Saturday, May 29, 2010

Experience categorically different things.

Creativity does not come from nothing. People sometimes have this hazy and rosy misconception that you can create marvelous things out of the void, but that does not happen in reality.

Creation is a result of successful and often unexpected link between items stored in the brain. Nothing comes from nothing.
Nothing ever could (yes, it is Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music). So it pays to store miscellaneous and on the surface irrelevant things in the cortical circuit of your brain.

As the number of items stored in your brain increases, the number of possible combinations increases in an explosive manner (just consider nC2=n(n-1)/2). So experiencing miscellaneous things is a rational approach to creativity.

Here, it is important to seek diversity in categories. Categorically same items, no matter how many are stored, would lead only to likewise properties when combined. If you store categorically different items, and successfully combine them, it would sometimes lead to real innovations0, although it is fair to say that the establishment of the combination itself is more often than not difficult.

The more difficult the establishment of the link, the more valuable when you succeed, although there is a fair chance that you end up as a hopeful monster.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Time pressure and diversity

One of the great things that accompany an appropriate use of time pressure comes from an unexpected angle.

Use of time pressure can increase the diversity of experience and execution.

Take a hypothetical example of doing something at a leisurely speed. You may choose to do a particular job very slowly, looking aside, sighing occasionally, stretching your arms, standing up for coffee, etc, and take one hour. If you are able to do the same amount of task in a very concentrated manner, and finish the task within, say, forty minutes, then you can do "something completely different" (yes, you are entitled to remember the immortal John Cleese catch phrase from Monty Python here) in the remaining twenty.

In the increasingly complex modern world, it is crucial to have a diversity in one's experience, in order to develop an robust set of abilities, and perhaps more importantly, to enjoy life fully. You can employ time pressure to realize the potentials within you by increasing diversity of action and experience.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Make a good use of time pressure.

In life, one of the practical tricks to learn is to how to make a good use of time pressure.

By using appropriate time pressures, the brain's resource allocating networks, involving, for example, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, would be activated to recruit the various brain circuits necessary to execute the task. There is no guarantee that the attempt would be successful, but there will be a higher chance of success, and more opportunities to learn, depending on the degree that the appropriate brain circuits are committed. The time pressure can provide an appropriate constraint for execution and learning.

More often than not, use of time pressure leads to the production of meaningful results. Sometimes people have this misconception that trying to do something within a limited time would lead to a disruption of the quality of work produced. While there is certainly a theoretical possibility that quality would be thus compromised, in many practical situations that does not happen, as long as you know how to use time pressure in an appropriate manner.

My old Cambridge mentor Horace Barlow once made a witty remark about the use of time pressure, although Horace did not use so many words. When somebody was reluctant to write an abstract for a conference, claiming he did not know what he wanted to say, Horace promptly remarked that "he should write and find out"!

The idea that content should precede production is a often misleading illusion affecting many people. By using a time pressure (such as a deadline for the conference abstract), we can produce the content, often of surprisingly good quality, even if we do not know beforehand would be entailed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Twitter facilitates rapid and efficient resource management by means of the lightness of its being

It has been some time since I have started to use twitter seriously. Currently I have two accounts, one in English (kenmogi) and one in Japanese (kenichiromogi).

The more I use twitter, the more I seem to like it. And you notice several things that contribute to its excellence along the way, which become apparent only after a period of involvement in this medium.

For one thing, twitter promotes competition in online characters. In some modes of use of the internet, in the case of anonymous entries into the bulletin board system in particular, there was a time when a deterioration in moral was rampant. One could write something truly nasty and/or stupid, and get away with it, in the cowardly haven of anonymity.

Not any more with the twitter. When people write nasty things, and some people (albeit increasingly infrequently) do resort to such follies, the record is there, and it does damage to the perception of the online personality responsible, whether anonymous or in real name.

When you find a nasty comment, you can check the account, and discover that he or she has been making nasty comments on many other things anyway. The attribute of nastiness is then transferred from the specific comment to the personality of the commentator in general. That way, the perceived harm of that comment is diminished.

Twitter is also a medium where different memes "compete" for social resource allocation. People retweet and comment on these tweets which are deemed interesting, often independent of the person who emitted the words. There is effectively a "free market" for interesting ideas and striking observations on twitter. The dynamics of interaction ensures that more web resources are given to the more interesting ideas.

Twitter, in a sense, is similar to the prefrontal cortex of the brain in its functionalities. It allocates attentions and resources of people involved. As an attention allocator, the relative shortness of its message format (140 characters) is crucially important, as it facilitates the rapid evolution of dynamics. Compared to twitter, alternative social media such as SNS (social network service) are often "too heavy" in their dynamics. Unless one is able to select and then magnify a particular meme, one is unable to expand its presence in the web.

Twitter facilitates rapid and efficient resource management by means of the lightness of its being.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The enigma of "underachievement" surely makes me think about the frivolousness of today's world.

I sometimes wonder what it takes for a talent to flourish.

Take my "fat philosopher" friend Ken Shiotani, for example. Obviously, he is terribly talented. When I met him on the University of Tokyo campus at the age of 18, his great intellect immediately touched me. Surely there are puffed-up types at the university, in whom I could not be bothered to be interested, but Shiotani was different. What he said always filled me with poetic inspirations, and continues to do so today.

Almost 30 years later, Shiotani is still at it, making endless entries into the thick notebook that he always carries with him. Shiotani is spotted in the philosopher's gatherings, giving lectures, asking questions, making comments. He is such a famous figure.

And yet, he does not have a job at the university, he does not have a Ph.D, he does not have written a book all by himself (either in Japanese and English), except for book chapters and translations. Everybody knows and acknowledges that Shiotani is a terribly intelligent person. There are less talented people holding academic positions and writings books. What happened to my best friend? For a long time I have been encouraging Shiotani to do something about it, but it is not simply coming.

Probably, Shiotani's intelligence is out of proportion for those practical things, or does not simply resonate with today's standard of what counts as one's achievements (remember how Socrates used just to walk around and chat with people, actions which would not land you on a tenured academic job these days)

When I was young, I used to think that a talent would exhibit itself naturally in the course of time. When I think of Ken Shiotani, I realize that it is not that simple. I love Ken Shiotani's tremendous talents, but can also appreciate how difficult it may be for them to manifest themselves in the competitive environments of today, often based on superficial measures of achievements.

It is not that I have disdain for those who just do mediocre work and have mediocre success (maybe I do!), but the enigma of "underachievement" by somebody like Ken Shiotani surely makes me think about the frivolousness of today's world.

He is at it again. Ken Shiotani speaking in an academic meeting.

Ken Shiotani arguing about time.

Ken Shiotani taking notes in the train.

Ken Shiotani's note on religion. Don't worry. It is difficult even for a native Japanese speaker to understand it.

Ken Shiotani's note on the foundations of mathematics.

Ken Shiotani's massive belly. A manifestation of his enormous intellect?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Two young immature students going to the legendary bar.

When we were 20, I and my fat philosopher friend Ken Shiotani went on a real adventure near the University of Tokyo Hongo campus.

On the next day, we were planning to go on a trip very early in the morning. So we decided to stay at a capsule hotel in a nearby area.

A capsule hotel is a very interesting Japanese invention, where people stay in a small capsule complete with bed, alarm clock, and a T.V. There would be a separate large public bath where you can have an Onsen-like experience. For the uninitiated, the idea of sleeping in a capsule might sound crazy, but it is actually surprisingly comfortable to do so.

And it is of course cheap. Because we were students and did not have much money, staying at a capsule hotel was a money saving choice.

On that night, having secured our space in a capsule hotel, we went to a legendary bar, "EST" in the Yushima district for the very first time.

A quarter of century later, The EST bar is still there, with the gentle and sophisticated Mr. Watanabe at the helm. The EST bar is a gem in my life, where you get not only the finest cocktails and Scotch but also a piece of life's treasure. I go to the EST bar regularly. The sheer joy of experience has not changed.

Back then, it took much courage for the two inexperienced college students to venture through the formidably thick door of the EST bar. Think of it. We were just 20.

When I look back on the two young immature students going to the legendary bar, trying to be out of their depths on purpose, tiptoeing in awe and looking around earnestly, it brings a lump to my throat. Looking back, I am glad that we took that adventure on that day. Classic.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Probably we have the beginning of the rainy season.

I was at the Fuji television in Odaiba yesterday, for a studio shoot of the Best House 123 show. I appeared as one of the guests.

During the break, I was talking with Ms. Chiyoko Asakura, one of the producers of the show. When I mentioned "the weather forecast says that it will be raining tomorrow", Chiyoko mentioned the rainy season ("tsuyu", literary "rain of the plum").

The rainy season!

I seem to have forgotten all about it recently. What a loss of innocence!

When I was a kid, the beginning of the rainy season was a much apprehended event. Its onset meant that I would not be able to play baseball in the fields, and chase the butterflies. The very idea of having to carry an umbrella to school was depressing. The rainy season was such an imminent threat to my tiny existence.

After one grows up, one is less affected by the weather, as one is not dependent on it, self-satisfied in the great corridors of civilization, being fed by and feeding the web of information. One could even go as far as nurturing an attitude of disdain for the very idea of being affected by the weather at all.

The gush of realization and something close to remorse as I chatted about the rainy season beside the studio made me a refreshed person. To really feel the nature, perhaps I need to go for a run in the rain, in the park forest, and remember how I used to feel before adolescence and civilization.

Perhaps I should do it today.

It is raining in the Tokyo district this morning. Probably we have the beginning of the rainy season.