FY2023 Graduate School Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2023)

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Nagahiro Minato, 27th President


Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,271 new students enrolling in master's programs, 338 in professional degree programs, and 872 in doctoral programs. On behalf of all of the Kyoto University faculty and staff members present today, I would like to congratulate each and every one of you on your enrollment at Kyoto University. I would also like to extend my warmest congratulations to your families and all those who have encouraged and supported you thus far.

Today marks your first real step towards engaging in research in your chosen fields. In addition to its 18 graduate schools, Kyoto University has over 30 affiliated research institutes and centers that will provide you with study and research opportunities through their graduate programs. Students in our master's programs are expected to build on the fundamental knowledge and expertise they acquired at the undergraduate level to develop advanced knowledge and skills, as well as the diverse arts and techniques required of all researchers. Students in doctoral courses will conduct practical research in preparation for their dissertations by applying the researcher's arts to various forms of data gathering and analysis, and conducting comparative reviews of their findings with previous studies. For those seeking to address complex issues in modern society, three Doctoral Programs for World-leading Innovative & Smart Education — the WISE Programs — enable students to conduct practical research in interdisciplinary fields that transcend the boundaries of individual academic disciplines.

It goes without saying that research is originally motivated by an individual's curiosity and desire to explore the unknown. On the other hand, however, I believe that there has never been a time when academic and technological advances have had such a direct and significant impact on global society and human life as they do today. Therefore, beyond individual curiosity, you will inevitably also have to think about the social significance that your future research activities may have. You may have often heard the terms "basic research" and "applied research" being used as if they were opposites. That distinction is said to have first been made in 1945, at the end of World War II, in a report submitted by Vannevar Bush to President Harry S Truman titled Science - The Endless Frontier. In that report, Bush asserted that a distinction should be drawn between "basic science", devoted to research, and "applied science", aiming at product development. He said that public funding should be invested in universities, as they are expected to conduct only basic research, and not in companies, which engage in applied research. In other words, the concept was developed from the viewpoint of considering what kind of scientific research should be supported by public funds. The concept was strongly reflected in US science and technology policies during the Cold War, and it is believed that the strong financial support for basic research at universities, especially graduate schools, is the reason that the US has led the world's scientific and technological development in terms of both quantity and quality since the late 20th century.

Indeed, at the dawn of modern science, there was often a large gap between so-called basic research and its corresponding applied research, and it seems there were quite distinct differences in the positioning and orientation of the different research types. It is often said that "necessity is the mother of invention", but in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, evolutionary biologist Dr Jared Diamond suggests that, historically, it may be more accurate to say that "invention is the mother of necessity". For example, Dr Nikolaus August Otto's invention of the Otto cycle, the principle of the internal combustion engine, was not widely utilized until it was applied to automobiles in the 1890s — 30 years after its invention. It is actually rather rare for new discoveries and inventions to be made due to necessity. In many cases, the discovery or invention of an idea or principle that leads to a scientific breakthrough is followed by the development of new research on how to apply it to create useful social value. I think that this was also the case with quantum computers, which have been the topic of much discussion recently.

Science for All Americans, which was published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science over thirty years ago, at the end of the Cold War in 1989, states that technology is both dependent on, and contributes to, science. However, in modern times when science and technology have evolved dramatically and almost inseparably, simple dualisms, such as "science and technology" or "basic and applied", do not seem very realistic. It is now becoming a matter of course that the results of research based on genuine interest and a spirit of inquiry will automatically lead to groundbreaking social applications, and on the other hand, it is not unusual for unexpected new scientific discoveries to emerge from development research intended for application. Today, scientific breakthroughs cannot be expected without technological advances, and conversely, new technological advances are impossible without breakthroughs in basic research. Science and technology have already become an integral part of each other. Therefore, I do not think it is necessarily productive to categorize your future research endeavors into the classical frameworks of basic research or applied research.

Rather, what we should think about now are the ways in which academic and scientific research at universities can contribute to society, and that may vary greatly depending on the academic or scientific field. There are some issues that require immediate solutions, while there are others that are certain to need solutions in the future. In his book, The Tyranny of Merit, Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University describes the philosopher Hegel's concept of "the struggle for recognition". That is to say that the labor market is more than a system that efficiently satisfies needs (consumption), it is a system of recognition. The system not only rewards labor with income, but also publicly recognizes each person's labor as a contribution to the common good. Building on that concept, Professor Sandel asserts that "we are most fully human when we contribute to the common good and earn the esteem of our fellow citizens for the contributions we make". I think that in the modern era, the same could be said of researchers, given that study and research are also forms of labor.

Modern society faces a number of difficult and urgent problems on a literally global scale. Global climate change and catastrophic natural disasters, large-scale environmental destruction associated with development, emerging infectious diseases and pandemics, and the worsening of poverty and inequality — all of those issues are considered to have emerged due to the rapid globalization of human socioeconomic activities. Dr Jerome Ravetz, the philosopher of science, once pointed out that there are "questions which can be asked of science, but which science is not yet able to answer". He describes areas that are difficult to resolve with only "normal science", that is, individual science disciplines with clear rules of cause-and-effect, as areas of "post-normal science", and he refers to the science that can address issues in such areas as "the science of safety, health, and environment, plus ethics". All of you gathered here today are about to embark on advanced research in the various academic fields that concern and interest you. As you do so, I think it is vital to maintain such an awareness of the circumstances of the current era.

As I said, however, the original motivation for each individual's research is curiosity and a desire to explore the unknown, and it is therefore enjoyable in nature. The research process itself is certainly never easy. On the contrary, it can involve a great deal of anxiety and stress. However, there is no better feeling than surmounting the challenges in front of you through your own determination and intellect. I have spent over 40 years in the world of research, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that all of you will also fully enjoy your day-to-day lives as researchers in diverse fields in Kyoto University's graduate schools, and I sincerely hope that each of you, in the course of your careers as researchers, will contribute to the common good and be appreciated and respected by your fellow citizens.

In closing, I offer my sincere congratulations once again to each and every one of you on your enrollment.