Saturday, July 17, 2010

The rage of the young Nicol was a reflection of his deep love towards Nature.

I had a wonderful conversation with Mr. C.W. Nicol, the famed writer who resides in the Kurohime district, Nagano prefecture, Japan. Mr. Nicol, (or Nick, as his friends are wont to call him) is a very kind, generous man with a big and deep smile.

What he told me about his youth was quite interesting. "Used to be an angry young man", Nick said. "I used to fight all the time, with these people who had no qualms about cutting down big trees in the mountains for meager "economic" reasons."

Perhaps for being so frequently angry, Nick got the nickname of "Aka Oni" ("Red Devil") from the local residents. An nickname, in the Japanese context, is not without the cute and attractive connotations.

In order to save the forests of Kurohime, he started the The C.W Nicol Afan Woodland Trust, named after the Afan Argoed Forest Park in Wales, his home country.

In my view, the rage of the young Nicol was divine. It was not based on personal interest, such as jealousy, hurt pride, or competition. The rage of the young Nicol was a reflection of his deep love towards Nature, the rich forest in Kurohime in particular.

"I started aiming for a big project", Nick told me. "Then it became smaller and smaller, until it could be contained in a nutshell. Now I would like to do what I can in this forest of Kurohime. I have finally found my home".

Today, Mr. Nicol looks like an old oak tree. The divine rage at young times has taken root deep in the soil, and the foliage of
experience flourishes.

With Mr. Nicol in the Afan Forest in Kurohime, Nagano, Japan.
(photos by Tomio Takizawa)

Friday, July 16, 2010

So here's to the fat ones.

Partly because my best friend Ken Shiotani is one, I seem to be drawn to a fat man. Although when I first met him when I was 18, he was rather like a slim bear. Then the rapid growth started, to my utter amazement.

Once I was traveling in the rural areas. I stayed at an Onsen (hotspring) ryokan (Japanese style Inn). There was a fat man figure in the bath. It was actually a deity, but my memories are rather faint there. In any case, the fat man figure stayed with me to this day. The symbol of reassurance, good things in life, and perhaps a little bit of indulgence. Just the right amount.

When I "interview" Misako, Ken Shiotani's wife, she invariably tells me that Shiotani's protruded belly is an attraction, rather than an obstacle, in her loving of her husband. Misako actually loves to pat on the belly. She cannot get enough of it. It is actually like touching the immortal "Totoro" in Hayao Miyazaki's film. Patting on the belly is an action repeated many times by the onlookers to the Sumo wrestlers. Perhaps here you can find one of the reasons for the popularity of Sumo wrestlers.
A heavenly cushion in the flesh.

So here's to the fat ones. I dedicate some photos I took while on the road. I don't recall where they were taken. I must have drawn to the atmosphere of reassurance and indulgence. We all need a little bit of them in today's health over-conscious world.

The fat man figure.

The fat one, Ken Shiotani, in the front.
The slim one, Takashi Ikegami, in the back.
Both are my soul mates, fat or slim.

Shiotani's belly, taken on 10th June 2009.

Mr. Okada does not charge for belly touching.

I made an entry about the fat ones in yesterday's blog. Even before I get the feedbacks (as the publication was delayed due to my stay in the mountain area, cut off from the internet), here's yet another entry about the fat ones.

Mr. Kengo Okada is one of my most respected editors. He is excellent with a capital E. Once he starts talking about his favorite subject, films, there is no stopping him. He talks on and on and on. His incredibly broad knowledge about that genre is both awesome and inspiring.

This much ado about his verbal exercise, however, did not stop him from building up an excess reservoir of energy materials around his belly area.

Below you can find a photo of Kengo Okada examining his belly in anticipation of an particularly demanding afternoon work session in the Chuo Koron (Central Review) office, where he is in charge of important sections in an important woman's magazine. Chuo Koron is a venerable and respected publishing house based in central Tokyo. Mr. Okada, while nurturing a robust belly section, has been kind enough to edit some of my books in Japanese.

So here's to the fat ones again. How could we live without them? I look forward to many beautiful collaborations with Mr. Okada, as well as touching his soft and relaxing belly from time to time.

And it is all free! How generous! Mr. Okada has a "no charge" policy for belly touching.

Mr. Kengo Okada, an editor at Chuo Koron (Central Review), showing off his well-kept belly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The hole was rather large once you notice its existence.

On the night that I became aware of the quality of the train noise, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, I did not actually know the word "qualia". At that time of my career, I haven't done much research into the phenomenological dimensions of this universe. I was simply trained as a physicist, with some diversions into biology. The encounter with the word itself came a few months later, when I was reading a book on neurophilosophy. Only then did I realize that the problem that I bumped into was quite an old one, occupying the minds of philosophers and philosophically oriented people for many years.

Although I did not know the word "qualia", as I listened to the train noise, it became suddenly clear to me that the approaches of the physical sciences, in which you try to describe the events in this world in terms of numerical equations, cannot be applied to the origin of the quality of the noise that I was listening to. You may be able to Fourier-transform the sound waves, and discuss the frequency spectrum. That kind of logic, however, would not explain the origin of the phenomenal quality of the sound that was reaching my consciousness. It was clear that, there was a "hole" in the physical description of the universe as we know and experience it. And the hole was rather large once you notice its existence.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I did not have any idea that there should be something "external" to the physical description of the universe.

Although the fact that our phenomenal experience is "composed" of qualia should be evident from infancy, it is actually difficult to become aware of the full richness of the qualia dimension.

Myself, I did not become aware of the problem of qualia until the age of 31. On that fatal night, February 1994, I was returning home from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), where I was conducting my postdoctoral research. I was on a train. I was writing ideas, diagrams, and equations into my notebook, as was my custom at that time. That particular night was rather "productive", at least in quantity. I remember that I made about 10 pages of entry.

I was standing at the edge of a car, where two carriages are connected by the coupler bridge and rubber covers. As you know, this part of the train is particularly susceptible to the noise that the train cars make as they go along the railway.

While making notes in a hectic speed, I must have been listening to the train noise: clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. There was nothing unusual in that situation. I did not have any premonition at all what was to come. What did come, it turned out, actually changed my life beyond recognition.

All of a sudden, I realized that the sound that was reaching my consciousness was composed of vivid qualities. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack clickety-clack. Qualities that cannot be fully described by words. Just this immediate impression of sensory qualities. It should be an evident fact for anybody. Even a child knows that a train goes clickety-clack. However, until that moment, I did not realize the very serious nature of the problem presented by the fact that our conscious sensory perception has the qualitative dimension.

I was trained as a physicist. I got my Ph.D. in the physics department of the University of Tokyo. As a physicist, I knew for a fact that the objective behavior of everything in the universe apparently obeys in a precise manner the laws of physics. As a physicist is wont to say, if you know the "Hamiltonian" of the universe, everything should be describable in terms of a set of equations.

I held that belief at that time, and actually continue to hold that belief to this day. Until that fateful night on the train, I did not have any idea that there should be something "external" to the physical description of the universe.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Depending on the traditions in each culture, the significance of a particular physical entity becomes different. The Japanese has always exhibited a vivid interest towards the insects, in particular the fireflies. And the interest has been always something beyond that of sheer entomological activities.

In Sei Shonagon's essay on the four seasons in The Pillow Book, fireflies are praised as "epitomes" of the elegance and beauty of the summer night. "Summer at night. More beautiful when there's the moon. When in total darkness, lots of fireflies airborne to and fro. Or only a few fireflies, leaving traces of faint lights. Otherwise, gentle rain falling all around."

To associate a rich "cloud" of connotations with the sight of this light emitting arthropod has been in the Japanese tradition for a long time, especially in the literary context.

Sei Shonagon's contemporary poet, Izumi Shikibu, associated the firefly with deep emotions of love.

Thinking about my love, even a firefly over the stream, appears to be my soul wandering out in longing.

Indeed, fireflies have been always associated with the longing spirit. Hideo Kobayashi, arguably the greatest critic to bless the Japanese nation since modernization, started his unfinished essay "Reflections" ("Kanso", which analyzed the philosophy of Henri Bergson) thus:

Two years after the great war ended, my mother died. Mother's death affected me deeply. In comparison the war, while historically significant, had only a physical influence on me, leaving my soul untouched. A few days after my mother passed away, I had a strange experience. At that time, my house was located deep in the Ogigaya valley. There was a brook alongside the small path that passed in front of the house. It was already twilight. Out of the gate, I saw a firefly before me. It was large like I had never seen before, emitting quite an impressive luminance. My mother has become a firefly now, I thought. Following the absorbing light, I found that it was not possible to let myself free from the idea any more."

Excerpt from "Reflections" by Hideo Kobayashi. Translated by Ken Mogi

Hideo Kobayashi, with his famous epitome "Hihyo toha Mushi wo eru michi dearu" ("Criticism is a way of attaining non-selfhood.")

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cute things

In another essay of The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon choses to discuss the cute things in life:

"Cute things. Face of a child painted on a gourd. A baby sparrow, approaching in a staccato on a calling tweet. An toddler, crawling in a hurry, keen enough to discover a very small dust on the way. The toddler then holding the dust between its tiny fingers, and showing it proudly to the adults around.

(Translated from the original by Ken Mogi)

The general conclusion, according to Sei Shonagon in the same essay, is that "cuteness is in everything, everything which is small". Although this "rule of cuteness" seems to be universal and provide sufficient basis for categorization, Sei Shonagon never gets tired of recounting the cute things one by one, possibly for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

The Pillow Book is an impressive example in the tradition in the Japanese culture to attend to and record verbally the details of qualia in the phenomenology of the world as we experience it. The torch of the tradition of cuteness is carried to this day.