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.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The chasm and qualia

When I was an undergraduate student studying Physics in Tokyo, I took a particular joy in the calculation of complex mathematical formula. I remember sitting for hours in the lecture room of the Physics department and deciphering the universe of special functions, oblivious of what was going on in the outside world.

When I was done with the calculations, I would sometimes walk through the Ueno park and go to a concert in the Tokyo Cultural Center, and listen to my favorite music. As I listened to the beautiful sound of the violin or a soprano, I could tell that I was moving into a completely different state of mind.

At that time, one thing was puzzling and worrying me. From my childhood I was interested mainly in two things, science and the arts. In addition to listening to the music and looking at paintings, I was fond of reading novels. As a raging youth, I was very envious of the novelists. Here is the reason why.

As you grow up, you experience things. Love triangles, farewells, encounters, regrets, etc. I was puzzled and worried why all these incidents in life did not have anything to do with the professional life of a Physicist as I understood it at that time.
If you are a novelist, you could reflect your real life experiences in your work. If you have a hard time in a love triangle, you can write about it in your work and have some justification at least. A lot of achieved Japanese novelists had actually done just that in the genre of the so-called "private novels".

When you are a Physicist, on the other hand, you cannot really make a professional use of what you experience in your private life. A clumsy translation from the real life into physics theory or vice versa usually ends in tears and disappointments. It is laughable to try to account for the complexity of what happens in a love triangle in terms of three-body equations. There was this deep perceived chasm between what a Physicist experiences in the private life and what he or she is professionally supposed to do.

As I was walking through the Ueno park to go to the concert, I was experiencing a transformation from the objective to the subjective. At that time, it seemed that there was no means of bridging this particular gap, the wide open "valley of death" between the spiritual and the materialistic. So it came as a personal redemption as well as a complete rewriting of my world view as a scientist when I realized in a moment of flash the problem of qualia as I was riding on a train on my way back from the research institute one cold night in February 1994.

A cappella man

The Qualia Show video release

A man dances to the a cappella music performed by a girls chorus on a street in Osaka