Thursday, December 29, 2022

Witnessing Kengo Kuma go walkabout in the wild.

I went to the island of Yakushima for a few days. Yakushima, in southern Japan, is rich in pristine nature, and is a UNESCO World Heritage registered site. I went there in my capacity as the headmaster of Yakushima Ozora High School, a correspondence-based institution with the main campus on this island, providing a much valued learning experience for students from all over Japan. 

This time, there was something special. The world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma came to see the campus and its surroundings. I came to know Mr. Kuma as a guest of the Professionals program at NHK, where I was the co-host of the show. At that time, I learned that Mr. Kuma would go walkabout, when he visits a site of interest. So when Mr. Kuma started to walk on the school premises, it was as if a confirmation of a long-held view on the habits of the master designer of buildings came to be confirmed.

What Mr. Kuma was capable of, however, was something beyond my imagination. The land in which the Yakushima Ozora High School is situated is rich in vegetation, with threes, shrubs, and weeds rampant, except for, of course, the well-maintained areas in the vicinity of the buildings. Mr. Kuma was like a fireball of curiosity. Wherever he wanted to go, he would go. He was heading the whole group, venturing into the most wild parts of the premises without aid, glancing in this direction and then in another, inspecting how the landscape and the views around would change, with the avid observation of a five-year-old and the mature wisdom of an experienced architect. It was an inspiration and privilege to witness.

Mr. Kuma's family name, "kuma", has the same sound in Japanese as the animal "bear". On that day, Mr. Kuma went walkabout like a wild bear in Yakushima, and it was fascinating to witness the workings of a great mind.

Mr. Kuma and myself in front of a giant watermill in the Senvus Village, an ecological education site attached to the high school.

Mr. Kuma, myself, and the high school staff.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

I wish everyday of the year would be Christmas, a season of goodwill.

This is Christmas day. It is big in Japan, a country where a mere 1 percent of the population are self-proclaimed Christians.

The Japanese are incredibly flexible when it comes to the secular adaptations of religious cultures. It is customary to pay a visit to a Shinto shrine on the New Year's Day, to be wed in the Christian fashion, and do funerals in the Buddhist way. Halloween is increasingly popular in recent years, especially in and around the world-famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Such a frivolous attitude might surprise people from other parts of the world, but for a typical Japanese, it is something very natural. It is so nagomi.

From my early childhood, I have been accustomed to the idea that on the Christmas day you would get a present from Santa Claus, only to learn as you matured that it was actually from the mama or papa or combination of both. When you are a teenager you are constantly bombarded with the ads that suggest that lovers should spend a romantic few hours on the Christmas Eve. I would say that every boy and girl in Japan has been exposed to this idea at some time in life.

So when I went to the U.K. to do postdoc at the University of Cambridge, it was refreshing to know how Christmas was celebrated there. It seemed to be more of a family-oriented affair, not so commercialized, and certainly not about lovers. I was once invited over to the house of late Professor Horace Barlow for Christmas dinner. It was fascinating to wear the paper crown hats popping out of the Christmas cracker. Horace was wearing the hat, just like a five year old, beaming with a happy smile. He must have been over 70 years old then. I was impressed by the general idea that Christmas was a season of goodwill, where people would be kind to each other, giving money to the charity, celebrating humanity in general. Perhaps this aspect of Christmas is still to be imported in any substance to the land of the rising sun.

So I wish everyday of the year would be Christmas, a season of goodwill. I don't want any presents, or romantic hours for that matter. I just wish that people would be civil to each other, all year round, never thinking of waging wars or being involved in cunning plans to take advantage of people. Maybe this is too naive, but it is part of the magic of Christmas, to be naive.

Related video.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Are children an endangered species in Japan?

Japan is a country with a rich cultural tradition focused on childhood. You actually need to look no further than the obvious and ubiquitous anime and manga, but there are many hidden treasures in addition. The Hayao Miyazaki films, My Neighbour Totoro in particular (at least in my opinion), is a great tribute to the magic of childhood. The Japanese are in general very well at keeping the inner child alive, and then at being kind to the actual children.

So it came as a great surprise that there was a high profile case in the city of Nagano, where a playground was reported to be closed due to the complaints of a few residents nearby. Allegedly, the kids were making too much noise.

Well, it does not require much common sense to realize that the name of the game for children is to make some noise. Actually, a lot of noise. They need to play together, to the accompaniment of cries and calls, in order to develop their cognitive skills. When I wrote about this incomprehensible incident on my Japanese twitter account @kenichiromogi, a majority (say, 95%) of people responded with indignation and calls for a better environment for children in Japan, a nation where the combination of aging population and fewer childbirths is perceived to be a serious social issue. Only a minority of people seemed to sympathize with the complaining residents, with less persuasive powers obviously.

So, it appears that the spirit of My Neighbour Totoro, where the magic of the childhood is appreciated and protected, is very much alive, despite the presence of a few impatient people. These complainers would have been children once. It is sad when someone conveniently forgets his or her own past and live in the echo chamber of the present. It would be quite a wrong case of being in the here and now.

Are children an endangered species in Japan?

If the number of people who become oblivious to the magic of childhood increases, the answer to this question might turn out to be an "yes." I do hope that would not come to pass. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

I AM A CAT was a solace for Soseki.

 When Soseki Natsume wrote the first chapter of his debut novel I AM A CAT, he probably did not expect to become a professional novelist.

He was busy teaching at a university and a high school, and the whimsical novella was never intended to be anything more than a temporary sway from his daily routine. 

It proved to be hugely popular, and the general public demanded for more. Soseki wrote the sequel to the novella, completing the voluminous I AM A CAT, and went on to write quite a few masterpieces, and became arguably the most important writer of fiction in Japanese history since Lady Murasaki of the Tale of Genji.

It is quite interesting to observe that the writing of I AM A CAT provided a much needed release of emotion, stress, and joy for the young scholar. It was literally a solace for his soul. It is often the case that something written for the welfare of the writer or those around him goes on to become something of a universal value. A similar example might be Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, written to amuse a little girl that the mathematician knew personally.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

I do not make an external to-do list.

I haven't been able to write anything in this space for a week now, due to a hectic schedule involving lectures and travel.

Meanwhile, I was feeling that there was always something in my mind, mostly unconscious, suggesting and urging to write an entry in the qualia journal. This is a phenomenon probably familiar to you all, and I find it quite interesting in terms of brain functions involved.

When you haven't met someone for sometime, there would often a "reminder" in your head, alerting and nudging you to make a contact to that person in question. When there is an overdue homework, you would be often unconsciously reminded of it. Sometimes, things would emerge out of the blue, presenting a case that it needs to be done immediately. It would be interesting to speculate how this is done in the brain circuits, possibly involving the lateral prefrontal cortex

 (LPFC), but it is also quite fascinating to acknowledge that such a cognitive process exists at all. 

I do not make an external to-do list. I have a habit of holding a mental image of what needs to be done in the short, medium, and long terms, and try to do something from that list whenever there are a few spare minutes, hopefully reducing the stack. 

Now that I have written something brief here (this entry), there are other items I need to attend to, and I would try to do so at my next available leisure.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

An oil painting of Albert Einstein reaching for a blue earth in the darkness of the universe, sprinkled with pink hearts

This is an artwork that I presented at the Peace Exhibition held in Spiral, Omotesando, Japan, from18th November to 20th November. 

It was actually open-AI's DALL-E which created the image, based on my prompt text:

 “An oil painting of Albert Einstein reaching for a blue earth in the darkness of the universe, sprinkled with pink hearts”

It is interesting to play with these AI systems. In a sense, you are fine-tuning the response of the AI with increasingly detailed and sophisticated text. In order to generate this particular image, I experimented with several tens of prompts, 52 to be precise. 

If you make your own drawing or painting, the narrowing down in the phase space is straightforward, because you are using your own hands. With an AI such as DALL-E, it becomes more of an educated guess work. While your own manual maneuver is sharply directed, negotiations with AIs are more random and full of surprises, whether serendipitous or nasty, and that, I suspect, would be a common defining feature of our lives in the near future with artificial intelligence systems.

Friday, November 18, 2022

A sense of inadequacy in Soseki's works.

I was reading Soseki Natsume again. A few days ago I finished Kojin, and was moved by the impression of the brother, who was intelligent but did not know what to do with the world in general, let alone his wife.

A sense of inadequacy is always a central theme of Soseki. After Kojin, I moved on to Kokoro, another study of the feeling of "not good enough". The protagonist of Kokoro, a young student, is nevertheless attracted to Sensei, who does not seem to be forthcoming in giving advise and mentorship.

In the latter half of Kokoro we learn the tragic event behind the hesitation of Sensei. However, I do feel that the unfortunate events that led to the reclusion of Sensei was only a visualization of much more universal and profound human condition.

In the world today, we see too many people who appear to be confident, eager to give advises to people, whether well-intended or otherwise. Soseki's Kojin and Kokoro are such fresh breaths of air because we all know that superficial people can only help us in superficial ways.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A stone-age anachronism

The alleged falling of Russian missile in Poland is a case of ambiguities.

Whether the missile was Ukrainian or Russian in origin, the larger picture is that it is ultimately the war that is responsible. 

The world is a complex system, and events and intentions are often mixed and dispersed be. Fact-checking is useful, but we should ultimately be focused on the larger picture, in order to see things clearly onto the future.

The gist of the matter, it seems to me, is that the concept of nation states with clear national borders and the claim by the supposed "leaders" of countries to defend the territory no matter what human costs might be is now a stone-age anachronism and has no place in the world today. 

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine is a shameful demonstration of the cognitive vulnerabilities of supposedly cunningly wise leaders, and should be stopped immediately, in order not to allow the merchants of death take advantage of the ambiguities that exist and would surely keep emerging like bamboo shoots after rain.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Connect the numbers and qualia directly

Numbers exist, in their natural style of exactness. We can make operations on them, and arrive at interesting relationships.

As an ideology, you might want to give formal foundations for numbers, through set theory or category theory, for example. However, as Bertrand Russell demonstrated, it is very easy to cause a havoc with self-referential structures in such approaches. These formal minimalistic frames of theory remain surprisingly futile. 

There is a human instinct which does not accept rich diversity of existence in a straightforward way. Numbers are numbers, but we simply cannot acknowledge them at their face values. 

The same goes for qualia. Although they are clearly here, people have tried to extinguish them, preferring more abstract and ultimately unproductive formal systems. 

It might be possible to bypass the barren land of formality altogether and connect the numbers and qualia directly, in the context hinted here.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Anne Shirley emerged in my mind as Carl Jung's amina

When I was 10, I was in the public library, looking for books to read. One particular volume was in the shelf, and the back of it appeared to be shining.

That was the Japanese translation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. I checked out the book, read it, and immediately fell in deep resonance with it. I went on to read all of Anne series. When I started to learn English at the age of 12, I was immediately interested in reading the Anne series in its native tongue. I was fifteen when I read Anne of Green Gables in English in its entirety. To this day, I regard this particular series of experience as one of the defining moments in my life.

It is difficult to say what made me so attracted to this juvenile novel. With the benefit of hindsight, it would appear that Anne Shirley emerged in my mind as Carl Jung's amina, an idealized image of someone of the opposite sex. Anne Shirley's enthusiasm, imagination, and the power to change the world through language helped me develop psychologically and cognitively when I was a teenager. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Mastodon and twitter

In the last few days, some people have suggested mastodon as an alternative to twitter. 

I signed up, and I like the cartoons and feels.

Having said that, I think I would stay with twitter as my main social network service for the time being, even with the havocs caused by Elon Musk.

I am of the opinion that people are making too much fuss about the perceived ill-advised behaviors of the serial entrepreneur.

Even with some damages, the platform would stay viable and a first choice for exchanging ideas for the time being, in my opinion.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Talk by Prof. Stuart Hameroff at The University of Tokyo Komaba campus

It is such a quantum pleasure to welcome Prof. Stuart Hameroff at the University of Tokyo Komaba campus. This would be an informal, in-depth seminar attended by people (faculty and students) interested in the science of consciousness. Prof. Hameroff will be accompanied by Mr. Hidehiko Saegusa from the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. 


Prof. Hameroff with Sir Roger Penrose

1700-1830 on the 22nd June (Wednesday) 2022, at Room 1313, Bldg. 13

Hosted by Ken Mogi and Takashi Ikegami.  

Inquiries to

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Of course afterlife exists. Afterlife 3 by Ricky Gervais review.

I enjoyed Afterlife 3, written and directed by Ricky Gervais.

As is well known, Mr. Gervais is an atheist. In Afterlife 3, however, there seemed to be a nod at the idea of the afterlife, in an attempt to be humane, rather than ideologically pure, in the script and acting.

After all we are all in this together, this life on the earth, and the gist of the attitude is to share. The symbolic bench scenes capture the spirit of coming together, acknowledging each other's miseries and imperfections.

If there is a young soul who has a genuine interest in the afterlife, what should one do but to convey a warm heart through kind words? In one of the unforgettable moments of the series, Mr. Gerais says that he believes there is an afterlife to a child who is undergoing chemotherapy. A true sign of humanity.

The lemon scene in episode 2 was brilliant deep, signaling a watershed moment in the psyche of the series, foretelling the enigmatic but deeply satisfying final scene of people and a dog walking on the greens. A superb ending to the whole series. 

Saturday, January 08, 2022

The Lost Daughter. Life is actually about a lost doll.

The Lost Daughter, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is a complexly rich statement on womanhood and motherhood. There is that enigma about the doll, which remained unresolved until the end. However, rather than giving an exact landing point for the doll mystery, it would be more appropriate to leave it there, like life's many intricacies that just happen and leave us fundamentally changed in the process.

Life is actually about a lost doll.

The stellar performances of the mature (Olivia Colman) and young (Jessie Buckley) Leda are unforgettable, the latter reminding me again of the superb film I'm thinking of Ending things.

A Psychodrama succeeds when it depicts fully the extent of the complexity of depth of the human mind as it happens, not within the confinements of ethics and ideologies ("humans are and should be like this" and that kind of thing), and The Lost Daughter does just that. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Seeing Tokyo Story is a great training for not crying in public.

On 26th of December last year (2021), I had the delight of viewing Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story in Cinema Onomichi. Onomichi, needless to say, is the place where the beginning and the end of the film was located. It was magical to walk out of the cinema, just after the film finished, into the real Onomichi of today. The sun was setting, and everything was embraced in golden reddish light. The sudden transformation appeared to present before me the magic of the cinema and the world we live in at the same time. I could almost cry.

I did not weep, as I had to give a public lecture soon afterwards. Seeing Tokyo Story is a great training for not crying in public. For me, it seems that I tend to shed some tears when I feel that I have touched some truths in an abrupt manner. Just being exposed to a sad scene does not trigger that magic circuit in me. With Tokyo Story, there are many scenes which reveal generic human truth, so there is a genuine risk of weeping in public, albeit in the comfort of the darkness of the theater. I did weep rather heavily when I saw Tokyo Story in London, while I was doing postdoc in University of Cambridge. I felt that the dry crack within me was filled with serene water. 

Monday, January 03, 2022

The power of the dog then leaves an unforgettable impression, like the soil under our feet from which greens flourish and flowers bloom.

A few days after viewing The Power of the Dog, my mind is still vibrating in the recollected afterglow of impressions I received from this film. The casting is superb, and I do think it is Benedict Cumberbatch's best performance in career so far.

There is something enigmatic about the film, and I do not claim to have deciphered the mystery. I think the taming of the wild and unpredictable, the power of the dog, is a common theme in contemporary society with which we can all identify and shiver. It is a nuisance and should be cleverly phased out. And yet, we see at the same time that love, life's vital forces, and a sense of community all arise because of the power of the dog, which we utilise and then shamelessly discard. The power of the dog then leaves an unforgettable impression, like the soil under our feet from which greens flourish and flowers bloom. 

The score by Jonny Greenwood was very original, eerily piercing, and totally profound.


Sunday, January 02, 2022

Albert's Regrets.

For some time, I have been thinking of writing a fictional work titled Albert's Regrets. When you think of the life of Albert Einstein, you would think that his greatest regret scientifically has been the fact that he could not complete his unified theory of physics. He might regret his treatment of his first wife, Mileva, both on personal and professional terms. Some estimate that Mileva contributed to theory of relativity much more than is usually thought.

Albert's greatest regret, however, would have been the signing of the letter to President Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb. There was historical urgency to do so, to be sure. On the other hand, when you know Einstein's deeply pacifist views, he would have been the last person you would expect to be involved in such a conduct. So there is a genuinely profound food for thought in the circumstances in which Albert Einstein wrote that crucial letter.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Ecological sharing in bonsai.

I wrote about this in my forthcoming book The Way of Nagomi, and I think the editor did not cut it (although at this particular moment I am not that sure). I think the Japanese art of bonsai is a great way for plants to share the ecological space.

When you see a great tree, it is all beautiful. At the same time, it means that the tree has a monopoly on the ecological niche. When you have bonsai, a tree can fulfil its life potentials in a limited space while allowing other entities to enjoy the adjacent spaces. 

This, I think, is the most beautiful aspect of bonsai.