Things that ever happened in my life remains as the connection pattern between neurons in my brain.
On the first day of my elementary school, I recall the sunbeam was reflected in a white impression on the long and straight road that lead to the school premises. On the very first class room meeting, I was at my desk with my newly found classmates, with my cheek on my hand, looking at nothing, absent-minded. Ms Arai, teacher of our class, took notice and remarked "are you now bored, my little one?"
Parents were requested to remain at school after the entrance ceremony on that day. My mother was at the back of the classroom, too, and laughed with the other parents. I brushed in shame.
There was a large sweet acorn tree near the front gate of the school. When I was in the second year, there was a "boom" of acorn eating among us. As we left the school in the after hours, we would compete to find good ones, and would eat them on the way, with the school satchels cozily on our backs. At break times, we would play "hand baseball", in which we used our hand as the hitting bat. I remember quite well that the balls were green.
Each remembrance constitutes a "page" in my life, a part of the richness of my humble personal history. All those memories are encoded as patterns of connectivity between neurons. There would be memories long forgotten, but secretly stored in the cortical network pattern. I might happen to remember them sometime, or would never recall them. In any case, when the physical presence of my brain disintegrates, the rich storage of memory of my life would be lost forever. Memories are integral constituents of my existence. The "self" critically depends on these memories. The removal of them would leave a "self" as a transparent "core", vibrating poignantly in the great nothingness of the universe.
[70: Philosophy of Life]
Some years ago, I was just starting my research career in the brain sciences. I was attending a series of international conferences in Iizuka city in the southern island of Kyushu. Iizuka had its days when it prospered from coal mining. The coal mining boom was then long gone. After years of economic decline, Iizuka still had the remnant glamour which had become all the more poignant by the workings of time. Walking through small passages, you would encounter charming restaurants, shops, infusing one with anticipations of things to come. As night fell the heat would become mild, and I could go on walking for a long time. Finding a comfortable restaurant, I would enter and order a set menu and a glass of beer.
There was one particular restaurant that I found my love in and would frequent within the constraints of time. It was one of these small places with no particular features to mention. There were several chairs and tables, and a tatami seating area. The dishes would be displayed on the counter. If you point to the large dishes with your favorite cuisine, they would put small portions of it on your eating dish. Men would have their meal after working hours, drinking beer and watching the baseball. It was that kind of a place. [69: Philosophy of Life]
At present, it is reasonable to assume that our perception is sustained by the physical processes in the brain. More specifically, the neural firings seem to be the fundamental units of the physical processes that underlie perception. The neuron doctrine in perception expresses this assumption in a nutshell.
There are about 100 billion neurons in the brain. At any given time, a considerable proportion of these neurons fire in a unique pattern, invoking our perception. If you give it a moment of imagination, it is a spectacular view. Every neuron has a unique role to play in perception, whether conscious or unconscious. Their role is ultimately determined by its relation to other neurons in the brain. In a sense, the role of a particular neuron is determined by its place in the whole network. On the other hand, the network is made up of the individual neurons. Thus, the whole characterizes the individuals, and the individuals characterize the whole. In any case, our perception is determined by the properties of such a neural network only, and no other external frame of reference, no matter how convenient it may seem, should be brought into the picture. As discussed in Chapter 1, our perception is something that occurs in our brain, and in principle, should be ultimately accounted for independent of any external entities. You might think that you are perceiving something outside you, but in reality you are only perceiving the neural firings in your brain! "I" am a phenomenon confined in this small space of my skull. Everything that is "I" occurs within this small universe. [68: Origin of Consciousness]
Instead of the adjective "world", as used in such expressions as "world music" or "world literature", I would thus like to ponder the expression "earth" as an adjective from time to time. Expressions such as "earth music" stresses the incredible homogeneity and unity rather than heterogeneity or variety that are to be found on this (compared to the cosmos) small planet.
"World leaders" stress variety and sometimes opposition. "Earth leaders" would indicate common destiny and the need to cooperate. From the vantage point of the outer space, we are all cuddled on this small planet, cozily together, breathing the thin layer of air, at once intimidated and inspired by the great expansion of nothingness that extend once we cross the border of earth-zone. [67: Philosophy of Life]
Music is an art of auditory qualia. It would be always futile to try to explain the origin of music from the evolutionary point of view. For example, it is absurd to say that the collection of qualia that occurs to us as we listen to J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations are "there" because they gave us selective advantages. What the theory of evolution can say about the origin of music is, utmost, that it is "compatible" with the requirement of survival. The essence of music as an art of qualia, and its selective advantage (if there is any!) are logically separate things. (This kind of thought has been the major concern of the phenomenologists like Husserl, and is in marked contrast with the views expressed by functionalists and connectionists).
If I may venture further, the problem of qualia is very closely bound with the idea of the Platonic world, a world of ideas and concepts. It is this aspect of qualia that makes the exploration of the neural basis of it such an important and profoundly exciting intellectual endeavour. Thanks to the advancements in neurophysiology, the time has at last come for us to embark on a scientific investigation of the problem of qualia. Now is the time for us to start technical discussions of the problem. It is the single important issue for a challenging intellectual to engage itself for years to come. [66:Origin of Consciousness]
The mind and body are regarded as belonging to different categories even today. Since the mind belongs to one category, and the body to the other, many people take it for granted that they obey different laws. In the case of mentality, people are not even aware of the existence of any "law" governing it. The "illusion" of the free will, maintained even today in the face of realization that all physical entities in the universe apparently obey natural laws, contribute to the reinforcement of separation.
In a continuation of the spirit of Newton, the only logical step would be to try to cross the borders and treat the physical and mental as obeying the same universal natural law. Rather than starting from the natural law that governs the physical, and then coming to face the mental as something extra to it, we need to start from an integrated treatment of both entities. The illusion of the free will needs to be somehow taken care of in the process. [65:Blessings of Science]
Our conscious experience, with its various shades and nuances, would finally indicate that there is something that in conventional language would be described as the "spirit". It is not clear what the substance is, and it may all boil down to the illusions that the neural activities in the brain creates for us. However, even if it is a phantom, it is a convincing one and holds certain sets of explanatory values in describing our daily experience.
It was the basic assumption of the Hegelian philosophy that the world is moved by the mental. "Spirit, the rational and necessitated will, is and has been the director of the events of the World's History." (The Philosophy of History,1837) [64 Philosophy of Life]
Towards the end of the DNA paper, Francis Crick and James Watson state thus : It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material. This was quite arguably "the understatement of the century".
A reserved manner of expression is a hallmark of the careful scientist. When I was in the United Kingdom studying in the laboratory of Prof. Horace Barlow, Horace would often demonstrate the exquisite charm of the English understatement. At one time, I gave Horace the draft of a paper on qualia, in which I developed some rather exotic ideas. Horace came into the tea room the next day. How was the paper? I asked eagerly. Horace laughed, and said "it is certainly a useful idea". Horace was a strong believer in the validity of the statistical method, whereas I raised a strong objection towards the use of statistical ensembles as a means to study the mind-brain problem. Horace's statement was thus at once an indication that he did not necessarily agree with the main points in my paper but at the same time enjoying the rather strange (to him) ideas developed in it. "It is certainly a useful idea" was Horace's way of understating the opinion, rather than going at full length about it. [63 Blessings Of Science]
We are all fond of our own ideas. Science takes this "maternal" love a step further. To nurture an idea conceived by oneself, however dear and of sentimental importance, it should be seen from a "detached" point of view. Detachment is one of the most important properties that a scientist must possess, and is central to the blessing of science, within and outside its activities.
The perceptual detachment involved in scientific investigations is in a sense contrary to our naive intuition, would take some willed training and uphill endeavor, but is ultimately very rewarding and even moving. It is to see one's own idea, no matter how dear, as if it was an object put on the table in front of one. It does not matter who brought the idea originally onto the table. It could be one or one's archrival. One would observe it from objective point of view, pointing out the defects as well as the merits, to admire not in a blind manner, but illuminated by the light of reason. It is an attitude approaching madness, in that one does not take care of one's immediate interests in defending one's pet conception, but in the end serving one's final interest, in reshaping and bringing to fruition the full potential of the conceived vision. [62BOS]
Sometimes words like "world music" or "world cinema" are used to describe the various genres produced in countries with different cultural and historical backgrounds, with equal weights given, at least in theory, to each specimen representing territories in the first, second, or the third world. The predicative "world" here is a celebration of the heterogeneity of cultures across regions on the globe, an appreciation of the differences that exist between us.
It is also indicative of the coherence that is inherent between the instances of world culture that we encounter in the course of contemporary life. Regardless of skin, language, sex, we are all humans. Any significant work of art, if it is to possess a universal value, needs to address the generic human truth.
Going across the borders is a necessary condition for anyone aspiring to achieve something culturally in today's globalized environment. It has been historically the case that being cosmopolitanism has been an essential ingredient of any cultural genius. Take German culture, for example. Giants originating from the German backgrounds, such as Mozart, Goethe, and Wagner, are usually considered to be typical and representative of the German culture. However, every single one of them was a cosmopolitan within the constraints of their respective eras, traveling extensively within Europe and interacting with people from various cultural backgrounds.
The way human brains are made, individuality is in fact a social construct, affected and formed by the interaction with others in the society at large.
Sudo, T. and Mogi, K. "Mechanism of Perceptual Categorization in the Pre-Linguistic Period" IEICE Transactions on Information and Systems, Vol.E91-D, No.6, pp.1649-1655, (2008)
In this study, we conducted a series of experiments using stimuli characterized by various attributes in order to understand the categorization process in an infant's pre-linguistic development. The infants are able to assign the same label to members within the same category by focusing attention on specific features or functions common to the members. The ability to categorize is likely to play an essential role in an infant's overall cognitive development. Specifically, we investigated how the infants use different strategies in the process of linguistic categorization. In one strategy, members of a single category are derived from perceptual similarities within the most representative members, i.e., the prototypical members. Alternatively, each membership is established by referring to the linguistic labels for each category provided by the caretaker, in a symbol grounding process. We found that the infant is able to employ these strategies in a flexible manner in its development. We discuss the interplay between different cognitive strategies, including the prototype effects in the infant's cognitive development and the implications for cortical mechanism involved.
The main shrines of Ise Jingu are renewed every 20 years, in a series of special processions called "Sengu" (literally meaning the "changing of the shrines". It is a remarkable custom with a long history, in which important technologies of shrine building are taught and carried on from a generation to another.
I was 31 years old when I first visited Ise Jingu, at the time of the last Sengu (fall of 1993). I was attending a conference in Nagoya. Hearing the news that the Sengu was taking place, curiosity surged in me. I took the next train heading for Ise. Ise is about an hour and half's ride from Nagoya.
At the time, I did not know what to expect. From what I experienced at the Shinto shrines all over Japan, in areas around Tokyo in particular, I had no reason to believe that the visit would change my view of the cultural heritages associated with Shinto forever. It did, in fact. The visit to the Ise Shrine on that fateful day in 1993 would transform how I view the traditions in this venerable religion. .[60POL]