The Meeting of Cutting-Edge Biomedical Science and Society
Cutting-edge biomedical science ——including iPS cell research—— unveils the many mysteries shrouding life itself and uses that emerging knowledge to benefit humankind through advances in modern medicine. The endeavor also raises various ethical, legal, and social concerns due to its connection to our past, present, and future society. To encourage public trust in such research, cooperation and collaboration among diverse stakeholders are often encouraged, but how, exactly, can this be accomplished?
Various ethical and social norms have been devised and promulgated for the promotion of advanced biomedical research in Japan. These norms include regulations established by governments and professional associations, including laws and ethical guidelines. In this regard, how can various stakeholders, including lay people, be specifically engaged in creating, updating, and upholding such regulations in an equitable manner? The typical individual, who may not have a scientific background or understand scientific jargon, will likely be at a loss if abruptly asked for an opinion on using iPS cells and fertilized embryos. If cutting-edge biomedical science and its clinical applications are to play an increasingly important role in shaping our future society, it is essential that the general public have more time and space from an early age to consider and speculate on the nature of life and living and on the significance and social implications of such research. Furthermore, novel social systems may be necessary to enable people of different generations, from children to the elderly, to meet and share with one another their ideas and opinions on these matters.
To address these ethical and social concerns, I have been interested in the power of expressions that do not rely solely on technical terms. This approach to considering and grasping these issues emphasizes discussions not only in specialized academic articles, at academic societies, and in governmental committees but among the general public through a number of communication media familiar to them, such as poetry, novels, picture books, films, and artworks. From this perspective, I have recently explored the possibility of “visual thinking” and “art communication” with the Art Communication Research Center of Kyoto University of the Arts. (*) This initiative, basically organized as workshops under the guidance of a facilitator, enables diverse groups of participants, from children to adults, to express their own perceptions and thoughts about an artwork (object) and its intention and background and to learn through dialogue how to appreciate one another’s perspectives and opinions. I am currently using this approach to elucidate the connectedness between our cells, our lives, and our society to cultivate even deeper bioethical discussions.
In Zen teaching, the term furyumonji describes the inability to achieve enlightenment through letters and words alone. Technical terms can certainly be beneficial to creating, fostering, and employing advanced knowledge in a particular context, but their limitations are evident in social situations. No matter what approach to expression is adopted or what remains unexpressed, I believe it is worthwhile to continually explore new means of expression to further enhance our communication with each other and the world. To address this challenge, I am now investigating a relevant book on this issue, The Book of Tea, by Okakura Kakuzo (Tenshin), in which he ponders the appreciation of art, Zen, and other topics.
An artwork used in our approach employs visual thinking and art communication.
Yusuke Asai, Physis, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, 2022
(detail, photographed by the author)
(*) The approach was originally established as “The Visual Thinking Curriculum” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in the late 1980s. Thirty years after its arrival in Japan, a memorable forum related to the approach was held at the Tokyo National Museum in August 2022.