February 26, 2006

Theory of Web Evolution, Web 2.0, life studies as open source


I am now reading the book, A Theory of Web Evolution (Uwebu Shinkaron), Chikuma Shinsho, 2006, written in Japanese by Mochio Umeda. This book has just been published and is likely to become a bestseller. This is a really interesting book. I am going to write a book review for a local newspaper. Umeda, the author, is an engineer with a Ph.D., and the CEO of the Japanese web company, hatena. He has lived in Silicon Valley, USA, for these ten years.

He stresses that the revolution now being made by weblogs and Wikipedia as well as such company as Google and Amazon, will provide us with a completely different kind of cyber space, compared with that which the "old" style company, such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Intel, have shown us. The difference is that the former encourages us to create new webpages, information, and dynamic links using their open source technologies, and encourages us to go beyond the original models those companies have prepared beforehand. And after that, those companies tries to make profit out of us by monitoring users' activities and acquiring information about how the majority behave on the Internet. He thinks this is the core image of Web 2.0, which is one of the hottest issues on the web today.

Umeda summarizes the three main features of Web 2.0 as follows:

1) First law: The understanding of the world from the viewpoint of "God"
2) Second law: A new economic sphere in which ones' automatic agents on the web make money automatically
3) Thrid law: Possibility of earning money from the accumulation of scattered very small profits (p.34)

However, in the latter half of the book, Umeda emphasizes that the most important feature of Web 2.0 is not that we can make money from it, but that we can cooperate to create a new world of dynamic knowledge and collective intelligence, just like Wikipedia, on the web volantarily and openly. This is the core philosophy of Web 2.0, and probably the most revolutionary contribution to our cyber society.

This could also be applied to our life studies project. Life studies should be a kind of open source, by using which every concerned person can create their own life studies in their real lives. Every life studies activity is different, but all of them are interconnected with each other. The same thing can be said about "philosophy of life." I am going to write about it here in the near future.

My intuition is that life studies or philosophy of life is similar to Web 2.0, because both of them aim to connect people, knowledge, wisdom, and activities in the way only developing living beings can fully execute. Hence for me, "2.0" means "life."

 -- M.Morioka

January 15, 2006

Sense of happiness and mood-brightening drug (Prozac etc)


The President's Council led by Leon Kass discusses the topic of "happy souls" in their report Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (2003). This discussion constitutes, probably, the most significant part of this report. I am not sure who wrote this part. I presume that Kass himself wrote it, but other council members might have written or added something.

They talk about the drugs that can delete unpleasant memories, or can provide us with happy feelings. While the former drug has not been developed yet, the latter one already exists, namely, such "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)" as Prozac, Paxil, etc.

Concerning memory-blunting drugs, Report concludes:

To have only happy memories would be a blessing—and a curse. Nothing would trouble us, but we would be probably be shallow people... In the end, to have only happy memories is not to be happy in a truly human way. It is simply to be free of misery—an understandable desire given the many troubles of life, but a low aspiration for those who seek a truly human happiness. (p.234)

And concerning mood-brightening drugs, Report distinguishes "the sense or feeling of well-being" from "well-being itself," and then concludes that acquiring the former does not necessarily lead to the latter, because these two are completely different from each other. Report admits that this kind of drug sometimes give depressed people the power and courage to live & survive, however:

While such drugs often make things better—they often help individuals achieve some measure of the happiness they desire—taking such drugs may also leave many of the same individuals wondering whether their newfound happiness is fully their own—and in this sense, fully real. ... It is even more pertinent, and more disquieting, should one come to feel happy for no good reason at all, or happy even when there remains much in one's life to be truly unhappy about. (p.255)

I think they have succeeded in pointing out an important philosophical question, that is, "What is the difference between 'the sense of happiness' and 'happiness itself'?" And they seem to conclude that happiness itself needs the (long and winding) "process" through which we can finally reach the state of happiness where we can enjoy the sense of happiness. Intuitively, I believe their idea is right, but I am not satisfied with their explanation in their report.

What if someone says, "I don't need any process. What I need is the sense of happiness, and that's all. Period," then what Kass would reply to that person? Is his answer, "You are a shallow person"?

I don't mean to offend Kass and his colleagues. What I want to do is to think about this important philosophical question more deeply. We need "philosophy of life."

Photo: A house near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka

January 08, 2006

Eternity, immortality, and desire to live longer


Leon Kass talks about his philosophy of death and aging in his book, Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity (2002). He discusses the future possibility of progress in medical technology that may provide us with long life, for example, a longevity of 200 or 300 years or more. He asks whether such longevity, or immortality actually makes us happy, and he answers negatively. He writes as follows:

I aspire to speak truth to my desires by showing that the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual, whether he knows it or not. (p.264)

He urges us to think of an immortal being and says:

Moreover, such an immortal someone else, in my view, will be less well off than we mortals are now, thanks indeed to our mortality. (p.265)

And he seems to distinguish between "immortality on earth" and "eternity."

The decisive inference is clear: none of these longings can be answered by polonging earthly life. Not even an unlimited amount of "more of the same" will satisfy our deepest aspirations. ... Mere continuance will not buy fulfillment. Worse, its pursuit threatens -- already threatens -- human happiness by distracting us from the goals toward which our souls naturally point. (p.270)

It is clear that he discusses this topic from the perspective of the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, the core of what he wanted to say reaches my mind directly (though I am agnostic). I think one implication of his words is that we cannot acquire "eternity" in the pursuit of "immortality." Eternity cannot be acquired in an extension of an immortal life. This is one of the most important philosophical questions, I believe, that should be discussed in the field of bioethics or "philosophy of life" in the 21st century. Of course, I don't agree with his opinion about abortion and the value of the family, but nevertheless, I am still very attracted to Kass's philosophy on life and death.

At the same time, I am not satisfied with Kass's philosophy. He seems to underestimate our desire to become healthy and live longer if some existing medication or operation provides us with them. This kind of desire must be shared by Leon Kass himself. We have to think about the nature of this kind of desire and our contemporary social system that incessantly stimulates our desire to live longer, become healthy, and avoid pain & suffering as much as possible. This is exactly what I tried to do in my book Painless Civlization. Kass's works should be complemented, I believe, with the perspective of painless civilization.

(Continues on the next entry...)

Related post: Value of life extension and immortality

Photo: A building near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka

December 06, 2005

Retardation of aging and fear of death


In the previous entry I talked about the book, Leon kass's (+President's Council on Bioethics) Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. In the United States, this book might be seen as propaganda from conservative right-wing ethicists backed up by Christian churches. However, in Japan, this book will be welcomed by various researchers and activists regardless of their own religious backgrounds, because in Japan, Christians account for not more than 1 % of the whole population.

In this book they discuss the retardation of aging as well as other topics. In the future it might become possible to delay the aging process by manipulating our genes or other chemical substances in our body. What if we can live more than 200 years, or a thousand years without serious illnesses? Futurologists and some bioethicists tend to think that there will be no problem to live longer with the help of advanced technology. But the authers of this book do not necessarily think so. Probably most people would choose to live longer with advanced technology and/or medication, but in exchange for it, they will have to face very difficult problems they have never anticipated.

Paradoxically, one of the big problems we have to tackle in such a society will be the growth of fear of death. For, their long life is supported by their intentional activities of delaying aging by using various technologies and medication, and as a result, they are forced to see their own death everyday in an indirect manner. In this sense, the life of people in such a society will be totally covered with the shadow of death, in other words, uneasiness, fear, and melancholy resulting from the fate of human existence. They also say that we will be segregated from the sense of nature, time, and maturation, without which we cannot live our lives meaningfully and deeply.

Of course this doesn't constitute a sufficient condition for *stopping* the progress of such technology. However, thinking about the negative aspects of such technology is very important. What is more important is to think deeply about the meaning of the progress and the fate of our civilization. This is what I have repeatedly stressed in this bog. (Related page: Painless Civilization)

Anyway, I want to object to the idea that the progress of science automatically provide us with fulfilment and happiness, or the idea that those who object to the progress of science must be religious fundamentalists. We have to see both sides of technology and civilization.

I wanted to quote some sentences from the book, but I couldn't because I didn't have the original English edition yet.

Related post: Value of life extension and immortality

Photo: Doutonbori, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka

November 28, 2005

Leon Kass, Beyond Therapy


I read the Japanese translation of Leon kass's (+President's Council on Bioethics) Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, and wrote a book review for a monthly magazine. This is a really interesting book. This report, probably deeply influenced by the philosophy of Leon Kass, casts doubt on some advanced medical technologies which seek to enhance the ability of a baby, extend longevity, or make people happier by medication.

This is a report of the President's Council on Bioethics. The President of the United States is George W. Bush. Hence, this report may be considered as the propaganda of American conservative bioethics. For instance, a reviewer at writes as follows:

This book is just Leon Kass's latest treatise on all the possible (but not necessarily probable) negative aspects of biological research and progress. Leon Kass was appointed by George W. Bush as his "Bioethics" committee board chairman - and Leon quickly filled the board with other right-wing christian fundamentalists. (Amazon)

It might be interesting to broaden our horizons to see the situation in Japan. In Japan, conservative ideas about advanced medical technologies have been supported mainly by left-wing parties. On the contrary, conservative parties have supported the progress of science and technology relating to human life. For example, the Liberal Democratic Party, the biggest conservative party, supported the research on human ES cells and some human cloning technologies, and the Democratic party of Japan, the biggest opposition party, tried to restrict them as much as possible.

Hence, in Japan, it might be said that the role of "right-wing Christian fundamentalists" in the US has been played by left-wing bioethicists and politicians. This is a really interesting phenomenon. However, at the same time, (this may sound strange to US readers), concerning abortion, Japanese right-wing parties wish to restrict it, and Japanese left-wing parties try to protect women's right to abortion.

I suppose I am categorized as a left-wing bioethicist because I support women's right to abortin but I don't support the endless progress of biomedical technology. (Of course I don't think abortion is a "good" thing. See my paper). This report doesn't talk about abortion. Instead they talk repeatedly about the preciousness of a limited human life and persuade us to accept our own life as an indispensable and irreplaceable gift. This is just what left-wing thinkers have said in Japan against the government policy to promote technology and industry concerning biotechnology and advanced medicine.

If US Christian bioethicists care little about our ideas about abortion, they will learn a lot from Japanese left-wing discussions on bioethics. And even some of left-wing discussions on abortion may be interesting because they can find a unique idea about human desire and evil (See the above paper).

Anyway, this report might become a turning point in the history of US bioethics. I am a kind of left-wing thinker, and I oppose to President Bush's conservatism and foreign policy, but I do respect the authors who wrote this report.

I will talk about the content of this report in the next entry.

Photo: Doutonbori, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka

November 23, 2005

Life, death and technology


I read two books in Japanese translation. The one is Margaret Lock's Encounters With Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America and the other is Leon kass (+President's Council on Bioethics) Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. Both books were very interesting. I wrote book reviews of these books in a newspaper and a magazine.

I will write about them in the next entry.

Photo: A subway station, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka

October 04, 2005

Happiness and advanced technology


Today I will write again about Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (Times Books, April 2003. The previous post about this book will be found in the entry of Sep.26). McKibben talks about the enhancement of the IQ of children. Supporters of such technology say that even if it becomes available, parents still have the freedom to choose the enhancement, or not to choose, hence, no one's freedom will be violated.

McKibben objects to this idea. He stresses that some few people who starts to use this technology might have freedom of choice, but the majority of the followers will not be able to enjoy such freedom. For the followers, the enhancement of their children will become "compulsory." If the IQs of many children in your neighborhood are enhanced genetically, what do you feel when you give birth to your baby? Are you strong enough to refuse it? McKibben concludes that in the age of genetic enhancement, all we can do is "enhance" our own children.

Then, what happens to a genetically enhanced child? McKibben predicts that the child will lose " joy of life", or "the meaning of life", in exchange for some genetically enhanced abilities and long&healthy life. I believe his analysis is correct. I wrote the same thing in the book, Painless Civilization, Chapter 1.

In his book, McKibben does not deny the progress of science and civilization. His point is that we have come to the stage, in the beginning of the 21st Century, for the first time, where we should say "Enough!" to the further progress of some advanced technologies, at least in highly industrialized societies such as the US and European countries. Bill McKibben is an ecologist, and he does not seem to be a Christian fundamentalist. The problem of happiness in the age of advanced technology cannot be solved solely by religion or politics.

Photo: Kawachi ondo (Kawachi dance song) in Autumn festival, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka

September 26, 2005

Bill McKibben, Enough


Today I wrote another book review, a review of Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (Times Books, April 2003). The book review will be delivered by the Kyodo Tsushin press agency to many local newspapers around Japan. This book was very interesting. This is my first time to read Bill McKibben's book. A reviewer on writes as follows:

Unlike McKibben, who seems to view human beings as a fixed endowment (perhaps from a Creator), I think we can view ourselves as ever changing, ever evolving beings, constantly in the process of becoming. I welcome the excitement and prospect of our accelerated evolution. Yes, there are dangers ahead, so it is important to proceed with caution and full deliberation.

This is a shallow idea about technology and humanity. Mckibben's aim is to criticize the philosophy that lies behind this kind of thinking. Of course it is not so easy to criticize this "mainstream" ideology of contemporary scientific civilization, but some of Mckibben's arguments ought to be persuasive even to those who firmly believe in the progress of science and technology.

The main theme of the book is the "enhancement" of humans by the manipulation of human genes in fertilized eggs. It is not possible to manipulate human genes at present, but many scientists believe that it will become possible in the near future. That is to say, in the future we will be able to enhance our own children's IQ, physical abilities, looks, and so on, by manipulating the genes of the fertilized eggs of our child. Mckibben quotes various words of scholars who are saying that genetic enhancement is considered not only morally acceptable but also the necessary outcome of the progress of science.

Mckibben thinks that the introduction of enhanced abilities into children's genes will deprive them of the possibility of attaining their own happiness. People's happiness and deep fulfilment can only be achieved by going through suffering and limitations they experience in the voyage of life. Genetic enhancement gradually deprives us of happiness and human dignity. I think this is what Mckibben tried to stress in his book.

I believe what he wants to say is completely right, because I said the same thing in my book Painless Civilization in a different way. Both Mckibben's book and mine were published in 2003, the same year. I am very pleased to know we share the same perspective on contemporary society and civilization.

After reading his book, I start to think that I will have to write a paper on genetic enhancement from the perspective of painless civilization in English. What do you think of this idea?

(Topic to be continued...)

Photo: Trash cans.

 -- M.Morioka

September 19, 2005

Donald Richie, Image Factory


I read the book, Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads & Fashions in Japan. Reaktion Books (May 3, 2004), Photos by Roy Garner, in Japanese translation published last month. This is an interesting book not only for foreigners but Japanese readers who are interested in contemporary Japanese fads and fashions such as manga, pokemon, keitai, Hello Kitty, and others. I wrote a book review of this book for a certain newspaper, which will appear there in two or three weeks.

Of course this is a good book, but I was a little frustrated after reading it, because this book did not step outside the traditional paradigm of "Japanology," and was filled with cliches frequently found in the books on Japan that have been published to date.

For example, the author talks about "pachinko" and concludes that a pachinko parlor is a shrine and it reminds us of Zen. One of the aims of Zen is to liberate one's self by annihilating it, and so is the same for pachinko. (See p.126, Japanese translation). This analysis is interesting. However, I detect a whiff of the desire of Japanologists to find "Zen" lurking behind things or phenomena unique to contemporary Japan. Many people have imagined that behind the mysterious Japanese culture lies the deep influence of "Zen." I don't know whether their hypotheses are true or not. Instead, what I strongly feel is their "desire" to re-discover "Zen" in every aspect of contemporary Japanese culture and society. Of course, Richie's analysis of pachinko might be a very sophisticated irony because he pointed out in the foreword of Japanese edition that this was a book of irony.

I was working for International Research Center for Japanese Studies for 8 years as a research associate. I heard a number of presentations on Japanese culture given by scholars visiting Japan. They were very interesting and stimulating, but at the same time, they seemed to share a similar perspective, and this perspective was also shared by Japanese scholars speializing Japanese culture. I don't know how I can say this, but anyway, I found the same one in Richie's book. I don't mean to offend Richie's work. This is the topic I have to tackle.

I would like to hear your comments on this topic.

Photo: Books in my office.

 -- M.Morioka