J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The Fabric of the Universe: Made of the Logos or Made of the Light?

The Fabric of the Universe: Made of the Logos or Made of the Light? by timtak
The Fabric of the Universe: Made of the Logos or Made of the Light?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The Japanese feel they can copy shrines, horses, food, and foreign countries in form of the popular foreign villages (gaikoku mura. See Graburn, Ertl, & Tierney, 2010; Hendry, 2000, 2005). Perhaps all this 'copying' started with a special mirror. With regard to shrines at least the Japanese claim it is not copying, but like "dividing a fire" (Norinaga see Herbert, 2010, p99) .

At least, when the Japanese see these "copies" they feel they are experiencing the same thing an authenticopy, or Simulacra (Baudrillard, 1995). I argue that they are the same thing to the Japanese because the world is the light. To borrow Heisig's words, the Japanese (or at least Nishida) believe the world meets the self at the plane of that "tainless mirror"(Heisig, 2004).

One can tell that the "copying" is visual because, for instance, the Japanese often like to change the size (Lee, 1984) or taste (Graburn, Ertl, & Tierney, 2010, p. 231) of the "copies". This matters not one bit in the plane of the mirror, where there is no size; get up close to a Bonsai and it could be a massive tree.

Westerners feel that the meanings behind their words are replicated in the minds of others (Nietzshe, 1888; Derrida, 2011) because the world, for Mary (Jackson, 1986), Dennet (2007) and I at least, is made of Logos: our dream of language made real. Occasionally some of us get out of our room and see the light, which makes us shiver.

So who are the copyists now, the word copiers or the light copiers?

Imai & Gentner (1997; see Imai & Masuda, in press or Genter & Boroditsky, 2001) showed Japanese and American children and adults, an image like the above. My version shows a half-moon shape made of plasticine and red playdough, and some lumps of plasticine. In the original experiment the subjects were told that the thing at the top was a "dax" and to bring the experimenter another dax. The Japanese were more likely than Americans to bring the pieces of plasticine. This is not surprising in view of the fact that Japanese nouns do not have plurals and need counters to refer to number, as English does for materials. The Japanese seem to be seeing the world as materials.

But then later Imai and her associates performed the same experimenters tried getting Americans (Imai & Gentner, 1997) and then Japanese (Imai & Mazuka, 2007) to "bring the same as this," again pointing to the green shape at the top, without giving that thatness a name.

Without a name, both the Americans and the Japanese were more likely to behave like the Japanese choosing more green plasticine rather than the red shape or entity, because they have got the words out of their heads to an extent. Imai interprets the data in a different way specifically rejecting the "perceptual" hypothesis. But I claim that deprived of words for a novel experience, both Americans and Japanese had started to see the light - or the colours that we anticipate Mary will enjoy so much - a little more clearly - hence the choice of plasticine rather than the half moon shape.

The floating world, the one that the Japanese believe in at the same time know (or are told) does not really exist is often referred to as "colour" (shiki) in Japanese Buddhism.

Being presented with these novel shapes is perhaps like a little journey, a minor tourism experience where the Japanese tourist wants to be given the name first, whereas the Western tourists wants to go and see the sights and give it a name afterwards.

Bibliography (thanks Zotero)
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.
Dennett, D. (2007). What RoboMary Knows. Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism, 15–31.
Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.
Genter, D., & Boroditsky, L. (2001). Individuation, relativity and early word learning. In M. Bowerman & S. C. Levinson (Eds.), Language Acquisition and Conceptual Development (pp. 215–256). Cambridge University Press.
Lee 李御寧. (1984). 「縮み」志向の日本人. 講談社.
Graburn, N., Ertl, J., & Tierney, R. K. (2010). Multiculturalism in the New Japan: Crossing the Boundaries Within. Berghahn Books.
Heisig, J. W. (2004). Nishida’s medieval bent. Japanese journal of religious studies, 55–72. Retrieved from nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/staff/jheisig/pdf/Nishida%20Medieval%...
Hendry, J. (2000). Foreign Country Theme Parks: A New Theme or an Old Japanese Pattern? Social Science Japan Journal, 3(2), 207–220. doi:10.1093/ssjj/3.2.207
Hendry, J. (2005). Japan’s Global Village: A View from the World of Leisure. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, 231–243.
Herbert, J. (2010). Shinto: At the Fountainhead of Japan. Taylor & Francis.
Imai, M., & Masuda, T. (n.d.). The Role of Language and Culture in Universality and Diversity of Human Concepts. Retrieved from www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/ImaMasudaAdvancesCulturePsycholo...
Imai, M., & Mazuka, R. (2007). Language-Relative Construal of Individuation Constrained by Universal Ontology: Revisiting Language Universals and Linguistic Relativity. Cognitive science, 31(3), 385–413.
Imai, Mutsumi, & Gentner, D. (1997). A cross-linguistic study of early word meaning: universal ontology and linguistic influence. Cognition, 62(2), 169–200. doi:10.1016/S0010-0277(96)00784-6
Imai, Mutsumi, Gentner, D., & Uchida, N. (1994). Children’s theories of word meaning: The role of shape similarity in early acquisition. Cognitive Development, 9(1), 45–75. doi:10.1016/0885-2014(94)90019-1
Jackson, F. (1986). What Mary didn’t know. The Journal of Philosophy, 83(5), 291–295.
Nietzsche, F. (1888)“Reason in Philosophy.” Twilight of the Idols. transl. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Retreived from http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html#sect3

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.