Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Joichi Ito's Reading Notes January 16, 1999
Doubt and Certainty in Science by J. Z. Young

Excellent book. The book was published in 1951 and the references to computers are extremely dated, but his analysis of the brain, thinking, scientific discovery, learning, evolution, etc. are very enlightening.

Young tries to look at human beings from the perspective of a biologist. He tries to describe all aspects of humans including religion from a biologists perspective. He looks at the brain as an organ and begins by describing the brain and the neurons that make up the brain. He explains how these neurons and their behavior can explain most of the behavior of humans. Remeniscient of "Lost Worlds", he talks about the evolution of humans and how we are more a product of our social environment than our DNA. (This is a very old thread for me and something I would like to develop more in the future.) He explains how atoms flow through the human body and explains that we are a "pattern" and have nothing solid that persists over time. We are like a whirlpool. "Piology like physics, has ceased to be material," he says. In this sense, evolution of humans is about learning. Learning is about the brain. The neurons in our brain throb happily until they are disturbed by some outside stimulus. They try to come up with some solution that stops the noise and brings the brain back into sync again. This process of disturbance and harmony is the "doubt and certainty" in science he talks about. Learning, he says, is not all as Pavlov and his conditioning shows. Humans look at things and think in order to disturb or break up the harmony in order to discover better ways. He trys to explain that studying the anatomy of the brain my give us insight into the process of learning and help us evolve.

His vision seems to tie in well with the De Bono book about thinking that I have just begun reading after being recommended to do so by Sen Nagata. More on these thoughts later...

Reference Bibliography:
Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies
Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity
Toshio Yamagishi and Midori Yamagishi, Trust and Commitment in the United States and Japan

Benkyokai December 26, 1998

Reference Bibliography:

Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity

Toshio Yamagishi and Midori Yamagishi, Trust and Commitment in the United States and Japan

The Gift

The Potlach, the Kula... The obligation to give, accept, reciprocate...

"According to Malinowski, these vaygu'a follow a kind of circular movement: the mwali, the bracelets, are passed on regularly from west to east, whereas the soulava aways travel from east to west."

Now the gift necessarily entails the notion of credit. The evolution in economic law has not been from barter to sale, and from cash sale to credit sale. On the one hand, barter has arisen through a system of presents given and reciprocated accordining to a time limit. This was through a process of simplification, by reductions in periods of time formerly arbitrary. On the other hand, buying and selling arose in the same way, with the latter according to a fixed time limit, or by cash, as well as by lending.

From ancient Roman law.. nexus... "The thing pledged is normally without value; for example, sticks are exchanged, the stips in the 'stipulation' of Roman law..." "Above all, they are still the residues of formerly obligatory gifts, that were owned because of reciprocity."

"It is our western societies who have recently made man an 'economic animal'. But we are not yet all creatures of the genus."


"The accumulation of social capital, however, is a complicated and in many ways mysterious cultural process."

"many neoclasically economists have come to believe that economic method they have discovered provides them with the tools for constructing something approaching a universal science of man." "rational choice theory"

"In the words of one economist, 'The first principle of Economics is that every agent is actuated only by self-interest"

"Jeremy Bentham; that utility is the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain."

"But this type of formal definition of utility reduces the fundamental premise of economics to an assertion that peole maximize whatever it is they choose to maximize, a tautology that robs the model of any interest or explanatory power. By contrast, to assert that people prefer their selfish material interests over other kinds of interests is to make a strong statement about human nature."

spontaneous sociability

"Durkhem labeled 'organic solidarity'"

"Geertz's own definition of culture is 'an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life."

US/Japan/Germany have large companies because of protestant and secularism/iemoto/guilds

saddle shaped family intensive state intensive do not scale, except Korea which was intentional

US communities breaking down. Japanese system changing with recession...

State can control and affect greatly how culture grows and is used in economy.

"Social apital is like a ratchet that is more easily turned in one direction than another; it can be dissipated by the actions of governments much more readily than those governments can build it up again. Now that the question of ideology and institutions has been settled, the preservation and accumulation of social capital will occupy center stage."

Trust and Commitment in the US and Japan

"purely selfish utility maximizer postulated by economists"

"Trust can thus be defined as a bias in the processing of imperfect information about the partner:s intentions. A trusting person is the one who overestimates the benighity of the partner's intentions beyond thelevel waranted by the prudent assesment of the available information."

"Perception of the risk or the subjective social uncertainty may be higher among those who mostly deal with insiders in committed relations than those who are regularly in contact with outsiders. In this sense, commitment may actually reduce the level of trust in outsiders, and a s a result, those who mostly stay in the security of committed relations experience higher subjective social uncertainty."

"Reputation can provide an extra assurance for committed people to deal with social undertainty involved in the deals with outsiders."

"reputation often works as a sanctioning mechanism against dishonest deeds"

"People may often refrain from misconduct because they are afraid of getting a bad reputation."

"we suspect that informational role of reputation is more imortant in American society, whereas the sanctioning role is more important in Japanese society."

"Whereas knowledge-based trust is limited to particular objects (people or organizations), general trust is a belief in the benevolence of human nature in general and thus is not limited to particular objects."

"Americans consider honesty more important than do Japanese"

"On the other hand, knowledge-based trust is conceptually distinct from assurance, which is another derivative of committed relations."

"committed relations are in fact expected to reduce development of knowledge-based trust."

balance between committed relationshis and general trust...

"Japanese society currently faces the problem of creating that balance in respoonse to the pressures of opening-up of the society and the economy, whereas American society faces the problem of maintaining it in the face of increasing social uncertainty."

Study Group Meeting December 5, 1998

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Kokuryo, Nakamura, Morita, Shibuya, Mizushima, Mitarai, Yeum, Nagata, Ito, Nohara, Yamada, Sato

A few initial thoughts:

What would McLuhan have said about XML?

Will EDI bring about the collapse of Marketing and Advertising?

What would Blau have said about Linux?

Will OSS bring about the collapse of Commercial Software?


The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan

Exchange and Power in Social Life, Peter M. Blau



Readings for this meeting: K. Arrow, The Limits of Organization Ronald Coase, The Firm, The Market, and The Law Chester Barnard, The Functions of the Executive Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenburg Galaxy

October 13, 1998
Meeting with Jiro Kokuryo and Masakata Morita

Readings for this meeting:
K. Arrow, The Limits of Organization
Ronald Coase, The Firm, The Market, and The Law
Chester Barnard, The Functions of the Executive
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenburg Galaxy

We began the discussion talking about the ways that Arrow, Coase and Barnard describe the necessity and the method by which organizations are form are become required. Although while I was reading Barnard, much of what he wrote felt rather redundant and not-so-significant, in the context of trying to describe organizations, I found myself continually coming back to frameworks and metaphors that were proposed by Barnard. The most important aspect in our discussion was the idea that organizations are not merely ways to make economics factors more efficient, but things like vision, authority, responsibility and many other factors guide the function as well as the raison d'etre of organizations. Barnard best described this.

From this discussion, we talked more about the raison d'etre of organizations and Kokuryo-san proposed that maybe we cooperate for the sake of cooperating. What is happiness anyway? Just belonging to an organization can be happiness. This ties into the idea "what is utility anyway?" and other big questions. If the purpose of economy is to optimize utility in society and utility is supposed to make us happy then...

"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" is in the constitution of the United States of America. So shouldn't we be talking about happiness instead of utility? This then connects to Alexis de 's observation that American's do not have equality, but opportunity and "Liberty." The happiness that comes from choice and liberty are is a very strange kind of happiness indeed in that it comes from an infinite ability to have aspirations, but a very difficult time reaching goals. I think Simon talks about the utility function in terms of aspirations and satisfaction. If happiness can be defined in this way, it becomes exceedingly obvious that many of the things that affect our happiness can not be purchased, thus are not connected to the utility function.

Marx might say that labor is a major part of value and that exchange value can not replace the labor value. Bauldrillard might say that sign value can make us happy. Goldhaber would probably say that attention makes us happy. Still... a lot of this we can buy. I wonder if there is anything significant that makes us happy that you really can not buy. What is it and how does it act? This is the question that I am concerned about...

Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 21:21:35 +0900
From: Jiro Kokuryo 
To: Joichi Ito 
Subject: Re: Cultural Captial

Hi Joi,

>Culture could be the most important stabilizer for the information

Katarzyna Olszewska who is traveling with me gave me a hint that culture
depends not only on the sender of messages but also on the framework by
which the receiving end interprets it.  This is parallel to the idea of
"knowledge" or "meaning" dependent on the interpretive mechanism.  

A community that shares the experience of interpreting messages together
forms a shared system of interpreting information, which is my
understanding of context.   Is my understanding correct that this is
close to what you are calling culture?)  Richness of communication
depends on the the level of it.

What the modern transport and communication technology offers are
markets that are wider than communities that shares high levels of
context.  What we see as a consequence is a large scale dissemination of
shallow communication. 

I have a mixed feeling about the the commodification of culture.  In a
community that has limited context in the past, shared experience with a
common artifact provides a base for future context.  You know, something
to start a conversation with a total stranger. A common base is
necessary to communicate.  Takemura-san's system of expressing color
becomes a shared system of expressing and interpreting color -a shared

I was reading a biography of Otsuki Bumpei who edited an enormous
dictionary of the Japanese language in the Meiji period.  Not only in
Japan, but in all "nation states," editing of the dictionary was equated
to the establishment of the national identity and was therefore a
national security matter.  In the process, languages were standardized
creating bases for people to communicate.

The bad news is that some dialects were deliberately destroyed.  We
tried imposing Japanese language on the Koreans which, to the Koreans,
was elimination of their identity.

I guess the lesson from the internet is the commonly shared context at
the lower layer provides opportunity to build high context communities
on top of it.

> On Sun, 30 Aug 1998 11:58:02 +0900
> Joichi Ito  wrote:
> > Hi... I just finished talking to my sister again. I wrote a few
> > paragraphs describing my current thoughts. If you have a
> > moment, I would really appreciate any feedback you might have.
> > The notes are at:
> > 
> >
> > 
> > Thanks!
> > 
> > - Joi
> > 
> > 

To: Jiro Kokuryo
From: Joichi Ito
Date: 9/5/98

Hi Kokuryo-sensei,

I'm sorry that my reply to this message is so late. I really appreciate
your thoughts and this last message from you I think has driven home
a point that I have yet to resolve in my own mind. I don't have a very
good way of thinking through this problem, but let me try to describe my
confusion to you...

I think that what I have been calling "culture" has at least two opposing
aspects. I heartily agree with you that a common protocol whether it is
IP protocol or language or the rules to a game such as Go are very important
in creating context and allowing the tranfser of meaningful content.

On the other hand, I think what I have been calling "culture" is almost the
opposite of that. In the example of the tapas restaurant from my sister,
I think the "culture" aspect was the part that couldn't be codified. So what
is culture?

Taking it from a different angle...

I think you need to be able to think of something completely new and also
be able to communicate this meaningfully to others to be of value to a
community or culture.

What this means is that each node needs to be different enough to be unique,
but same enough to connect. It is a question of at what layer you put the
sameness and what layer you put the information.

I suppose the fear that my sister has with commodification of culture is that
in a world where there is sufficient sameness and syncronization the system
feeds on new information or difference. By taking a new layer such as fashion
or food and commodifying it, it is depleting a resource of sorts. I think that
where there is complete chaos or where chaos is prevelant, rules and order
help to stabalize it. I hate to reduce everything to balance, but it seems like
this might be the only good explanation from me at this point.

I suppose that it might be viewed as a situation where one group is trying to
keep a certain layer different from everyone else to preserve identity and
the commodification of that layer reduces the value of that layer. But...
Maybe layer is the wrong metaphor... Taking the tapas restaurant or any
other bit of culture that has been commodfied... (maybe house music)

Why is it bad? 

By making it a commodity, the system reduces the it to just the elements
that can be understood and consumed by the masses. At this point, it becomes
rather superficial and the core of the culture that it comes from (which
probably can not be synched with the main stream) is removed. Such a
"neutralized" piece of culture an then act as a common metaphor to use
as context, but such a piece of culture becomes static and no longer grow
or develop much. So stepping away from the "layer" metaphor, I suppose
that different cultures use different pieces of its culture to retain "difference"
and "identity". Other cultures can take that culture and build it into their
"similarity" or "context" to add value to their "context" part. But, this
lowers the "identity" of the first culture. I'm not sure what I am saying makes
much sense, but I am trying to describe thoughts that occur to me from my

Mimi, do you have any thoughts?

 - Joi

Date: Sat, 05 Sep 1998 20:50:59 +0900
From: Jiro Kokuryo 
Subject: Re: Cultural Captial

Hi, Joi,

> What this means is that each node needs to be different enough to be unique,
> but same enough to connect.

I agree that this is the question.  Don't have answer myself.

An exercise that is usually helpful in this kind of instance is to
define terminologies.

Can you define culture in less than 25 words?

Do NOT think about this while driving...  It's dangerous.

The argument that I usually make is: to "connect" you need to share a
"platform" which consists of (i) vocabulary, (ii) grammar, (iii) context,
and (iv) norm.  A group of people that share a platform is called a
community.  There can be multiple platforms and a person may be on
multiple platforms.

To: Jiro Kokuryo
From: Joichi Ito
Date: 9/7/98

Tell me if you have already gone down this trail
of thought...

If you use the strength of weak ties idea with
culture and communication, it seems that
strong ties require more shared context and
"sameness" whereas weak ties are more
about have just enough context to communicate,
but taking advantage of the "difference".

Therefore, I can imagine a view of the myriad
of cultures and groups in our society as a
combination of high context close-knit
communities and low context wide communities
or weak tie links.

I think what happens when culture is commodified,
is that a weak tie is converted into a strong tie
and the difference between the two groups is
collapsed and forced into context. This increases
the size of the strong force group, but now there
is one less node.

What is wrong with less nodes? I think that nodes
are like different DNA combinations and that
diversity is good. Probably different languages
are better and describing or thinking about different
problems and I think different cultures produce
different cultural goods. This difference can help
dampen fluctuations and manage changes in the
different environments.

- Joi

p.s. I will work on the 25 word definition of

Date: Tue, 08 Sep 1998 08:44:10 +0900
From: Jiro Kokuryo 
Subject: Re: Cultural Captial

Hi Joi,

A bit pressed for time.  Please excuse me for giving compressed

I think what we need are:
Diversity in nodes on a common dimension
while a single node residing on multiple dimensions.

Contrast this with a situation in which:
No diversity among the nodes.
Only one dimension exists.

Multiplicity of dimensions is sort of important, I think.

May be we share enough context for this to make sense to you...