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.