Name: Ken Mogi
Occupation: Brain scientist, TV presenter, professor and author
Likes: Communication, short parties, selflessness
Dislikes: Discommunication,” long parties, narcissism
1. What’s your ultimate goal in studying the brain? To understand the origin of consciousness. Qualia, the sensory qualities like the redness of red, is the key to doing this. I’d also like to understand the foundations for the continuity of self-consciousness.
2. Can you tell us what you are currently researching? Recently I’ve been interested in the interface between artificial intelligence and the human brain, especially in the context of ethics.
3. Growing up, what instigated your interest in science? As a kid, I used to study butterflies and was called “Dr. Butterfly” by my friends. The diversity and depth of nature fascinated me.
4. Who was your biggest influence then? Albert Einstein. The episode of a magnet intriguing the young Einstein, leading to a life-long interest in the mysteries of the universe, was very inspirational.
5. Were you always interested in becoming an author? Only later in life. As a child, I was a bookworm, on the consuming side. I never suspected that I would be able to master the art of writing myself.
6. You have written about ikigai — what is that and why write about it? Ikigai is your life’s purpose, the reason you get up in the morning. It can be something very small, like taking your dog for a walk, or your ultimate goal in life. I was inspired to start the writing project when I heard on two occasions people referring to it as something new on the horizon.
7. Are you surprised by how well your books on ikigai have been received globally? It was one of the most unexpected developments in my whole life. Serendipity in the true sense of the word.
8. Do you have any examples of your own ikigai? My small ikigai is going for a run in the morning. Although I’m on the fat side, I manage to run a full marathon annually. My big ikigai is to have some kind of epiphany, when you realize, all of a sudden, a new meaning in life.
9. These books were written in English. Was that a challenge? As a Japanese person who started learning English at the age of 12, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. I tried to write as naturally as possible before sending it to the editor in London. When the manuscript came back with very few corrections, I was very relieved.
10. You also write fiction. Can you tell us about that? I always try to depict a sense of wonder as it’s manifested in human life. I’ve written a science fiction book, a Bildungsroman set at an arts university and two short novels titled “Pentimento” and “French Exit.”
11. What one book would you recommend above all others? This one’s tough, like the desert island books question. If you’re referring to one of my own, I’d say my next book. Otherwise, I would endorse “Dubliners” by James Joyce. It’s quite an exquisite maze of short stories.
12. You’ve interviewed some fascinating guests for the TV show “The Professionals.” Do you have a favorite? I would say Akinori Kimura, who successfully cultivated apples without using any fertilizers or pesticides.
13. What makes a good interview? You need to resonate with the interviewee, like a hollow wooden box tied to strings.
14. If you could interview anyone, living or dead, who would you choose? Socrates. In this era of character assassination and fake news, the Greek philosopher presents an interesting case, in that he himself was sentenced to death based on rumors and misinformation. The fact that he didn’t author any books himself, only leaving Plato to provide a hearsay description, is fascinating to me.
15. What would you ask him? I would ask about the relationship between personal joys and social recognition. In this time of Instagram influencers and social rating, I suspect Socrates would have something deeply original and inspirational to say, as an antidote to the Zeitgeist of our times.
16. A night in watching comedies or a night at the pub drinking Guinness? That’s a tough choice. I’d probably prefer a night at the pub, as I might encounter someone interesting.
17. You can only watch three comedy shows for the rest of your life, what do you choose? For sheer sustainable entertainment values: “Father Ted,” “Fawlty Towers,” and perhaps the “I’m Alan Partridge” series. These shows have the common feature of a warm reception of human weakness, rather like the Japanese traditional comedy genre, rakugo.
18. What’s your pet hate? Since my childhood, I’ve hated the white noise of vacuum cleaners. When my mother started to use one, I immediately left the room.
19. Do you have any regrets? My only regrets belong to the future, in the pre-emptive sense. I don’t want to have any regrets in the past.
20. What piece of advice would you give to your childhood self? Life is full of unexpected things so don’t judge the value of anything in haste.