Quantum entanglement, seriously? It may seem a leap to read this little piece as anticipating anything like, say, the profoundly amusing caricatures of Italo Cavino’s Cosmicomics of 1965. I will indulge the whim, however, aiming to underline the originality of Mushanokoji’s characterizations, for we of the 21st century are quite au fait with the ideas presented, and may therefore tend to underrate the originality of his accomplishment.
It wasn’t until 1915 that Freud wrote his seminal book on the Unconscious; however, a generic version of the idea was established at least since the appearance of the German philosopher, Eduard von Hartmann’s work, Philosophy of the Unconscious in 1869. Rudolf Eisler defines von Hartmann’s ‘unconscious’ as:
… the absolute which is at the basis of all things and lies behind all consciousness, the superconscious-spiritual, the identity between the psychic and the physical or between the I and the Non-I.Dictionary of Philosophical Concepts (1904); Qtd. in Otabe.
So it is not surprising that Mushanokoji was familiar with the generic idea of the unconscious, and certainly with Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, of 1905, educated as he had been in the preeminent university of Meiji Japan, Tokyo Imperial University.
However, it is not as easy to account for the echoes of quantum entanglement as experienced by Ichiro and Shizu in the story, which seems a form of ‘spooky action at a distance‘, originating in the unconscious mind.
Already in 1900, Max Planck had discovered that material bodies are able to absorb energy discontinuously, in discrete quantities or quanta, hereby laying the foundation stone for quantum theory. But the paradoxes of entanglement only emerged during the 1920s. through the work of Schrödinger, Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and others, during what has been called ‘the crisis of Physics‘ (see Lucas). Maybe these days it is quite possible to work out in retrospect that the seed of entanglement is already immanent in Planck’s earlier discoveries. But it would require a brilliant intuition to do so coming from the opposite direction.
In a sense, Mushanokoji reduces his characters to unconscious molecules, whose eerily behaving vibrations wed them to psychological effects, in a way that he conceived of far ahead of his time. Again, the connection has become almost faddish in the present day (e.g., Valverde, Lucas, Horgan). Perhaps it is an effect of Mushanokoji’s not entirely Western mindset, upon some very progressive imported Western ideas. Of course, some popular expositions have appealed to traditional Eastern thought in order to conceptualize the radical, ‘non-rational’ nature of latter-day theoretical physics, such as Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics (1975) and Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters (1979).
Supplementary Record (to be seen as something that can be written by the protagonist of The Good Natured Man)
Two People (from my book Wilderness)
Here was a male and a female, who were both at an age when they were beginning to know love. They may possibly have seen each other before. No, I am certain of it. He was thirteen, she ten, and they had met in the street. At that time, the boy had thought she was lovely, and she found him splendid. But the two of them forgot all about it. They did not even dream of it again. Their houses were only a block and a half away from each other.
Of course, they had never spoken, they did not know each other’s name, and to begin with, the boy was not even aware that the girl exited in this world, nor she that he was. But was there no relation between them? Was there no connection, something they were unaware of?
The woman that the man has in his mind as his ideal woman is that very one. He can be named, for argument’s sake, Ichiro, and the woman, Shizu. If the ideal woman that Ichiro had in his mind was created and made into a living woman, it would surely be Shizu. If, hypothetically, an omniscient and omnipotent god had created Shizu’s ideal man, would it not be Ichiro who came into being?
These two are not artists, and cannot imagine an ideal person’s face. They are not sculptors, and do not know an ideal person’s skeleton. They are not poets, and are unable to envisage the nature of an ideal person. However, these two have something they yearn for, and that is, for Ichiro, Shizu, and for Shizu, Ichiro.
Those times that Ichiro longs for someone and is lonely, Shizu also has a yearning and is lonely as well.
When Shizu spontaneously becomes happy, Ichiro also becomes happy without reason. There must be something between the two of them. It was as though one of them emitted a sound of a certain vibration, and the other would do the same without even knowing it. This is just how it was between them.
It would happen without their knowing, mysteriously, and they never wondered why they would suddenly feel lonely or happy.
One day they happened to meet in the street. Ichiro thought she was lovely, and Shizu found him handsome. They fell in love on the spot, but neither would ever know it. Ichiro wondered why he could not get Shizu out of his head, and Shizu thought the same thing about him. They tried to forget each other, but the harder they tried, the more they were reminded. They were frustrated with their own lack of willpower.
That night, although each thought they were trying to forget the other, both were overcome with a joyful anxiety, as if having tasted of forbidden fruit. Both had strict families, and so they felt ashamed and guilty about desire.
They did not know each other’s name or where they lived. Even when each tried to recall the other’s appearance, they could not bring it to the surface. Yet neither could forget. The longing grew stronger. They used to long for someone without knowing why, but now, though they still do not know why, what they longed for has assumed form. The one longed for has risen into consciousness.
Of course, they found this neither appropriate, beautiful, or natural. They never dreamed they were resonating with each other.
Subsequently, they went at the same time to that place, two or three times. The reason was that when Ichiro felt his vague longing, his feet guided him there, and Shizu’s feet also took her there, without her knowing it. But since it was something not risen into consciousness that guided them, they were prevented from meeting, even a single time out of ten.
Their thinking became intensified. Both began to prefer lonely places. They brooded and were lost in thought.
Ichiro tried to reinvigorate himself, berating himself for having become so effeminate. Shizu also wondered why she was thinking about that person so much, reproach herself, and try to forget him. But it was to no avail, and they yearned and became nostalgic, desolate, and teary-eyed. Aha! It must be they are in love, and loved. Sometimes they even smile to themselves. They look happy one moment and sad the next. They were afraid that others would realize, and they felt ashamed and embarrassed.
If this was a conscious thing, they would have been able to overpower it. But their yearning and nostalgia originated outside their consciousness. “Why is it so strong?” was a question they could neither ask nor answer themselves.
One day, when Shizu was absent-mindedly sitting at her desk, her mother anxiously asked her, “What has come over you recently? Is something the matter?” She answered indifferently, “No,” but when her mother left, she grew sad and cried at her desk, feeling she should have told her about her feelings. After a while, she regained her composure and left the house alone to go to the usual place. Inadvertently, she met Ichiro. Their eyes met, then parted, then met again, then parted again. They passed by each other in a daze, both taking a few erratic steps. Ichiro nervously turned his head, and Shizu tried to resist the urge to do the same. She pretended to look at something outside, and when she turned around again, saw only the back of his head .
The two felt happy. However, they could not be sure they loved each other. They had never opened their hearts to each other, nor even spoken eye to eye. They did not know what their hearts and minds could say to each other. They were happy, but felt lonely and sad at the same time.
And so a year passed, and two years passed.
They think of each other fondly, but their love remains in doubt. They may have talked eye to eye several times over the course of two years, and even heart to heart, but they do not know each other’s name, nor their family, nor their heart.
Notes, References, Further Reading
Contextual-atmospheric Meiji-Taisho images:
- Street scene: Movie district, Asakusa Park, Tokyo (c. 1920?). Source: ‘Asakusa Movies‘.
- Photo of woman: Geisha with noh mask (c. 1910)
Horgan, J. ‘Quantum Mechanics, the Mind-Body Problem and Negative Theology‘. Scientific American. Dec. 2020
Lucas, R. (2016) ‘The Quantum Unconscious and the Observant Consciousness’. Psychology, 7, 836-863. doi: 10.4236/psych.2016.76087.
Otabe, Tanehisa. ‘The Unconscious’. Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology 6:2, 95-102, doi: 10.1080/20539320.2019.1672278.
Valverde, R. ‘Possible Role of Quantum Physics in Transpersonal & Metaphysical Psychology’. Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research, 7.4, April 2016, pp. 303-30. Pdf copy.
Westpfahl, A. (2019). Of matter and meaning : quantum entanglement and biological phantasy in psychoanalysis (T). University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0380501. Pdf copy available
English translation of Saneatsu Mushanokoji’s Omedetakihito (1910) by Michael Guest © 2022
Categories: Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man