The 2012 Kyoto Prize
11 /11 Sun
Place：Kyoto International Conference Center
The 2012 Kyoto Prize Kyoto Prize Laureates
What Things Look Like
Abstract of the lecture
People have strong visual memories. We remember people, events, and objects and “see” them again even long after they are gone. Photographs help evoke our own visual memories. A picture of a loved one reminds us of much more than shows in the picture. People share visual memories. Artists share visual memories in pictures. Poets share visual memories in carefully chosen words. Literature records visual memories in “word pictures.” Visual memories can be of imaginary things. Unlike photographs, paintings can show things that happened only in the mind of the artist. Authors write fiction that seems real. Poets express human emotions in carefully chosen words. We value the creativity of artists, composers, authors, and animators who show us things that never were, but that might have been. Pictures help science. The microscope opened a new world of microbes. The telescope revealed Jupiter’s moons to Galileo; no one suspected their existence. New images change forever the way we understand the world in which we live. Pictures that come from human minds also bring understanding. Like artists who paint things than never were, mathematicians, engineers and scientists make pictures of imaginary things. Such pictures guide our future. A picture of a mathematical curve reveals its properties. The shape of a protein reveals its function. The drawings for a bridge not only reveal what it will look like but also tell how to build it. Computer graphics is only a tool for creativity. Creations come from inside people. Let us value the human creativity that gives us images of things that never were, or images of things that might be, or images of ideas that help us understand our world. Their medium, be it computer graphics, sketches on paper, equations, or words, is unimportant. Their form is best if their meaning leaps out of the page into human understanding. Their value is that understanding.
The World of Autophagy as Seen through Yeast—The Intracellular Recycling System—
Abstract of the lecture
I was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1945, just half a year before the Second World War came to a close, and so I have lived through the post-WWII period of this country. My coming up to 45-year career as a researcher has never been a smooth run, and I have followed a truly narrow path. Nonetheless, I was fortunate to be blessed with many happy coincidences and encounters along the way. I have come to realize that science is a system of intellect built upon the persistent efforts of humanity. In that sense, I feel that my own existence is also a very social one. My college and graduate school years coincided with the period when molecular biology was being established as an academic discipline, and this led me to choose biology rather than chemistry which I had been aiming to study. The fact that I began my career as a young researcher studying protein biosynthesis would have profound impact on my cell studies in later years. My involvement with yeast—which would become the subject of my lifelong research activities—dates back to when I was studying in the laboratory of Nobel Prize-winning biologist Dr. Gerald Edelman at the Rockefeller University. I started out working on fertilization in mice but soon transitioned to working on yeast as a model. Upon my return to Japan, Professor Yasuhiro Anraku of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Science was kind enough to supervise me as I began my earnest study of yeast, which has played a decisive role in modern biology, and focused on vacuoles of yeast. Since I do not enjoy doing research work in a competitive field, I have a solid belief to deliberately choose something that others are not researching. Hence, I began analyzing vacuoles, which by that time had been widely recognized as the garbage bin of the cell, to reveal that they are active organelles that perform important functions. In 1988, I set up what I believe was the smallest lab at the University of Tokyo's College of Arts and Sciences with the idea of studying another function of vacuoles— degradation—and it was the microscopic observation which I immediately initiated that would determine everything I would do from that time on. The phenomenon of autophagy, or the process of cellular self-degradation, had been identified in animal cells some fifty years earlier but little progress had been made on the subject since that time. However, I was able to demonstrate that the degradation process in the vacuoles of yeast was an excellent model of that cellular process. Using a molecular genetic approach, I was also able to identify the genes involved in autophagy. As such genes of everything from yeast to humans were extensively preserved, autophagy research suddenly began to accelerate to the point where research on its physiological roles in higher animals and plants is now undergoing an explosive evolution. One may think that degradation is a somewhat negative process but, in fact, it plays a role in the lives of organisms that is just as important as synthesis. I believe that our understanding will continue to expand if we confront natural phenomena without preconceptions and if we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by vast amounts of information. Today, no single biologist can expect to accomplish anything on his or her own. The research work for which I am being honored is the fruit of unremitting efforts by a total of 80 joint researchers, and I am truly proud of these brilliant colleagues. It gives me great pleasure to know that the researchers with whom I have worked in my lab are taking the lead in international autophagy research.
Abstract of the lecture
I must acknowledge the education that made me what I hope I am. My parents brought me up to think about other people. They made me sensitive of the difference of gender. They placed me under the influence of the early Ramakrishna movement and its revolution in the institutional thinking of all sectarianism: of class, race, and religion, today largely forgotten because an in-depth training of children is no longer practiced. Like the rest of the “rising” world, we have lost the desire for preparing the muscles of the mind for ethical reflexes. My early schooling, and my parents’ example, structured me firmly within Bengali, my mother-tongue, English, our imperial language, and Sanskrit, the classical language of North India. My teachers, at school, college, and University, and a monk at the Vedanta Society in New York, gave me rich gifts of spirit. Marx, Du Bois, and Gramsci taught me to think social justice. My accidental encounter with Jacques Derrida’s work gave philosophical shape to all these ingredients. In 1986, I found myself ready to learn from below. I began working on rural education and primary health care in Bangladesh, and, through a poet friend, came in close and sustained intimacy with the embracing counter-theology of Lalan Shah Fakir’s followers. My childhood habit of “teaching” illiterate children who were domestic servants was re-awakened by a request from a rural activist that I open some schools. Over the years, my teaching at the two ends of the spectrum—Columbia University and Birbhum district in West Bengal—have come together. My task is to learn from mistakes how to teach the practice of the intuitions of democracy—the tug of war between autonomy and the rights of others. For the top, the auto-critical habit in the intellectual produced by the presence of basic civil liberties: the freedom of speech; democracy constraining freedom of speech through constructive auto-critique. For the bottom, the hope that perhaps even one student will develop something like democratic judgment, quite different from justified self-interest against oppression from all sides, and from mere leadership. Some words of the poet Adrienne Rich can describe my response to the Kyoto Prize, as the necessary effort to “call . . . up the voices we need to hear within ourselves.”