|INSTITUTE FOR DATA EVALUATION AND ANALYSIS (IDEA)|
on Science and Humanity
|"Femto" is "a combining form used in the names of units of measure that are one quadrillionth (10 to minus 15) the size of the unit denoted by the base word" (Random House Webster's College Dictionary). Femto-meter, fm, is a unit suitable to express the size of atomic nuclei. Thus, "femto" is used here for the name of a very short column.|
Contents of This Page
To All the Contents of Femto-Column
21. What Happened to the Garden of Eden?
A good friend of mine, Kazu, began to study the Bible from religious mind. Last year he asked me a question about the Garden of Eden. His question can be summarized as follows:
He studied the Bible well, and it is true that the Bible includes such profound stories that allow one to make various interpretations. However, I did not find it meaningful to analyze the descriptions of the Bible from the physical point of view. Then what could be my polite answer to Kazu? I thought that reading books on the relation between science and religion might help me. So I read a few of such books.1-3 In the book written by John Polkinghorne,2 I found the following passage:
The space-time continuum is just the concept of the super-three-dimensional world view. I do not think that Moltmann would get any fruitful interpretation of the Space of Creation by applying this concept of the theory of relativity to the Bible. However, I told Kazu about Moltmann's idea to please the former with the thought that his question was an advanced one.
Finally, the principle of NOMA discussed in Steven Jay Gould's book3 (see the previous section of this column for details) was decisively useful as the reason for writing my answer not from the earnest viewpoint of physics but from the standpoint of enjoying an intellectual play.
22. The Reform of Education
On 28 Jan 2000 Japan's Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi delivered the annual policy speech at the Diet under the boycott of nongovernment parties. It was the first time that the opposition refused to attend the speech. This happened because Obuchi's coalition pushed through a controversial bill to reduce the number of seats in Japan's lower house the day before (the Associated Press).
Obuchi's speech included the setting of two specific goals. One of the goals, "the reform of education," is to foster children so as to have a good command of English and the Internet and thus be international. The other is to make this country play a major international role in science and technology (Asahi Shimbun).
Setting goals is not bad, but the Prime Minister's speech seems to have lacked the proposal of concrete and persuasive plans.
In 1947, two years after Japan's defeat in the 2nd World War, I was in the 6th year class of a primary school. The teacher of our class, Mr. Arama, was a young and enthusiastic person filled with the passion to try out new methods of education. What he did first in our class was to write the following words (in Japanese) on the blackboard:
He made us recite these words every morning for some days or weeks, and ordered us to write them on the cover of every notebook we had.
I have seldom reminded myself of these words after finishing the primary school, but I still remember them well. They might have rooted deeply in my mind to affect my style of life. This was only one of many effective things Mr. Arama did in his reformative teaching.
One of the factors that brought about Mr. Arama's passion is considered to have been Japan's situation in those days, when everyone was eager to work for the reconstruction of the country. It would be necessary for the present politicians to induce good and strong passion in teachers by pursuing sound and rational politics and showing themselves to be a good model of persons working for people and the peace of the world.
23. A Hard Nut to Crack Even for Tomonaga and Feynman
is a moderately famous teaser, "Why does a mirror invert left and
right but not top and bottom?" The Nobel-Prize physicist Sin-Itiro
Tomonaga discussed this problem with his colleagues in his young days.
They reached a thought that the top-bottom and front-back axes had
absoluteness in a psychological space, but were unable to find a
completely satisfactory answer.1
Richard Feynman, who shared the Nobel Prize with Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger, also puzzled over this problem in his MIT fraternity days. One of his biographer, James Gleick wrote that Feynman's explanation was a model of clarity, and cited it in detail.2 However, Richard Gregory criticized Feynman's following words: "We cannot image ourselves 'squashed' back to front, so we imagine ourselves turned left and right, as if we had walked around a pane of glass to face the other way. It is in this psychological turnabout that left and right are switched." Gregory added that psychological turnabout might not be entirely clear.3
What is a clear explanation of this problem then? Is it related to psychology? Early 1998 Yohtaro Takano published "a hypothesis of multiple processes" in a journal of psychology to explain this problem.4 I thought it too complicated like Ptolemaic epicycles theory of planet motions to explain their observed peculiarity on the basis of the earth-centered cosmological view.
In the summer of 1998, I discussed this problem with my former colleague Shuichi Okuda over beer, and we decided to submit a paper to the same journal, in spite of a little reluctance of publishing the definitive solution to the good teaser. After some fighting with one of the reviewers and the editor and rewriting twice for improved clarity, we got our paper finally published (it is entitled "Mirror reversal simply explained without recourse to psychology,"5) together with Michael Corballis' similar paper.6 I heard from Takano that he was not persuaded by Corballis' and our papers and was going to publish another paper on the same problem.
14 Mar 2000Related reading added later
24. The Japanese Concept of Education
Some months ago the journal "Tosho," published by Iwanami-shoten, started to carry a column for questions and answers about the Japanese language. Answers are provided by the researcher of the Japanese language Susumu Ono, who recently wrote a best-selling book, "Nihongo-renshu-cho (An Exercise Book of Japanese)."
The above column in the May issue treats the origin of the words "manabi" and "gakushu," both of which mean studying. Ono analyzes the construction of the two Chinese characters that in combination express "gakushu," and infers that the original meaning of this word is "repeated interactions of a teacher and children." Thus he finds that the Chinese concept of study includes the activeness on the side of those being taught.
Ono next analyzes the Chinese characters for "kyoiku (education)," and again finds the meaning of "interactions with children" in the character "kyo." However, he does not see a similar meaning in the proper Japanese word "oshihe" that corresponds to the Chinese character "kyo." He writes that the dictionary of the Heian Period (around the 9th century) "Ruiju-myogisho" includes 37 Chinese characters that can be read "oshihu (the verb form of oshihe)" and that most of them mean one-sided action to the other party. He insists that this is an evidence of the old origin of the meaning of "striking into the head," which is included in the present Japanese word "oshieru (teach)."
Ono concludes that the method of education in the style of striking into the head cannot make the most of individual characters and that Japan would fall behind other countries if the Japanese do not aware of this. I completely agree with him.
25. Dreadful Crimes by Boys in the Technological Age
In the beginning of May 2000 two dreadful crimes by 17-year-old boys happened in Japan. One boy in Aichi Prefecture killed a woman with a kitchen knife in the evening of May 1. The other boy from Saga City hijacked a highway bus destined to Fukuoka to drive it to Hiroshima on May 3 and injured a woman among about 20 passengers to death. Is there any common cause in the cruel deed by young people of these days? Is "environmental hormones" or the deterioration of education responsible to these crimes?
I happened to read the following remark by Rupert Sheldrake, a leading thinker of New Age movement1:
The remark was made in reply to Wim Kayzer's question about the importance of the cultural evolution that had been caused by the awakening of human consciousness about ten thousand years ago. However, the dissolution of traditional things seems quite rapid during these ten years or so. Is the acceleration of such dissolution not related to the too speedy spread of the application of various technologies into our life?
11 May 2000
26. An Example of the Effect of Bad Education
The following news was recently reported by media world over:
The thought that Japan is a divine nation centering on the Emperor was taught at school to all the Japanese children until the end of World War II. Under Japan's constitution, however, most of the Japanese have learned that such a thought was quite wrong. Thus, commenting on this news, Peter McKillop writes correctly,1 "Most Japanese do not believe the Emperor is God. Most do not practice Shinto. Most are genuinely remorseful about Japan's wartime past -- that is, if they can remember it." Then, why the idea of divine land did remain in the Prime Minister's mind?
McKillop points out: The problem is that a small group of well-organized, well-funded conservative pro-Shinto organizations have had a disproportionate influence on Japanese politics for too long.
Then what did make this disproportionate influence spread? It would be that many Japanese people were not keen enough to notice this influence hidden behind LDP politicians in voting for them. And what did make such pro-Shinto organizations survive after the war? Isn't it the effect of long-lasted bad education? Prime Minister Mori, now at the age of 62, must have been in the second year class of primary school when Japan was defeated. Therefore, he must have learned the divine-land idea for nearly one and a half years at the ages when his emotion was most sensitive, never to become able to get out from the anachronistic principle. A poor fellow!
20 May 2000Related reading added later
27. The Crisis of Basic Sciences
graduate student of a technological university in India, who happened to
become an e-mail friend of mine, recently wrote me the following: He and his
colleagues were suddenly obliged to live outside the campus. The reason is
that the Vice Chancellor of the university decided not to provide the research
scientists with the hostel facility but to encourage only engineers. The aim
and merit of this decision are incomprehensible. Even in a technological
university, the co-operation of scientists with engineers would be important
for the development and education of new technologies.
12 Jun 2000
28. The Fortunes of the Woman in a Pi Mnemonic
Blatner's little book1 tells you
cheerfully about the history
and snippets of the number pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its
diameter. In the section "Memorizing Pi" the author gives mnemonic devices in
different languages. One in Japanese is: "3.14 strawberry country . . ."
Strawberry country is "ichigo kuni" in Japanese and can be associated with the
numbers 1-5-9-2, which are just pronounced in Japanese as ichi-go-ku-ni.
18 Jun 2000
29. Readers Don't Be Fooled! Again on Mirror Images
distinguished theoretical physicist at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and
science writer Frank Close recently published a
book.1 Reading the earliest
pages of the book, I was quite worried about his statements concerning the
question "Why do mirrors reverse left and right but not top and bottom?"
The author first refers to the above question on page 16 as "an old canard"
and writes: "This question is actually a fraud, inviting an answer under the
implicit, and illegal, assumption that the question refers to a real event."
12 Jul 2000, modified 26, Aug 00
30. Mathematics and Nature
read in a number of books that the physicist Eugene Wigner
puzzled over why mathematics was so effective to describe the natural
an essay entitled "Why is the universe mathematical?" John Barrow, Professor of
Astronomy and Director of the Astronomy Center at the University of Sussex,
discusses about this problem.2 He first
mentions that the sorts of
answers depend upon what we think mathematics, giving four options:
formalism, inventionism, constructivism and realism. Then he puts a puzzle for
the future to decide which is more fundamental in the laws of Nature, symmetry
or computation; in other words, a pattern or a program.
Note added later:
The following passage by Gordon Kane3 is also relevant to the above problem.
Here Kane does not directly refer to the effectiveness of mathematics for describing the world. However, if the world has mathematical regularities as he mentions, then the effectiveness of mathematics follows naturally.
26 Jul 2000; note, 19 Sep 2000