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2022年8月29日 (月)

"Before Cosmos" Yukawa Hideki (January 1961)

 One of the greatest joys in life comes when a long-held hope is realized, when years of hard work bear fruit. For a researcher such as myself, the greatest satisfaction in life is when an idea or concept that has long been in the back of my mind comes together in the form of a concrete theoretical system, and when the conclusions that emerge from that system are confirmed by experimentation. Such moments, however, occur only rarely during our long research career. Almost all of our lives are spent repeating the same thing, going back and forth on the same plane. Too often, we look back and find that we are only a little farther along the same plane, even though we think we have made considerable progress through our daily efforts. It is so rare to jump from one level to the next that it is as if a heavenly robe of feathers were to come and stroke us.

 Is it possible, then, that most of our lives are spent consuming energy that has nothing to do with our personal progress or advancement, or, more broadly, with the progress or advancement of humankind? It seems to me that this is not the case. In fact, the repetition of efforts that seem to have ended in vain may have a much deeper meaning than the decisive moment that comes only once in a while. When I was much younger, I was inclined to believe that "a hundred days of toil is for a single day of success. In recent years, my thinking has leaned in the opposite direction as I have grown older. Along with this change, my evaluation of many scientists who have walked the path of the search for truth has also changed considerably from the past to the present.

 When a scientist makes a breakthrough discovery or proposes a certain theory that is based on a fundamentally new idea, we of course think highly of him or her. In a word, it is certainly a fair attitude to evaluate a scientist based on his/her achievements. No matter how hard a scientist has worked, if he or she has not produced original work, we will often have no justification for recognizing his or her value. That must be so. But at the same time, it is an evaluation from the outside, from a somewhat detached perspective.

 By the way, we do not know what the majority of scholars other than ourselves are struggling with, or what they are struggling with. We are only informed of and interested in the struggles of a few scholars close to us, or in the case of a scholar far away who has achieved some great success. One person's capacity is extremely limited. If we were to concern ourselves with the struggles of so many others, we would lose ourselves. That is true.

 Nonetheless, I have recently come to feel more and more strongly that we should not just look at someone from the outside, from a distance, and evaluate them. I have come to believe that we must give more importance to the aspect of what a certain person is striving for, what he or she is struggling with. The good fortune of having a heavenly robe of feathers come and stroke you seldom comes. There are probably many more people who end their lives without ever having such good fortune. However, this does not necessarily mean that their lives were meaningless. They may have been struggling with something that others do not know about. That "something" may have been important. The "how" may have been important. A painter may have developed an image in his mind before it became a painting. The sculptor may have held the material in front of him and contemplated an ideal form that has yet to be realized. How long the scientist must suffer before his work is complete, before it becomes an article! How many times does it happen that a picture is not made at last, a sculpture is not completed at last, or a paper is not published? Those who look at it from the outside cannot understand. It is, so to speak, a world before figuration. It is a world before a thing with a definite form is born out of chaos, or is about to be born out of chaos. It is not a meaningless world for the person himself/herself and for those who are deeply interested in knowing his/her world.

 As a result of the development of scientific civilization, the methods of information transmission have changed rapidly. Information given to us through newspapers, radio, and television has become increasingly important and has an overwhelming influence on us. On the one hand, it has the effect of making us feel closer to events that took place far away and people who are not directly related to us. On the other hand, however, it also transcends the particularity of the individual receiving the information and provides pre-selected information to everyone in the same way. It is a selection from among what has already been embodied. The pre-figurative world is not at issue from the beginning.

 It is not just about information transfer. Machines have come to take over even some of the functions of the human brain. However, such machines also accept questions only when they transform already embodied knowledge into an appropriate symbolic form. And the answers that the machine gives us are also only about embodied knowledge. Humans have a built-in pre-figurative world. And we try to extract something concrete from it. Science and art are manifestations of such efforts. It is an effort to put a nose to the chaos, so to speak. At least one of the meanings of life can be found here.

(in "Zuihitsu Zenshu, Vol. 9" / Jun Ishihara, Shinichiro Asanaga, Hideki Yukawa, Showa 44 (1969), Shogaku Books, pp.333-6)

※The above article is an English translation of "「具象以前」湯川秀樹(1961年1月): 本に溺れたい ", by DeepL.


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