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.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Four seasons in The Pillow Book

Partly because its nature is bestowed with much variety and the seasons are full of subtle changes, Japan has been a nation where its people have cultivated subtle sensitivities to qualia. Makura no Soshi ("The Pillow Book") authored by Sei Shonagon in the year 1002 is a collection of essays where poignant feelings are expressed in observing and experiencing the goings of nature and men. The Pillow Book is a classic in the art of qualia appreciation.

There is a particularly famous essay in The Pillow Book where Sei Shonagon extols the beautiful things we encounter during the course of the changes of the four seasons:

"Spring at daybreak. The mountain edges, gradually becoming whiter. As more lights come into this world, threads of purple clouds flowing in the sky."

"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"

"Autumn at sunset. The mountain edges looking nearer in the red sunbeam. A few birds in the sky hurrying back to their nests. An array of flying geese, looking so small in the distant sky. As the sun finally sets, no words can describe the beauty of the sound of the wind, the chirping of the insects."

"Winter in the early morning. Perfect when the snow is falling. With or without the white frost, making fire in haste, and carrying around the burning charcoals. How becoming to the winter morning."

(Translated from the original by Ken Mogi)

A copy of The Pillow Book in the Edo era. From the National Institute of Japanese Literature webpage

Friday, July 09, 2010

Trust your qualia. Let them do the work for you.

The beauty of appreciating a work of art, or a natural scene, or anything that you can experience in this world, is that you can do so without any prior knowledge. Learning and knowing factual and historical information about a work of art will surely help you in understanding the significance of the work. When it comes to appreciating the work in terms of qualia, however, knowledge does not help. It can even hinder the appreciation from time to time.

The qualia belong to the "here and now". Perceiving and receiving something through qualia do not require preparation in the form of learning before the event. Instead of adhering to and logically extrapolating from a system of knowledge, you can just open your mind, and trust your intuition. You need not know anything about the art of work in front of you. Trust your qualia. Let them do the work for you.

In Koryuji temple, Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan for 1200 years, there is a famous and beautiful statue of Miroku-Bosatsu (Maitreya). The statue is estimated to date back to the 7th century. The origin of the wooden fabrication is not known. It could have been an artifact imported from the Korean peninsula, or could have been made in Japan. The aesthetic value of the statue is firmly established among the learned circles, and should be evident to anyone with an open mind. It became the first designated National Treasure of Japan in 1951.

The statue is so elegant and beautiful. There was once a high profile incident in which a University student "held" the statue, entranced by its beauty, breaking one its delicately curved fingers. The criminal prosecution was eventually dropped, and the statue has been restored to perfection since.

Imagine that someday you make that special journey all the way to Koryuji. As you stand in front of the Miroku-Bosatsu statue, your consciousness will be overflowed with various shades of qualia. There will be unconscious processes, too, but those would not be accessible nor reportable.

You might be equipped with some knowledge of the Buddhist belief system. What Maitreya stands for, the significance of a Buddhist statue of worship, the historical background about the Buddhist artifacts in Japan and East Asia. However, all those knowledge will not ultimately help you in appreciating the beautiful statue in front of you. You can only sense its essence as a work of art in terms of qualia that occupies your phenomenal experience. The qualia belong to the "here and now". So is a piece of art when it is appreciated in the physical immediacy.

The Miroku-Bosatsu statue in Koryuji temple, Kyoto.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

"Sensori-intentional" matching

When we turn our attention to the role of qualia played within the brain's system, "communication" also surfaces as a major theme. The functional role of qualia in facilitating communication within the brain is a fundamental one. In order to understand the essense of communicative qualia, one needs to study the phenomenology of subjectivity.

Qualia are tightly coupled with subjectivity. After all, it is "I" that perceive the redness of red. A quale does not exist as an objective entity like an electron or a nucleus. A quale does not float in the mid-air. A quale exists only in reference to a subject such as "I", and makes sense only to that person.

Studies of sensory perception, for example visual perception, have made it clear that in order for a subject to "perceive" a quale, two networks in the brain need to match. One is the sensory network that receives the input from the sensory peripherals (such as the retina in the case of vision). The other is the "intentional" network that is centered in the prefrontal area of the brain, and supports the self-consciousness. The sensory network provides the basic material for the qualia, while the intentional network provides the infrastructure for subjectivity. When these networks meet, the subject "I" perceive the qualia coded by activities of neurons in the sensory network ("sensori-intentional" matching).

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

After a dinner party, each person takes home different sets of sensory information.

From the evolutionary perspective, there might be functional significance in the fact that qualia are private in nature and yet support our communication in the practical sense, especially in the verbal domain.

Each human being is differently composed, in terms of genetic components but also, and more importantly, in the range of experiences in the day to day lives. When several people are talking over a dinner table, for example, it might appear that they are getting more or less similar sets of sensory information. Nothing could be far from the truth. Even when sitting in the same room, the visual scene for each person is different. The miscellaneous components of the scene such as the faces of people, furniture, view from the window, the wall paper, the ceiling, etc. are differently presented to each person's mind. As the times goes by, each person will accumulate uniquely composed sets of sensory experiences and memories. Thus, after a dinner party, each person takes home different sets of sensory information.

The heterogeneity in experiences and memories become far greater when one considers the different modes of lives that each one of us lead. As we go about in the course of our daily lives, we experience and register sensory information unique to each of us. These differences accumulate over the years, resulting in quite differently composed sets of information stored in the brain.

The heterogeneity in how we look at the world can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and even conflicts. On the other hand, heterogeneity is a good thing, as we humans have a remarkable ability to share. By sharing the experiences, we can "combine" the different elements of this world as perceived and then stored in the brain's memory system. Through combination, we can generate new things. Qualia, by making elements of our phenomenal experiences accessible to the self and thus verbally reportable, support this sharing and combination process.

After a dinner party, each person takes home different sets of sensory information.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mr. Qualia seems to be private but is actually rather communicative.

The fact that certain qualia can arise only from experiencing the real thing in the immediacy of actual presence does not, of course, preclude the possibility of discussing about it. When one is deeply moved by an experience, whether by a work of art or traveling to places, one has a natural urge to discuss about the experience with other people. (I am actually telling my friends time and gain how wonderful "Girl with a pearl earring" or the Ise Grand Shrine are!) To the degree that qualia are consciously accessible, one can discuss about them, although it is not always possible (and perhaps in principle quite impossible) to put them to appropriate words.

Here's a real food for thought. We tend to think that conscious experience is essentially private in nature. There is no way to ascertain that the "redness of red" experienced by one person is the same as that experienced by another. So it comes as a kind of surprise to realize that one's ability to access qualia in the phenomenal domain acually lays the foundations for everyday communication.

Horace Barlow, a very respected brain scientist and my mentor at Cambridge once said in a conference that the most important role of consciousness was probably to assist communication. If we personify Mr. Qualia, the hallmark of consciousness, he seems to be very private with a capital P but is actually rather communicative. If all our experiences were unconscious, it is difficult to communicate any element of our mental activities to other people.

Horace Barlow giving a talk.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The immediacy principle

The fact that certain sets of qualia can be experienced and appreciated only in directly facing the actual work of art can be called the "immediacy principle". Reproductions in terms of photos and videos, or descriptions by words are not sufficient in bringing about the qualia in the observer's mind, as they lack the immediacy of experience.

The immediacy principle can be also applied to the qualia of places. Just like you have to see the "real thing" in order to appreciate a work of art to the full, you simply have to actually travel to a spot to experience the full range of qualia that are invoked by your
presence at that location.

When I traveled to the Ise Grand Shrine for the first time around the age of 30, I had no premonition of what was to come. Naturally, I had heard about its extraordinary significance in the Shinto tradition, and the venerable historic fact that the shrines have been rebuilt alternatingly every 20 years (the "Sengu" tradition) for the last 1200 years. But all of these did not prepare myself for the real thing. The qualia of Ise can be experienced and appreciated only at the location, through the immediate perception and cognition of one's surroundings. Once you have traveled to Ise, it becomes possible to "relive" the qualia through the act of recollecting. Otherwise, it is simply not possible. You just have to make that one trip.

The old shrine site waiting for the next Sengu at Ise Grand Shrine. Photographing of the current shrine site is forbidden.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

You can appreciate the qualia unique to a work of art only when facing the real thing.

I once had an opportunity to admire at leisure the "Girl with a pearl earring" painting in its home of the Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands. There is always a huge crowd eager to see this masterpiece (sometimes called "the Mona Lisa of the North") when it is on tour away from its home museum. When this painting travelled to Japan, there was a record number of people qeueing to take a glimpse of it. There was no question of establishing an intimate relation with the girl in the canvas.

It was thus refreshingly rewarding to come face to face at last with the beautiful girl of immortality wearing the famous pearl earring and a blue headpiece.

It is a practically interesting and theoretically intriguing fact that you can appreciate the qualia unique to a work of art only when facing the real thing. Once you have taken in the actual qualia, it becomes possible to "reproduce" them in your memory, aided or unaided by reproductins such as an imitation or a photograph. Unless you have seen the real thing, however, it is impossible to imagine what it is like to be in front of that piece of art, no matter how accurate the reproduction or how appropriate the description.

The mouth. From "Girl with a pearl earring" by Johannes Vermeer.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Qualia and appreciation

In many cases, qualia provide the effective frame or rather guidance for evaluation in which one judges the value of a particular artifact.

It is certainly true that solid factual and contextual information about an artifact helps one in doing justice to it in the evaluation process. The knowledge about the historical backgrounds, cultural contexts, materials and techniques used, and what various people have said about the artifact certainly helps one in understanding the work of art. These are in fact the main ingredients of any scholastic work.

However, the full scope of subjective feelings that arise in one's mind cannot be effectively captured by the academic descriptions. Indeed, an adherence to the factual and contextual information often hinder, rather than enhance, the "true-to-life" appreciation of a work of art.

For example, when one stands before the painting "Girl with a pearl earring" by Johannes Vermeer, one has a certain set of emotions and feelings in a spectrum extending from the unconscious to the conscious. The various qualia in one's phenomenological perception, from colors to sheens and textures, characterize the phenomenology that is the "Girl with a pearl earring".

Girl with a pearl earring by Johannes Vermeer.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The "breast" of a butterfly

When I was a kid, I used to chase butterflies in the fields and woods.

Hermann Hesse, Morio Kita, Takeshi Yoro. Many people profess to have fond recollections of the boyhood when they sought for the insects in the wild. It seems that such boyhood days remain to be an epitome of happiness, well into the mature age.

For me, the intense feeling accompanying the passage of time waiting for a butterfly among the greens, in the vibrant ambience of a hot summer forest, is connected with the most intimate and happy memories of my life.

However, from a certain period of time I stopped chasing the butterflies with the aim of collecting them. I grew wary of "pushing" the "breast" of butterflies. (I used to call the part between the head and abdomen as "breast" when I was a child. The proper anatomical name for it is actually "thorax".) I became shy of pressing that part of butterflies to their premature deaths. It was a reflection of the newly found self-awareness of what I was doing, in that subtle stage of growing up.

I started my "professional" chasing of butterflies when I was five. One of the first things that I learned was to push the breast, so that the precious wings would not be hurt. "You thus suffocate the butterfly, and put it to sleep", said Mr. Aoki in an as-a-matter-of-fact manner. Otherwise, the wings will be destroyed. Mr. Aoki was studying entomology at a University in Tokyo at the time. Mr. Aoki became my mentor in collecting and studying butterflies in a scientific way. It was my mother who originally "introduced" me to Mr. Aoki when I was about five years old.

When I was 10, my father took me to the "Gensei Kaen" flower fields in the suburb of Abashiri city, Hokkaido. It was a trip of my fantasy, a journey I dreamed of for a long time. There, I pushed the breasts of Kabairoshijimi, or Glaucopsyche lycormas, a small and elegant butterfly species. The bluish white creatures of elegance had been enjoying their airborne lives and visiting various flowers round the unmanned station of a local railway. They were unfortunate enough to be captured in my net. These butterflies would not have anticipated their destiny.

And the small butterflies passed away, pressed between my fingers, on that beautiful summer day.

The nervous system of a butterfly is not highly developed. When their breasts were pressed, the butterflies would not have felt anything by human standards. The summer flower fields are full of naturally caused deaths, with or without my presence. The lives of butterflies are short. They wings get the beak marks from the attacks of birds. Their vitalities wither rather rapidly, until the field is piled with their dead bodies here and there, unseen and uncared.

However, from a certain period of my life, I started to feel ill at ease at my own fingers bringing premature deaths to the small arthropods.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once dreamed of being a butterfly. When Zhuangzi awoke, he no longer knew whether a human being was dreaming of being a butterfly, or a butterfly was dreaming of being a human being.

The butterflies seem to tell us the vulnerability of life, and the enigma of the passage of time.

It is not clear to me, at this moment, whether I will start chasing the butterflies again in any time of my life. I don't know if I could ever press the breasts of the butterflies caught in my eager net, in an innocent manner as in my childhood.

One thing is certain. I still carry in my heart the memories of the vibrant touch of the humble lives of butterflies, caught between my fingers in the passage away from this world.

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

The cover of "Ikite Shinu Watashi"

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A few seconds attention span.

As I need to do many different kinds of things during the course of day, I seem to have developed an attitude of acting based on "a few seconds attention span". I receive a mail, and I am reminded of a manuscript that I was supposed to send in the day before. Unless I start to work on it straight away, the agenda is likely to be "swept away", to be retrieved into my attentional system only after a prolonged delay.

I suspect that the growing need both psychologically and practically to "act on the spot" is an increasingly acutely felt reality of contemporary life for many people.

I seem to be waking up to and dealing with the needs of prompt and flexible actions with the help of a soccer metaphor. In that sport, you need to make judgments and act appropriately on the spot. Otherwise it is difficult to do good in the match. The contemporary life is starting to look more and more like the soccer match. You keep running to-and-fro and zigzag in the pitch of life, and try to excel in the instant judgments and actions. Since the competition and cooperation is increasingly becoming global in character, each one of us will be playing in the World Cup of life long after the final whistle is blown in South Africa.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The sun has set, and the rain has started to fall from the sky.

Petrusa has sent me some nice photos showing how people are getting enthusiastic about what is happening right now in various stadiums in South Africa. It is a once-in-a-life-time festivity, especially as a hosting nation for the FIFA world cup. I congratulate and thank the people of South Africa for their marvelous spirit of hospitality and playfulness.

Yesterday, the sun has set for Japan, after competing against Paraguay and losing in the final PK. It is rare to see grown up men weeping like that in the close scrutiny of television cameras, but they did deserve every drop of the tears.

The world cup is the supreme stage for soccer lovers. The players have been training all their lives for this. Starting as a kid following and stumbling on the ball, climbing the ladder through the most rigorous selection processes, until finally making it to the national team.

If you imagine what must have been at stake and what rivers of deep emotions have been flowing in their bosoms, the tears last night would appear to represent the purest and the most serene of what humans are capable of bringing about to this world, through hard work and high goals.

The sun has set, and the rain has started to fall from the sky. After the soothing darkness, the sun would rise again. Life thrives in its cycles.

Photo from

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Only Time will tell: On the nature of free will.

I am in Vancouver, Canada now. I am here for a transit on the way back to Tokyo.

The ASSC 2010 conference in Toronto was very interesting. Here's my abstract. I could have many helpful discussions with my colleagues.

Only Time will tell: On the nature of free will.

Key words time, consciousness, free will

Ken Mogi

The contingency between sensory inputs and motor outputs is one of the crucial aspects of the neural mechanism underlying the phenomenology of consciousness. For example, the nature of subjective time is known to be affected by the contingency between voluntary action and sensory feedback (Haggard et al. 2002). The perception of self body is affected by the contingency between actions and sensory feedbacks, as demonstrated in the mirror box treatment of phantom limbs (Ramachandran et al. 1995). Various empirical evidences suggest that sensori-motor contingency affects the construction of the phenomenal self in its temporal and embodied dimensions.

One important and arguably ultimate question regarding human consciousness is that of free will. The question concerning the nature of free will is an essential one not only from theoretical point of view but also from the social implications involved (e.g. from the point of view of neuroethics, Gazzaniga 2005). In that free will concerns itself with the movement of the body in time, it is necessary to consider its nature in the context of sensori-motor contingency. From the phenomenological point of view, neural processes involved in action can be regarded as a subset of those involved in intentional processes in general.

Here I argue that the nature of free will can be properly treated only by taking subjective time into consideration. Only a consideration of the nature of subjective time will tell us the origin of the feeling of free will, when it is taken to be compatible with determinism (Dennet 2003). I present a model of subjective time based on the interaction between sensory and intentional processes in the brain, in which two kinds of simultaneity ("sensory simultaneity" and "intentional simultaneity") are defined.

Using the model, I analyze the differential nature of neural circuits involved in sensory and motor processes, based on the anatomical data on human brain (e.g., Van Essen 2004). Finally, I give an account of the neural correlates of free will in terms of the "open-ended" structures of intentional simultaneity in subjective time, in the context of the topology of connectivity in the cortical neural network.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Philosophy of the food court.

The first foreign country that I visited was Canada, in the summer when I was 15 years old. Probably because of that, whenever I set my feet on a Canadian soil my heart starts throbbing. Canada is my old sweetheart country.

One thing that I love from Canada, or indeed north America in general, is the food court. During the conference in Toronto, I have been taking lunch in the food court down in the Sears store. The no-nonsense, casual manner in which you can order your food from a bewildering variety, the easiness of taking the seat and just have it and go is quite to my liking.

There is a philosophy behind every practical thing. There is a philosophy to the food court. I ponder about it while I take my chicken curry from a Thai food stand.

Food court in Sears, downtown Toronto, Canada.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Peace and.

Right now I am visiting Toronto for a scientific conference. Yesterday evening, I was strolling the streets with my best friend Yoshi Tamori and several students. It was a nice evening, and we were looking for a place to eat.

All of a sudden, we saw a human wall made by police officers. Of course we immediately understood. The G20 summit was being held in Toronto. There was this greatest concentration of the world's most powerful men, (whether they would reach a critical mass for any significant chemistry this time or not), and it was only natural to make necessary precautions.

As I strolled on, the atmosphere was quite peaceful. There were people taking snapshots with the police officers, who stood on patiently. I and Yoshi got the idea, and took a memory photo, too.

There were signs of good will and spontaneity. "Peace" was drawn on the road. A number of people were dancing to relaxing music in front of the barricade. We could not see the faces of the police people, but my guess was that they were smiling, too.

Having experienced the Toronto evening this way, it was quite a shock to return to my hotel room after dinner and to know what has been happening in the city through the news channels.

We observed peace, and then something else apparently happened. I do not regard that particular process worthy of all the efforts. Discussing is good and interesting, but I see no point in clashing in physical forces. Reaching a critical mass for the chemistry of mind is meaningful, forging new ideas, bringing about attitude changes. Going over the threshold towards violence is just plain wrong.

Here's the golden rule. Look, but don't touch.

I and Yoshi Tamori with the G20 police officers.

"Peace" drawn on the Tronto road.

People dancing to peaceful music in front of the barricade.