Thursday, June 10, 2010

The secret is to hide your sources.

Albert Einstein once remarked to the effect that the secret of creativity is to hide your sources.

Here, the great physicist is showing again his great intuition about the psychology of creativity. Mysterious though the workings of the brain may appear to us at present, one thing is clear. Nothing comes from nothing. When one has a moment of inspiration, one might have the feeling that the new idea came out of the air, without a trace of precursors and origins. And yet, the breakthrough is in fact the result of a continuous experiment of associations and links within the cortical network, where various information obtained through experience and thinking is thrown into the "crucible" and fused.

In reality, when there is a new idea, say X, popping into the mind, there should be an unspecified set of information, say A, B, C, D, ....., that amounted to the forging of X. The intriguing fact is that we are not always, and indeed most of the time not aware of the sources A, B, C, D, ...... Hence the rather surprising nature of the moment of insipiration.

Thus, as Albert Einstein said, the secret of creativity is to be found in a process where the sources are hidden, and the human brain is very capable of such a process.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The ENIAC photos

While in Ann Arbor, there was one thing that I would very much like to see.


ENIAC stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, and was the world's first electronic computer. ENIAC was constructed in University of Pennsylvania by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, and was completed in 1946. It was then operational until 1955. ENIAC conducted 5000 cycles of operations per second.

Four of the original panels are now displayed in the entrance hall of Computer Science and Engineering Building at 2260 Hayward, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Standing in front of the legendary machine filled me with awe and inspiration. To think that the evolution of modern computers started here, all the way to the wondrous machines that we so casually use today, including the one I use to type these words, infuses one with respect for the pioneers.

Here's some photos of the legendary machine. Thanks to University of Michigan for preserving and displaying this significant bit of history.

Ken Mogi (h=172 cm) is standing in front of the ENIAC as a scale bar.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Driving to Ann Arbor, I felt that I was coming back to the United States afresh and with a vengeance, albeit in a different context than yesterday's.

My travel in the United States continues.

A 30 minutes drive from the Detroit airport brought me to Ann Arbor. As the car approached the academic city, memories swelled in my heart.

In the summer of 1986, I participated the 38th Japan America Student Conference. This conference was my first exposure to the American culture. As part of the itinerary, we visited the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

We stayed at the student dorm on campus, and talked late into the night. As the conference was finished for the day in the evening, we strolled into the streets. As I recall, I realize that was one of the prime times of my life.

At that time, I was seriously considering of moving out of Japan and going to the United States. I don't know what made me walk away from that adventure eventually. Possibly, it was a fear of losing my own roots.

At that time, as is the case today, America was a huge crucible in which things got mixed and then melted and fused. I think I was unconsciously afraid of being lost in a ocean of constantly moving trends of miscellaneous unknowns.

At the time of my visit to Ann Arbor, I did not know Yasujiro Ozu, had not visited the Ise Shrine, and had not rediscovered Hideo Kobayashi. Perhaps I was not confident enough in my own cultural tradition to set out to the vast of ocean of contingencies in the United States.

Shortly after the conference, I made a decision to go to the graduate school in Tokyo. My first long-term residence in a foreign soil was then to be the postdoctoral years in Cambridge University, U.K. In this era, my heart was rather remote from the things U.S. To this day, I do not know if I made the correct decision.

Driving to Ann Arbor, I felt that I was coming back to the United States afresh and with a vengeance, albeit in a different context than yesterday's.

Once in the city, I suddenly remembered that there was an Ice Cream place called Steve's. Nostalgia made me curious if that was still there. Memories of the conference in 1986. The walks we took to the Steve's Ice Cream, smiles of my friends, arguing which flavor was best, making jokes, bursting laughter, patting on the shoulder, tasting each other's, exchanging remarks, outreaching of cultures...

When I checked the web in the hotel room, I learned that the precious Steve's is gone. An entry from "Ann Arbor's lost eateries" reads:

Steve's Ice Cream, corner of William and State, now a Jimmy John's; 80s ice cream mix-ins.

So a gem in my past is no more. Gone too is the young I who aspired to be a global citizen, not knowing exactly why or, more importantly, how.

Time flows and flew, and here I am in Ann Arbor again, looking at the phenomenon which is the United States with renewed vigor and bits of educated bewilderments.

Monday, June 07, 2010


I arrived in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Athens, Ohio, on the road.

We dropped by a roadside restaurant. I got into talking with John. John majored in film studies at University. He said he saw many works by the Japanese masters, Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi.

This morning, as I greeted him on the hotel corridor, John yelled to me "Ohio!" I asked him if he meant "good morning" in Japanese (the Japanese word for good morning, "Ohayo", is very similar in pronunciation to "Ohio", and saying "Ohio" in the sense of "good morning" is a relatively well-known bi-cultural joke). John said "yes". "There was a Japanese movie with that title".

"Oh, you mean Ozu?" I said. "Ozu has a lovely piece with that title". "Well, I don't remember exactly," John said.

Back in the room, I started to muse that there might probably be two roads to the universal from the local. One is the internet way, and another is the Ozu way. Before I have time to type down the thoughts however, I realize that it is now time for me to leave to face up to today's missions.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Qualia Journal celebrates one year of continuous entries.

I started writing this blog on 29th October, 2004.

There were 11 entries in the year 2004, 44 in 2005, 29 in 2006, 68 in 2007, 11 in 2008.

The statistics indicate that my entry into the journal was rather random and sparse for the first 5 years.
Then, on 6th June 2009, I made a resolution.

I thought that I would keep the diary continuously, without any breaks, from that day.

Today, The Qualia Journal celebrates one year of continuous entry. Some of the entries have been short, some of them fairly extensive, some written in my native town of Tokyo, some abroad, most of them typed down in the morning (local time), some on the airplane, but here, it seems that I have successfully kept my resolution.


My deep felt thanks for all readers of this humble blog. In particular, I am grateful for those who have left a comment on my entry. Some of them have had the generosity to come back repeatedly to my blog, and left several comments. I enjoy reading the comments, and have learned a lot from them.

So here I make yet another resolution, to keep The Qualia Journal every day indefinitely. May your days be happy, and let us hope that this tiny celebration of the emerging global culture might be sustained in the years to come.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

It will take time to restore chaos.

Yesterday evening, we were in a Denver steakhouse, and I and Mas Kondo and Nathan were discussing American politics.
Mas referred to the immortal George Bush blunder of saying "You know, it will take time to restore chaos", referring to the situation in Iraq.

Watch George say it.

Mas, being a liberal man, threw it at us as a demonstration of good old George's low intelligence. Another liberal that is I, while enjoying Mas's jokes, went into a pensive mode from which it took a few minutes to come back.

Needless to say, what Mr. Bush really meant to say was that "it will take time to restore order". But Freudian slips (if that was indeed a Freudian slip) reveal some truths in human psyche.

Maybe it will indeed take time to restore chaos. And that could be very important in life.

When we were born, everything was in chaos. You see, babies even don't know the boundaries of their body. Then, order comes to gradually, and you lose your rather precious chaos. As you grow older, things start to appear quite orderly, and you start to assume many things.

Those become your own prejudice, and restrain the freedom of your actions.

Being creative often means and requires restoring some chaos in your life. Breaking the status quo requires a fresh start. Chaos brings about the much needed unbounded air in which we can freely breathe at last.

I am not claiming that when Mr. Bush said "it will take time to restore chaos", he was dropping a word of wisdom. What the heck. Sometimes we can learn things from those people who might not have the slightest idea what the deep significances might be. That's the beauty of (mis)communication.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Obama is YOUR president as well.

All day, I was moving around South Dakota and Wyoming. Peter and Tony was with me, among other people.

As we were driving the country road surrounded by green hills and small rivers, Peter and Tony started to talk about American politics. It was interesting to listen to their conversation.

Tony served in the Marines, and has been stationed in Okinawa and Iraq.

Peter is a paleontologist, and is an expert on dinosaurs.

Tony said that he did not want to call Mr. Obama "President of the United States". "For me, Obama is just Obama", Tony said.
Peter said, "you're wrong! Obama is our president. You may not like his policy, but the majority of American people chose Obama as our president. So Obama is YOUR president as well. I did not like George Bush, but since he was democratically elected by the majority of American people, Bush was my President, too"

Tony was not convinced. "It is not that I don't like Obama as a person, I just don't buy his policies. I signed up for the Marines at the age of 17. At that time, I did not go well with my mother. The country that I bowed to serve at that time, however, is not here any more. America has changed. It has changed for the worse. There is too much government intervention and red tapes. Obama is making America more bureaucratic."

"Well," Peter said, "I do think that there are cases where you do need government regulations. Look at the BP oil spill. That is a worst consequence of deregulation."

The conversation went on. It was fascinating to see how two people of polar political allegiances exchanged views in a frank and direct way. Both Peter and Tony did not back up. There was "collision" in that sense. The view of a person is formed over many years, and does not get changed overnight. It was like two massive mountains pushing each other. However, they were friendly all the same, "agreeing to disagree" .

Oh, my, that was a beautiful scene. I was moved, almost to tears.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Pouring red wine into the emptied white wine glass.

Every nation has its good and bad points, and most often they co-exist.

Whenever I come to the United States, I am always impressed by the beauty of their casual culture. I mean, they don't care whatever you do, as long as you keep a certain degree of decency.

The initiation into the American culture on this trip started on the Delta Airlines fight from Narita. The flight attendant was a very nice lady, with a wide smile and a big heart.

At the meal time I was drinking white wine. As the meat was going to arrive, I asked her for a glass of red wine. Sure, she said, smiling like a sunshine. A moment later, she came back with a bottle of red wine in her hand. She then poured the red wine into the glass. That was fine. The "slight" problem was that the glass she poured the red wine into was the glass I was using for the white wine. And of course she herself poured that white wine into that glass, just a few minutes ago.

Now I started thinking. Gee. Surely, when I am drinking wine at home, or at a private party, I don't care if I use the same glass for the white wine and the red wine. Theoretically, the remnant white might mix with the red and affect the taste, but that would be quite negligible. But never, in my life, had I observed a flight attendant pour red wine into the emptied white wine glass. That kind of action would be inconceivable in the meticulously careful cabin of ANA (All Nippon Airways) or JAL (Japan Airlines). A veteran flight attendant of JAL might swoon and faint at the very idea!

Having said that, I rather liked the casual manner in which the emptied white wine glass was used for the red wine as well. Maybe it is good for the earth. Maybe we are making too much of a fuss about glasses and vintages and all that. Maybe we should forget about it all and just take it easy.

What I wanted to say, really, is that there might be a link between my flight attendant on the Delta flight and the American spirit of venture, as observed in Apple and Google, for example. By being casual one could presumably concentrate on new things, bring about changes, and move forward.


What I have just said is just a thought, probably never to be proved theoretically or in practice, but this morning, after spending a night in the world's prime nation of casual manners, I rather like being released from the pressures of observing one's etiquettes.

Lining up at the Immigration in Minneapolis St. Paul airport, I was impressed by the sheer variety of people.

I arrived in the United States.

Lining up at the Immigration in Minneapolis St. Paul airport, I was impressed by the sheer variety of people waiting to be greeted by the immigration officer. People of African origin, Asians, Europeans, children, old people, young couples, fat people, slender people, bald people, people with hair, smiling people, people with sober faces, people with Amazon kindle (that's me!), people spending a precious few minutes of their lives lining up for immigration.

As the global village throbs, our life goes on and evolves. It is rewarding to see in physical reality the spectrum of people on earth today, well represented at the point of entry into the United States.

As I write this in the Wolfgang Puck restaurant sipping coffee, a wish swells in my bosom like a tidal wave in a great ocean. The wish to get connected to people. People from as different backgrounds as possible. To see a manifestation of the connections, and get immersed in it, both physically and metaphorically. To live a life of an earthling, in the true sense of the word.

That would be my wish.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

My mother and the Buddhist family altar.

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.

One day, when I was a University student, I was doing small talks over supper with my father and mother. Intricate lines of talks led us to the topic of visiting the family tomb. I declared, when and if I die, there was no need to put my remains in the tomb. When we die, we become nothing, so there was no sense in putting one's remains in the tomb. Japan is a small country, and we are rather scarce on land. To designate a certain amount of land for the purpose of providing tomb spaces, and exclude other more useful purposes, was a nonsensical idea, I said. Just think of it, I went on. If all the dead Japanese people in history were to be buried in tombs, the nation would be overflowed with tomb spaces. Just as it was a nonsense to use a vast extension of land for golfing (which is my own prejudice), it was a nonsense to build and maintain tomb spaces, I said.

All of sudden, my mother started to cry. She cried like I have never seen her crying. She lay beside the hori-kotatsu (covered heater table), and cried without any regard to the onlookers. My father tried to console her, but she would not simply listen. It was as if the nerve for crying was set on fire and nothing could stop it, as is sometimes the case with babies.

My mother then said to me, sobbing.

"You are not going to put my remains in the tomb. You will not pay respect to my tomb, after I die."

The manner in which my mother cried was something quite out of the ordinary. There was no hesitation or restraint. I was deeply disturbed. The fact that my words made mother cry gave me a profound shock. I did not mean to make her cry. I did not expect her to react in such an exaggerated manner. That was my mistake.

I spent the few days after the incident in a very strange and tranquil mood. Ill at ease, and yet somewhat warm. It was as if I uncovered a picture of my mother before she got married. I felt as if I have confirmed that my mother was a human being, in a strange mixture of dissonance and comfort. Needless to say, I have never physically struck my mother. And yet, a regret of having inflicted a "verbal violence" persisted in me. I never expected my words to have such a power to make my mother cry so hard.

Even today, I still think, in my own conventional wisdom, that after death I am reduced to nothing. In the passage of time, when it is for me to die, all the materialistic foundations that sustained me would be lost, and that would be the end of it. I don't believe in the existence of an afterlife. Needless to say, the world views of us humans are always open for revisions. It is quite possible that our understanding of the passage of time, in which the dramas of life and death are played out, would be deepened in the future. It is conceivable that our understanding of life as is expanded in time, in which there is birth, development, and then death, might turn out to be quite shallow, to be superseded by a new world view which is beyond the imagination of the human race today, and it may be one which incorporates the concept of after life.

However, unless a radical rewriting of the human perception of time, life and death takes place, "afterlife" would be conceived as the result of a wishful product of human imagination. I believe the truth of life and death to be more harsh than conventional religions tell us. More harsh, and yet, if you try to understand it, ultimately more rewarding both intellectually and emotionally. Only by coming to terms with such a harsh reality, would we be able to come to full terms with our own mortality. In this respect, how people would treat my remains in the event of my death might concern those who are left behind, but not a business of mine, who wouldn't be there to care about these things anyway. Had I explained these lines of thoughts to my mother, at length and with passion, she might have understood me. She might have taken my opinion at its face value, and might have come to terms with the idea that putting one's remains in a tomb is ultimately meaningless, however alien such a philosophy might be for her.

At any rate, such a reasoning had no significance under the situation in which my mother was crying bitterly in front of me. I did not know what to do, and just stared, unable to find a way to comfort her.

After that emotional breakdown, whenever I visited my parents' house, I made a point of giving senko stick incense to the Buddhist family altar. Since both my parents are still alive today, these ceremonial actions were meant for my deceased grandparents.

I don't know exactly why I am doing this. I do not have a solid religious belief of any kind. Part of me is enjoying the protocol, without any corresponding belief systems. What is certain is that I am doing it not only for commemorating my grandfather and grandmother, but also in consideration of the possibility that my mother and father might appreciate my action, especially my mother. In my heart, I still carry the burden of having made my mother cry bitterly on that evening. The image of my mother bending her body like a red boiled shrimp is still alive. I dedicate my senko stick incense to that image.

Some people say that deeds must be matched with thinking. If you don't believe in a particular system or religious belief, then it is not a good idea to perform the ceremonials, they claim. On the other hand, dedicating senko stick incense and visiting the Buddhist cemetery might be considered as something that belong to social customs, and can be performed within the secular context, with admittedly a certain level of religious connotations. The religious sayings of a Buddhist priest might be treated as a music to the ears, functioning quite respectively without its religious content or intent. Conceding to my mother this way can be regarded as a betrayal of my own world view, or as just following a convention which one can pursue with a clear conscience.

How to mourn for the deceased is both a matter of convention as well as a system of actions tightly coupled with the philosophy of life and death. In recent years, new ways of "disposing" of one's remains have emerged. For example, one may wish to have one's ashes taken into the space, propelled by a rocket. In co-existence with such trends of the new era, traditions continue to take strong holds, reflecting the momentum of history.

It is not just my mother. There are people who become quite serious concerning their own tombs. Things related to one's own death seem to occupy a special place in life. Human beings take special interests in one's way to look at life and death. I myself am naturally concerned with my own life and death. The thing is that it does not show as a concern about how I am to be buried.

We are all mortal. When faced with death, we all weep with the body bent like a red boiled shrimp, cry aloud, or get captured in a rage which one cannot really control.

The time may come when I weep without regard to the onlookers concerning my own death. On that poignant evening many years ago, such a moment visited my mother. My time might come any moment. We all die. Nobody is indifferent to the questions of life and death.

The cover of "Ikite Shinu Watashi"

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Telling the coins just by listening.

I had an very interesting chat session with people working as volunteers in Dialogue In the Dark Tokyo for a book project. These are visually challenged people. "Taicho" ("The Boss"), "Mikitty", and "Hiyamacchi" ("The mountain guy") were there.

When the chat was close to the end, I accidentally dropped a coin on the Chinese restaurant floor in which we were meeting. "100 yen!" exclaimed The Boss, without moving a muscle of his characteristically cool face.

"Correct!" I cried. "Do you mean you can tell the coins just by listening?"

"Yes, naturally." Mikitty said in her warm voice. The Mountain Man chuckled, nodding.

Getting very interested, I said "let's try", and they said "why not?"

I dropped the 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen, and 500 yen coins. Each time, they could tell which very accurately. I was impressed.

"The 50 yen and 100 yen coins are a bit tricky to tell apart", The Boss explained. "The 1 yen and 10 yen are the easiest."

What was impressive was the immediacy with which the replies came. Evidently they have been practicing and exercising the coin telling game all the time, all along. The rest of us, on the other hand, have been relying on the visual information to tell the coins we dropped, so that the particular neural function to decipher the sound of collision never developed to any substantial degree.

For me, it was yet another testimony of the richness of the diversity of ways that brains can develop, given various constraints and encouragements.

With that marvelous finishing fanfare of coins hitting the floor, we parted. I shook hands with The Mountain Man, Mikitty, and finally The Boss, and said good byes.

The Boss, who is a musician, had a really tight grip. The firmness and warmth was the coda of the evening music.

Monday, May 31, 2010

I cannot live without rice, I can live without rice.

I really stick to the rice. When I stay at a hotel, and have a choice between Japanese and Western breakfast, I always choose the Japanese one. My morning simply cannot start without a bowl of rice and preferably a cup of miso soup. If there were some pickles, that would be divine.

Having said that, my preference does seem to be context dependent.

When I am on the road, for example in Europe or in the United States, I simply discard my usual preferences. When I walk into the restaurant, I am quite forgetful of the fact that in the world there are such things as rice and miso soup. I am quite happy with bread, bacon, cereals, orange juice, and the usual suspects.

When I reflect on this very convenient change in my taste, I realize how flexible one's custom is. It is important to know your customs, and yet it is also important to know how flexible you can be.

I cannot live without rice, I can live without rice. These double aspects of my existence is an interesting problem poser for me.

You could build a whole system of philosophy from here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Being out of your depth is one of the most marvelous experiences that life can bestow on us.

It may sound paradoxical or even outright absurd, but being out of your depth is one of the most marvelous experiences that life can bestow on us.

When you have a really moving experience, you feel that you're out of your depth to grasp it. Something is definitely there, but you cannot know or describe that something as a collection of explicit expressions. The experience flows and then disappears like tears in the rain, and you're left with a bittersweet aftertaste which you cling to like the last lifeline. If you let the small trace go, then the giant apparition that crossed your mind for a brief period would also disappear into the great void embracing all existence.

When in a social situation, like giving a lecture, or discussing things, or arguing that they should employ you, being out of your depth, or, even worse, letting people know that you are out of your depth is a nightmare. You feel so ashamed at the unintended display of your own incompetence. You feel you would like to hide in a hole. You wish you would disappear into the air. You wish you had never been born.

In audience with a great work of art, on the other hand, you can enjoy the state of being out of your depth alone. You need not let anyone else know your state of blissful misery. You can pant, roll, sigh, cry, regret and aspire in solitude. When the tears dry, you can start building your life all over again, as a changed person who sees the world in a slightly different manner.

It is good to be out of your depth from time to time. Especially when you do it alone.

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.