Saturday, August 24, 2002

Young Ladies' Conversation

One day in early autumn about 20 years ago, I was on a bus. Then a conversation between two young ladies was heard. One of them said, "I went camping this summer with our group." The other said, "So, you were seen naked by lads, weren't you?" The first lady replied, "Maybe. In the morning a lad pointed his front side and said to me, 'Look at this. This is the proof of my vigor.'" And both of them chuckled.

Having no experience of camping, I do not know why lads can see ladies naked in camping. Anyway, I thought that this was not the kind of talk to be made in the public vehicle. The ladies' voices were however so fresh and innocent that I liked their conversation after all. When autumn comes, I often remind myself of that private talk between the nymphets.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

A Mathematician's Desire

In the 15-Aug evening issue of Asahi-shimbun, the mathematician and essayist Masahiko Fujiwara writes a comical essay entitled "Odoriko Motomu (A dancer wanted)". When his mathematical work comes to a difficulty, he goes on a trip as he pleases. During those trips he wishes to meet such a lady as the heroine dancer in the Nobel-Prize winning writer Kawabata Yasunari's novel, "Izu-no-odoriko (The dancer of Izu)". The hero of the novel, a high school student, found the dancer crying without being able to say him "Good-bye".

Prof. Fujiwara writes that the lady whom he wishes to encounter is not necessarily be a dancer but that it is important for her to cry without being able to say "Good-bye." His desire was intensified because his wife got love letters from an English gentleman. However, the desire has never come true, and thus he has lost hope for its realization a little.

Everyman possibly has a similar desire of having a romantic adventure on a trip, but no one can write about it with an excellent sense of humor like Prof. Fujiwara. I am only afraid that as a result of that essay he might get so many letters from ladies who want to be a dancer for him.

I have memories of some young ladies with whom I talked on the train during my trips in younger days. A physics student going to get an exam for the grauate course, an office lady of Hiroshima, a mysterious lady who majored in English literature, . . . I do not think that they remember me. Each one of them and I enjoyed our conversation to some extent, but said simply "Good-bye" to each other when we took off the train.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

The Spinning Egg Rises

Scientists theoretically explained the paradoxical behavior of a hard-boiled egg: if it is spun with its axis of symmetry horizontal, this axis will rise from the horizontal to the vertical, raising the center of gravity. -- This is not a joke. See the reference [1]. -- They traced the essential mechanism to the action of the frictional force between the spinning object and the table. Their paper was referred to in a column of a Japanese newspaper [2]. A non-scientist friend of mine read the column, and told me that she wished to experiment. I noticed the original paper before, but did not think to experiment by myself. She had more of a scientist's mind than me.

Being stimulated by her words, I tried to rotate a boiled egg on the floor. It seemed difficult to make the egg rotate fast enough around its axis of symmetry put horizontally to cause rising. Starting from rotation around the axis a little off the vertical, however, I could see the axis rising and becoming just vertical. This is wonderful enough. I heard that the friend had also succeeded in observing the odd motion of the egg. She added that she had been quite thrilled when the axis became vertical.

The scientists also write why a raw egg does not show the same behavior. It is because the angular velocity imparted to the shell diffuses into the fluid interior; this process dissipates most of the initial kinetic energy imparted to the egg, making the remaining energy insufficient for the condition of gyroscopic balance to be established. This is a type of research Torahiko Terada (Japanese physicist, astronomer and essayist. Professor of Tokyo University. 1878 - 1935; see a portrait) would have liked.
  1. H. K. Moffatt and Y. Shimomura, "Spinning eggs -- a paradox resolved," Nature Vol. 416, pp. 385-386 (2002).
  2. Y. Uchiyama, "Self-rising boiled eggs," Asahi-Shimbun, 22 Apr., p. 23, (2002).

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Narcissus and Immunology

The cover of the Science magazine issued on 12 April 2002 shows Narcissus gazing at his reflection, as depicted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573 - 1610). This picture is used for the special section "Reflections on self: Immunity and beyond." The following explanation is given on the contents page of the issue:

As the story from Greek mythology reminds us, and as discussed in this issue, effective recognition of self is important to general survival and to successful immune surveillance, reproduction, community structure, and philosophical integration of the individual.

Reading the above explanation, I thought that "effective recognition of self" meant narcissism, because Narcissus highly valued his own reflection. Then the special section seems to say that narcissism is good for a biological reason. Is this right? The introductory article of the section, "Self-discrimination, a life and death issue" written by Stephen J. Simpson and Pamela J. Hines, however made me notice that my thought was wrong.

Narcissus could not notice that his reflection was his own image, and fall in love with it. However, he was unable to be loved by it, was exhausted and died. So what he did was not the effective recognition of self, but non-recognition of self as such. To work well the immune system has to know which are the cells of own body and which are not. This is what is meant by "effective recognition of self." -- Caravaggio's painting was not cited to praise narcissism. --

Friday, March 08, 2002

Two Kinds of Joy: About Hawking's Birthday Talk

The British physicist and astronomer Stephen William Hawking is considered to be the greatest theorist of the latter twenties century. He is especially known for his theories on black holes and the origin and evolution of the universe [1]. To celebrate his 60th birthday, a workshop and symposium were held in Cambridge from 7 to 11 January 2002 [2].

Hawking delivered the final talk of the meeting. The title of his talk was "60 Years in a Nutshell," a humorous modification of the title of his recent book [3]. The talk consists of four parts:
  1. Student Days
  2. Expanding Universe
  3. Singularities
  4. Black Holes
  5. Ultimate Theory?
At the end of the talk, the great cosmologist says, " There's nothing like the Eureka moment of discovering something that no one knew before. I won't compare it to sex, but it lasts longer." While saying that he would not do so, Hawking compares the two kinds of joy. Surely, the joy of discovering scientific truth would last long. However, there would be a different theory about the time length of the other kind of joy, wouldn't there?
  1. "The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference," P. Barnes-Svarney ed. (MacMillan, New York, 1995).
  2. G. W. Gibbons and E. P. S. Shellard, Science, Vol. 295, 1476 (2002).
  3. S. Hawking, "The Universe in a Nutshell" (Bantam, New York, 2001).