Sunday, May 16, 2010

The blessings of science keep the curiosity in us alive.

I attended the TEDx Tokyo held in Miraikan. I gave a talk titled "The Blessings of Science". I hugely enjoyed the whole thing. The heat. The hype. The passion. My deep gratitude to all the volunteers who made this happen. Special thanks to Patrick Newell, who put much work into the realization of his vision, and for inviting me to participate.

In the talk, I started from my experience as a kid chasing butterflies in a rural town. There were exactly 52 butterflies where I lived. I chased every one of them.

In the forest, I had this sense of wonder. I was bewildered by the sheer abundance of life around me.

One question came up vividly in my mind. Why such an abundance and variety in the species? My childish curiosity was greatly stimulated. Then one day, at the age of 9, I bumped into a book in the school library. It was a book about the evolution of species. (It was written in my native tongue of Japanese. I started to learn English only at the age of 12.) In the book, the author said that once upon a time, there was this man Charles Darwin who became very curious why there were so many different species, on his voyage on the Beagle. Some years, later, after much work. he published a book titled "The Origin of Species".

It was on that afternoon that I came to know one blessing of science. Science can EXPLAIN. A curious child asks the adults all awkward questions. Why, How, What if. The adults sometimes get tired of being constantly demanded, as many of them have lost a precious gift of childhood. CURIOSITY.

Every one must remember the immense satisfaction that you got as a child when a clever explanation was given for a question you were craving to know the answer of. What do we need to keep our curiosity alive? We need the blessings of science.
On that fatal day, in the school library, I came to know that science had a great power to EXPLAIN.

Then I started to do my own exploration. I did some work, and presented my very first scientific research poster at the age of 11. It was a science fair for students. I reported my study into the diversity of habitats and life history of butterflies, making some measurements and observations. Seen from a professional's point of view, the poster was shabby, very rudimentary. I am, all the same, tremendously proud of my initial efforts to EXPLAIN the mysteries that I held as a child, chasing the butterflies in the fields, forgetting lunch, breathless in bliss.

Ken Mogi, age 10, chasing butterflies in Hokkaido, Japan

My first scientific presentation poster at the age of 11.

Around that time, I met my hero. Albert Einstein. Through Einstein I learned many things. Foremost, I learned the following truth about science: Science explains many things, but then uncovers yet more mysteries along the way.

In other words, science is an "OPEN-ENDED" endeavor. No matter how much you learn about the world, there would be yet more questions to be explored. Sometimes, getting to know a particular fact about the world makes us realize that we don't know this and that, questions that we did not know even existed before the enlightenment. Einstein never stopped his scientific exploration, precisely because he knew that science is an OPEN-ENDED behavior, although he did not (to the best of my knowledge) use this particular word.

There are several unsolved problems in the science today. For example. the time's arrow. How is the PAST different from the PRESENT, and the FUTURE? Another example is the wave function reduction in quantum mechanics.

Another mystery in science, and my own life work, is the relation between the mind and the brain. How do the activities of the billions of neurons in the brain give rise to conscious experience? Central to the mystery of the phenomenal dimension of our existence is the concept of qualia. The sensory qualities such as redness, transparency, glitter that constitute our conscious experience. How on earth do activities in the brain, which, although a very complex system, is after all an physical entity, give rise to our consciousness full of qualia? This is a genuinely intriguing mystery. Nobody has written a book of "The Origin of Qualia" yet, but you never know. Someday, someone will.

So for me, the blessings of science are two-fold. First, it can EXPLAIN. Secondly, it is OPEN-ENDED. The combination of the power to EXPLAIN and the liberating and uplifting effect on one's soul of being OPEN-ENDED keeps the curiosity in us alive.

Issac Newton left these famous words:

I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

It is fun to collect the pebbles and shells in the shape of theories, facts, which have the power to EXPLAIN. At the same time, it is so rewarding and ultimately satisfying to be aware of the great remaining mysteries of the universe, our own existence, life and consciousness, which lie before us unsolved.

So here's the blessings of science for you and me. Thank you very much.

This, in a nutshell, was my TEDx Tokyo speech.

Myself at TEDx Tokyo, 15th May 2010


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your curiosity, I will share this with anybody who I think is interested. Whilst my own 11 year old son is approaching life a little differently to you, maybe your story will help him find his "butterflies".

Wander14 said...

How wonderful!

I read today's entry aloud.
I was realized
a lot of things about science
And it turned out that
there are a lot of
blessing mystery around me

I'd like to keep challenging

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

Thank you for sharing your speech with us.

I'm now concerned with the problem,"How is the PAST different from the PRESENT,and the FUTURE?",although I'm not a scientist.


"The flow of river never ceases, and yet the water is not what it used to be."

(Translated by Dr.Mogi on his twitter,Feb 21st.Sperb!)

Even if I disappear from this present world, the river will continue to flow...(or not?)

Unknown said...

After I've read this entry, I felt that "The Origin of Species of Qualila" seems very fun and informative, but before reading "The Origin of Qualia", I would like to know the relation between that and "I think, therefore I am" which regarded as foundation of science.

Yuzu said...

How interested in science! I may understand a little that why Mr.Mogi is so alive to his life.

Anyway I feel that would like to challenge to be like an elementary school student's curiosity and scientist's sprit. It is not easy at all. But I would like to be.
Thank you very much for writing your lecture.
I could listen to these.