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CRN ROUND TABLE TALK: Children Are Our Future - To Nurture Children's Dreams Part 1-2

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Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Child Research Net (CRN), we hosted a round table talk to discuss the developments of child research over the past years and look towards a new future. The participating members consisted of Dr. Yoichi Sakakihara, the current director of CRN, Dr. Noboru Kobayashi, the founder and honorary director of CRN, and Dr. Takemochi Ishii, a special advisor to and supporter of CRN since its foundation.

It was the 1980s, when Dr. Kobayashi propounded "Child Science." It was the time when the high-growth period of the Japanese economy supported by heavy industry came to an end, when people began to seek a new society more in harmony with nature and to enjoy a more well-balanced mode of living. In the first part of this session, we asked Dr. Kobayashi and Dr. Ishii to review and discuss the era of the turning point to this century. They were once the members of the Policy Research Council, a private advisory body supervised by the then Prime Minister Ohira, and provided advice on subjects well beyond their specializations from the standpoint of academia.
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Addressing multidisciplinary research challenges beyond medical science

Moderator: Dr. Kobayashi noted that it was necessary to assemble people from various fields in order to conduct the study of child science. Why do you think so?

Dr. Kobayashi: In the first place, it was the trend in the field of baby science to conduct multidisciplinary research at that time. Even when doing research in baby science, researchers ponder over the theme from multidisciplinary aspects, so it is not just about babies.

Dr. Sakakihara: Pediatricians tend to focus on the curing of children's diseases and a lot of them are less interested in infants with typical development. As a result, they might have paid less attention to the process of development of healthy infants.

Even experts had made the erroneous assumption that "Babies cannot see nor think. They just move reflexively." Once I came across a book describing new-born babies as "crying carrots" because they turn red (laugh). Some experts confidently insisted that a baby's cerebrum does not function, hence a baby by definition is a "mesencephalic animal." Then, Dr. Kobayashi started to say, "These conventional ideas seem to be wrong," which provoked the experts' interests.

Dr. Ishii: Dr. Kobayashi told me that "When you stick out your tongue, a new-born baby will do the same," so I did it to some babies to see if it was true. I found that new-born babies will typically exhibit some gnawing movement, even if they don't exactly stick out their tongue. Babies observe what adults do too.

Dr. Sakakihara: Whenever there was a new breakthrough in medical science, Dr. Kobayashi was alert to it. For example, in the world of immunology, it was discovered that a lymphocyte identifies invading microorganisms, which changed the concept of immunology considerably. Likewise, when the conventional notion of babies as "crying carrots" was identified as being erroneous, that changed the concept of baby science considerably. It seems that Dr. Kobayashi has always been alert to new developments.

Moderator: Do you think you were concerned that Japan would fall behind, away from the global trend, unless academic societies were created to conduct multidisciplinary research on children and infants, following the trend in the USA or the UK?

Dr. Kobayashi: Yes, I think so.

Dr. Sakakihara: In the world of pediatrics, we have academic societies such as those for neonatal medicine and child health. These societies, however, focus mainly on treatments and preventive measures. Dr. Kobayashi probably found it necessary to create a new place for multidisciplinary research, and established the Japanese Society of Baby Science and the Japanese Society of Child Science at the same time.

When people say "Let's invite more pediatricians to the Society of Child Science," Dr. Kobayashi always replies "We do not need a great many pediatricians." This is quite a rare opinion since such exclusive groupings of doctors in the same field is common in the world of medical science. Dr. Kobayashi was probably fully aware of such practices among doctors, and tried to create a new environment.

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"Child Science" was born at the turning point of history

Moderator: There is a way of thinking that people from other fields are welcomed in order to develop child science, while there is another way to think that introducing child science into other fields stimulates the development of these fields.

Dr. Ishii: Since Dr. Kobayashi was conducting child research with a new approach, I introduced him to the then Prime Minister Ohira. He was immediately impressed by the personality of Dr. Kobayashi and assigned him to the development of human resources. Dr. Kobayashi was capable of effectively communicating his fascination with child research to people outside the field.

Moderator: Child research is not merely the research of infants and children, but also the research of fundamental aspects of human beings. The mindset is important, too. The research should not merely be about individual subjects, but should focus on human interactions besides children, or something that will lead child research in the era of information technology.

Dr. Ishii: I agree. The notion of entrainment to one another applies to other matters besides child research. The then Prime Minister Ohira was very impressed by the views of Dr. Kobayashi. When the policy study group was established under the supervision of Prime Minister Ohira, Dr. Kobayashi was naturally expected to join the group.

Moderator: Researchers still refer to the policy study group under the supervision of Prime Minister Ohira as a group which played an important role in bringing about a major transformation in Japan, providing political advice which led to today's information-oriented society, structural transformation of economies from manufacturing to services, ecological awareness, garden-city concepts, etc.

Dr. Ishii: These topics were not political matters involving a power struggle, which we believed we should address regardless of the policy of the Cabinet. The policy study group at that time was, to put it strongly, the place to determine Japan's long-range policies after 1980.

Moderator: The then Prime Minister Ohira said, when he launched this study group, "Japan needs to transform from an economy-focused country to a culture-focused country. Intelligence is the most valuable asset of our country."

Dr. Ishii: In short, we became determined to change the conventional philosophy. We completed a successful postwar reconstruction. The development of the heavy industry was fulfilled. The Japanese automobile industry somehow caught up with the western countries. We had overcome past oil crises, as well as all the issues of energy-saving, resource-saving, pollution and the environment. In this way, Japan gradually gained confidence, in a sense. It was at this point that we realized Japan would soon become a country with long-living people. Therefore, the population issue was taken up and how to fundamentally alter the systems of Japanese society was discussed at the time of 1980.

The research group on the history of science and technology, for which Dr. Kobayashi and I served as organizers, announced the key word of "Holonic Path." For example, if we adopt a hard energy path that requires a high degree of energy consumption, productivity will be achieved but the environment will be severely damaged. In contrast, if we take a soft energy path by converting natural energy sources into usable forms, productivity and efficiency will be reduced and the growth of the economy will be impaired. However, the then Prime Minister Ohira and all of the group members agreed to introduce a new philosophy that can achieve both preservation of the environment and development of advanced industrial technologies, instead of making an alternative decision. Once we determined this, we made concerted all-out efforts to realize such a philosophy, although we were not sure whether we would succeed or not. Human resources were invested, reforms of education systems were implemented, and the land was cultivated in a way to realize the new philosophy. Moreover, it actually turned out that way in reality, we believe.

Moderator: According to a book written by Dr. Ishii, the concept of "Holonic Path" is to strive for harmonious developments while respecting the relationship between the whole and its parts and creating a decentralized autonomous society. I think Dr. Ishii had a prophetic vision that led to the current age of the Internet. At the same time, Dr. Kobayashi proposed the notion of multidisciplinary "Child Science." It is quite interesting to think that a biological model in which the entire system is influenced by the interactions of individuals like the concept of mother-infant interaction was the underlying driver of transformational changes in Japanese society, including its industries. The mid-1980s is part of a decade now more than 30 years in the distant past, and I am quite surprised but very pleased that your ideas still seem new and fresh to all of us. (To be continued in 2-1)

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