Jun 262013

Research projects can be fascinating. They provide funding for scientists all over the world to join forces (and make a living) by discovering something new. I spent a major part of my scientific career contributing to the one or other research project, and therefore carry a generally positive attitude towards such efforts.

Recently, the “Human Brain Project” was launched, with an estimated budget of 1190 million €. The promotion video proudly announces:

The brain project will create a realistic simulation of the brain.
This new tool will be used to understand how the mind works.

I first couldn’t quite trust my ears. The equation mind=brain was overcome already more than a century ago. Reducing “mind” to operations taking place inside the brain alone and aiming to simulate “mind” by a computer model of the brain is for sure a – very expensive – misunderstanding.

“Mind” is something I develop as a human being while interacting with other human beings and the world around me.  Developing “mind” requires a body and a social environment. That is one reason for practising Zazen or Zen-Arts …

Of course I might be wrong, in case they manage to simulate “Empty Mind” 無心 (MUSHIN), “Beginners Mind” 初心 (SHOSHIN) or “Zen Mind” 禅心 (ZENSHIN) towards the end of the Human Brain Project, I promise to become a devoted student of SuperComputer Roshi.

Another research project currently in the news is based on hunting whales, supported by the Japanese government. What is not immediately used for scientific purpose (I guess 99% or so) ends up on the tables of くじら restaurants all over Japan. The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is dealing these days with a proposal to end Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling”.

Though I never tasted whale myself, I have particularly bad memories of the topic thanks to one of my past Japanese language teachers who was a whale meat enthusiast. When we discussed an article in our textbook promoting whale hunting as a Japanese cultural asset which should be respected by other nations, I dared to remark that scientific research and not tradition is the official pretence for whaling. Well, Sensei made me read a long and complicated recipe for “whale burgers” full of unknown Kanji the next lesson, as a reward for my contribution …

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