Monday, July 18, 2005

Nurturing Genius

Summer in Tokyo is sometimes very hot. Yesterday it was almost steaming. I went to Odaiba again to give the blessing of science lecture. On the way, I read Michael Tye's Ten Problems of Consciousness. This book comes with some delightful illustrations. When you are thinking about something as hard as the mind-brain problem, it is good to have this light-hearted divertimento into the picture.
Mr. Eisuke Ito of Gumma University was among the audience. He is only 20, and yet he carries with him journal articles on brain and mind. We had a chat over beer after the lecture, and he was a delightful fellow.
It is a wonderful time we live in, this internet age. In the old days, it used to be that if you wanted to read the papers in the specialist journals you had to go to the university library. You then had to look it up in the huge volumes, ask the secretary for the permission to copy (if at all possible). By the time you got the article, you were quite exhausted. Now, you can just google for the article you desire. Most of the time the researchers have the pdf file ready on the web free of charge. Thus, aspiring young men like Yusuke can get access to the latest in research, time and willingness permitting. Isn't it wonderful? Now we have the ubiquitous infrastructure for nurturing genius. Universities and other elite institutions do not have the privilege they used to have any more.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The blessing of science.

On Saturday, I went to the Mediage museum in Odaiba. Odaiba is the heart of Tokyo waterfront, with the headquarter of Fuji television and several other tourist attractions nearby. The Sony Computer Science Laboratories Exhibition 2005 is currently on, and I was scheduled to give a lecture on "The blessings of science" to the general public.
I started my talk with how observing insects in the nature in my childhood helped me become a scientist. Insects are rich feeders to your brain's emotional system. When you are immersing yourself among the wild creatures, you experience various forms of emotion. Discovering a beetle, you reach for it, and realize that it is actually not a favored species of beetle, but a wild cockroach. You shudder and want to run away from the spot. Sometimes you encounter an elegant butterfly and thank for the passage of season which brought that particular time of the year again. Observing insects and other living things in nature, you go through rich and complex ecology of emotions that has been passed on to us from the ancient time in which our ancestors hunted for food in the wild.
I went on to describe how science is similar to caring for others. If your mind is closed to how others feel, think, and see the world, then your mind is also closed to science. Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravitation because he did not just say "apples fall from the trees anyway. I don't care why". If you put yourself in the position of an apple in your imagination, then all these questions comes into your mind. Why should I fall? Why should I fall with this particular acceleration? If I put myself in the position of the moon, do I have to fall too? Doing a good science is similar to putting yourself in the position of an old woman, a homeless, an infant, a man who has just been made redundant. Science is all about caring for the various things in the universe, and therein lies the greatest blessing of science.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The blessing and closure of language.

I was having a late night (or rather, an early morning) chat with two editors, Takeshi Masuda of Chikuma Shobo, and Kanako Oshima of Gentosha. Chikuma and Gentosha are major publishing houses in Tokyo, and they are both editing my book. At around 2.00 a.m. and after several glasses of beer, I suddenly hit upon an idea that the language game concept of Ludwig Wittgenstein might have relevance to the problem that I have been thinking a lot about recently, i.e., the blessing and closure that the faculty of language bestows on us.
Language makes it possible for us to communicate with each other. At the same time, it forms a closure for those who do not understand that particular language. What I write here does not make any sense for people who do not speak English. If I write in Japanese (which I do a lot) a larger number of people do not have access to the contents.
Isn't language frightening, when you consider both the blessings and closure that it brings. When there was no language, there was no breaking of symmetry. Once there is language, symmetry is lost and you have both blessings and closure. You open your eyes to many people, yet at the same time your mind is closed to others. I am growingly concerned about my own language policy, that's why I write my diary both in English and Japanese, hoping something would happen in my brain to appease the situation.

My diary in Japanese

Friday, July 15, 2005

Who writes the history?

The Chichu art museum on the island of Naoshima is celebrating its first anniversary. The director Yuji Akimoto came to give a lecture in my class at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Geidai). He showed how the "Art House Project" started with plain ordinary houses on the island. "There was a particular difficulty in starting from the chaotic space that the interior of the abandoned houses presented, and shift to the domain of abstract expression, culminating in the refined art that we find in the Rei Naitoh and Tatsuo Miyajima houses today". Yuji said.
Later in the evening, we had the Chichu Art Museum first anniversary symposium. Michael Govan of DIA art foundations gave a talk. Some audiences expressed concern that DIA is perhaps too much concerned with the promotion of American artists. I thought:It is natural for DIA to be concerned with American artists, since it is based in America. Although Michael stressed that it is not DIA policy to promote only American, there is a natural tendency as anybody can see. The whole question boils down to "who writes history". There is no single authoritative history. If the Japanese art world has been under the shadow of the history of contemporary art as dictated by people in the "mainstream", they have been doing so by their own choice. You can just ignore whatever mainstream framework there is, at your own freedom and at your own risk. Freedom comes with risk.
I enjoyed the evening overall.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Piet Hut's Future of Science.

Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton came to visit us. First we met near Waseda University. Piet gave a guest lecture in the "Introduction to Psychology" course that I have been giving this semester. Piet talked about the "Future of Science". As an astrophysicist, Piet had an unusual approach in the temporal dimension, standing away from the modern history of science and taking a long-shot view of things to come. He talked about two possible scenarios. In one scenario, the progress of science from now on would experience a state of stagnation, with pretty much secrets of the universe already discovered and expressed in science in its present form. In another, which Piet thinks is more likely, we would continue to make progress, so that 100 or 1000 years from now, science as we know it would be changed beyond recognition. Piet was kind enough to visit our lab, and give yet another informal talk. We went to the Toono-Monogatari restaurant in Gotanda and had a chat over beer and sake. A very stimulating day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Seiji Ozawa's ill-posed problem.

I went to see the rehearsal of Brahms's 2nd concert by Seiji Ozawa. It was interesting to observe how Ozawa tried to overcome the ill-posed problem of conducting the full orchestra, consisting of a million different parameters. What he did was first to vocalize what he sensed with fitting language, and then translate it into appropriate action commands. For example, he talked about "consonants" and "vowels", and asked the violinists to be more outgoing with the "vowels". In terms of specific action, he instructed them to press the bow stronger. Thus, he acted as a transformer of sensory perceptions into motor actions. You need to be a keen appreciator of music as well as a general actionist of instruments in order to be a good conductor.
At the end of the day, with all the skills of perception and verbalizing action commands, it is still an ill-posed problem, conducting a full orchestra. Someone close to the orchestra mentioned that at the moment Ozawa appeared at the podium, the sound changed. That means something beyond a simple controlled action is happening. Perhaps being conducted is like expressing one's heart in the presence of a experienced mentor. If you feel that your mentor is understanding and is attentive to what you say, your words become more expressive, more true to heart, profound. Thus, the ill-posed problem is overcome by the spontaneity of the agents involved.
We all live an ill-posed life spontaneously.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Club culture.

I had a chat with the famed music critic Reiko Yuyama. She gave a few funny tips on which Sushi restaurant to go to in Tokyo. (She recently published a book). Otherwise we talked about the Club culture. I am not a Club fanatic and the exposure to the latest has been scanty and scarce. However, I did notice that there are some fundamental changes taking place.
For one, people do not "show off" any more. A club is not a place to be seen and to see. You have this cozy individuality among the crowd, oblivious of the eyes of the others. It is not something "above" daily life. It is rather a continuation of the every day, with the music not depicting a particular theme or meaning. It is just here and now. The Club is becoming an arena for just being oneself, in the smooth and rapturous flow of sound and beat. People do not differentiate any more, reflecting the "end of history" as such, in which man has struggled to overcome and catch up with the various schisms that existed. Sure, there are some walls still to be overcome, but you want to overcome them in a different way from the past. Maybe there is a quantum jump.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sunday walk

On Sunday, I went to Heirin-ji temple to take a walk. In the Kanto plane, there are certain types of natural forest where I used to look for insects when I was a kid. I used to collect butterflies, but nowadays I look for all kinds of insects, observe their behavior and habitat. I feel as if I am a bird, looking for food. As a bird, I need to differentiate the species, know their behavior, and taste. Humans do not have a monopoly of natural history. Wild animals have a inherent drive to get to know the environment.
I went to the Gusto restaurant in the evening. I had a stir-fried pork dish. While I was at it, I was struck by the idea that the kind of food I am having daily is very different from what is naturally available from the environment. More oil in it. Therefore lies the reason for obesity. We cannot go back to the natural, but it is good to go back to the past from time to time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Language policy.

Soon after I came back from my California trip, one phrase started to ring in my head. "Language policy". I did not know where it came from. I just felt that it was relevant to some situations happening to me and the nation. I look up in the dictionary, and I find that it refers to how the government treats the minority languages within its jurisdiction. That is a bit different from what I expected, but related.
You must know that in Japan, nationalistic arguments are on the rise, especially towards the neighboring nations. Every nation has the right to be proud of its history, and is justified to wish for its own welfare. But nationalism is a bit like wishing for the success of yourself and your family. Sure, it is a natural thing, but you hesitate to call it idealism in the modern world. If someone says that his ideal is for his family to be successful, you would think that he is a bit naive and petty. These adjectives are appropriate for some "patriots" that are rampant in the Japanese media. I would not go far as to call them scoundrels, though. Johnson's famous quote is not really appropriate. It is not even their last resort. They are not living a full life requiring one.
In the modern world, in order to have a full life, you need to adapt a good language policy. Since English is the de facto standard, it is easy to have one for native English speakers. They even don't need to have one. I am not a native English speaker, so I will not touch upon non-policies.
What is happening in Japan is a domestication of discourse. The Japanese "patriots" can say what they say in the media, because they are saying it in Japanese. Some of their claims would be unsustainable if expressed in a more international language, as the English. It is like boasting in a family gathering, "the house of the Mogi (that's my family name) is great!" The family members will listen to you, but nobody else.
I am not saying that everyone should speak English. It is something subtler.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Feeding the animals in the craziness zoo in my brain.

Recently my best friend, Takashi Ikegami reminded me about the value of craziness. We must defend it, nurture it, or otherwise we perish.
In Cambridge U.K. (where I stayed in 95-97), they had the one of the world's earliest application of webcam. That was the "coffee maker" camera, where one could always check the amount of coffee left in the pot in the meeting room (The Trojan Room Coffee Machine, Today I checked the site after so many years and discovered that the service has been discontinued. Anyway, that kind of craziness is the hallmark of University campus. We need more of that in our daily life, inside or outside the campus. Takashi sounded as if that craziness is particular to a University campus. Well, that may be true about some universities, but not all of them. There are stuffy professor types, and too serious students as well, you know. To be fair, other institutions are not without their share of whimsical craziness. In the Newton Institute (which is a research laboratory based in Cambridge) there was this huge collection of blackboards everywhere, and people could start discussing (or arguing) anytime they liked, anywhere they preferred, with the aid of the ubiquitous blackboard. There was a blackboard even in the men's room (sorry, I could not check the other one for obvious reasons). So that was crazy, too.
Soon after Andrew Wiles uncovered his proof of Fermat's last theorem, I was using the men's room, and there was this scribble on the blackboard. "I discovered a fatal flaw in Wiles' proof. However, this space is too small to write it". You get the gist of it.
Excuse me, I must finish writing this journal in a hurry, as I need to feed the animals in the craziness zoo in my brain. See you later.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

New year's resolution 2005

Here's my new year's resolution.

Friday, October 29, 2004

SFN 2004 -- A Disneyland for Neuroscientists

The Society for Neuroscience Meeting 2004 in San Diego was again a Disneyland for neuroscientists. There were well more than ten thousand participants. The convention center was full of people migrating from talk to talk, poster to poster, their identity feebly accessible through the name tag on the necklaces, except in these Poisson distribution following cases when somebody happened to be one of your acquaintances.
I awaited eagerly the talk by Wolfram Schultz. In the last few years, his works on dopamine neurons have been increasingly inspiring, in that they address the hitherto unaddressed problems of how to handle uncertainty in a robust way (sometimes branded with the new term "neuroeconomics"). I enjoyed his talk hugely, not the less so as I discovered that his idea of a typical reward for the human brain was a bottle of beer. Wolfram now resides in University of Cambridge, U.K., but is originally from Germany, a country known for the passion of good cold beers.
The Disneyland metaphor that I mentioned above is not a trivial one. Even for a prominent senior scientist like Wolfram Schultz, it is almost impossible to be known to everybody. So everyone remain largely anonymous in the mobbing crowd, with some people preoccupied with a cure for Alzheimer's disease, some with the enigma of the prefrontal function, and yet some with brain machine interface. Nobody is given an ostensibly VIP treatment, lining up at the registration desk, queuing to get a cup of Starbucks. The Disneyland metaphor is also a testimony of the status quo of neuroscience as an increasingly big and fragmented endeavor, with nobody really knowing what is going on in the whole field.

Where's your poster? The poster board number extends from A to Z, and then from AA to ZZ+something, in order to accommodate the several hundred presentations given in each session.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Society for Neuroscience Meeting 2004

Right now I am in San Diego for the Society for Neuroscience meeting. We are presenting the following works this year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

To share the problem, not the answer.

I had a long conversation with the young Zen priest, Jikisai Minami in a temple in central Tokyo. Jikisai is known for his books on the Buddhist philosophy, emphasizing non-traditional and yet essential views on what Buddhism is all about. The conversation is to be published in the quarterly magazine "Kangaeru Hito" ("The Thinker") to be released in December.
In the conversation, Jikisai emphasized the importance of sharing the problem, while not necessarily sharing the answer. Sharing a particular answer, he said, might lead to the closure of the system. Many religions failed to remain open spirited because the leaders imposed a certain set of official answers. We can share the problem instead, he said. As human beings, we cannot escape from the fundamental constraints on our existence such as age and death. Everybody can share these basic problems. If we remain open-minded about the possible answers to these questions, then we can be religious and open at the same time.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Individual and the Universal. In Appreciation of Muchaku.

The painted sculpture of priest Muchaku by Unkei (1148-1123) is one of the most highly valued Buddhist sculptures from the Kamakura Period Japan. Now this national treasure is on exhibit in the museum of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where I give weekly lectures on art and the brain. On Thursday I made a visit to the museum and stood before this masterpiece for quite a long time. What is remarkable about Muchaku is the individuality exhibited in the countenance, posture, and the overall character that radiates from the wooden object. Here, the individual reaches the universal, and the universal is housed in the individual.
The sculpture is not one of an abstract human figure, but of an individual with vivid sense of its unique existence. Muchaku is depicted as a thoughtful old man with wisdom. At the same time, however, there is an almost childlike innocence expressed in the subtle nuance of his face.
In the Buddhist tradition, sometimes a child is considered to be closer to enlightenment than a supposedly wise adult. Looking at Muchaku is an act of meditation as well as an appreciation of the greatest in art.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Against Contexualism

Ever since the birth of modern art with Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" in 1917, it has been tainted with contextualism. The idea is that if you put something out of the context of every day life and put it in the "art" context, suddenly that something becomes an object d'art. I sometimes even encounter individuals who equate art with a machinery that make people become aware of political problems. Nothing is further from art than intentionally manipulated artifacts. Art can only be defined in terms of the uncontextualizable unique inner experience that goes with it, something that stands alone and rejects any contexulization. If Duchamp's fountain is a piece of art, then it is so in far as it invokes in us something that is beyond any verbal description, political statements, or indeed the artist's intentions. A true work of art is beyond any words, and yet induces a flood of words in its praise when the gazers are given opportunities. Even in that case, you cannot simply equate an object d'art with all the verbal praise or the cultural contexts that have been thrown upon it.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Declaration of Qualia Fundamentalism

by Ken Mogi (2004)

Here's the text

Originally published in AXIS magazine Vol. 109, pp.158-159 (June, 2004)

The last one meter of digital information network

I guess every good citizen on average is now bombarded with 100s of SPAMs each day. Information used to be blessing. Now it is poisonous. Apart from SPAMs, we need to read lots of mails every day, answer them, slaving oneself to the constant demands of the information network. Constrained in similar circumstances as those in which the Club of Rome published the report "Limits to Growth" in 1972, there is a limit to the growth of digital information. Human brain's capacity is limited. We need space for imagination, creativity. In that sense, the last one meter of digital information network is important, how the information is finally presented to the human mind, in terms of the sensory qualities (qualia). That's why the qualia movement is important.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


- Digital art : new technology, creativity and society - / - arts numeriques : nouvelles technologies, creation et societe ミ

12/10/2004 Universite Keio, Tokyo - Campus Mita (East Research Bldg. 6F G-SEC Lab)

Table ronde sciences cognitives et images virtuelles / science cognition and virtual images (16:00-18:00)
Daniel Andler (directeur du departement de sciences cognitives, ENS, Paris)
Kolkoz (artistes)
Ken Mogi (Sony CSL, sciences cognitives)
Michitaka Hirose (professeur, Universite de Tokyo, realite virtuelle)
Shigeru Watanabe (professeur, Universite Keio, psychologie)
Mitsu Okada (professeur, Universite Keio, philosophie)
Takahide Ohmori (Universite Keio, psychologie)

The Brain and Imagination.

My latest book. The Brain and Imagination. (Shinchosha, Tokyo).
Released on 24th September, 2004.

Based on the results of modern brain science, this is an essay about the relation between the real and the imaginal. I start out with the examination of what it means to say that Santa Claus exists. If you bring a fat man with white beard dressed in red as a proof of Santa Claus, the knowing child will only smile. The significance of the Santa Claus for the human soul can rest only in the world of imagination, which has a solid footing in the physiology of the brain even though its existence cannot be verified in the conventional sense. The book then examines the properties of the imagined in terms of science, art, and literature. The main claim is we need to dissociate the basis of reality from that of empirical existence if you take the human brain and modern brain science seriously.
There is no specific plan at present to translate the book into English.