Science and Sensibility

Hitoshi Nishitani
Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Kindai University Area of Specialization: Public International law

1. The top 10 global risks

In January of this year, the U.S. research firm Eurasia Group released its 2023 edition of the top 10 global risks of the year. Social disruption due to advances in AI (artificial intelligence) is listed as the third most significant risk. The Eurasia Group points to the dangers of AI leading to a flood of disinformation and conspiracy theories, as well as a weakening of democracy and political turmoil due to social fragmentation. Ninth on the list is the growing influence of the so-called Generation Z. Generation Z refers to the generation born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s. Those who belong to this generation are said to have a tendency, particularly in the West, to connect through social media and other means to seek fundamental change in existing corporate and social institutions. For companies and governments that do not want change, the new values Generation Z bring and their solidarity can be seen as a kind of risk. Other risks include Russia, China and Iran, as well as inflation shocks, energy crises, division within the United States, and declining water resources.

Looking at the 10 major risks announced, we can see that science and technology, including AI and IT (information technology), have had a significant impact on each of these risks. For example, both Russia and Ukraine have been attacked by AI-equipped drones, and both sides are using IT to justify their countries to the international community. It is also said that in China, people's personal information is being collected using facial recognition technology. AI has been identified to have a major impact on the division between conservatives and liberals in the United States, and the issue of Iran's nuclear development can be said to be a conflict over the "ultimate" science and technology.

In these ways, science and technology can be seen as being closely related to risk, but science and technology itself is not to blame. Depending on who uses it and how, science and technology can be both a risk and a tool for human well-being. As Ulrich Beck once pointed out, risk is a social construct. The problem then seems to be the relationship between science, technology and human beings, or in other words, how we interact with the diverse range of science and technology.

2. Kosupa, taipa and ronpa

Just as companies are actively introducing remote work, online classes have become the norm in university education during the COVID-19 pandemic (and the benefits of IT, science and technology can also be seen here). Even if we are able to return to a life without masks in the future, online classes will not disappear. In that sense, it can be said that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the future of university education in Japan.

Incidentally, it seems that students these days value taipa (an abbreviation for "time performance" selected for the 2022 New Words and Buzzwords Awards) in addition to kosupa (cost performance). Both are the same in the sense that the consumption of money and time are viewed through the lens of efficiency. Considering the finite nature of time and money, it may be a natural reaction for people to seek efficiency and rationality when they are faced with a flood of information and goods. Not long ago, "fast movies," in which movies are summarized in 10 minutes, became an issue. This seems to indicate a desire for people to consume a wide range of content on a superficial level in order to communicate with peers based on the fact that they have seen the movie, rather than focus on the content of the movie itself. Movies, which used to be something that people would sit and take their time to enjoy and appreciate, seem to have taken on a new purpose as a means of communication.

I offer several classes in an "on-demand" format in which students can watch videos pre-recorded by faculty members at their own convenience. Each video is about 90 minutes long, but I imagine many students are watching them at 1.5x or 2x speed. ChatGPT, which has been a popular topic of discussion lately, will be a powerful ally for students who want to write reports quickly. Kosupa (cost saving) and taipa (time saving) have turned into a behavioral pattern of people today, not only for Generation Z but also for society in general. In a sense, saving money and time goes hand in hand with the development of science and technology.

Recently, the term ronpa (winning an argument) has been heard more frequently. This may also be due to the recent trend of seeking clarity and simplicity. I do incorporate debates in my seminars, but I have students practice them based on a set of rules as a sort of intellectual game in which respect must be shown to the opposing side. It is against the rules to attack the opposing side as if they were the enemy, or to make statements that denigrate their character. After all, simply defeating the other person in an argument, so called ronpa, is not the objective of a debate.

While science and technology have developed and smartphones have become commonplace, and new tools such as ChatGPT are being created one after another, more than 20,000 people take their own lives every year in Japan. Feelings of anxiety, frustration and loneliness are only increasing. The 2021 appointment of a government minister in charge of loneliness and isolation was symbolic. With society as closed off as it is now, it seems like the spirit of dialogue, deliberation, cooperation, empathy, and tolerance is being lost.

3. Valuing sensibility

When I was a high school student, I borrowed a publication called Magazine for Law Students from a university student who lived nearby and read a passage that said, "At the core of jurisprudence runs the warm blood of human beings." It made a strange impression on me, and it is one of the reasons I decided to study law in college. I have always liked nature, so I took the entrance exam for Chuo University, which had an impressive campus rich in nature. (Back then, a friend of mine, having come from the countryside because he dreamed of city life in Tokyo, once complained that the campus was more rural than his hometown. But I suppose the joke (?) will not work anymore once the Faculty of Law moves to the Myogadani Campus.)

When I was a child, I lived in Bonn, West Germany for about three years because of my father's work. There were forests and fields in front of my house, and I often saw deer, rabbits, hedgehogs and other animals. There were not many Asians there at the time, so things happened that made me aware of my Japanese identity in childish ways, but I also met lifelong friends. My life in Germany, where I was surrounded by lush nature, had a significant influence on my sensibility.

Because of this, when students ask me about the possibility of studying abroad, I am generally supportive. It is an irreplaceable experience to be exposed to different cultures abroad, interact with visitors from all over the world, and view Japan and Japanese people from an outside perspective while you are still young. I encourage seminar students to talk to and interact with some of the many foreigners living in Japan, even if they are not interested in studying abroad or cannot go abroad because they do not have the money. This should also prove to be a great international experience.

My area of expertise, public international law, can be summarized as "the rules of the international society applicable between States." This may give the impression that the field is irrelevant to our lives, but this is not the case. Originally, the meaning of the word "public" is about community and the people. There are about 200 sovereign States in the international society, with eight billion people behind them.In other words, international law ultimately applies to eight billion people, and at the same time, the existence of international law is propped up by countless people. As a university faculty member, I believe that my mission is to send into society citizens who can think for themselves.

What is important for people is their sensibility. Your sensibility gives you a chance to think for yourself. This is something that cannot be acquired through taipa or ronpa, nor can it be measured in terms of kosupa. In a world that has been standardized and homogenized by massive systems, there are not many opportunities to fully demonstrate one's sensibility, but our sensibility seems to be our last chance of preserving humanity without being buried underneath these systems. Regaining lost sensibility is difficult. I think the only way to do so is to recognize that you are a single living organism that accumulates experiences and sensations through your physical body. The genius mathematician Kiyoshi Oka placed emotion at the foundation of his mathematical system because he must have understood what should be at the root of logic.

4. To a new paradigm

Recently, in the United States, there apparently has been an increase in the number of young people who use old-fashioned flip phones instead of smartphones. (Although under somewhat different circumstances, "Heisei Retro" has also been drawing attention recently in Japan). They use it only as a tool to take care of the bare minimum of communication needs while they find value in reading books, admiring scenery, or chatting with friends. Younger generations have always been viewed with cold eyes, but I feel that there is new value here that Generation Z can bring to the table.

Reflections on the mechanistic worldview that has guided modernization since Descartes are being attempted from all kinds of perspectives. Along with transnational connections between citizens with profound sensibility, these new values, which move freely between the digital and analog worlds, may provide a small opportunity for the formation of a new paradigm of the relationship between humans and the natural environment, and between humans, science and technology.

Hitoshi Nishitani/Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Kindai University
Area of Specialization: Public International law

Hitoshi Nishitani was born in Kamakura, Kanagawa.
In 1995, he graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University.
In 1997, he completed the Master's Program at the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied at the School of Law, Tulane University, Louisiana, USA from 1999 to 2000 (receiving an LL.M. in International & Comparative Law).
In 2005, he withdrew from the doctoral program upon completion of course requirements at the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University. The same year, he became a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Kindai University.
In 2009, he became an associate professor (his current position) at the Faculty of Law, Kindai University.
From 2017 to 2018, he was a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Germany).

Area of specialization: International law

Publications and papers:"Shitte Okitai Mizu Mondai" (Water Issues You Need to Know About) (as co-author) edited by Taikan Oki and Ik Joon Kang, Kyushu University Press (2017),"Gakusei no Tame no Presentation Training" (Presentation Training for Students) (as co-author), Jikkyo Shuppan (2015), and "'Kagaku e no Kenri' no Gaiyo to Sono Togo/Setsugo Kinou" (The Right to Science and its Integrating and Joining Functions ,"Hogaku Shimpo" , Vol. 128, No. 10 (2022)