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Abstraction Trap

Numeric Society

When focused our mind on an old memory, we feel how fast time’s running. More than forty years ago, after graduated from university, without any deliberate thought, I happened to get a job at a major Japanese foods company. My first assignment was for an accounting department, where a dozen of people were packed in a small room. The air was filled with monotonous sounds of snapping abacus. Joined to the team as a freshman, I was soon bored to sitting still all day long without a word. Vacuum and inorganic time’s felt inhuman and intolerable for me. From that time on, the first priority of my life was running away from the “jail without a cage”.

 

But surprisingly enough, now I still make a living on an accounting job during those 40 years. I experienced a few different kind of “jail”, where I inevitably spent same monotonous days of calculation, calculation, and calculations. To cultivate deeply one’s specialty of accounting career sounds good. But it’s not my willing intentions, just as a result of my casual fate. After all, I cannot escape from homogeneous and abstract world of numbers. Now, approaching to the dusk of my life, I sometimes look back my past days. What on earth was there any meaning for my blue days of calculation all day long? Wandering about old memories makes me terribly uneasy. I desperately would like to find any meaning for my job, even though it was not exactly true or quibble one. Otherwise, a little bit exaggeratedly speaking, I cannot prepare for closing my life peacefully.

 

Accounting staffs exercise calculation by turning over the leaves of receipts or bills. If they could find a mistake, even one dollar or cents, they shout as if they’ve cut off enemy’s head in a battle-field. I didn’t like those atmosphere, and even though it’s for my daily earnings’ sake, still hated myself of working in those places. I wished if I could find any better job! Long afterwards from my younger days, I got to realize that every Japanese companies, banks or trading firms or manufacturers, have almost the same organizational climate. Maybe, all the companies in the world would be the same. Rather, companies called “first class” might have extremely severe tendency. Everybody working in the organization, by pretending to keep watching out one cent of correctness, believed to have done their jobs right.

 

In the world of accounting, even one dollar difference can be clearly recorded on a book, and the variances are required to be traced back thoroughly. Small variances, say only one dollar among millions, may sting their nerves like a thorn on a finger. People, who handle numbers, suddenly change their characters, and forget how to manage things with reasonable allowance. We never require barber shop, to have our beard shaven like women or children’s face. A little bit of rough shave to the touch would be forgiven. After all, tomorrow will have another beard. But barbers, who speak numeric languages, are under the obsession that they have to shave smooth enough like porcelain surface.

 

Accountant’s ultimate unforgiving obsession, never allow one cent of difference, comes from the original character of numbers. Therefore, as long as adopting numbers as a social language, people cannot escape from the calculation spell, like trapped insects in a hole of an ant-lion. 1+1=2 is an easy logic even an infant can understand. The answer should always be 2, whenever and wherever, even the president of government or chairman of FRB cannot make it 2.2 or 1.8. Uniqueness of numbers will be their having only one answer. That’s why we can “calculate”. Because if they are generous enough for having many answers, we cannot do calculation at all.

 

Money flow, like railway or telephone cable, is made up of continuous “chain of logics”. A slight crack makes trains be derailed and the telephone services will be suspended. Equally, tiny variances in cash flow make it impossible for accounting department to close their books or prepare financial reporting. Therefore, at least seemingly, cash flow needs to be represented as a complete line without a single cent of variance. Consequently, a large proportion of financial jobs will be consumed for checking logical consistency of this terribly stubborn numeric language.

 

After 40 years of accounting experience, I recently became aware of one thing. That is about the monetary “chain of logics”, for which we’ve spent so much energies to keep it’s consistency, were so easily neglected and cut off at a certain “place”. The place is nothing but a “market” itself. Off course, numbers are used in a market too. All the transactions were written by numbers as a “price”. But it’s just a camouflage, in which numbers are used as a mere symbol. Numbers in a market looks like numbers, but not numbers actually.

 

Market price, consisted of numbers, is not necessarily decided logically. As you can see at knock down banana sales, or open-air stall in South East Asia, it’s a world of exchanges of bluffs and pretensions. The master of a market is human beings. Market is controlled by human organs of five senses, such as desire and hope, intuition and presentiment, optimism and pessimism. Therefore, you cannot prove mathematically the daily fluctuations of stock price or foreign exchange rate. Economist explains skyrocketing gold and oil prices, as the result of “demand and supply” relations. But they cannot clarify the reasons mathematically with one cent’s correctness, like accountants are doing.

 

There is a method called cost accounting in corporate finance. This is how to calculate the cost of products or goods. All the expenses, such as raw materials and stuffs, electricity and rent, labor and depreciation, are added up to determine per unit cost of products. The methodology is built up with perfect “chain of logics”, which prohibits even a single cent of variances. But one day, if you sell a product in a market, suddenly cost turned into “sales”. There is no logical continuity between cost and sales. 100 dollar product suddenly becomes 150. How to handle this 50 dollar of difference for an accountant, who never forgive only one cent of variance? When you sell a product in a market, a chain of logics built-up with a single cent of joint, is suddenly cut off.

 

Accountants are open-mouthed with wonder. How to understand this symbol called “sales”, born in a market and smells extremely “human”. How to record on a book this “fake number”, looks quite the same but born different origin. Numbers handled by an accountant are the same language, used as an analytical tool in physics and astronomy. It’s calculable and universal, and a kind of tool to precisely forecast the things. On the other hand, numbers in a market have quite the same appearance, but not under control by mathematics. In which a chain of logics, peculiar to mathematics, were cut off completely. It’s not a consistent line like railroad, but moves intermittently like old movies, and can be fluttering in the air like a butterfly.

 

To give solutions to this difficult problem was the Double-Entry System. Rather, precisely speaking, not solved but just displayed problems as it is. Double-Entry System indicates two kinds of numbers separately, right and left side, so as not mix them up. A fake number, driven by human sensitivity in a market, should be collected to left side (debit), and true numbers controlled by mathematics gathered to the right side (credit). Naturally, fake and true (that is debit and credit) has a variance in total amount. By adding or subtracting to adjust variances, they equalized the balance of debit and credit. This is the statement called Balance Sheet, where the variance caused by larger debit side (human world) was called “profit”, and larger credit variance (numerical world) called “loss”.

 

Double-Entry System was said to be invented in 12th century Islamic world, and transferred to Western Europe by Venetian merchants. Anyway, it is astonishing fact that bookkeeping method, a kind of social system of almost a millennium ago, is still in use in 21st century society. There must be hidden human wisdoms beyond the ages. Rather, as long as numerical languages are adopted for human economic activities, in other words, as far as mutually contradictory two kind of numbers are co-existing in our present market society, the system of recording one transaction by double-entry will inevitably be continued surviving in the future. 

  

Now, we’ll hit upon one simple question. That is about the propriety of the money, which is consisted of two kind of heterogeneous numbers, whereas destined to control complicated modern economic activities. Two kinds of numbers, looks quite the same, but move differently. Does the contradiction make any inconvenience to our social system? The most unacceptable thing for “credit” side system, built up logically like mathematics, is unforeseen fluctuations peculiar to “debit” side of movements. If market prices of debit side extraordinarily expand, or reactionary make sharp shrinkage, might cause any confusion to the credit side of social system, which is tightly built up with severe logics. To tell the truth, this is a chronic disease peculiar to “numerical society”. For example, huge crack running through global market like Lehman panic will be transmitted to the credit side, and tear up financial system into pieces. Fallen into paralyzed symptoms, world economy is still not recovered from the damage.

 

Numbers are homogeneous concept like water or air. Cups of water poured into a bucket will be uniformly mingled and remained no shape of original cups. To see a bucket of water, there is no trace of 20 cups of water were poured into. If you ask a sales staff, “How much were the sales amount of this month?” He’ll answer easily, “One million dollars, sir”. Every day by 30 sales staffs, 100 kinds of goods of unit price ranging from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars, that is, whole monthly sales activities could be expressed by a single word, “one million dollars”. Numbers can melt down all the concrete things into one bucket, and transformed into abstract concept of “volume”. Number is the language, which has no meaning except “larger or smaller”.

 

I’ve long been sitting down at an accounting chair, and doing uninteresting job like counting beans with a pincette. As one of the bean counters, I sometimes feel unreasonable impression to present social system. In certain room, people are shouting that one single bean was lost, but in another room, suddenly 50 pieces of beans are increased or decreased. Combined all the rooms into one house, we might be doing unreasonable thing. Moreover, we cannot distinguish two kinds of beans from their appearances; the one counted with a pincette and another fallen from the heaven.

 

Numbers are consisted of only ten characters. Therefore, as continuous digital copies would not down-grade their quality, we cannot distinguish true numbers from fake one. Even human hands would be added to the process of the birth, once born on this earth, all the numbers are treated equal. That is, all the numbers will be marching under the rule of 1+1=2. They will parade in connection with “chain of logics”, without one single cent of variance. A snail wriggles drawing a line on a transparent glass plate. A child picks it up, and moves to another spot. From where, he start walking again drawing a new line. Of course in this game, it was prohibited to add human hands actually.

 

In our present society, everybody who spends money will count precisely like an accountant, one bean after another. On the other hand, farmers who produce beans would not forecast future crops precisely enough like mathematics. It depends upon the climate. Sometimes rich harvest will come, after years of bad crops, in which even seeds bean were required for consumption. As a whole, total volume of bean crops in a society will be decided depending upon the climate fluctuations. Considering from that, what on earth are the meaning of counting beans with pincette? Since money (numbers), from their appearance, let assume us an advanced mathematics or science, we inevitably forget the truth that our economic system is actually built upon unstable structure like a climate. It might be an ironic sin caused by numerical language.

 

We count beans, and replace them into numbers like 10 or 20. After that, we forget the fact that we’ve done replacement. And numbers will start walking alone. Beans and peas, as soon as replaced into numbers, become transparent and no smell, join the member of advanced mathematics and space engineering. Assembled into a part of huge precision machinery, in which even a tiny mistake never be allowed. But after all, beans are nothing but beans. They have no relation with advanced mathematics or financial engineering. Crops of beans depend upon climate, and market price will go on fluctuating unexpectedly according to human spirits. 

 

We’re living in a society, in which economic activities are measured by numbers. Everybody living in this society, individuals or corporate or government, needs to fulfill the following inequality formula [revenue > expenditure]. Nobody can continue to make expenditure exceeding his revenue, and no business can survive without making enough return to his expenditure (investment). In our present society, “to live” is the same meaning of “to calculate”. Hundreds of modern history is the history, in which how human beings can be replaced into numbers. But even though a great many efforts by Frederic Taylor and Peter Drucker, we cannot stop saying that there is a limitation for human beings to be “effective” forever. There is a fundamental unreasonable character in the theory. Because the more numerically effective human beings became, the more they lost humanity, until at last they cannot be called human beings any more. 

 

Science and technology has been developing straight-lined upwards, and once developed scientific knowledge would not go backwards. But our society, in which we’re living, sometimes stops and turns back, and making same mistakes numerous times. Bubbles are inflated and markets are enthusiastic, and bubble’s burst and here comes a long depression. Unemployment workers were flooding in streets, and people were battered by uneasiness and despair. There were no economic effects by means of financial and monetary policies. Adam Smith and Keynes become powerless like the stupid. At last, there was once a time when people were trying to break through the crisis by war.

 

Human beings who accomplished such a wonderful achievement in science and technology, meanwhile, why looks so stupid concerning in the area of society, in which they themselves are living. A same person, so clever at one hand, should not be suddenly become so stupid on the other side. I think that might be because of the misconduct of a “premise” itself. Since we might have missed our entrance of a passage, we could never find the right destination even if how hard struggling about. Wrong entrance (premise) means, that is, adapting numbers (called money) as a social language for economic activities. Even though, how successful in the area of science, there might be fundamental unnaturalness to adapt numbers and mathematics as a whole, for our social language.

 

Galileo observed space by his hand-made telescope, and recorded them on a paper. Space movements, replaced into numbers, stopped time on a paper. Deliberate analysis could be possible throughout all day and night long. Space movements were fully replaced into pure mathematical problems. Galileo and Kepler could find the rule of space movements, as if they were solving mathematical problems. Planets or stars or satellites were moving in a space, precisely enough like machinery clock. We could correctly forecast the coming an annular eclipse of the sun can be observed in central Tokyo, at 7:32 AM, on May 21st, 2012.

 

However, what can we get from replacing beans or peas into numbers? Applying differential or integral, can we precisely find the law of next year’s crops? Definitely, it’s not possible. If we made a mistake in choosing objectives to be replaced into numbers, scientific methodology will be in no use. Prices such as an old man of Chinese restaurant put them on speculation, or bluff market price like knock dawn banana sales, looks like numbers but not numbers actually. Appearance is like a shape of numbers, but the contents are exactly the human beings themselves. If we collect these fake numbers and analyze them, we cannot apparently find any reasons of deflation or forecast future economic conditions. If we make a mistake in choosing entrance (premise), how honestly follow the processes after that, we could never arrive at a destination.

 

Abstract Language

Working 20 years for Japanese company, I transferred to foreign invested company. Although having a problem for verbal English, I managed to pass an interview by making bluffs. At that time of Japanese human market, there was a scarcity value for the people who had accounting background and also could make English communications. So, there might be some reasons for the company why they inevitably had to hire insufficient candidate like me. Luckily I managed to get a job, but after that, it’s not safe anymore. I couldn’t recognize fluent native English at all. We had frequent conference call or video conference between American head office. But I hardly understand what my counterpart in the US was asking for, who spoke like John Wayne dialect. Therefore, I escaped for emergencies by camouflaging “I’ll send an e-mail after investigating”. At that stage, I tasted the bitterness, from the bottom of my heart, of the people who cannot make use of languages. At the same time, I fully felt grateful for having our own mother tongue. We unconsciously can speak Japanese fluently. Chatting with friends, we can laugh from the bottom of our hearts. This is an excellent ability of heavenly presented gifts.

 

Languages are convenient thing. Human beings made communications through languages, exchanged information, and built up high level of civilization. Languages are commonly held in a community or society. To be common means to be universal. To be universal necessarily become to be abstract. Abstract languages are consisted from mere sounds without concrete substance. Actual substance, for example a dog, is replaced into a sound of “dog”. If you pronounce to “dog”, the listeners will imagine an animal of dog by their own ways. As the result of a long training from prehistoric era, in listening at some languages, we are accustomed to immediately light up some images in our brain. Therefore, hearing from happy story makes our soul pleasant, and sad story makes our heart painful. Languages and human spirits are closely related with each other. 

 

There is no actual substance in language at all. Language is merely a symbol made of sounds. But since languages are directly connected with human spirits, they will go on walking by themselves as if they were consisted of concrete substances. People will soon become delighted by languages, feel sorrow by languages, and hate others by languages. An old sick man having trouble with recognition, who cannot walk alone by himself, but can speak languages clearly and stubbornly. Without having reasonable judgment, he provokes tragedy by speaking out dirty words to his families, who’re taking care of his daily livings. For us, as human beings, it’s painfully a sad scene. 

 

If ugly things or immoral conducts were under way before our eyes; we could turn away our eyes from the scene. But we cannot avoid from the ear-splitting noise, or nose-crooking bad smell. The same can be applied for languages. Since languages are consisted of sounds, they ruthlessly invade into human brains, and stir around our peaceful spiritual world. Present organizational society is consisted of languages. People have to live in a flood of languages. Unpleasant languages and malicious imagination, suspicious words and a delusion of persecution, selfish boastful talks and repeating the same talks, these are quite the same of noise or bad smell. Languages should be convenient tool for civilization; on the other hand, they give us pain like side-effects. 

 

A word “dog” is only one. Each individual dog is different from sizes or shapes or characters. But we can call them inclusively a “dog”. Language is, stripped off hundreds of thousands of various individualities, and replaced them into one abstract symbol. Therefore, through the process of a dialogue, we’ll conversely follow the passage. With the help of abstract languages, listeners shall mobilize all the knowledge or experience or imagination, and find the way to reach a concrete world. A dog might be large like a wolf, long hair or short, long face like a horse, nervous or calm, and gradually he trace back a line of memories to clarify images. 

 

Therefore, a dialogue is made up of reliable relation between speakers and listeners. Without reliable relation, language will remain merely as an abstract symbol. This is typically seen in the discussions between naked partisan spirits of politicians. From the beginning, a speaker determined to persuade his counterparts, on the other hand, a listener put himself in a posture of guard. Accordingly, discussions, be intentionally sealed imagination, become mere playing catch and throw of words. Speaker is talking about Akita dog, but listener is pretending for bulldog. Speaker says “dog is a pretty pet”, replied by listener “I can’t believe a kind of people who are merrily licked by a dog, with the same tongue licked other dog’s anus”. A dialogue could never be established without mutual concessions. 

 

Languages are thought to be peculiar to mankind, but I don’t think so. I imagine that birds and animals have languages of their own. Japanese bulbul bird and chickadee have about ten warbling tones. Even for us human beings, it can be distinguishable of ten tones; fellow birds can understand more delicate differences of their words. Tens of bulbuls are clamorously singing, “piii piii piii-yo”, at the top of pasania tree. Maybe, meeting will be getting into trouble. But birds and animals have not, however, a letter. Thanks to the invention of characters, human beings had increased vocabularies tremendously. And languages became more visible, and people could speak higher level and complicated, logical and reasonable expressions. 

 

Human beings invented characters, and visualized languages on a paper. Languages had stopped time on a paper. Languages changed their characters from running away things like a wind, to staying their whole shapes on a paper. We could observe words carefully and make processing on them by spending unlimited time. Consequently, enormous vocabularies were invented, and more complicated expressions could be possible. Varieties of knowledge and histories and literatures were written by letter, and commonly owned by community. At prehistoric times, memorable capacity of a community was dependent on limited abilities of individual’s. But it was expanded unlimitedly as a collection of books in a library. Soon, people who memorized a lot of written words became the same meaning of having knowledge. And there appeared new kind of people called “intellectuals”. Strange phenomenon had emerged, in which intellectuals who have no experience of corporate management teaches “management” at graduate school. Young people, throughout their most valuable ages in life, went to school and spent time to read books. 

 

I once couldn’t distinguish hackberry from zelkova tree. Now, I can clearly understand the difference between them. It is so distinct for me that I wonder why I was once confusing. But when we are in the middle of confusion, nothing can be seen. I couldn’t understand the difference by way of reading books or access to internet. After all, I was obliged to keep watching honestly by myself. And suddenly one day, it was “clarified”. My whole body was awakened, is the suitable words to describe the moment. I think truly be able to distinguish things comes from this kind of mental awakening. How many books you might read, or taught from teachers, it was after all a knowledge based on languages. Breaking through a last minutes of boarders, and truly clarify things, you might need your own experiences and inventions. There is no way without just waiting for, by spending a lot of time, and over their (someone unknown) shall come and let you know the truth. 

 

As society grow larger and become more complicated, mankind tried to control the world with words written on a paper called law. But I think there is a fundamental contradiction to the idea that trying to control concrete human deeds with abstract languages. A word “You should not steal” is as vague as water or air. The deeds “steel” can be divided into variety of innumerable concrete examples, depending on stealers’ numbers or stolen goods’ numbers. Moreover, from the beginning, there is a hostile relation between people who restrict (speaker) and criminals (listener). There is no space for reliable dialogue between them. Since throwing and catching play of languages without mutual concessions get little rewards, trials are always consuming tremendous times in vain.

 

I was once working for a publishing company, especially for laws. There are huge amount of law books or judicial precedents displayed at the showroom. Maybe, the volume cannot be able to finished reading, by ten people spending their whole life. And still now, laws are increasing day by day. But how many laws might be prepared, crimes cannot be extinguished from our world. On the contrary, a new kind of crimes will appear one after another, passing through the net of laws. This must be a rat race. I think it comes from unreasonable idea or premise itself, that is, by using words in “dead” state on a paper, trying to control “living” movements of human beings. We cannot control human beings by languages; neither can we control economy by numbers. 

 

Virtual Society

Recently, we sometimes hear the word of “virtual world”. It was translated into Japanese an “imaginary world”. We can make shopping or playing games with unseen players at imaginary city through internet. I looked up the word “virtual” in a dictionary, and it was explained that “in reality or actual”. That is, “virtual” means imaginary in Japanese, but actual in English. Imaginary world is actual, sounds strange but admirably put! The reason is that our living “society” indeed might be said as an ultimate virtual world. Human beings replaced actual world into languages or letters or numbers, and have been building up virtual world. After that, they gradually forgot the fact they’ve replaced, and finally became misunderstood that virtual world must be actual. 

 

As Imayo popular poem, a millennium ago in Japan sang “Born on this earth, let’s play games”; human beings might have a birth on earth to enjoy playing. To play game is our instinct. From ancient times, when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, human beings were fascinated at playing games. First, during the intervals of works in a field, they played as a simple leisure. It was within a small group of clan. Then gradually growing in scale, and appeared professionals who concentrate on playing games 24 hours a day 365 days a year. When industrial revolution took place in modern Western Europe and build up national state, games were played in huge scale of national units. All the people living in a nation participated in a game, and depending on the winners or losers, chips called “money” were distributed. Finally therefore, games are not mere enjoyments, but become a livelihood itself. Enthusiasm for game is now covering all over the globe.

 

People began to go to school from an infant to the early 20th, spent almost all their youth to learn the rule of the game. Having great command of languages and letters and numbers, they learned how to win the games. Finally, experts called “master of the game” came to existing. Prime ministers, chairman of Central Bank, president of company, were all chosen from the master of the game. People who neglected daily works, and concentrated all their efforts to the game, were admired as successful person in a society. The age of game almighty has come. Gradually, people became to think things like a game, and understand this world based on the rules of a game written on a paper. 

 

The rule of a game is for an imaginary world which human beings have established for their convenience. It has no relation with actual world governed by heavenly sun. I’m not sure how long does the history of mankind exists, say millions or tens of millions, but during almost all the ages, human beings spent their lives embraced by nature. Human beings and animals, birds and fish, frogs and snakes, plants and stones, all are the living creatures unified with transmigrating universe. Breathing air, drinking water, eating foods, and reproducing next generations, we’ve been connecting continuous life on earth. Our ancestors could feel the breathing of earth, and lived long with millions of large-hearted gods in this archipelago. Human beings and animals, birds and fish, frogs and snakes, plants and stones, all the living creatures could speak same languages. It was only hundreds years ago when nations became enthusiastic about a game.

 

A human world invented by god, and imaginary world produced by human beings, are quite different dimensions of world. They make fundamentally contradictory movements, like debit and credit side of double entry system. Trying to push spacious human spiritual world of Mandala into narrow surface made up of languages and numbers, would be in vain. The movements of human life are never-ending flow of changes. If we try the movements to stop still on a paper, we’ll be retaliated by nature. Magma of life pushed in by force, will be exploding periodically like volcano. Bubble economy and financial crisis, inflation and deflation, unemployment and poverty; different in words but fundamentally those are the same phenomenon. One word by definition, it’s an explosion of the contradiction between the imaginary world and the human world. 

 

If a man walks, the shadow will be walking along with him. But you cannot let living creatures move by manipulating shadows. Same can be applied to the following relations. The door is always open to travel to imaginary world from actual world. But the door from imaginary world to actual world should firmly be closed. It is impossible to operate actual world by manipulating imaginary world. For example, popular method of game, such as financial policies and monetary policies, has no ability to change actual world at all. Whereas, how many times experienced bubble economy and financial crises, numerous times of inflations and deflations, and unreasonable disastrous wars, people never try to get out of the world of games. That’s because of the reason that modern people, who grown up within the closed world of games, cannot understand how deeply they are submerged in an imaginary world. 

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