Nullius in verba
I would like to express my sincere congratulations to all of you on your graduation and the official conferral of your doctoral degrees. The spread of COVID-19 infections has completely altered how activities are conducted around the world, and we have been in this state for more than two years now. It is no easy task to complete a dissertation that passes review even at the best of times - let alone amidst the current conditions. I am sure that you faced a number of difficulties both in continuing to conduct experiments and observations as well as in preparing your final dissertation. I would like to express my heartfelt joy in seeing that all of you have overcome these difficulties and are in attendance at this degree conferment ceremony today, and I would also like to express my sincere respect for all of your hard work.
It is still hard to predict the direction the pandemic will take in the future. According to research on viral evolution, it is natural for new strains to emerge, so the Omicron strain is unlikely to be the end. There are sure to be other new strains emerging after it. I fear that young people, of all ages from infants to young adults, who grow up during a period like this will suffer some sort of trauma that will remain for generations to come. At the same time, however, I am also hopeful because I know that young people are extremely adaptable.
The coronavirus is not the only crisis that world is facing in recent times. Global environmental issues also pose a major, urgent threat, and we face the possibility of both regional conflicts and larger-scale wars. We do not know what will happen to the global economy, and it is unclear whether individual human rights and democratic methods, which we have always considered to be universal values, will continue to be as respected as in the past. When I was younger, roughly the age that all of you are now, I was convinced that the world would necessarily improve with the passage of time. Now, I am no longer so sure of that.
It is during such a period of time that you have earned your doctoral degree and are headed out into the world. It is precisely because we are living under such conditions that I would like you, as individuals who understand the nature of intellectual pursuit, to act as role models to demonstrate to others how to analyze a diverse range of phenomena and unknown situations, and what to consider as a proper basis for making judgments.
All of you have tackled a particular question in a particular academic field until - through your research - you came to a particular discovery or conclusion. No matter how minor it may seem, it was something that no one else had ever discovered before, and I am sure that you examined the topic from perspectives that no one else had ever considered. In your dissertation, you may have only engaged with a single specific issue. However, the methods that you employed to tackle that problem, the ways that you formulated your questions, and the ways that you solved each problem... All of these can be applied to other - possibly even significantly divergent - problems. In terms of knowledge, I am sure that you have acquired expertise in a particular field of study, but it is my belief that, in terms of methods of intellectual pursuit, you have acquired a much more universal art. Please be aware of this and strive to apply it in your life in the future.
I was recently interviewed and asked to cite the phrase or saying that has made the most impression on me in my life so far as a scholar. The phrase that came to mind was "Nullius in verba." Allow me to explain. Roughly speaking, it's Latin for "don't just believe what people tell you." In England, the Royal Society, an organization comprised of private scientists, was founded in 1660, and this phrase was adopted as its motto.
It may sound like a negative character trait to be so skeptical that you don't take people at their word. However, some of what others say is groundless rumor, some is superstition, some is slander, and some is even intentional misinformation. This phrase expressed the determination of the scientists at the time never to pander to these types of falsehoods, and never to accept something as fact simply because some sort of 'authority' declared it so. The year 1660 was in the middle of the 17th century, the time period when modern science first developed. Modern science established methods of testing hypotheses through experiments and observations in order to better understand the structure and mechanisms of the natural world. Although science today has numerous, more sophisticated means of achieving this than at its inception, we still carry on the tradition of that modern scientific way of thinking
In recent times, the development of various forms of social media has enabled a larger number of people to impart information on a broad range of topics. There are many beneficial aspects to this, such as the ability for people to form connections with others that they never would have been able to previously. However, the credibility of this information is highly questionable. The approach of "Nullius in verba" applies to scientific issues as well as to publicly disseminated information in general. In the past, although never perfect, only information that had been in some way verified by major media outlets was ever widely disseminated, so there was no need for individuals to be so sensitive about the authenticity of information. Even so, media literacy education was considered necessary because people needed to be able to discern the intentions of major media outlets in releasing such information.
That is, however, no longer the case. We live in an age of both information and disinformation, of propaganda, of a consuming need for 'likes,' and of things going 'viral' online. We seem to have entered an age in which it is essential for each and every one of us to improve how we analyze situations in this anything-goes environment. However, we are finding it very difficult to keep up. All of you have experienced the process of acquiring in-depth knowledge of a particular issue, contemplating it thoroughly, and examining it from all angles. I would like for you to apply this experience more generally in order to identify guiding principles that will help us make it through the times ahead.
"Nullius in verba" is Latin. I am sure that not all of you have learned Latin, but it used to be the common language between scholars in Europe. When the first universities were established in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, they were international organizations where people from all over the world gathered. The language they held in common was Latin. Even today, Latin is still a part of secondary and higher education in Europe and the United States.
These days, there is no need for you to learn Latin, but the fact that there are no borders in the world of academia means that we need to communicate using some sort of commonly shared language. Right now, that seems to be English. Academia is not solely for the sake of a select group of people; it is open to everyone in the world. This means that you have to be able to discuss ideas with any and all types of people.
Each of you, whether you are Japanese or from some other country, has grown up speaking the language and bearing the culture of your country. These are very important and should be cherished. However, at the same time, we have to be able to communicate what we know, think, and feel to others around the world, and we have to be able to understand how they think and feel. From now, I am sure there will be times in your life when, while appreciating your own culture and language and understanding their value, you will struggle with how best to convey that value to others from different languages and cultures, as well as with how to understand the thoughts and ideas that they hold. While it will be difficult, I would very much like for you to become capable of considering these sorts of issues.
It is truly regrettable that, due to the pandemic, you were not all able to gather today in Hayama. The 'campus' of SOKENDAI is spread out among research institutions across Japan, so I would have liked to gather everyone together in Hayama to celebrate when it is time for the degree conferment ceremony at the very least. Also, on a personal note, there was not much of a celebration when I received my doctoral degree, so each year, I sincerely hope to be able to provide all of you graduates, who have overcome considerable hardships to receive your doctoral degrees, with a grand celebration.
Although such a celebration was impossible this year as well, I would still like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to everyone. Congratulations to all of you! I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.