Author: ashibata (page 1 of 2)

Origins of Us

I was quite fascinated to see and hear many researches related to the theme of “origin” from various approaches today. Especially I was struck by a panel about “Origins of the Somali Immigrant Community in Lewiston Maine”. It made me think more about the origin of us, human beings. The presenter explained me what has been happening in Somalia and I was quite shocked to know the fact that they are still in a confused situation. For instance, the country’s long-running conflicts or lacking of food or water which is resulted by droughts have been affecting numerous people in Somalia and they have no choice but to leave their country and move to a new place in order to survive. This brought a new wave of roughly 6,000 African-born immigrants mainly from Somalia, have arrived and settled in Maine.


This refugee issue reminds me the movie “Human Flow” directed by Ai Weiwei which I watched last month. In this film, Ai Weiwei picked the subject of the 21st century migrants issue in the world. Ai Weiwei traveled around the world (more than 20 countries) throughout a year with his camera crews and they filmed people who were forced from their homes to escape from climate change, famine or conflict.

I got a strong message at the beginning of the movie to think about order and chaos. The film starts with the scene of a migratory bird flying over the ocean and then the scene moves and captures a refugee boat flowing on the ocean. “Migrate” happens in natural laws as an animal move from one region or habitat to another, however, making orders such as laws or borders between countries have prevented people from migrating in human society and brought a chaotic world with people flowing who lost a place to go.


Related to those issues, I found another panel that was describing about a global organization which is called United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR is dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. I have raised in a country where I do not see many immigrants around me, and I was used to refuse to face the reality happening in the world. But I know feel strongly that this is not the issue of someone else but this is the issue we all have to face and involve because this is not the problem of immigrants but this is the crisis of human who is not willing to help others even though we can.


We all have origins and that is one of the elements shape our own ethnicities, nationalities, races, cultures, and identities. Thinking about our origins makes us aware that we are belonging to a community or connecting with people and that build a positive feeling in your core. There is no superior or inferior exist here. Each origins are genuine and precious. Ai Weiwei describes the links between the refugees and anyone else; “It is in our blood, beyond our knowledge, beyond our wisdom. We have the same body temperature. We use eyes to look basically at the same images. When we are hungry and cold, we feel the same” . We are all human beings and we have same origin if we track back to the far past. In our current society, we tend to focus on the differences between each other, refuse others and start fighting, however, if we could think at what we have in common, and if we could respect or accept each other with warmth, I believe that something positive impact would be brought in this world.

Recalling my Trip to Indonesia

It was last year that me and my friends decided to go to Indonesia as a destination for our graduation trip. We mainly visited Bali island and Central Java that have a lot of fascinating culture, extensive history and cultural properties.


Although the majority of people belong to muslim in Indonesia, they do not establish Islam as the national religion. Namely Indonesian have religious liberty. As prof. van der Meer Indicated us the religions in Indonesia with a map, the religions are varied depends on the regions in Indonesia. Despite Indonesia having a Muslim majority, Bali remains one of the islands in Indonesia that boast a Hindu majority. Likewise protestantism, catholicism, and buddhism are spread throughout in Indonesia. Though I did not know such a religious diversity in Indonesia at that time, I somehow figured out that Bali and Java have different religions because each places looked very different. For instance, as soon as I arrived at the airport in Bali, I found woven baskets filled with colorful flowers or rice on the floor. I thought it was just traditional decoration at that moment but I found many of them as well while I was walking in the city. It turned out that they are small offering baskets called “canang sari” which Balinese offer to their HIndu Gods. Also I felt Bali is one of the most liberal places in Indonesia, where people can drink alcohol and eat pork, unlike in other places in Indonesia.


In the suburbs of the city Yogyakarta in the island of Java, I saw many religions lived together as Prof. van der Meer mentioned in the lecture; cathedral, church, Chinese temple, Buddhist temple and Hindu temple. I actually visited Prambanan temple and Borobudur temple during my trip in Indonesia. Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple and Borobudur is the largest buddhist temple which is also compounded around 9th century. Borobudur is registered as one of the World Heritage and I was really amazed to see the decoration with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. Moreover it made me surprise to see those two different religious temples were co-existing within 40km since a long time ago. This is impressive and it also tells us the importance to respect each religions and live together harmoniously as Indonesia has proved.


Related to Indonesian culture and history, I remembered the lecture I took back in my college. The professor in the lecture presented us the history textbook which Indonesian high school students use. The professor explained us that the history textbook stresses on the strength of Indonesian people’s patriotic spirit which never succumb to threats of colonization.The textbook aims to foster national identity through the history education and I think this emphasis influenced by the nationalist movement under long colonization. It was interesting to see the difference in educational textbooks because I have never seen those descriptions in Japanese history textbook, where only facts happened in past are chronologically described. Despite historically Indonesia had been struggling of interference by several countries, I believe there were still something other countries could not change them, which was their own core values and cultural identities.

Get to Know Charles Darwin Better

Charles Darwin, he may be one of the most famous people in the world. He is also well recognized with his book The origin of species (1859), introducing the theory of evolution. I was familiar with the theory Darwin proposed because I learned in school, however I had only few knowledge about Charles Darwin himself. The lecture of “The Origin of the Origin” by prof. Janet Browne provided me various ideas and sights about Darwin and how he reached the theory of evolution.


Especially I was amazed by Darwin’s fieldwork and detailed observation on creatures. Through sketching of hundreds of types of insects and mammals and both males and females, he integrated features such as their figures, colors, ecology, life cycle and sex ratio. For example, Darwin formulated his ideas on natural selection when he visited to the Galapagos Island, where he found several species of finch adapted to different environmental niches. The finches also differed in beak shape, food source, and how food was captured. In that way he corrected huge amount of data to support his theory.


I also found that Darwin could not attain this big finding or publish his book without any supports or collaborations with people around him. John Henslow was the one of people Darwin admired and he was also the one who made an arrangement of the Beagle voyage for Darwin. Darwin also wrote numerous letters to the scholars asking more resources which he was not familiar with or confirm each details about his researches. Correspondents all over the globe were plied with questions and requests for facts and specimens. Alfred Russel Wallace was the one of the important figures to help him to publish Darwin’s book The origin of species. Even though Darwin kept researching on his revolutionary theory for many years, he was hesitating to publish it because he was afraid of conservatives at the time. Wallace, however, he bravely announced unorthodox views and published his paper in 1855. Darwin was encouraged to see the paper Wallace sent to him because the paper was proposing the similar theory as Darwin had. Those collaborations and interactions with other people definitely helped the Darwin’s theory moved forward.


He also built a model attitude as a scientist to see their own research objectively and telling scientific fact earnestly. For instance, the point that Darwin is impressive as a scientist is that he did not try to apply everything in nature with his evolution theory. The theory at the time was epoch-making discovery, and yet it had not been completed as the perfect theory due to lack of evidences. He admitted and wrote in his book that there are still matters which he was not able to explain fully with his theory therefore he was ready to take any counterargument against the theory of evolution. Although those descriptions which made his position weaken and brought many opponents at that time, gradually it had been accepted by people with following backup researches took over by other researchers. It proved that his attitude as a scientist encouraged many researchers to continue exploring his uncertain evidences and still his principles influence and inspire many academic fields and the thinking of every person .


Intuition and Expression

Last week Prof. Colangelo gave us a thoughtful speech about “Voice and Verse: At the origins of contemporary poetry. ” He introduced us several figures related to his topic, and especially I found it interesting the doctrine of Benedetto Croce(1866-1952), who is the famous Italian philosopher. Prof. Colangelo highlighted the phrase “Art is pure intuition or pure expression” from the Croce’s book “Breviario di estetica”(1913). According to prof. Colangelo, here “Intuition” is something you think deeply and “expression” is something you push out. Those joining is underlying an art which includes poetry. Then it made me think that those items are not something unfamiliar to us but it is something we human has as an privilege in nature. The doctrine of Croce tells us that homo nascitur poeta (human is born as a poet) rather than poëta nascitur (A poetry is born). Namely every humans are born as a poet and some men can be great poets, and little poets others. But he also claims that in both differences are not qualitative but quantitative. We all have intuition but we have different quantity of expressions which cause people to be great poets or little.


What would allow people to express our intuition? According to Paul Valery, “voice” would play very important role in order to revive poetry. It is necessary to create a connection of voice, develop it within time, make people listen to arouse their emotion. Although as prof. Colangelo said that it is hard to define the origin of poetry because it is always abstract in the history, “voice” can lead us to get close to the origins of poetry. Because “voice” was the only tool in ancient times to transmit ideas or arts including verses one person to another, from generation to generation before writing system was invented.


The video prof. Colangelo introduced in the lecture reflects how voice effects in poetry. The experimental piece A-Ronne(1975), composed by Edoardo Sanguineti starts from the sound of “a” uttered by a man. It sounded like he is trying to get someone’s attention. Following voice uttered by another person was “hamm”. It somehow for me sounded like responding the first utterance but it seems like it gave each person different interpretations. For instance, in italian culture, this sound evokes prof. Colangelo that an adult tries making a child eat. If you are just looking at the text, those “a” or “hamm” would not give us any strong impressions. However, once they are vocalized in musical tones or articulation, they obtain the meanings. It is common to all experiences such as daily speech or theatre, where changes in expression imply changes in meaning.


Let’s go back to the book “Breviario di estetica”(1913) by Benedetto Croce. The title has the Italian word “estetica” which means “aesthetics”. If we break down the word “estetica”, we can see that it contains the Italian word “etica” which means “ethics”. Ethics is necessary to determine our morals and to hold a society together. This overlap of two words indicates that the principle of artwork creation is fundamentally lying underneath of human principles. We can not have only “intuition” which is related to chaos but we also need “expression” which allows us to organize those chaos into order which enable people to share and connect our thoughts each other.  


Human Brains vs Insects Brains

The brain is one of the most complex organs in the human body. There have been many researches on this topic and today prof. Josh Martin brought us the exploration of the Origins of Brains.


He started the lecture with the interesting video to see the insects’ cognitive process. It gave us an idea that how a mantis recognizes a fly with his eyes and catches it with his hands. The mantis was moving smoothly using each bodies’ function effectively. Obviously it tells us that the brain of the insect has to be able to work in order to be successful of what it needs to do which is to catch the fly. As another example, I remembered the science lecture about the cognition in insects. One of the example was bumblebees. Recent experiment showed that once one bee figured out what it is necessary to do to access the reward, flower, other bees that were observing learned the string-tugging trick themselves. Furthermore it became part of the colony’s skillset, transmitted from bee to bee after the first string-pulling bee had died. In spite of the fact that bees have such a small brain, they are able to learn each other and take complex action beyond our expectation. Simultaneously when we look at the human activity, for example when we catch the ball flying towards us, it is a similar play or task the mantis does by positioning its body to be able to reach out the fly. Is there are any connections between we human beings’ brains and insects’?


The origin of brains goes back to 750 million years ago. Ediacaran Biota is considered the grand ancestor of all species. Since then many species had been branched out and took their own development by adjusting the environment they faced. So even we take an example of worms as a big category, their structure of neuron system varies depends on their genetic groups. In other words, some of their brains are close to related insects, and some are related to the group we human beings belong.  


It is said that human’s adult brain is 1400 kg, the surface area is 2500 ㎤ and the number of neuron counts as 100 billion. Contrary insects, for instance a grasshopper, the brain width is less than 2mm, capacity is 6 mm3, and the number of neuron is considered as 400,000. There exists the two extremes of both big brains and small brains. However, it does not mean that human big brains developed from small ones of insects. As the chart of a phylogeny of brain which prof. Martin introduced clearly shows that the grand ancestor differentiated 500-600 million years ago into protostome which insects belong and deuterostome which human does and both took totally different paths in order to develop their own brains.


Since the brains of insects are small, they have relatively independent nerve system. They have  various ganglia throughout its body to control most of the overt behaviors. Thus, even if you cut off the head of some insects, they can live for a while because the segmental ganglia still function independently. The human brain has an advantage of memory, information processing and information integration which enable us to learn complicate subjects, understand languages, do multi tasks, and to have long term memory.


It was interesting to look into the different developments in brains across different species starting from the same origin. Our origin story of brain evolution involves some of us moved forward, some of us died in that the way suits in each animals. Human and insects, in either case, we all have been making a spectacular progress and still we are.

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