Rikyu defied the supreme political powers by inventing an art form which requested, for example, the practitioners to stoop as they enter the chasitsu. No weapons were allowed in the small hall of exquisite beauty where all the ceremonies took place. The powerful warriors had to abandon all the worldly glories they had fought all their lives for and obey rules of quite another world, where the most humble and unassuming items were deemed lofty and valuable.

No exceptions were made even for the most powerful of all. Hideyoshi must have felt that his world was being turned completely upside down, his taste for the decorative and rich effectively ridiculed by the tea master. It must have been as if that Hideyoshi's achievements, laudable by any reasonable estimates of history, were reduced to mere nothingness. Hideyoshi was again transformed into a complete novice, where he had to learn everything from scratch in the great universe of wabicha created by Sen no Rikyu.

Here was a creative tension between politics and the arts almost unrivaled in the long history of humanity. It would have been psychologically helpful for Hideyoshi if the cosmos of Sen no Rikyu was something he could reject and ignore. On the contrary, it was so attractive, probably more desirable than being the supreme power of the nation. Hideyoshi must have envied the tea master deeply. Yearning and respect can easily turn into resentment and an urge for a revenge, when it becomes clear that the object of desire is not attainable no matter how hard one tries.

It was a regrettable act of Hideyoshi to order Sen no Rikyu to commit ritual suicide. At the same time, it indicates that Hideyoshi perceived the significance of Rikyu's approach in full, seeing rightly the radicalism behind the seemingly peaceful processions.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Everybody is getting busier these days. The internet and the mobile phone are responsible for making us occupied with various things all day long, forcing us to accept miscellaneous contexts simultaneously, in a situation that was inconsiderable some years ago.

If the popular conception about the dog year holds, then more things must be compressed into the same amount of time compared to what used to be the case.

One consolation of the current situation is that there are more chances of different elements making associations with each other and leading to a non-trivial synthesis. In the association cortex of the brain, experiences would be accumulated with higher intensity, and would, during the course of the "editing" and "streamlining" of the various memory traces, lead to the genesis of new things.

The Flynn effect pinpoints the increase of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores in industrialized nations in recent times. If this particular effect is due to the changing information environment, then it can also lead to increased creativity among people. Creativity is difficult to give a measure to compared to the general intelligence, but it must be somehow possible to find empirical evidences in support of the increased productivity in the domain of intelligence.

It is as if the average information environment in which a common man finds himself is becoming something similar to the tropical jungle, where miscellaneous factors are compressed into one with an extremely high density.

For me, creativity increased induced by intensity is at least the gospel of the time, if not entirely the case.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Wittgenstein's cat

I have this bad habit of scribing nonsensical things in my notebook during meetings and conferences. Just listening to other people talk seems to bore my brain. I need to do something extra to properly exercise it.

That's how I came up with the idea of volcano whales, which illustration I use for the current version of my name card.

The other day I was attending a conference, and was half consciously "at it" again. After somehow going into drawing a cat, I came upon this idea of revising the fascinating concept of the Schrödinger's cat.

Schrödinger's venerable cat has been doing the scientific community a lot of service by providing a striking illustration of the mystery of quantum mechanics, after its introduction to humanity in 1935. However, as the Gedanken experiment involves the life and death of a lovable animal, some people might express uneasiness from politically correct reasons.

Here's the new version. It is called "Wittgenstein's cat". One Sunday afternoon, when the sky's blue and the sun is shining, the deep thinking philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein begins to lecture his latest theory to his cat. In this Gedanken experiment, the key question is whether the cat will be awake or asleep after five minutes. Would the cat be alert and attentive to what Wittgenstein is saying, or would it be happily asleep, taking a well-earned nap after listening to his mater's intractable ideas?
According to quantum mechanics, there will be a superposition of the awake cat and the sleeping cat. You would not know which until you actually make the observation. This is the Gedanken experiment of Wittgenstein's cat.

One crucial condition for this experiment to make sense is that the philosopher keeps talking philosophy (blah, blah, blah, ....) whatever the attitude of the cat turns out to be. In other words, the philosopher should not care whether the cat is listening or not, and keep talking philosophy anyway.

This particular condition, given the known facts about Wittgenstein and other philosophically oriented people, is quite likely to be satisfied.

Wittgenstein's cat. A politically correct version of the Schrödinger's cat experiment.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


I met with Dr. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google for an interview to be broadcast in the "The Professionals" program in NHK during his visit to Tokyo.

Eric said that in Google, information regarding business and technology is made as open as possible, as freedom of information is one of the necessary premises of a creative company. Eric stressed the importance of listening, as a collection of people is bound to be cleverer than an individual, how gifted and experienced that particular person might be.

In a meeting, after expressing his own opinion, Eric waits for somebody else to oppose him, and then listen to the following discussions among the participants. Eric finds that listening is an essential part of creative management. Without listening, one cannot learn, especially in this era of distributed intelligence of the swarm.

Needless to say, the final decision is his, but in order to make an educated choice, a period of listening must precede the moment of truth.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I met with Mr. Yukio Sakamoto, CEO of Elpida Memory Inc. for interview in "The Professionals" program that I host with Ms. Miki Sumiyoshi for NHK. Mr. Sakamoto's miraculous turning around of the once struggling company is well known.

One of the things that Mr. Sakamoto said and impressed me deeply during the shooting was the necessity to have a clear image for the future. Of course we know that the future is in fact unpredictable, Mr. Sakamoto said. All the same, we do need to have an idea of what kind of person (or company) we would like to be in, say, five years.

The here and now is the only controllable element in life. However, in order to live the here and now fully, we need to have an envisioned future for the guidance. It is admittedly a temporary, mocked-up future, which may not turn out to be the case, but we need to have that vision. And in order to make the vision good, we need to conduct a hard study, think deep, and take action after actions.

This strong urge to envision the future might be one of the key components of a successful entrepreneur. It is also necessary for anyone who cares for the development of his or her own career, coping with the unavoidable in life, but still sailing defiantly towards the promised island of his or her own choice. To know for a fact that the future is unpredictable is compatible with being a self-determined visionary.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Only positive things

Some time ago, I made a half conscious, and half unconscious resolution that I will basically refer to positive things coming from positive emotions in what I write. I have my share of rage and sometimes very fierce criticisms, but I reserve them for the medium of air. I just say it, and let it pass. When you write it down, it remains, and with the passage of time begins to stink. Positive things age into maturity, but negative things deteriorate and leave a bitter aftertaste. I recommend this differential usage of media for anyone with passion, both positive and negative or otherwise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thesis in oil

Leonard da Vinci's "Annunciation" is now on exhibit in the Tokyo National Museum. Taking a good look at it, I realized how it is not only an excellent manifestation of the artistry of painting, but also a fine expression of human intellect.

There is this misconception that the natural media for academism are papers and essays. A piece of art, on the other hand, is often considered as something separate from these expressions of human wisdom, something in coherence with the primordial emotions and urges that are rather curbed in the pursuit of excellence in academism.

But such a view is clearly ill-conceived, and Leonard's work is a fine proof in residence. For a starter, in this painting everything looks alive, vibrant, not only Mary and Gabriel, and the flowers at the foot of the angel, the trees in distance, all those which are considered alive in the conventional world view, but also the stone wall, the mountain, the clouds, the air, and even the Bible. Such a spiritual timbre captured on panel can only come from a deep understanding of the coherences and differentiations between life and materials, the mind and matter, space and time, the essence of all living things, and the relation between man and god.

In short, "Annunciation" is an exquisite expression of a deep thinking intellectual that was Leonard, just as Origin of Species was the culmination of Charles Darwin's intellectual endeavors over many years. Leonard was in his early twenties when he did this "thesis in oil"

Monday, April 16, 2007

The tuna night

In a warm night, when the wind is gently breezing around my body, there is one memory that comes back to me again and again. It is about two university undergraduates lying on the banks of the Sumida River in downtown Tokyo at dusk, just like a pair of tuna fish in the Tsukiji fish market. One is Ken Shiotani, the fat (or in other words, "gravitationally challenged") philosopher of temporality and other enigmas. The other is I, his best friend at that time and since, bubbling about everything like a boiling kettle.

In those days we hang out together and talked about difficult things in general, so there was nothing unusual about our killing time on the riverbank. Still, that night stands out as a hallmark in our youthful investigations. We had a can of beer each, with very casual clothing. We may have looked like two homeless people, or aspiring candidates thereof. There were a number of couples strolling along the river. Night was falling, and walking with your loved one was the only sensible thing to do. We talked about science and philosophy instead. We were clearly the odd ones out.

The couples, seeing that there were two shabbily dressed blokes with beer cans, apparently talking nonsense, chose to do what was clearly sensible. Each of them unfailingly made a large detour along the bank, avoiding us in a great circular trajectory, going back to their normal strolling behavior once they were safely distant from the two strange persona non grata.

I don't know why that night stands out so vividly in my memory. Maybe it is a symbol of our youthful misery, or perhaps it is rather that of a sublime glory in deprivation. In any case, I do cherish the remembrance, wishing that I could go back to that very night as an ignorant youth.

Theoretically, we could restage our "tuna night on the bank" anytime even at a mature age. Only stupid social customs and mannerisms prevent us from enjoying the fruits of poignant follies. Maybe I should get a can of beer and call up Shiotani and head for the Sumida River at this very moment.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


As one gets along with time in life, many thing accumulate in the brain. You cannot recall them explicitly. But it is all there. Therefrom come life's many blessings, like the growing personality and the nostalgic memories. On the other hand, like a wine that has gone bad due to an ill conceived maturation treatment, traces of the past can kill the vital freshness within the self.

Therefore it is sometimes good to forget. To feel as if one was born today, where everything in the world is fresh, envigorating, and full of surprises. To feel again that everything is possible, where you are provided with potentially infinite future time. You felt like that in your childhood. There is no reason why you cannot feel the same, no matter how old you are. It is just a matter of tricking your brain into an exquisite cocktail of context-formation, pretending, and believing in the potential of the universal elan vital. Everything is bottomless, and therefore infinite.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

From E. Coli to Chestnut Tigers

This saturday morning, I chatted with Dr. Ueda of Riken about his research on biological clockes, in the editorial office of Nikkei Science. While we strolled in the corridor of interesting facts and ponderings, he mentioned a ongoing research in which the investigator cultured E. Coli for 20 years. Apparently these small chaps "adapted" to the new environment. Wild types of E. Coli, when put into a new environment, do not start dividing until after some delay period, consistent with the idea that the primitive biological forms are "probing" the environment to see if it is fit. The cultured E. Coli, on the other hand, somehow learn to start reproduction "straight away". Presumably they have figured out that the environment they are in is fit for proliferating, and no initial probings are necessary. The underlying molecular mechanisms behind this adaptation are still to be elucidated.

That story somehow reminded me of the butterfly Chestnut Tiger (Parantica sita). This is a beautiful but poisonous species. The birds, after learning that these creatures with inviting appearances actually taste nastily, do not bother them. Chestnut Tigers therefore fly very slowly, with a certain air of elegance, as if they know they wouldn't be chased by birds. When an ignorant enemy tries to attack them, however, for example by the small boy that was I thiry-something years ago, Chestnut Tigers would suddenly shoot up into the high air.

When, however, I waved my hands towards the artificicially cultivated Chestnut Tigers in the Giant Glass Insect Dome of Tama zoo, they could be hardly less perturbated. They have somehow learned that they were now enclosed in a space with a ceiling, and that shooting up into the air did not make any sense. They just kept flying in a slow-motion elegance, after some irritated movement induced by my hands.

The adaptabilities of biological systems, from E. Coli to Chestnut Tigers, never ceases to amaze me. The wonder is how the system and molecules work together to make it happen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Creative Concessions

Recently, I met with the architect Kengo Kuma for intervew on the weekly "The Professionals" program that I am hosting for NHK with Ms. Miki Sumiyoshi. It was not the first time that I met with this famous architect. However, it was the first proper and long chat, lasting for more than 4 hours, which unfortunately would be compressed into 15 minutes in the actual broadcast.

Kengo's architectural philosophy is that of "creative concessions". He criticizes the modern approach of steel and concrete for the very freedom that these materials have given the architects. When you use alternative building materials such as wood, there are numerous restrictions to which you are obliged to make concessions to. True creativity arises from these restrictions and concessions, Kengo says.

When asked what kind of architecture he would build if there was no restriction arising from the environment, materials, or budget, Kengo answered after some moments of pondering that he would discover a restriction somehow even in that case. I realized why Kengo is considered as one of the key architects in the 21st century.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Whiskey time

We are supposedly living in a "dog year". But certain things take longer time. Take the maturation of whiskey, for example. If you would like to make a fine whiskey, you need to allow for at least ~ 10 years of maturation time. In order to stage a good aging of the liquid, a fine oak barrel is an absolute necessity. An oak tree takes a hundred years to grow to a size appropriate for use as a barrel. Peat, traditionally used in Scotland to give that peculiar flavor, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter which takes ages to form. Whiskey time, in contrast to the dog year, is a symbol of painfully slow processions of things.

When it comes to the maturation of a personality, it takes all of life to materialize. The synaptic plasticity in the brain takes a few weeks to be molecularly completed. We learn very slowly as a molecular machine, but the accumulation hopefully would lead to a non-trivial transformation of character.

Even the computer, when deciphered in terms of the atoms that make it up, lives in a whisky time. The heavy atoms can only be transformed through cycles of galaxies being formed and then perished. The dog year can only flourish on top of the atomic whiskey time.

We sometimes become too enthusiastic at the cost of ignoring the whole picture. Information technology has not freed us from the curses and blessings of the cosmic whiskey time.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

When we look up to the cherry blossoms

We love the cherry blossoms in spring because of their short existence on earth. If these flowery manifestations of the power of life stayed for months, our enthusiasms would be greatly diminished.

When you think about it, everything in the universe is in permanent motion. A tiny stone on your desk, which, after being forced out of the earth and transported and gradually destroyed and frictioned by the workings of water, seems finally to be at rest. However, inside the cool and still image of the stone surface, electrons are swirling around the nucleus in an eternal zitterbewegung, the positrons and neutrons and the quarks that make up these particles are in constant motion, even being destroyed and created from nothing in the poignant void of space-time.

Life is based on the perpetual motion of things, and therefore changes and deaths are inevitable. When we look up to the cherry blossoms, and witness their rapid demise from the prime of beauty, what is happening is nothing more than a result of the universal passage of time which affect life and non-life in the cosmos alike. The fact that we are affected and feel a sweet pain in our soul is ultimately an enigma, albeit so natural from the point of life's common senses, as nothing is changing in terms of the fundamental ways of things when it happens.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Homeostasis, the maintenance of the status quo, is an important aspect of all biological processes. Evolution deals with a long time scale, so that it appears as if everything is possible, supposedly depending on the random mutations and natural selections. Development of an organism, on the other hand, happens in a much shorter time scale. When a fertilized egg develops into a multi-cellular life-form, there is not much new information being generated through an interaction with the environment. So that we need to consider the multi-cellular development as an instance of homeostasis.

The concept of homeostasis is accompanied by (some) invariant parameters. Development on the surface appears to be a generation of new order de nuvo, but in actuality it must be sustained by the invariance of some structural properties, turning the implicates into the explicits. Learning, accompanied and resulting in personality changes, can too be regarded as an instance of this generalized concept of homeostasis.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Recently I met with Mr. Mochio Umeda, the famed visionary based in Silicon Valley, in the headquarters of the IT venture "Hatena" in Tokyo. In the talk, we touched upon the subject of "rage".

Mochio described how rage directed towards the status quo has driven technological innovations in the United States. Experience has shown that whenever people with visions for a (in their view) better future clash with those who have established interests in the present system, the futurists on average have scored victory in the long run.

In the beginning, naturally, people with visions are stuck with the present system, friction from several directions preventing their every move. Their rage towards the status quo then erupts, and kick-starts a series of movements that eventually lead to the breakdown of the present system.

Mochio described a particularly impressive anecdote about one of his mentors. This visionary, who have advocated the concept of life-long computing long before the technologies which would materialize the concept, once mail-ordered a software. That software came in a floppy disk. When the mentor saw the disk packed in a box with filler materials, he was so outraged that he tore open the box and destroyed the filler materials, crying that the only essential thing in the box was the "digital bits", and everything else was redundant and superfluous.

We all know how digital information has come to be distributed in the modern world.

It is reported that the BBC has come to an agreement with youtube about the distribution of its content in the newly emerging internet video site. No matter whatever legal reasons you might cite to explain why a particular change would not happen, things that serve people's interest in the long run would materialize. And behind the rapid development of technologies and social structure are the rages of the visionaries and digiratis.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Fads are interesting social cognitive phenomena. Something becomes popular, and loses popularly and wanes in its push. I suspect many trends on the internet are actually fads. They flame for sometime, and are then gone. They would not disappear completely, but would lose significance they were once supposed to carry.

When people subscribe to new things on the internet, they do so out of their curiosity and neophilia. Then the homeostasis of life takes over. Those that provide truth values stay, and those that don't go away.

I find myself increasingly drawn to those information of long standing values. I have and am subscribed to social network services, but these do not in general provide something of eternal significance. I am more and more yearning to read the classics, for example the original texts of the philosopher Henri Bergson, rather than reading the casual entries of people whom you barely know.

The time spent on the internet is a precious portion of life. If there is a double standard as to the quality to be expected between real life and internet time, then the discrepancy would eventually disappear, although no trends in life happens in completeness.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


This week I went to the southern island of Okinawa to give a lecture in front of 100 or so people involved in pharmaceutical business. The subtropical island is about two and half hours flight from Haneda airport which serves metropolitan Tokyo.
My physical condition was not particularly well on that day. I had symptoms of a cold, most probably that of an influenza, and I slept during most of the flight. My sleep was heavy and troubled.

Transportation was pre-arranged. On the way, I talked to the driver of the car designated by the pharmaceutical company. I had lots of stuff to do, and was working on my laptop computer despite the poor physical condition, but somehow I felt that he was in a mood for talking, so I put away my computer and let the conversation flow.

First he talked about how clumsy he felt about girls. With the help of alcohol, maybe he can conjure up some courage, but that is not always so, he went on. He was a bachelor at the age of 35.

Then he started to mention about the war, about Korean and Chinese people who stayed in Okinawa area, how his parents escaped the worst part of the battle of Okinawa which claimed heavy casualties. After the war, Okinawa was occupied by the United States until its reunion on the 15th of May 1972.

These are very sensitive and difficult issues, and the best I could do was to listen very carefully, with my whole existence. Listening to is a very precious act, in this modern age of superficial glamour. By listening, one can regain the implicit and the
forgotten, the spirit of the gone, the forsaken.

When I got out of the car, the driver smiled and just went away. It was nightfall, and I could hear the laughter of people enjoying the peace on the street. The whole apparition would have seemed like a swarm of frivolous luminosity floating on a wide, dark ocean, to those who are in the know.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The news is

Ms. Miki Sumiyoshi, co-presenter of "The Professionals" show on NHK, recently said something which set me pondering. During conversation off the studio, when we were chatting about things with the chief producer Mr. Nobuto Ariyoshi and several directors, she mentioned in passing how she disliked the news programs. Current affairs are surely important, but the daily news shows tend to capture brief moments of trends which need to be treated on a longer time scale. The news programs focus on visually dramatic happenings, sensationally reporting accidents and issues but completely forgetting what happened and moving on to new stimulants the next day. The average "attention span" of news programs is getting shorter and shorter. Ms. Sumiyoshi did not actually say that much, but that was the gist of her remark.

In short, the news is that the news programs are not really worth watching, folks!

I find myself increasingly being attracted by things set in a much longer temporal context than the "now this, next that" approach rampant in much of the modern media.

Einstein once remarked how people who are interested only in today's affairs are as well as short-sighted. I would like very much to see far away, hear distant sounds. Consequently I become less interested in the short-attention-span bonanza.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


The basic thesis is that memories of the past are not fixed. They transform themselves and change their shapes and appearances every time you return to them.

When I was into the low teens, I suddenly became seized by Lucy Maud Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" series. I first read all the Japanese translations, and went on to read the originals. It was actually the Anne series, together with J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, that kick-started my serious build-up of English as a foreign language.

I carried my enthusiasm somehow into the low twenties. I have been to Prince Edward Island twice.

Recently, I was reflecting on how I enjoyed this particular piece of juvenile literature, when I suddenly realized a hidden agenda.

One of the things that attracted me at that time was the beauty of the nature depicted in the writings. The famous landscapes in the novel such as "the lake of shining waters", "the haunted woods", etc. captured the imagination of the young me. I have been aware of this line of influence, but I had not realized that this sentiment had a lot to do with the destruction of environment that went with the rapid economical growth of Japan at the time of my childhood.

When I was a kid, the forests that I loved would be suddenly destroyed. As I visited my favorite woods after some period, it was not unusual to see the trees having been cut down, with bulldozers doing an immeasurable damage, revealing the bare soil, the men working seemingly without any pains in their conscience. As I look back, I realize that these incidents were deeply hurting to the naive person that was me.

Reflections make it seem likely that the Anne series in a sense provided the much needed psychological compensations for the natural beauties that rapidly disappeared from my childhood environment. Avonlea (the imaginary village in which Anne Shirley lives) represented in my mind an ideal place to inhabit where the enchantments of your childhood are preserved for ever, in a time capsule the existence of which is not to be hoped for in the real world.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Under cover

I experienced my first snow of this winter in the northern town of Yamagata, which I am visiting as one of the judges for the students' graduation work competition in the Tohoku University of Art and Design (TUAD). Mr. Tatsuo Miyajima, the renowned artist of digital magic, kindly invited me to this occasion. Mr. Miyajima is the vice president of the University.

Since I came to Yamagata yesterday, people have been mentioning the unusually warm winter, on the taxi, on campus, in the museum. The snow flakes, which started to fall from the sky as I watched out of the hotel window this morning, came as a relief and brought a sense of return to the normal.

As the white fall covered everything from the grounds to roads and roofs, for as far as I could see, I pondered on the soothing power of the "cover".

Leonard da Vinci famously drew a "see through" illustration depicting the various anatomical features of a man and a woman in the act of love making. A romantic sentiment thrives on things deeply buried under the surface, being enthralled by and drawn to hidden enigmas and the slightest hints.

Being hidden is not a patent of the immortals. The omnipotent thrives in its glory for the very reason that its essence and substance is eternally under cover.

We cannot live with unsolved mysteries. There is an essential nourishment for the soul in everything hidden. The incidental snowfall brought the much needed enlightenment to the world down under and myself.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


The composer Tetsuji Emura is working on a composition based on my poem (see the 31st December 2006
entry of this blog.)

When Tetsuji came to lecture at Geidai (Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), he talked about how the composer John Cage used to love mushrooms.

Betraying the various connotations that swirled in the listeners' minds, Tetsuji went on to mention in a cool manner.

That is because the word "mushroom" is listed next to the word "music" in a dictionary.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The first kiss

The other day I went on air as the guest in the early morning FM radio program (on J-wave) hosted by the actor Tetsuya Bessho. When I asked Tetsuya how he distinguished acted love affairs on stage from the real ones in life, he replied that it was difficult to separate the two when he was young. I mentioned some films by Abbas Kiarostami, in which the stage and real life often get mixed, and a lively conversation followed.

Then Tetsuya said something quite interesting. For some female actors, especially those who make their debut early in life, it can so happen that their very first kiss takes place on stage in the process of acting. I could not get too emotional as I was on air, but I felt this strange pang in my heart and wept secretly in my soul.

There is a first time only once. To experience the first act of love's tender caressing on the stage, what a strange and enchanting procession of life it is! Acting, thrusted forward by the energy taken from the fountains of life, what an enigmatic occupation!

At the end of the day, however, intricate and often impenetrable arrangements by the divinity notwithstanding, the true first kiss must remain the one with whom one is bonded in heart.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Backsides of unturned stones

I am now in the westernmost town of the Honshu Island, Shimonoseki. I have come here to deliver a series of lectures.

This town is an unforgettable place in the modern history of Japan, as it served as one of the gateways to the external world. The connotations and contexts subdue with the passage of time, but memory remains, deep down in the psyche, transforming our everyday life as we know it.

Japan is a heavily centralized nation in terms of media network. Almost all the keystations of television are based in Tokyo, with a few exceptions in Osaka. There are certain tendencies and mannerisms that arise from this aerial asymmetry between Tokyo and the local towns, which I don't particularly like. I don't want to be thrown into this context of geopolitical asymmetry which many people actually take for granted.

When I visit towns new to my soul, I try to identify, beyond all the superficial appearances, an immobile structure withstanding the change of time, something beyond linear imagination, those which cannot be communicated or transported easily and therefore stand unnoticed for casual passers-by.

I try to picture in mind how life will be if I lived in the remote town. How I would develop my career, meet friends, weather an early morning rain, nurture and dream. I smell the scent of the long-forgottens, backsides of unturned stones, and the little fishes beneath the ever running water of life.

I try to tear the screens covering my inner eyes away so that I can see the world around me afresh.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Little Britain

I've been seeing lots of British comedies. Among the many excellent entries into the genre, I think "Little Britain" is truly an innovation. I have watched it repeatedly. The DVDs are gems on my desk top. When I go on a trip lasting for a few days, I take them for my own personal entertainment before I go to sleep.

The jokes are directed towards the social taboos in a very intelligent way. Take the treatment of prejudices, for example. It is not the discriminated people, but rather the prejudiced themselves, that suffer. When an old lady (played magnificently by David Walliams) eats a piece of biscuit and discovers that it has been made by an object of her prejudice, it is she that gets sick and eventually throws up (in a gigantic whale-like way, indeed!), while people around her keep calm and cool. This format, I think, is an intelligent comment on the still remnant prejudices in societies around the world, in the United Kingdom or otherwise.

During my stay in the U.K, I used to watch the "Shooting Stars" progam. I did not realize until recently that George Dawes, the "giant baby" character in the show was actually played Matt Lucas, until I looked up "Little Britain" in wikipedia some time ago.

I have the greatest respects to Matt and David for their excellent scripts and unbelievable acting.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Brownie Points

Mr. Seiichiro Watanabe, Founder and CTO of NuCore Technology Inc. based in San Jose was the guest in this week's shoot of "The Professionals "program.

Here's what happens basically in the shootings which usually takes place in the studio 102 of NHK broadcast center. I and my co-presenter Ms Miki Sumiyoshi chat with the guests for about three to four hours, during which there are moments when we feel we are just that close to the core of the soul of each other. This long conversation is then edited into a condensed footage of about 15 minutes in the actual broadcasts.

The conversation with Mr. Watanabe was quite stimulating. In particular, it was interesting when Mr. Watanabe mentioned that in the Silicon Valley culture failures count as valuable brownie points in one's c.v. as well as successes.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Yesterday was the presentation and examinations day for the masters degree candidates in the Department of Computation Intelligence and Systems Science of the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

From my laboratory, three students stood up to the challenge. Ms Fumi Okubo presented her work on jealousy as a problem of dividing resource in a three-party game. Mr. Tomomitsu Herai examined how agency and intention affected temporal order judgments of visual and auditory stimuli, and Mr. Eiichi Hoshio reported on the interplay between object recognition and spatial cognition in a cyberspace.

When they entered the graduate school, they knew almost nothing about the brain or cognitive science. After two years of Kandel's book reading, a hundred or so journal clubs and several international conferences, they were now up to the job, with pride shining in their eyes, although understandably intimidated by the prospect of being closely examined by the eminent scholars.

To my joy and relief, they all passed the exam. We had a celebrations drink in our cozy seminar room. It was one of the happiest days in the recent history of my humble life.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Batting center

Batting centers are popular in Japan. The other day I was watching a T.V. program about a man who was the "home run champion" in a batting center in Osaka. He would go into the cage everyday, and produce lots of home runs, by hitting the "home run mark" placed on the far side net. He was a retired old man.

The T.V. crew was interviewing the champ, when the hitter suddenly remarked that he knew that the center was going to be closed soon, due to financial situations. Watching, I felt a strange pang in my heart, realizing that the champ's local fame was to end.

The home run man flourished on the "secure base" of the batting center. When the batting center is gone, so would be the champ. Some may laugh and ridicule a fame based on such a humble foundation. But what essential difference is there between a batting center in Osaka, and other seemingly "gigantic" secure bases, like, well, the earth. When a huge meteorite hits the earth, the human civilization will be gone. After all, our glories and miseries are nurtured on this humble chunk of rock swirling around the sun.

Look at a little orchid blooming in a tiny pocket of a tree in a steaming jungle. That orchid is us!

In the eyes of the almighty, maybe there is no essential difference between the batting center and the earth as a vulnerable secure base for the flesh and spirit to thrive.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I did very well at school, and teachers, seeing that I was scientifically oriented, recommended that I go to a medical school in the future. When I replied that I wanted to be a physicist, they would say "that is wonderful, but you cannot make money". I couldn't care less, and do not regret the result of my youthful inclination to this day.

Albert Einstein was the hero in my childhood. When I was about 10, I read the biography of Albert Einstein written by Leopold Infeld. I was fascinated by the whole thing--theory of relativity, Einstein the man, and the wonderful world of theoretical physics. I had this vision of two scientists at the blackboard, scribing mathematical equations unintelligible to the laymen, discussing the mysteries of the universe for hours on end, oblivious of whatever was happening around them. That image stayed with me, inspiring me with a sense of enchantment and fascination.

When I visited the Isaac Newton Institute in the University of Cambridge, I discovered to my joy that the love of the blackboard was obviously still rampant among some minds. There were blackboards everywhere, so that the mathematically oriented could write down their arguments wherever and whenever they liked. To my surprise and joy, there were blackboards even in the men's room. Whether there was one also in the women's I could not confirm for obvious reasons.
Once I happened to notice a interesting graffiti on one of the blackboards in the men's room. It said: I discovered a fatal flaw in Wiles' proof. However, this margin is too small to contain it.

It happened to be a short while after Andrew Wiles announced his now famous proof of Fermat's last theorem in the lecture room adjacent to the men's room in the institute.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Spoken Kant

Currently I am reading "Kant. A Very Short Introduction" by Roger Scruton (Oxford University Press), and found the following passages quite amusing and inspiring.

The philosopher J. G. Hamann records that it was necessary to arrive in Kant's lecture room at six in the morning, one hour before the professor was due to appear, in order to obtain a place...

Kant had a peculiarly skillful method of asserting and defining metaphysical concepts, which consisted, to all appearances, in carrying out his inquiries in front of his audience; as though he himself had just begun to consider the question, gradually adding fresh determining concepts, improving bit by bit on previously established explanations, and finally arriving at a definitive conclusion of his treatment of the subject, which he had thoroughly examined from every angle, having given the completely attentive listener not only a knowledge of the subject, but also an object lesson in methodical thought...

(both quotations from page 5 of the aforementioned book)

In Phaedrus, Plato quotes Socrates as remarking that spoken word is superior to written words, since the former is alive and the latter is dead.

It is true that there is something very special about spoken words. Notably, the impression one gets from a person through written and spoken words can be very different. The discrepancy between the "heard" and "read" personalities, so to speak, is one of the most interesting and potentially nourishing aspects of human interaction.

The late philosopher Wataru Hiromatsu, who lectured in the University of Tokyo for many years, was notoriously difficult to read. As an undergraduate, I did not take his course, and was unconsciously avoiding the intractability of his philosophy.

One day Ken Shiotani (my best friend, the "fat philosopher") invited me to join the Japan-U.S. conference on phenomenology, and there I met with the philosopher himself for the first time. Prof. Hiromatsu in person was very gentle, sensitive, and attentive to people around him. Actually, noticing that I was somebody obviously outside the philosophical circle, at one time during the conference he kindly suggested that I say something from the scientist's point of view. His impression was like that of a gentle spring breeze coming through the nodding boughs in a forest sprinkled with rays of sunshine.

I just wonder what kind of impression the live Emanuel Kant would have given me had I lined up in the queue at the Konigsberg University from six in the morning and listened to his lecturing.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Janus 21

Janus 21

pp. 4-9

Marleen Wynants enquires on the unusual phenomenon
of Change Blindness with neuroscientist Ken Mogi


Philosophical PTSD

Warning: What follows should be read in the spirit of a light-hearted joke and not as a serious report of my medical condition!

Recently, I realized that I must have been suffering from a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The definition of PTSD states that "the experience must involve actual or threatened death, serious physical injury, or a threat to physical and/or psychological integrity". My own experience has a lot to do with the last bit, namely "a threat to psychological integrity".

When I entered university, I came to know Ken Shiotani, who remains my best friend to this day. I used to hang out with him, walk on the campus, and discuss philosophically inclined problems as any bunch of aspiring young students would do.
Twenty something years later, Ken Shiotani is an independent philosopher, known in the Japanese scholastic community for his intractable but profoundly-sounding remarks.

In the sweet spring of life in which we were ignorant but angry young men, Shiotani was already a VERY intractable man. I would listen to him for hours on end, trying to decipher his intentions and meanings, ultimately in vain. He had a genius of saying things which were very non-trivial, sounding as if there was some truth hidden behind the intractability, but never assuring the listener of really having come to grips with the very foundation of what he was trying to say.

I have come to know many scholars since, but I have never met anyone like Shiotani. Bumping into him on the campus in the spring of the sweet age of eighteen was a very rare incident. Had I not met him, I would not have been exposed to the vintage intractability of his that I have somehow learned to take for granted.

Looking back, my experience is rather like that of a child growing up under the care of a unique parent. The child would not realize the specialness of the situation, and would tacitly assume that the world as a whole is something like his or her own actually quite unique experience.

Having had to somehow come to terms with his intractability has been the cause of my youthful and philosophical PTSD.

The other day I was having some drinks with Shiotani. I jokingly remarked to him that "I must be suffering from a PTSD because of you". I explained to him why I think so. He took his glasses off, and said, laughing, "and I have been actually thinking that at least you, of all people, would understand what I am saying!"

There began another chapter of our beautiful friendship.

Ken Shiotani having a go again at his "intractable lecturing" in a temple in Kyoto.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Global warming

So there is this craze about global warming. The former U.S. presidential candidate Al Gore is enlightening the public ("An Inconvenient Truth), and the level of awareness among laypeople is justifiably rising.

Given the robustness and diversity of phenotypes, I personally think life as a whole will cope, no matter what happens to the earth's environment, within the range of what is predicted in the phenomenology of climate change.

Global warming has been created by human civilization, and is a menace to human civilization as we know it. It serves our self-interest to tend to this problem seriously.

The disappearing species due to an environmental change will be replaced by newly emerging ones in the long term, as is evidenced by, for example, the "Cambrian explosion" after the end of the "snowball earth" period. The argument that global warming will destroy the existing species is thus based on our sentimental attachment to the present world in which we find ourselves in.

The makers of the film "An Inconvenient Truth" was hitting the right spot when a beautiful river scene was inserted to depict the loveliness of the earth. Sentimentality is an expression of the instinct of self-perpetuation, the foundation for all that is life.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pro-life crazy

There are crazy things in life. If there are two kinds, pro-life crazy and anti-life crazy, I firmly believe that the former will eventually win, as we are living organisms and cannot do otherwise. There are people who advocate discrimination, hatred, destruction, doomsday scenarios. But since these are anti-life crazy sentiments, they will always be remain a second violin, if not a awful noise (which they are likely to be, actually!), in the great orchestra of life.
I would always like to be pro-life crazy, when I look up to the moon, dance in the spring air, dash through the streets in Tokyo.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Linguistic Turmoil

I was reading a recent book by Genichiro Takahashi ("The Novels of Japan--A hundred years of solitude", written in Japanese, translation of the title mine). I am going to write a review for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the largest circulation daily here.
During the perusal, I found resonance in Mr. Takahashi's appraisal of the origins of the modern literature in this country.

In the Meiji period, Japan was playing a game of catch up in the wake of an encounter with the Western civilization, which started with the end of the Edo period when the country had been closed to outside world for more than 200 years. Takahashi's thesis is that the basic format of Japanese literature was coined in the crush of different cultures in that era.

The other day I was having conversation with the novelist Masahiko Shimada. We agreed that great works of literature are nurtured when a linguistic system is in turmoil through the interaction with other culture. The impressive lineup of authors of prose from Ireland (James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw) must surely due to the difficult linguistic situations in that country.

Thus, some good can come from a linguistic turmoil, although politically it is often traumatic. It pays to open one's heart and
absorb exotic cultures. Conservative people always talk about "a proper usage" of language and hate influences from outside. That kind of protective attitude is a paranoia. More importantly, linguistic purity is not sustainable, from the viewpoint of the physiology of the living organism which is language.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Interaction Simultaneity

Interaction Simultaneity

The Origin of Consciousness blog

31st January 2007


Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I met with one of Japan's most popular "idol" of the time, Eriko Sato who have starred in some films e.g., "Cutie Honey" (2004). The session was for a magazine article in which Ms. Sato tries to learn a series of stuff from people in various fields.

It was interesting to hear how Ms. Sato went into the business of being an idol. When she entered the junior high school, she started to become very popular among boys. People began to take notice of her figures, and that's how she got into considering a career in the show business.

People often talk about the "inferiority complex". A "superiority complex" (here used in a literal sense and not necessarily in the sense as defined by Alfred Adler) must be at least as traumatic sometimes, judging from the talks of people under pressure.

If god is almighty, he (or she) should suffer occasionally from a superiority complex.

Monday, January 29, 2007


When I was a kid, the first snow of the year would always fall sometime in December in the Tokyo suburb where I lived with my parents. Looking back, it was strange how a small soul such as myself got to learn the regularities of the world. No adult ever told me when I should expect the white blessing from the sky above. In the child's psychology, I would always look up expectantly, when in the December sky some clouds gathered to darken the earth below.

With the first snow, I was psychologically "ready" to welcome the new year.

Recently, possibly due to the effects of global warning, we have less and less snow around Tokyo. It is not unusual now that no snow ever falls on ground in December, or throughout winter. Thus, my childhood's annual ritual of the heart is now moot.

Climate change affects many things. My precious memory is one.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My own life as a classic.

I don't claim to know what a "classic" really entails, but it appears to me that it is something that provides one with new findings of significance and meaning every time one returns to it.

Right now I am reading "The Problems of Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell, and this classic provides us with many fresh insights and directions for further thoughts. The discussion on the ambiguity of "what is real" taking the example of the "sense-data" of a desk, for example, is quite interesting from the modern cognitive scientific point of view.

I suppose everyone who is intelligent enough to visit this blog :-) would have his or her favorite list of classics. I would suggest here that memories of one's own life can be added to the time-honored list.

A modern rational man has this idea that the past is gone once and for all and fixed. The fixed past concept is certainly true from the physical point of view, but one's own past can be a rich source for self-reflection, uncovering hidden secrets every time one returns to it. In this sense, the past is still living and evolving.

Recently I have been reflecting on my own life a lot, as I walk though the streets of Tokyo and in moments of silence in the bar. I have uncovered some hidden secrets. The realization of those buried agenda in my past has helped me understand the person that is me better and gain a better focus as I face the challenges in years to come.

I will give an example below.

After I graduated from the Physics department of University of Tokyo, I went on to study in the Law department of the same university. This change of subject was superficially induced by my girl friend at that time, who was studying law. But as I look back, I think I was secretly affected by the "zeitgeist" in the era of the "bubble economy", in which people had a tendency to worship money and what would be called today "celebrity culture".

At that time, Japan was at the height of illusory sense of extravagance, when it was rumored that the total value of land in Japan exceeded that of the United States. It seems ridiculous, with the benefit of hindsight, but people truly believed in the modern version of fairy tale for a few years.

In that superficial culture, striving to do something in the basic sciences seemed to be odd and out of date. My girl friend left me for another law school student. I was in a state of spiritual emergency. I needed a way out for my soul badly.
As I look back, I understand how I was affected by the memes of bubble economy, dumped by my girl friend. I think I recovered from the fall in a long, gradual and painful process.

Sadly, the country itself is probably yet to recover from the spirit of contempt and ridicule towards anything intellectual, judging from the "variety" shows being broadcast on Japanese television. However, it is not a time for finger pointing. It is a time for actions of good will.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Being Hungry

The novelist Hyakken Uchida ("Idiot Train", see the 29th December 2006 entry of this blog) was wont to say "being hungry is one of my favorite states". Hyakken used to be a well-known connoisseur of good food. When he says something like this, therefore, it certainly has a lot to do with sensuality rather than prudence.

Hyakken's custom was to have nothing to eat at all until supper, when he had loads of finest food sprayed out before him. He was fond of beer, sake, and other alcoholic pleasures. Cutting water was his favorite method of drawing the most pleasure out of the very first sip of beer.

The brain thrives on a well balanced contrast of presence and absence. Dopamine is known to be strongly released when something pleasant happens in an unexpected manner. A period of deprivation, followed by satisfaction, is certain to lead to a sensual pleasure. To contrive the highest sensual bliss, it is thus necessary to devise a period of absence.

Exceptions can be pleasurable from time to time, though. When Hyakken went on one of these "Idiot Train" trips, he would make exceptions and drink beer and have a sandwich at lunch time. The bitter-sweet sense of guilt would make the food and drink even more sensual for Hyakken.

What I write above has obvious implications for people trying to be on a diet. Fitting slim can be a consequence of seeking the ultimate sensuality. In theory, it is possible to have the figure of a model and immerse oneself in the culinary pleasure.

In this imperfect world, however, theory and practice often go separate ways. Hyakken was a well-built and rather overweight man.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Gregory Colbert

I met with the photographer Gregory Colbert at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. It was a wonderful opportunity to discuss his unique approach to capture the joy arising from a proximity between humans and other animal species. The interview was done for the "Brutus" magazine published by Magazine House (which carried a special issue devoted to this humble writer recently, by the way).

Some of Gregory's photos are truly incredible, e.g. where he swims with sperm whale mother and calves. These are carnivores, Gregory said. Did he not have fear? I asked. "Of course I had fear", Gregory said. When he overcame his fears through a careful planning and meticulous techniques, what emerged were breathtaking images of profound revelations.

I asked Gregory whether he felt privileged to be present in, and personally experience, these projects himself. He said yes. He likened what he has been doing to the adventures of astronauts, in search of the unknown.

In his case, the ritual might be one of the long forgotten, too. Looking at Gregory's photos, we are inspired and awed. We feel as if we have touched been touched by entities in the hidden dimensions previously unknown in our life in the "civilized" world. When Gregory shows these photos to the indigenous people, however, they show no surprise. It appears that enjoying the interaction with other animal species is a natural and unfortunately forsaken habit of our ancestors.

It is an interesting question where the newly surging awareness of interspecies proximity would bring to us. It would take us out of the status quo of what Gregory describes as the "species ghetto", and eventually guide us to a better harmony between man and nature. From a scientific point of view, it is a challenge to work out a model where interspecies empathies
contribute to a better survival of all the species involved.

I asked Gregory whether he regarded his photos as documentaries. He said no, despite the fact that no artificial manipulations or retouching has been applied. His are the faithful depiction of what actually happened. It is then a case, repeatedly demonstrated in history, where revealing the truth results in a awe-inspiring beauty, which has been hidden to be discovered by an artist. Talking to Gregory reminded me of the many secrets hidden and forgotten in the universe where we find our mortal lives.

Man (Gregory Colbert himself) swimming with sperm whale mother and calves.


Thursday, January 25, 2007


In a recent magazine article (in "Kangaeru Hito" ("The Thinker"), a quarterly published from Shinchosha, Tokyo), Yasujiro Ozu is quoted as saying thus.

My theme is "mono no aware" (the pathos of things), which is very Japanese. Since I am depicting the Japanese people in the films, this should be fine.

From the modern point of view, "Mono no aware" is nothing but the contingent occurrences in life. Things are not certain. Very important and life-transforming things can originate from seemingly irrelevant and unexpected incidents.

In the great "Noriko trilogy" (Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and Early Summer), important events in life are influenced by seemingly trivial things.

In Early Summer, Noriko (played by Setsuko Hara) is persuaded to marry a widower doctor by his mother (played by Haruko Sugimura). The couple is secretly attracted to each other, but had it not for the "agony aunt" type intrusion by the eager mother, their love would never have materialized. A beautiful ending has bloomed from a behavior on the verge of a bad taste.
It is this kind of subtle observations of life's moments of truth that make the Ozu films all time masterpieces.

The "persuasion" scene from "Early Summer"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Earlier, I wrote about the recurring dream in which Godzilla would appear as a menacing presence. As a child, I was not aware of the atomic origin or connotations. I just enjoyed the films as entertainments, but deep down, I think I was aware of the invisible origins, which I came to realize only after I became a mature adult.

I think that similar invisible origins were lurking behind the "ultraman" series. The reason why heros in these films were depicted as humanoid figures with silvery skins is probably due to the disillusionment of the people in my country about their own physical appearance. After the defeat in the 2nd world war, and the American occupation, people for sometime could not regard their own visual appearance as something fit for a hero or heroin. The image of heros came from the Hollywood films instead, blue eyes, blond hair. Therefore, from psychological needs, a new image of the heroes had to be coined, resulting in the ultraman, kamen rider, and other tokusatsu television series.

As a child, I was not aware of these deep psychological implications. I simply enjoyed the films. If true creativity comes out of a troubled water, then the tokusatsu films are beautiful archetypes.

Recently I learned that one of the key creators of the first ultraman series, Tetsuo Kinjo, originated from the Islands of Okinawa, a region particularly hard-hit during the war.

Ultraman--invisible origins.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Violence brings only sorrow into this world, but wrath and indignation, when managed and directed properly, can sometimes generate good and beautiful things.

When one is indignant about the status quo, seeing clearly the defects and shortcomings of the present system, wrath can be the source of a hyperactive creation, resulting in pieces never seen or imagined by humanity.

Wrath is the emotional manifesto of the underdog, dedicated to beauty and truth. When the powers that be stink, get rotten, become unimaginative and oppressive, the wrath of the underprivileged explode and spray fragrance and luminance around.
There is such a thing as the wrath of god. Even the god can be an underdog from time to time. Not to mention us mortals.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Miracle Apple

Mr. Kimura was one of the guests of the "The Professionals" program broadcast on NHK, which I host. He harvests apples in Aomori, the northest prefecture in Honshu, one of the four main islands of Japan.

His produces are called "miracle apples", as no pesticides or artificial nutrients are used. Such a feat was deemed impossible before his successful undertaking, as apples are particularly susceptible to insects and germs. After many years of failure, in which he came close to suicide (an episode dramatically described in "The Professionals" program), his apple orchard boasts a rich ecological system of plants and insects, in which his apples trees flourish.

The use of pesticides and fertilizers reduces the complexity of the ecological system and results in a mono-culture. In terms of yields, the modern intensive agriculture is one practical solution. Mr. Kimura has found another solution, by allowing a rich ecology thrive in his orchard and preventing the rampant increase of pests by the "check and balance" between the many biological species that find their respective habitats in Mr. Kimura's orchard.

Controlling the orchard as a complex dynamical system is more difficult than simply killing all the insects by spaying pesticides. The intensive agriculture is based on a "holocaust", as a result of which a barren land is left, onto which the artificial nutrients are bombarded. In contrast, Mr. Kimura's approach is based on very careful observations and manipulations of some of the fine parameters that make up the orchard.

Mr. Kimura's apples taste really good. The apple trees are given the opportunity to fully develop their biologically prepared potentials, a process inhibited in the typical intensive agriculture. It is the complex network of plants and insects that forms a soft and nutritious soil which gives a vital force to Mr. Kimura's apples.

A scene from Mr. Kimura's orchard

Sunday, January 21, 2007


When I was very small, up to the age of three or four, I was very fond of the color red. I would ask my parents to buy red things for me. I would insist that everything I wear, carry, be red. I wore a red hat, carried a red basket, etc.

Then, at a certain time, I realized with a cognitive shock that red was meant to be the color for girls in the cultural context. I was very ashamed and abandoned my color preference.

When I went to the kindergarden, at the age of 5, there was a choice between normal milk and coffee flavored milk at lunch time. Parents would make the kids bring either a white bag or a red bag, with some small coins in it, to indicate the choice. I very much liked the coffee flavored milk. However, my mother, probably caring for my health, did not allow it. I would always bring the white bag, and have normal milk. I envied my friends who brought the red bags and enjoyed the coffee flavored variety.

As I remember these things in the past, the significance changes like a living and trembling water. The past is not fixed. It transfigures in its significance as one looks back, constantly rewritten and relived, metamorphoses leading to fresh insights and reincarnations. One can experience life many times over, discovering meanings and joys, by reflecting on one's own past, smiling and crying.

Through self-referential ponderings, red has entered into the sacred shrine of my soul. When I see a rose, an apple, the setting sun, reverberations enrich and shake the tiny remembrance stone in my core.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The American way of being explicit

The American way of communication has been said to be unique to that particular nation. When I go to the States, people say hello to me on the lift, waiters state their names aloud when I sit in a restaurant. In meetings, people articulate their background with lengthy words.

In other societies, it is usually considered a bad taste to be so explicit. In Japan, people rely on an implicit understanding of the social norms and aesthetics, which are seldom mentioned. In the United Kingdom, where I did my postdoc for two years, the American way of stating everything was kind of looked down. Some people thought that it was a manifestation of a lack of wisdom.

But things are changing.

The reason why the American mannerism developed over the years, of course, is to be found in the social construction of the nation. The American society is made up of people from various backgrounds. No matter what your ancestor's nationality was, whether you are an immigrant or a native-born citizen, you are a "typical" American. With such a variety of backgrounds and cultural traits, it became necessary to state the very assumptions and paradigms that frame your actions and value systems in a explicit way. Otherwise people don't understand you.

With the advent of internet, things are changing. As more and more people start to interact within the small-world network, crossing over borders and less frequently language barriers to my regret, it is becoming necessary to state your background in a more explicit way.

In the cyberspace, the situation is much more "American" than the physical nation itself, in terms of the heterogeneity of people surfing the web. Maybe we should all start stating our names aloud and take pains in explaining everything that is tacitly assumed in the respective home society. We should, in a sense, all emulate the American way of being explicit. Otherwise we would probably miss the great revolution that is happening here and now in the cyberspace.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mono no aware

"Mono no aware" (the pathos of things) is an important concept in understanding Japanese literature and way of seeing the world in general. It is an awareness of the vulnerabilities of life, the ever-changing faces of things, the non-permanence of human existence. It was famously employed as a critical tool by Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), the founder of Kokugaku (Japanology) in the Edo period.

Those who possess a sense of "mono no aware" are sensitive to the sufferings of the weak and underprivileged, as they know that they might fall into these misfortunes themselves. They are aware that nothing is permanent, love, social structure, human relationships, not to mention politics. They do not therefore take a "no-nonsense" approach in coming to terms with conditions of the outcasts and the estranged. They are full of compassion and commiseration.

In the Japanese society, there has always been an implicit conflict between the bureaucratic and hard-nosed and those with a soft heart for the "mono no aware". In the Heian period (749 to 1185), the ruling class prided themselves on having a feeling for "mono no aware", as exemplified in the beautiful story of Genji. The Japanese history had seen some periods where people insensitive to their own and others' vulnerabilities unfortunately found central positions in government.

I myself would like to live fully immersed in "mono no aware". I would like to expose myself to the vulnerabilities of life, both within and without, and constantly find a new self. It is the only way to grow spiritually.

Those were the thoughts as I walked through the forest of the Meiji Shrine in the heart of Tokyo, on my way to the NHK broadcast center one recent afternoon, with the sky above being cleared of clouds which brought rain earlier in the morning.

The torii (sacred gate) of the Meiji Shrine. I walk past this gate into the forest behind twice a week on my way to the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) broadcast center.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Emergence" originates in "emergency".

The present paradigm of neuroeconomics is too narrow in its conceptual setup in order to encompass all that is truly relevant and important in life. It starts from the assumption that the human beings are selfish and then goes on to study various anomalies (e.g. altruism) as something added to the fundamental assumptions. However, after some careful considerations it would appear that the fundamental assumptions themselves are very much restricted for the purpose of accounting for the development and maintenance of the self in the complex world that we find ourselves in.

Let's draw an analogy with the cycles of life here. In order to account for the fact that there are various forms of life on the earth, one needs to "doubt" the stability of existing life-forms and delve straight into the underlying vulnerabilities. If the life forms were not mortal, meeting their respective destinies in the struggle for life, there would not have been any evolution of the species.

The same can be said for the origin of the self. If the self does not "bleed" and "threatened" and even "destroyed" from time to time, it cannot really "evolve" in the course of an individual's life or over generations. "Emergence" originates in "emergency". Fury, envy, enchantment, bewilderment, hate, love, all these emotions that makes life such a complex and colourful experience is nothing more than reflections in one's psyche of the contingent processes that form the self in the interactions with the environment and other agencies.

Game theory, neuroeconomics, all these wonderful theories of the origin of human cognition and behavior are just scratches on the surface of the gigantic mass of mentality out of which our humble every day life is formed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Firefly

Two years after the end of the war, my mother passed away. Mother's death affected me very deeply. Compared to this sorrow, the great war, while shaking my flesh physically, did not move my spirit in any discernible way.

A few days after my mother's death, I had a strange experience. My house at that time was situated in the remote parts of the Ougigaya valley, where there was a brook running along the path. It was already twilight. As I went out of the gate, I saw a firefly floating through the air. Fireflies are something common in the region at their season. However, it was the very first sighting that particular year.

The firefly appeared large like I had never seen, the light in the dusk shining prominently. My mother has now become a firefly, the thought suddenly occurred to me. Strolling after the floating light, I could not let myself free from this strange idea any more.

Excerpt from the opening sentences of Hideo Kobayashi's unfinished work "Impressions", in which Kobayashi discussed at length the philosophy of Henri Bergson. The war Kobayashi refers to in the text is the Pacific War (1941-1945).

Translation by Ken Mogi.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Polar star in the night sky

When small things tend to let you down in life, it is useful to think of the really wonderful things.

In my case, I remember how wonderful the achievements of Newton and Einstein have been, what a sense of bewilderments the fruits of the strivings of these giants have given to humanity. I also ponder the beautiful moments in the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner. I remember the poignant depiction of the human condition in Yasujizo Ozu films.

Remembering all these wonderful things gives me a sense of value and goal in life. I would not dare call this perception absolute or Platonic without the modern "small prints". Whatever the nature, the remembrance of these wonderful things serves as the "polar" star in the night sky of my mentality, the immovable and guiding principle in life.

That is not to say that small things in life would go away. These troubles would still torture me from time to time. It is only that I can become immune to some extent, thanks to the smile and joy the remembrance of beautiful things brings to my soul.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On the ecological complexity of novels.

A few years ago, I was giving a joint talk with Masahiko Shimada, the famous Japanese novelist of my own generation, at the Asahi Culture Center in Tokyo. We were discussing the nature of good literary works, and I happened to mention that the repetition of words was not necessarily a bad thing, although abhorred by editors in general. What I was trying to allude to at that time was the importance of repetitions in the spoken language, especially those that accompany dances and other rhythmic actions in daily life. Close to life in its nature, the liberation of repetition could broaden the universe of literal expression, I suggested

Masahiko then said something interesting that set me pondering. He said that any great novel is like a dictionary. To take an example from the Japanese literature, consider Soseki Natsume. The vocabulary that Natsume uses in his novels is quite vast, and it encompasses a large sea of words employed in the written and spoken forms of the Japanese language. A Natsume novel is a "dictionary" in effect structured along a storyline, covering and giving a lively list of virtually all the words that are used in the cosmos of our native tongue.

The discussion with Masahiko at that time prompted a wave of thoughts about the richness that complexity would generate, how it is related to the philosophy of life. In the Amazonian rainforest, it is known that the same species of vegetation thrives far apart from each other, a multitude of different kinds mixing and co-existing within a tightly woven ecological system. In such a system, the lack of repetition of the same element is a hallmark of the richness of complexity. An obvious analogy can be made between ecology and novels.

It is a worthy ambition for anybody interested in linguistic expression to author a "virtual-dictionary" type work of literature. Technical writings in science and mathematics often suffer from monoculture in words, for the very reason that certain expression and phrases needs to be eradicated to ascertain logical coherence. It is then by no accident that in the beloved literature of the world insanity and illogicality must sometimes surface, as these traits are admittedly major members in the universe of human spiritually, calling for appropriate corresponding expressions in the spoken and written language.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Strolling around Grantchester Meadow, I do think that this is a very nice, relaxed environment. I am sitting now in the Red Lion pub in the open air backyard, with a pint of IPA and a pack of Walkers crisps, cheese and onion flavour.

This is the kind of thing I took for granted while I was in Cambridge. Indeed, I can even say that I kind of looked down on these typically English traits. I did not swell in it. I rather thought myself as being tired of it. I felt that the English is a rather boring and common species.

But now I realize that these environments have become an integral part of my mind and blood, this relaxed way of looking at things, this balance of the man and the nature. I got to know the central Cambridge area in and out. I can imagine myself walking through the streets of Cambridge without any problem. The Englishness has gone into my blood.

The warm reception of me by Horace and the lunch in the Trinity college had much to do with the change of my perspective of what is English in general.

(Excerpt from the diary written during a revisit to Cambridge in 1998. I stayed in Cambridge from 1995 to 1997.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Chimera between Einstein and Darwin

One thing that is lacking from the intellectual endeavors in today's world is that of synthetic creativity. With the advent of an attitude to quantify and compete in a specific context, the laudable tradition of going over the borders and come to grips with the essential problems that encompass all walks of men's intellectual activities is gone.

In some areas, the lack of an all-encompassing activities might not pose an urgent and serious problem. For example, when one tries to develop a new blue laser diode, knowledge in related areas might suffice.

For some themes, however, the absence of a synthetic effort can be fatal in the effort to achieve. In trying to understand the human brain, for example, it is necessary to attend to the various aspects of this complex system, from the molecular mechanisms of synaptic regulation to the whole-brain transient synchronization observed in the moment of one-shot learning.

In understanding and preserving ecology, it is necessary to appreciate the complexity of life-forms and the multi-faced interaction that exists between various species. In fields such as cognitive science, biology, sociology, etc., the awareness of the complexity of the whole system is a necessary ingredient of any successful and truly useful theory. The field of consciousness studies is clearly one where such a synthetic effort encompassing various fields is necessary.

On the other hand, a mere collection of miscellaneous facts is not sufficient to solve the enigma of consciousness. We need a sharp, focused intellect directly facing the most abstract and intractable conceptual problems concerning the mentality. Thus, we need a "Chimera between Einstein and Darwin", attending to the various aspects of a complex system with the greatest care and pertaining to cut into the heart of an abstract problem structure at the same time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lost on the way to Florence

Once I visited Pisa for a conference. I had a free afternoon, and decided to venture off to Florence. I took the train from the station, filled with anticipations for the great Renaissance city which I was visiting for the first time in my life.

After a while, I noticed that something was strange. I thought I had taken the express train, but actually it was stopping at every station. Evidently, I was on the wrong train.

I started to worry, being afraid that it would take many hours to make it to Florence. Maybe I would not be able to see the galleries. It might become dark. Uneasiness began to fill my heart.

I was traveling alone. Around me was a cheerful family and several students, all talking aloud in Italian. I don't know what it was that transfigured me at that time. Maybe it was the exasperation at having taken the wrong train, or the actual worry of arriving in Florence too late. Anyway, I started to feel as if I was to live in Italy for the rest of my life.

I would have to speak Italian, write Italian, listen to Italian always, day after day. There would be nothing else for me other than to work in Italian, somehow find a lover in Italian, have a family, raise kids, always immersed in the Italian language. As this illusion swelled in me, I felt as if I was being suffocated. It was as if there was now no escape from the world of the Italian people and language.

What happened was the result of the dynamics of a partially imagined context in which I found me. Before that incident, I was enjoying the context of being a traveler in a unknown land. A traveler has a home country to return, a native tongue to rely on, so speaking a foreign language is just a joy of acting a particular role temporarily, which one can leave after a few days.
Making a living in a foreign culture is a quite different thing all together. There is no escape. There is no joy of acting a particular context.

Because I was bombarded with a seemingly never-ending Italian conversation on the train in trying circumstances, my vivid imagination made me feel as if I was to stay and somehow make a living in an alien culture.

Fortunately, the train arrived in Florence after a few hours. The galleries were still open. I could see "The Birth of Venus" and other famous paintings. The joy of acting the role of a tourist gradually returned to me.

However, the insight gained from this small incident remained with me to this day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Dog and the violet

The Dog and the violet

The Origin of Consciousness blog

10th January 2007


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mistaking milk for coca cola

One day I was watching a film, sitting on a sofa in my room. The film was quite exciting, and I was deeply absorbed in it.

Occasionally, almost unconsciously, I sipped coca cola from the glass on the table. All my attention was directed towards the movie, so I was not aware of the qualia that accompany the act of drinking coca cola, namely the bubbling on the tongue and the tickling on the throat, the smooth black color, and the sweet aftertaste on the palate. I was not paying attention to these qualia of coca cola. All the same, I unconsciously recognized that the drink I occasionally sipped was nothing other than coca cola.

I was drinking the liquid like that, when I suddenly felt a strange, unknown taste in my mouth. I could not tell what it was, and I almost panicked. The human brain is configured in such away that when one has something unfathomable in the mouth, a rejecting reaction is incurred. As it would be possibly disastrous to take in a alien material unnoticed, this is a natural reaction. I felt a strong urge to spit out the unrecognizable liquid in my mouth.

Within the time course of a few seconds, I slowly became aware that the strange taste and flavor that I was feeling in my mouth was actually that of milk. The panic subdued, as I became confident that I had actually drank the familiar milk, and nothing else. It was just that I incidentally reached for the milk glass which happened to be beside the coca cola glass.

(Discussion on the distinction between sensory and intentional qualia follows)

(Excerpt from Ken Mogi's "Introduction to Qualia", Chikuma Gakugei Bunko (2006). Originally published as "When the mind feels the brain" from Kodansha (1999). Translation from Japanese by the author)

The cover of "Introduction to Qualia"

Monday, January 08, 2007

Alligator night

I have been to the Amazon once. It was an exciting time. As I flew from Sao Paulo towards Manaus, I was watching the scenery below. The green area went on and on, without any break, no artificial constructs in sight. I was an awe-inspiring experience. I wonder how much of that green vastness has been destroyed, but there must be pretty much still left.

In the city of Manaus I visited the famous opera house and the market. In the market, I had a mixed fruit juice the like of which I had never tasted, and had not encountered ever since. It is somehow hard to describe the qualia, but you felt that there were "molecules of vitality" in every sip you took from the glass.

I stayed in Manaus area for only two nights. On the second day, I went on a river tour. A boat took me to a floating house on the shore of the Amazon river. I slept on the hammock and looked at butterflies and it was almost like a dreamtime. As a kid, I always wanted to go to the Amazon. It was my precious dreams-come-true experience.

The highlight of this very small Amazon venture, at that particular visit, was the "hunting of alligators" in the middle of the night. As night fell, there was complete darkness, as no artificial light source was around. We were put on a small boat and set on a cruise on the great river. There was no sound to be heard except for the engine. We went into one of the branch flows, and the engine was cut off. There was complete silence, and the boat cruised on very smoothly by momentum.

The tour guide took out a flashlight, and directed it to the shores. After some searching, he spotted it. There were this barely discernible pair of "gleaming round pebbles" on the shore. As the boat silently approached, the gleaming became increasingly strong, and before you knew it, the guide stretched out his arms and the next moment, a small alligator was hung by the tail in his hands. We helpless people from the north applauded, secretly admiring the swiftness of the guide's actions, which looked almost miraculous and done by what appeared to us wild instinct, enjoying from the depth of heart the whole experience.

As the boat made its way back to the floating house, a feeling of bliss surged inside me. We were buried in the soft darkness, and when I looked up, I could see the sky-filling stars. I discovered then that the phrase "becoming one with nature" was a very accurate and literal expression of what actually happens under certain circumstances.

That was then, this is now. I am stuck in the megalopolis of Tokyo. I haven't been to Amazonia for more than 10 years.