Keiko Nakamura

Director General Emeritus, JT Biohistory Research Hall
Biohistory, Research Hall, Time, Relationship, Worldview

Title of Presentation

“Biohistory - Search for Science as a Culture”

What is life? To elaborate slightly: what does it mean to be alive? This is a question that anybody may harbor. It encompasses issues such as the nature of humanity, the whereabouts of the mind, and the significance of death: questions around the meaning of life.

The answers to these questions were conventionally sought in philosophy and religion, but in recent years, it has become possible for the life sciences to provide a basis for contemplating them.

In this context, it is not permissible for the life sciences merely to consider organisms as machines and analyze their structures and functions. It is essential to focus on the characteristic features of living things and comprehend them holistically.

Fortunately, toward the end of the 20th century, it became possible to apply conventional life science methods to obtain knowledge of the characteristics of a living thing in terms of its overall nature, history, relationships, hierarchies, diversity, and universal traits, by comprehending its genome: the entirety of DNA within its cells. We have proposed the study of “Biohistory” as the knowledge that comprehends living things on their own terms, and we are now practicing this Biohistory in the Research Hall. It is important to keep in mind here that we cannot learn everything about a living creature from its genome.

All the diverse organisms on our planet today share common ancestors in the form of cells born close to four billion years ago, and the genome of every one of these organisms is inscribed with the history and relationships of life itself. Gaining knowledge of these will prompt a shift from the mechanistic worldview that underpins contemporary science to a worldview based on a theory of life. Humans are organisms too, so we need to think about the way we live in view of our 4-billion-year history.

Our routine experience gives rise to a life-based worldview, and our academic learning and daily living, in other words, our scientific knowledge and actual experience must be consistent. Philosopher Shozo Omori called this “double depiction”: a state in which the realms of research and ordinary life both exist inseparably within a single human being.

In this way, science can take root in a society as part of its culture, opening the way forward to creating a livable society that has its foundation in living beings. I would like to talk about “double depiction” using concrete examples, and together think about how to live in the 21st century.


Web Site URL
A brief Biography(As of Apr 1, 2020)
Mar 1959 B.Sc. in Chemistry, Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo
Mar 1964 Ph.D. (Science) in biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, the University of Tokyo
Apr 1964 Researcher, National Institute of Health
May 1971 Chief, Laboratory for Social Life Science, Mitsubishi Kasei Institute of Life Sciences
Apr 1981 Director, Department of Natural and Social Environmental Science, Mitsubishi Kasei Institute of Life Sciences
Apr 1989 Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University
Apr 1993 Deputy Director General, JT Biohistory Research Hall
May 1995 Visiting Professor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo
Apr 1996 Professor, Joint Graduate School, Osaka University
Apr 2002 Director General, JT Biohistory Research Hall
Apr 2020 - Present Director General Emeritus, JT Biohistory Research Hall
Details of selected Awards and Honors
A list of selected Publications