[Interview] Professor, Hiroshima University Miyama, Shoken No. 1

Heading for Creation of a New Paradigm Through Integration with Other Genres ? the future direction of astrobiology


  • Miyama, Shoken (Professor of Hiroshima University)
  • Okada, Yasunobu (President)
  • Mayama, Satoshi (Director of Public Relations Office)

Mayama Hello, I am Mayama of SOKENDAI, I will be the moderator for today. Thank you everyone for your attendance.
Dr. Miyama spent years conducting theoretical research in astronomy in the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), studying stars and planet formation. After serving as the Director General of NAOJ, he was appointed one of the executive directors of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS), and at the present, he is a specially appointed professor at the Hiroshima University.

The infatuation with theory of relativity in junior high school and entering the world of astrology through theoretical physics, the discipline of his dreams

Okada Before getting into our topic, I heard that your parents home is Buddhist temple and that you yourself are a qualified monk. I would very much like to hear about what prompted you to become an astronomer coming from that kind of background.

Miyama People often ask me. My grandfather was a scholar of Indian philosophy at Tokyo University, and my father was also a scholar of Chinese philosophy. So I grew up in an environment where the family library was filled with books related to religion, including those on philosophy and ethics, which has to do with Buddhism.
Perhaps because of how my parents' education, I was prepared even as a small child that to take over the temple one day. However, when I was in junior high-school and high-school, I began to feel rebellious towards my predestined future. In junior high, I read a lot of introductory books on science. I also read the complete collection of works by Gamow and a lot of books on Einstein's theory of relativity.

Okada There were a lot of books like that back then.

Miyama Yes I think so. When I was attending the Hiroshima University Junior High School, I visited the Hiroshima University's Faculty of Science during open campus. As I was observing their experiments and such, there was mention of things I had read about in the introductory books, such as spin, and I began to nurture a strong longing towards physics, and to aspire to become a physicist.
After I entered the Kyoto University, I began to have great expectations towards the potential of physics, where one can represent the world of nature using just only a paper and a pencil. However, the graduate school entrance examination for physics in Kyoto University was incredibly difficult. There were about 20 times the competition rate, which is unthinkable today. I was inspired by Dr. Hideki Yukawa, and so originally I was hoping to proceed in the genre of elementary particles. However, because they accepted few students, I went to study with Dr. Chushiro Hayashi, whose field was cosmophysics and astrophysics.
Physics at Kyoto University consisted of the experimental and the theoretical branch, and I entered the theoretical. And so it was rather like I studied space through theories of physics, and at first I was not that interested in astronomy. However, I continued research in cosmophysics and astronomy because I wished to exercise physics in a larger framework, and was fortunate to be appointed associate professor at the NAOJ. I was studying theories, so I did not do much observing, but rather worked more with computers in my research.
My family temple was located in the countryside where at nighttime the sky was filled with stars. People often ask me "Did you want to become a astronomer since you were a little boy, because you could see the stars so clearly?" However, that is not the case, and I transferred to astronomy after taking some detours.

There are some similarities between theories on space in present day astronomy and a view of the world preached by Buddism.

Miyama I've recently come to think that the structure of the universe is actually mentioned in religion, and that it is in fact quite similar to astronomy. For example, the ma??ala in Buddhism visualizes the worlds of many Buddhas. Furthermore, there is another concept in Buddhism called the "Buddhist cosmology." This is an understanding about the vast structure of the universe, which begins with individual worlds with Mt. Sumeru at its center. In terms of the actual universe, we can compare this world to the solar system. A thousand of these worlds then form something called a lesser chiliocosm. A thousand lesser chiliocosms form a medium-length chiliocosm, a thousand of which then form the major chiliocosm. This three-tiered structure as a whole is called the "Buddhist cosmology." If we see our solar system as one of the worlds with Mt. Sumeru at the center, then the tier above would be the galaxy. The tier above that would be the galaxy cluster, which then constitutes the macrocosm. It's the same three-tiered structure.

Okada Incredible. Astoundingly similar.

Miyama Quite similar. Another thing I find very interesting is that while in Christianity and Islam, there is an absolute God and the perception that where we live is the center of the universe, and that the universe revolves around us, Buddhism admits the existence of other worlds, as in the ma??ala or the Buddhist cosmology. This is sort of a Buddhist view on equality, their view of the universe, where there are various kinds of Buddhas, and there are also worlds where these Buddhas reside. This is exactly the present day cosmological principle, where we do not see ourselves as being special. If I went into the studies of elementary particles, I would not have been able to give Buddhist lectures themed on the universe. In that sense, astronomy and Buddhism have a lot in common, and now, I am grateful.

Okada I see. Now I understand your background very well. So you did not become a scholar because of your ties to Buddhism.

Miyama No. The more I understand about astronomy, I also feel the profundity of Buddhism. Perhaps at the core of the worldview that permits the existence of other worlds are images particular to agricultural civilizations, and perhaps these are different from those of hunting civilizations.

Okada And this view would lead to the question, "are there living creatures in other universes."

Miyama Yes.


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