Sunday, February 10, 2008

The natural history of contingency

The natural history of contingency
by Ken Mogi

One of the deepest joys in life is to understand more fully the world in which we find ourselves, as the days unfold.
The objective knowledge of how the universe is constructed is very much related to the subjective working wisdom of daily life. The academic and the worldly are interrelated. Without a background of wisdom accumulated over the many years by scholars and thinkers, we cannot hope ever to enrich our individual lives. Without jumping into the ocean of life in which the unknowns await, we cannot aspire to accomplish anything substantial in our academic endeavors. A system of knowledge which would ultimately encompass the whole universe starts from the very private experience of this small "I". The microcosmos resonates with the macrocosmos. In that realm, the traditional wisdom of "tao" itself would be gradually fused into the grand ensemble of wisdom, western, eastern or otherwise. At this meeting point of the knowledge of the world and the knowledge of life lies the human brain.
What is deeply moving in the novel "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes is the process in which Charlie Gordon gradually comes to an understanding of what have been happening to him once a successful operation endows him with an improved intelligence. Various scenes from his life would flash back, as Charlie starts to comprehend how other people have been feeling, regaining his own emotions. Through this "rite of passage" does Charlie finally come to a reconciliation with his own past. Charlie, in a sense, lives his life all over again.

(This is the author's own translation of the opening sentences from the essay "The natural history of contingency" ("Guuyu sei no shizenshi") which originally appeared in Japanese in the quarterly magazine "Kangaeru Hito" (The Thinking Man) published by Shinchosha . The "Natural history of contingency" essay series will be carried in Kangaeru Hito over the next two years.