Saturday, March 13, 2010

What a great job Socrates did in ancient Greek

One of the greatest disappointments in life is that there are so many intolerant people. It hurts me deeply, when I see somebody carelessly emitting remarks of discrimination, inconsideration, and of lacking understanding. It hurts me still, when I discover that somebody in question is quite sure of his or her own opinion, never doubting the truth of the extreme view that he or she holds.

It is at such a time that I seriously consider the limits of human intellect and imagination, and what a great job Socrates did in ancient Greek. Socrates stressed the importance of the awareness of his own ignorance. How more intelligent could a human being be rather than to know that he or she does not know everything? Even if one makes a judgment about something, since he or she needs to make a judgment from time to time, a person of wisdom would take the own judgment with a grain of salt.


Friday, March 12, 2010

I rather enjoyed the experience of being sick in bed.

I used to take some days off when I was a pupil. When I had cold, I would say to my mother, "mom, I have fever", and lie in bed the whole day.

I would listen to the radio, and read my favorite books. I would ask my mother to bring my favorite foods, such as a pudding, and eat them straight away beside the bed.

You guessed it right. I rather enjoyed the experience of being sick in bed.

Nowadays, I seldom spend the day in bed even if I feel not so well. Yesterday, according to my own standards in childhood, I would have been classified as sick. I sneezed, and felt feverish. Despite the deterioration, I stalked the streets of Tokyo all right, and worked diligently once at desk.

When I look back on the carefree pupil days when I could take the day off just like that, my heart is filled with a strange and sweet nostalgia.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The emerging global village makes it necessary to think of the liberal arts within a correspondingly global context.

The liberal arts education and learning remains important at any age. However, it is important to realize that what it signifies to be learned in the liberal arts changes over time.

To be sure, there are some unchanging classics. The canonical philosophical and literary works should be read and appreciated. Trainings in some fundamental scientific and mathematical methods and systems of thoughts would be essential. The ability to think logically, and to test one's ideas against empirical evidences should be acquired.

In the contemporary era, on top of that, one would need to get acquainted with many additional things which were not existent when the term "liberal arts" were invented and implemented in the higher education. Most noticeable is the advent of the internet. A certain set of basic skills, knowledge, modes of conduct, and ethics is needed to make most of the opportunities offered by the internet. There is a new "common sense" in its use, and failure to capture it would result in the user being trapped in the "local minimum".

Most importantly, as the societies on the earth become more and more interconnected, one needs to nurture a set of sensitivities and modes of conduct which were not necessarily when one was quite comfortably well within a nation state. The emerging global village makes it necessary to think of the liberal arts within a correspondingly global context.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The brain has a great ability to betray you.

The brain has a great ability to betray you. Betraying you in the positive sense, that is.

At some stages of life, when you are entering a new domain, you would sometimes feel as if you are not quite up to it. For example, when you start to learn a new subject, it might seem that it is too difficult for you. You simply cannot imagine the you who would be capable of doing that incredible thing. Like speaking a foreign language. Like riding a bicycle.

But then, your brain has this truly remarkable ability to reconfigure itself. You cannot supervise the details of the process consciously. The brain's network, by modifying the synaptic connections between the billions of neurons in the cortex and other areas, does it automatically for you. All you need to have is the courage to risk the new, and the insensitivity to failures.

The brain betrays you in beautiful ways. You may be unable to conduct a specific task no matter how hard you try. You may fail 99 times, and yet, no the 100th trial, success might come to you like a miracle. The change might seem quite abrupt for you. In fact, the brain has been reconfiguring itself by bits all the while. It is that the internal change does not become manifest until it reaches the threshold by accumulation.

A wonderful life is one in which the brain keeps betraying you every day, in a quite unexpected and rewarding way. The only thing you need to do is keep trying.

Peace Shadow

My artist friend Tatsuo Miyajima has started a new project called Peace Shadow. It is a petition for peace, made by burning your shadow. Please take a moment to visit the website below and burn your shadow.

(When you go through the URL below with the suffix of /?id=60, you can witness my own entry into the poject. )

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mr. Internet should be the most appropriate candidate.

When I was studying physics as an undergraduate at the university, I wrote an essay arguing for the necessity of reducing the cost of international phone calls. The argument was that the borders of nations could be defined in terms of the "connectivity" of the graphs representing information flow. Within the borders of a nation state a dense connection of information exchange was to be found, whereas there was less information flow across the border.

I did not take the borders of nations as an a priori entity. By making more information flow over the national borders, I hoped to dissolve the difference and conflicts between the nation states. A dramatic reduction in the cost of phone bills seemed to be a good strategy to that end. I even argued for the involvement of international organization such as the united nations to bring about that change.

What I did not anticipate at that time was, of course, the advent of the internet. The 20 years old I was arguing to introduce a "flat rate" system for domestic and international calls, as a moral requirement in the global age. The flat rate for information flow has been more or less actualized. Using the internet, it is now possible for us to communicate without necessarily being aware of the national borders.

If there is to be a single nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Internet should be the most appropriate candidate.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Would-be wild animals.

When Soseki Natsume was offered doctorate degree from the Japanese government in the Meiji era, he declined, saying that he has been living as an anonymous Natsume somebody, and wanted to keep living as Natsume somebody. When the government official insisted on receiving the degree, Soseki firmly rejected, saying that "seeing the circumstances in this country, the presence of the degree of doctorate is doing only harm to the progress of academic studies, I must conclude"

As I live on, and experience various ups and downs of life, I start to appreciate the depth and perceptions of Soseki. Humans are weak, and many people fall victim to worshipping the merits and degrees bestowed upon them, while the real substance suffers. Soseki saw clearly, that the social honours enjoyed by his contemporary "cultural dignitaries" only worked to diminish their sensitivity as creators and appreciators of artistic and academic establishments.

One has to remain wild, untamed, in order to be creatively interesting. That was Soseki's instinct, and the Meiji era Japan was rapidly going into the opposite direction. Almost 100 years later, the "important people" who enjoyed prestige as "doctorate" holders are long forgotten, while the works of Soseki, who remained a wild animal, keep being read and appreciated by would-be wild animals.

Soseki Natsume. An cultural wild beast to the end.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The food was excellent, and the worries of the day melted away.

I had an interesting public dialogue with the mystery writer Ms. Shizuko Natsuki.

After the lively conversation, I went to a book shop (Kinokuniya) in Fukuoka for a book signing. My latest book on the history of human civilization has just been released.

Ken Mogi "The stellar time of civiliation" ("Bunmei no Hoshijikan"). 2010.

After the book signing, we went to a restaurant to celebrate the day. As we were six in all, we took two taxis.

Our destination was a cozily small restaurant in the middle of a residential area. I was in the first taxi. Soon after we got on, it started to rain. The driver of the second taxi has been asked to follow the first one. Due to the rainfall and deepening darkness of night, and because of traffic, it was not easy to continue driving after the guiding taxi.

At such a time, I typically become worried. I get anxious if the second taxi is rightly following us. The driver of our taxi, who was apparently a professional in these matters, repeatedly assured us that it would be OK. Despite that, I was so worried that I closed my eyes and tried to wrap me in the warmth of the unknowing.

After several minutes we were at the door of the promised land. The second taxi came along just fine, and we were joined together at the table, smiling and hungry. The food was excellent, and the worries of the day melted away.