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Interesting Lectures and Seminars

Aspects of Symbols (Common Multidisciplinary Course of the School of Science and Engineering)
-Do you know "The Name of the Rose"?-

Mr.Mitsutaka Inagaki
5th year Student at the School of Science and Engineering

Do you know "The Name of the Rose" (1980)? It is a novel written by the semiotician Mr. Umberto Eco. A variety of items function as some sort of symbol in this novel, which is set in a monastery. An example of this is the name of the character "William of Baskerville", who plays the role of a detective. "Baskerville" is taken from the novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1901), which is part of the Sherlock Holmes series. "William" is an allusion to William of Ockham, a monk who is known for his role in the "problem of universals" in the Middle Ages. In this way, the keywords appearing in "The Name of the Rose" are extracted from countless other written works.

In this course, students study the symbolic items and setting background that appear in "The Name of the Rose". The course develops an exploration of semantics using hints from the attitude of the main character as he hunts for the truth regarding a murder mystery. To begin with, the first two classes were spent viewing the film "The Name of the Rose". The subsequent 4 classes were spent studying the "problem of universals" through the lectures of Professor Koichi Murai. William of Ockham appeared in this study as a nominalist.

His logical way of thinking, such as that represented in "Ockham's Razor", has influenced modern science. This way of thinking certainly seems natural to modern Japanese people and is reminiscent of the personality of William of Baskerville from the novel. However, when "nominalism" appeared as a contrast to the "realism" of the problem of universals, I felt an aloofness in the scientific aspects of the philosophy, and I encountered a form which I had never felt before in the relationship between science and religion.

Next, the course was conducted by Professor Akihisa Inoue, who gave a lecture regarding keywords from the film "The Name of the Rose" while also referring to other movies. The keywords covered included "virtuous poverty", "laughter" and "library". Each of the keywords possessed deeper meaning than I had thought, and I found the lectures to be extremely interesting.

The final 4 classes was a series of summary lectures conducted by Professor Taikan Yamada. Professor Yamada's lectures contained a variety of episodes and were very interesting. At times it was difficult to differentiate the Professor's jokes from the real material. The Holy Grail is everywhere.

This course provides the opportunity to study the appearance of symbols. If students from other schools have an interest, I recommend that they read "The Name of the Rose".

*The coordinator of this course is Professor Taikan Yamada of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Problem of Universals: Realism is the philosophy that the same types of objects share some sort of universal quality. Nominalism is the view that objects cannot possess some sort of universal quality because the many objects were simply assigned a shared name (a universal name) when they were classified through the intelligence of man.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1901): A work from the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Semantics: Also referred to as semiology. An branch of knowledge which attempts to analyze culture as a whole by focusing on the function of symbols which take the place of and represent other things. The discipline obtains clues from structures composed from combinations of various symbols such as signals, icons, indexes, representations and conceptions.

"Ockham's Razor": A logical philosophy that "the best logic can explain the widest range of phenomenon and is the simplest".

"The Name of the Rose" (Two Volumes)
Written by Umberto Eco; Translation by Hideaki Kawashima
Published: January 25, 1990 by Tokyo Sogensha
促2,415 (tax included)

(Offered by WASEDA WEEKLY)