Saturday, June 26, 2010

When I saw the light, I knew that I had come all the way to experience those qualia.

It was my second visit to the Niagara Falls. Last time, I did not go on the boat ("Maid of the Mist") to see the Great Fall from nearby. This time, I did.

I went there with my students and my best friend Yoshi Tamori.

Yoshi has been on the boat trip before, so he apparently knew well what to expect. I did not know what to expect, but could guess the nature of the coming experience fairly well, looking at how Yoshi prepared himself for the big event.

As the boat progressed towards the Horseshoe Falls, the atmosphere changed. Thunderous sounds, the air filled with mist, and the rainbow constantly in sight.

And then we came--as close as one could get safely, presumably, to the fall. Weathering the incessant attack of water drops falling from above, I looked up at the constantly moving great wall.

Then I saw it. Just where the Niagara River's flow on the flatland ends and the massive chunks of water start falling, there, at the spot of a poignant shift in curvature formed by gravity, I saw a shimmering light. It was as if the water was reflecting on the last moment of its calm and eventless existence.

How beautiul the reflections. And how awesome.

When I saw the light, I knew that I had come all the way to experience those qualia.

Maid of the Mist, the Horseshoe Falls, and the rainbow.

Maid of the Mist.

Yoshi Tamori well prepared for the event.

The great water fall.

The Niagara Qualia

Friday, June 25, 2010

In soccer, you have the freedom to feel sympathy for the losing opponent.

In Toronto, where I am currently staying, I see many cars carrying national flags on the streets. Needless to say, they are not for the G20 summit meeting. The drivers are more sensible, showing support for the respective national teams competing in the World Cup South Africa 2010. Some of the countries represented by the flags do not make it to the G20, but they do make it to the World Cup. Both G20 and World Cup are exclusive "clubs". Which club membership is based on a fairer competition, one wonders.

At night, after supper, we were having a drink in an Irish pub. There was a replay of the Denmark vs. Japan match, which Japan won by 3-1.

In sports, we are having a situation where there is can be a symmetry in and sharing of national prides. Although we do support Japan, we also have imaginations for the Danish pride, and how they might feel bad going back to Copenhagen, now out of the competition. The capacity for sympathy has been nurtured, because we are accustomed to losing in a soccer match. Ever since our school days, we have been losing matches after matches. Losing is a part of our common experience. Losing is within the "job description" as a growing up child.

It is quite unlike war, which should be banned in a civilized world anyway. If you lose a war, it is difficult to take it in a good spirit. It becomes a question of life or death. Your life would often mean the opponent's death. What a terrible and silly business.

In soccer, you have the freedom to feel sympathy for the losing opponent. For me, that is definitely the beauty of the sport.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The ordinary processions of everyday life, unsung, unnoticed, and yet so glorious and beautiful.

I am in Toronto now.

Due to the G20 summit to be held in Toronto, the security at the airport was tight.

There was a heavy traffic jam on the way to the city, as police blocked some part of the freeway in preparation for the motorcades.

Once in the city, it was business as usual. I left the baggage at the hotel, and strolled around.

It was evening time, and the sunshine was embracing the city in a vivid and tranquil light. A flower basket welcomed me.

During the next few days, the media might cover what is going on in the great corridors of world power. In my view, the really poignant news is perhaps in the ordinary processions of everyday life, unsung, unnoticed, and yet so glorious and beautiful if you put your heart into it.

I somehow associate Canada with flower baskets.

Just a street in Toronto.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Philosophy and Fashion show.

There are many fashion shows held every year in cities such as Paris, London, Milan, New York, and Tokyo. Some people might have a cynical and "nothing to do with me" attitude towards the cutting edge styles carried by the models, which display instances of clothing quite impossible to be worn in everyday life. Some even point out that the fashion trends are nothing but a cleverly crafted marketing device to make people buy clothes that they really do not need, a convention quite doubtful in today's carbon footprint conscious Zeitgeist. From this viewpoint. it would appear that the truly valuable style is to be found in those unchanging standard outfits. Impressions from my own experience is that such an anti-fashion sentiment is quite strong, for example, among the hard working, no-nonsense businessmen.

However, the idea that fashions are useless appear to be politically and ethically correct on the surface but is ultimately wrong. It is important to recognize that the standard "ensemble" of clothes that a "normal" men from the street wear had to be invented somewhere, somehow, sometime. When the convention of wearing the jacket and the tie was invented in, say, London, there might not have been a well-organized fashion shows like the ones we know. It is probably safe to say that, when these now "normal" manner of clothing was introduced, they were very novel. The very idea of a respectable grown-up man "hanging" a long piece of colorful cloth from the neck! The very idea!

It is not just the jacket and tie. Every fashion had to somehow justify itself and make it into the mainstream of society at the time of invention and reception. Every cultural cliche in the way we dress ourselves used to be one of the "latest" fashions at one time of human history. Those man, who say "I don't care anything more than wearing just a normal clothing" are actually benefiting from innovations in the past.

In this sense, I think that philosophy is something like a fashion show. To claim that philosophy is a "luxury" for people who idle away their time, departed from the realities of society, is quite alluring and on the surface sober. But this is ultimately a very wrong idea. To take philosophy as something alien to the daily living of people is also wrong. The often intractable and enigmatic problems at the frontiers of philosophy would lead to certain sets of concepts and world views after many years of hard work by the leading thinkers. These ideas, in turn, would later be assimilated into the society at large, and become the "common senses" and "cliches" for the general public. These things that become taken for granted in the hearts of people then serve as necessary wisdoms of living for people on the street, in the procession of their daily lives.

For example. the thesis that "I" am here because "I" think and feel various things is something that is taken for granted even by an elementary school pupil today. However, when Rene Descartes arrived at the thesis of "Cogito Ergo Sum", it was far from being self-evident.

Among the intellectuals, the belief in a God with human-like personalities might now be an minority. However, when Friedrich Nietzsche cried out that "God was dead!", he had to fight the phantom of a personified God, who would punish and reward the humans according to their conducts, with a "free transportation" to the heaven or the hell offered as the ultimate verdict.

Today, the idea that the trading of words is essential in the cultivation and maintenance of human culture is wide-spread, something that even a high school student can write an essay on. However, it was Wittgenstein's creative genius which gave birth to the idea of a "language game".

The frontiers of intellect, which haven been opened by the endeavors by leading philosophers over many years, would be appreciated by the people at large only after some period of reception. Conversely, the modes of thoughts that are so familiar to the ordinary people in today's world were once problems at the frontiers of philosophy. Philosophers at the edges of thought sometimes even risking insanity. And then they become commonplace knowledge looked upon disdainfully by the ordinary people as something belonging to a yawning cliche.

Today, many people would think that there is no afterlife. People like Dr. Richard Dawkins have been campaigning for many years for the merits of scientific ways of thinking. Thanks to those efforts, and the trends in the world in general, men from the streets are starting to think that there is no life after death, and all that concerns us happen "here and now" while we are alive on this earth. All our earthly efforts are consequently focused on improving the conditions of our earthly lives.

There are less and less people, who make a point of enduring things while living so that they can make encounter better things in the afterlife, or the "next life" after the "reincarnation".

This modern "mindset" of trying to make better the daily life on this earth would surely have the danger of leading to an overdriven materialism. On the other hand, setting oneself free from the religious modes of thinking which stress the importance of the afterlife was a necessary condition to build a civilization as we know it today. If people are too concerned about the afterlife, practical senses directed towards the development of technologies which make the earthly lives better would simply not be nurtured. In a sense, the establishment of the system of philosophy in which one believes that the earthly life is everything functioned as a part of "infrastructure" towards the development of civilization, just as the invention of steam engine and batteries.

Needless to say, it is not that everything is "cool" from the point of view of aesthetics. There are modes of quite normal clothing for which we need not use the word "fashion" ostensibly. Likewise, philosophers have their shares of "trivial" ways of thinking, not venturing far off from what have been already accepted. Such philosophers, to use the term familiar in the world of fashion, are not "cool". Thinkers who endeavor to open a new intellectual frontier would be "cool" and "sexy".

Once, I read in a U.K. men's magazine an article on how to be popular with girls. One of the advise that the editors gave away for the love hopefuls was "how to pretend that you know Jacques Derrida". The basic assumption is that the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, just like the latest modes of fashion, can be considered as "cool" and "sexy". To encounter and don the ways of thinking and modes of sensitivities which might "descend" to the daily lives of ordinary people in the years to come is tantamount to looking into the future. And nothing is as cool as the future.

"Philosophy equals a fashion show."

However strange this equation might look, therein lies the key significance of thinking creatively about life and death, and arriving at a conceptual solution.

Translated from the original Japanese essay in Ken Mogi, "Ikite Shinu Watashi" ("I live, I die") published from Tokuma Shoten, Tokyo, 1998. Translation by the author.

The cover of "Ikite Shinu Watashi"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Oze photos.

I have been dreaming of going to the Oze National Park, ever since my graduate school days. Dr. Tokunagawa, who was an associate professor of the laboratory, used to say "Let's go to Oze with many people". (If you have a sufficient knowledge of the Japanese language, you would notice that this particular sentence would work as a pun.) The lab trip never became a reality, and my dream had to wait for some 20 years to materialize.

Well, life is like that.

The Oze district, characterized by marshes and unique vegetations surrounded by mountains, is an idealized image of the tranquility and harmony of nature.

I heartily recommend a visit to Oze for anyone who needs a break from the busy life in civilization.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Even from this short entry I hope you can feel how refreshed I am.

I have been to the beautiful mountain region of Oze overnight. I stayed at the TEPCO mountain lodge.

What a change from my every day. Without an internet connection, off the internet, even without my ubiquitously present laptop. While in Oze, I saw many beautiful wild flowers, a child bear, heard bird songs, and listened to my inner voice.

Have to rush back to Tokyo. Even from this short entry I hope you can feel how refreshed I am.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Become friends and embrace each other, people of the world! This marvelous world cup in Petrusa's country is a very good opportunity.

My long time pen friend (since the teens!) Petrusa lives in South Africa.

And as you may well be aware, things have been getting a bit wild in South Africa recently!

Last night, I was having a drink with my best friend Shinya Shirasu in the Ginza district of central Tokyo. At exactly half past eight Tokyo time, I disappeared into the bathroom and reappeared with a different kind of T-shirt. It was a replica for team Japan at the world cup. It was the kick-off time for the big game.

With much preparation and anticipation we followed the game closely. I love the whole atmosphere of the matches in this particular world cup. The never-ending sound of the vuvuzelas are music to my ears. It somehow reminds me of the beautiful landscape that Petrusa has been telling me. Things resonate. making connections.

Sadly, Japan lost to the Netherlands by 0 to 1, but we had fun. We shouted abuses and obscenities from time to time. What are the world cup matches for without some manifestations of the wild spirit?

As the party went on, the situation became more chaotic and haphazard and culminated in something like this, a photo taken from one of our earlier parties.

The take home message: Become friends and embrace each other, people of the world! This marvelous world cup in Petrusa's country is a very good opportunity.

Demonstrators of the get-together spirit. (From left) Masanobu Ikeda, Shinya Shirasu, and myself.