Friday, March 18, 2011

Internationality of Science

Comments here and at Serendipity by Kooiti Masuda remind me yet again of the internationality of science.  Not news to people in the field, but perhaps for younger readers.  And the small world that science is.

Here, Masuda observed: Precise description of the polar motion by Hisashi Kimura (who led observations at Mizusawa) was a moment of demonstration that the Japanese can substantially contribute to the international scientific enterprise.

Today, of course, it's no surprise.  But in 1899, when this was happening, Japan was new to the world science scene.  The US wasn't exactly an old hand itself.  While we'd had some individual excellent scientists before then (Ben Franklin, for instance), it wasn't until after the land grant universities (founded in 1850s and 1860s) had been at work for some decades that the US was noticeable in international science.  Japan had an even later start and more rapid run up.  Today, there are other countries going through the process of building their science infrastructures to the point of making significant contributions internationally.

Over at Serendipity, part of Masuda's comment is:

It reminded me another thought. There was a great development of computational geophysics in the latter half of the 20th century, including both climate modeling (Manabe, Arakawa, Kasahara), meteorological data assimilation (Sasaki, Miyakoda) and quantitative seismology (Aki, Kanamori), largely contributed by Japanese-American (born in Japan and emigrated to the USA) scientists. They made innovation by amalgamating the oriental tradition of precise numerical computation and the western tradition of rigorous logical mathematics. (I have not yet substantiated this interpretation, though.)

The very small world effect involved -- I have a connection with almost every person he names.  Manabe would probably even remember me :-) after our chats in the 1990s, where I'd tell him how bad the sea ice was in his model and he'd cheerfully agree and then tell me about how good his results were anyhow.  We were both right.  Miyakoda, I've never met, but he's the reason that I've had sushi.  My graduate advisor knew Miyakoda and apparently Miyakoda had a comment that nobody could be an oceanographer who hadn't had sushi.  So after I'd successfully defended my thesis, my advisor took me out to a sushi place, thereby finishing my qualifications.  Kanamori I wouldn't count except for some jr. high students.  Namely, I'd attended a presentation of Kanamori's when I was in graduate school.  Quiet a few years later, I went to talk to a jr. high science class.  It turned out they were studying earthquakes, and their textbook had a personal profile of Kanamori.  The kids were shocked/amazed/bewildered when I mentioned his sense of humor coming through in his presentation.  The notion of a scientist having a sense of humor was pretty strange to them.

Kooiti Masuda: Do you know of any English language histories of Japanese mathematics and science?  Your comment about the numerical computation tradition is interesting to me.

I also knew a Japanese-born and -educated scientist who was no great fan of mathematics -- Ted (Tetsuya) Fujita, who liked to be known as 'Mr. Tornado', and was down the hall from me at the University of Chicago.  He had phenomenal physical insight, and prided himself on using a minimum of mathematics.


Kooiti Masuda said...

Thank you for your attention to my remarks.

I met Dr Miyakoda a few times. He is a thoughtful person, though I do not believe he recommended sushi.
I have not met Dr Kanamori.

I agree that Tetsuya Theodore was another extraordinary Japanese-American atmospheric scientist.
But I do not include in the type of those developed computational geophysics.
I think that his adventurous (but not just adventurous) type is not related to any ethnic groups.

I think that this is well established as a historical fact: the oriental tradition of mathematics (centered in China) had more oriented to numerical computation and less to logical demonstration than the western tradition. For example, the Chinese had pi = 355/113 in the 5th century.

My not-yet-substantiated hypothesis in the history of science is that the both tradition were necessary to form the new tradition of numerical modeling, and that the best condition for the combination was available in the post-WW2 United States with immigrants from East Asia.

I do not have examined history of mathematics yet. With a quick search, I find
"A review of the history of Japanese mathematics" by Tsukane Ogawa (2001) .
For broader history of physical science in East Asia, I like to refer to the works of Shigeru Nakayama, who made a list of his publication in English at
but unfortunately I cannot tell what piece of his is relevant to the present context.

I think that major elements of the traditional Japanese mathematics in pre-modern Japan (Edo period or Tokugawa regime, 1600-1868) is as follows.
1. Use of soroban (abacus) prevailed as a requisite to merchandise workers.
2. Mathematical puzzles (including some academically novel ones) were accepted
as a hobby across various social classes.
3. Some books of popular mathematics (wonders of arithmetic) were published.

After modernization in the late 19th century, the traditional mathematics as a hobby disappeared, but the tradition of soroban remained.

I learned myself how to use soroban when I was an elementary school pupil in the 1960s.
In late 1970s when I became a college student, portable electronic calculators have become cheap enough, so I did not practice soroban no more.

Another modern tool was hand-driven mechanical calculators.
I have not used them though I have touched them.
I learned that the Geophysical Institute of the University of Tokyo was a very heavy user of such calculaters, in particular of the "Tiger" brand.
(In 1980s when I participated, the G.I. of the U.T. had a record of the highest per-capita CPU usage among the users of the computer center of the U.T.)

In 1950s, Japanese researchers of numerical weather prediction used graphical methods.
Surely they also needed to use slide rules, mechanical calculators, and soroban.

Oale said...

Hello, do I remember correctly that your work involves winter weather? If it was so, the following might constitute some light reading :
It is still unfinished, but since someone has counted 480 of these and I haven't heard many of those used and do not know what they refer to, I thought an introduction would do better than a full compendium.

Penguindreams said...

You remember correctly Oale. Thank you for the link. Next time I need some snow words, I know where to go!