令和3年度 東京大学秋季学位記授与式・卒業式 総長告辞

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Address by the President of the University of Tokyo at the 2021 Autumn Semester Diploma Presentation and Commencement Ceremony

Hello everyone, today, you have been awarded diplomas by the University of Tokyo. On behalf of the University and all its members, congratulations to you all. I also extend my deep appreciation to your families, who have supported you so far.

This autumn 765 graduate students completed their programs. There are 281 doctoral degree program graduates, 431 master’s degree program graduates, and 53 professional degree program graduates. Also, 58 undergraduate students have graduated. Of these undergraduate students, 18 are graduates of Programs in English at Komaba, or PEAK, an English-language undergraduate degree program. In addition, 3 are graduates of the Global Science Course of the Faculty of Science, an English-language undergraduate transfer program for those who started their study at foreign universities. 555 of our graduating students, or about 70%, come from outside Japan.

Since early 2020, you have all experienced great difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those of you who entered our master’s degree programs from overseas should have had the chance to enjoy life here in Japan, but unfortunately your daily lives have been greatly restricted under the state of emergency. Despite such difficult circumstances, you all worked hard at your studies and research and are now attending this commencement ceremony today. That is a testament to your aspirations, and I offer my sincere respect for your efforts.

It seems we will have to endure these difficulties for some time to come. But times like these call on us to demonstrate our ingenuity to the fullest. This pandemic is an opportunity to bring about the changes needed to adapt to this new environment. I hope that you will use the arsenal of “knowledge” developed here at the University and become the driving force for building a new society in the future.

As you embark on the next stage of your lives, here, I would like to talk about “uncertainty” as one of the perspectives on this new phase in today’s society.

The late economist, Dr. John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote a book in 1977 titled “The Age of Uncertainty”. In this book, he argued that economics and philosophy of the previous century could no longer account for capitalism of the 20th century. More than 40 years since then, uncertainty has come to be used to represent a deep sense of ambiguity in multiple contexts from the theory of science and technology to risk management. As we face the spread of Covid-19 and the earth’s changing environment, we are unable to predict what lies ahead. We are indeed living in the age of uncertainty.

I think there are two causes for this uncertainty.
One is a lack of accurate information (or scientific evidence) and reliable knowledge. The other is a lack of certainty about whether what is feasible technologically or in principle is in fact desirable for society.

For example, one year ago, a great deal of uncertain information was circulating about the new coronavirus as many things remained unknown about the initial symptoms of infection, the effectiveness of wearing a mask, and what rules to follow to prevent infection. Although we now know vaccination helps reduce the risk of serious illness, over 4.7 million people have died around the world from the virus so far.

While the number of deaths is still less than one tenth of those who died of the 1918-1920 Spanish flu, there is no doubt that this is a pandemic unlike any before. More than 500,000 scientific papers, reports, and preprints have been released so far. Researchers around the world are sharing experimental data, increasing the volume of scientifically reliable information about Covid-19. Even so, many uncertainties remain, including concerning the effectiveness of response measures and when this pandemic will finally end.

In the same sense, we can talk about uncertainty in relation to future climate change. Many developed and some developing countries have declared national plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement. This signifies a major shift in the world’s energy policy, which is based on scientific evidence in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports and intends to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Even so, it will be incredibly difficult to achieve carbon neutrality. The latest IPCC report released in August this year clearly states that global warming is highly likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years. Whether that happens or not, we will face multiple unknown risks relating to climate, water resources, biodiversity and many other areas. The two or three centuries since the Industrial Revolution are a short period in the history of humankind, but it is a fact that in this short span we are rapidly transitioning to a climate such as we have never experienced before. As we are now entering into an entirely new phase, we lack reliable knowledge from which we can envision a sustainable human society.

Another cause of uncertainty is that we can’t be fully confident in choosing any particular technological method as a solution because we have yet to establish ethical standards for deciding whether we, as humans, should use it or not.

Let me take weather-modification technologies for example. The technology for artificially inducing rainfall already exists. Beyond that, there are proposals to inject aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and curb global warming through planetary scale geoengineering. The problem is that if we simply use another technology for climate cooling without reducing CO2 emissions, the main cause of global warming, there will be concerns over the risk of unknown adverse side effects in addition to questions of viability. We find similar ethical concerns over the use of technology in many fields of modern science.

Another example is the case of genome editing, which I addressed in my speech at the graduate school matriculation ceremony in April this year.

Research is taking place on editing the genomes of human embryos in search of potential treatments for genetic disorders. We cannot ignore that this is bringing hope to the families of patients with serious genetic ailments that are currently untreatable. Meanwhile, it is already possible to create so-called designer babies by editing embryo genomes. While the potential side effects of genome editing technology on the embryo have yet to be fully understood, I’m sure that many of you still remember the global shock when a researcher announced in 2018 the birth of twin baby girls from a genetically-altered embryo in China. This incident raised alarm among scientists and people around the world, prompting debates about introducing regulations on embryo genome editing.

Technological advances are giving rise to new and serious social issues before we can accumulate a sufficient amount of reliable knowledge and information or have enough time for discussion about their impact. In other words, what I would call “unconfirmed qualities” complicate decision making and increase uncertainty.

Another aspect we should think about, as our society faces new situations to tackle, is the troublesome situation that often arises when a lack of credible information leads to fabrication of information and even of evidence. This, you could say, is an adverse side effect of uncertainty. As a way to think about this issue, I’d like to mention the example of forged documents in Medieval Europe.

For many centuries the Isidore Decretals, a collection of past Catholic ecumenical council resolutions and papal decrees, carried much weight in Medieval Canon Law, the law of the Roman Catholic Church. It was discovered in the sixteenth century – many centuries after their creation – that the Isidore Decretals contained mostly forgeries and falsifications. Why did it take so long to find out that what are now called the Pseudo-Isidore Decretals were in fact forgeries? One reason is that we can say for certain that multiple authors working in several locations were involved in producing the fabricated documents. Not only were the documents elaborately made, but their content was also hard to verify. For instance, many of the falsified texts in the Decretals were found to have been patched together like a mosaic created of pieces from existing texts. As such, using parts of authentic texts made it difficult to ascertain that the document as a whole was a fake.

Experts often point dealing with real and current problems as the motive for such falsification. When the conventional church rules had gaps and failed to deal with cases to be judged, the necessary legal rules themselves were reimagined based on parts of existing texts as an immediate solution to the problem at hand. As a solution to real-life problems motivated by pragmatic intentions, it must have been quite a difficult feat to see through this practice of fabrication in the information environment of the time.

Then, how should we confront such uncertainty and lack of transparency?

First, we need to use our imagination to think about the impact of the information we transmit on those who receive it. In today’s world, anyone can disseminate information by using social media for example. Information can spread instantly producing a range of effects even in faraway places. Once information gets out, there is no way to put the Genie back in the bottle. Today, far more serious problems are caused by the broad spread of information than its transmission.

Second, each and every one of us needs to be critical and verify the accuracy of information, just as you have learned to do so through your studies and research here at the University of Tokyo. In this process, our overall power to work with knowledge is put to the test. When certain information seems favorable to those who receive it, experts say that people are prone to dismiss or ignore proofs that contradict it. In your life ahead, I would like to remind you to always remember the importance of checking facts and thinking for yourself when making decisions instead of buying into readily available information. That way, you will not be easily influenced by unreliable information such as fake news.

Third, it is important in problem solving to define what is unknown or unreliable, that is, to identify the “known unknowns,” and to build up your understanding through multiple discussions including diverse range of experts and stakeholders. There are differing opinions about ongoing issues even among experts. Since as humans we have an innate desire to understand what goes on around us, we are often deceived by uncertain information and wrongly think we understand something. In Japanese, we call such a half-baked understanding “nama gaten,” which literally translates as “raw understanding.” This can hinder us from solving problems. Instead, it is important to deepen dialogue to overcome the uncertainty that comes with this type of superficial understanding. Deepening dialogue is also a vital and important strategy for the University of Tokyo.

In June this year, Professor Eiichi Negishi, 2010 laureate of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, sadly passed away. Dr. Negishi was an alumnus and recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Tokyo. The palladium-catalyzed cross coupling reaction in organic synthesis that bears his name is now widely used as a stable and efficient method to achieve a desired coupling reaction in the production of electronics materials, agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

In 2012, we asked Dr. Negishi to give a congratulatory message at the undergraduate matriculation ceremony. In his speech, he said, “find what you like first and work at it to your heart’s content.” But he also said, “even if you do what interests you, after a while, you will sometimes grow weary of it. When that happens, you may want to change what you do. If you can’t carry on, then change. It’s not a bad thing to experience pulling yourself up again after a setback a few times.” I believe that this combination of passion, flexibility, and resilience will be a great source of power for you all as you go out into today’s rapidly-changing and highly uncertain world.

As our world faces unprecedented challenges over the next few decades, there is no doubt that we must better manage the earth’s environment, a shared asset of all humanity, establish an ethical framework for the use of science and technology, and change our society so that we can pass on all these things to future generations.

Greater participation and contributions by all fields from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences are necessary for tackling our many challenges, be it social change centering on green transformation, managing and preserving the global commons, securing social equity, justice, and trust through eliminating economic disparities, or creating a multicultural and inclusive society. That means every one of you here today is called upon to understand the situations and goals of the people around you and to think about how you can build a system for coexistence.

In other words, what we need is to develop a wholistic and integrated knowledge, one that combines technologies based on accurate knowledge and information, with ethics, history, cultural climate, cultural customs and other qualities. People around the world are working together to find solutions to these difficult issues. Things may not go well at times. But if it doesn’t work, change. I would like you to remember Dr. Negishi’s words and be flexible in taking on challenges.

The University of Tokyo has always engaged with society with a great sense of responsibility for developing talent. You who have gathered at the University from around Japan and across the world are all members of the University of Tokyo’s global network, partners as we work together to build a better society for the future. Making use of the knowledge and skills you have acquired at the university, maintaining a broad perspective and unwavering principles, I hope you will do your part, in one way or another, to help eliminate uncertainty and create transparency in our future society.

Congratulations on your graduation!

The University of Tokyo
September 24, 2021

(和文)令和3年度 東京大学秋季学位記授与式・卒業式 総長告辞






経済学者ジョン・ケネス・ガルブレイスは、1977年の著書「不確実性の時代(The age of uncertainty)」で、20世紀の資本主義が前世紀の古い経済学や哲学では理解できないことを説きました。それから40年以上が経つ今、不確実性という言葉は科学技術論、リスク管理など、多様な文脈での不透明さの認識(deep sense of uncertainty)に用いられるようになっています。新型コロナウィルス感染症(COVID-19)の拡大や地球環境の変化など、我々はまさに将来が見通せない不透明な時代に生きています。




同じ意味での不確実性は、将来の気候変化についても言えます。2015年のパリ協定における合意に基づき、先進各国を中心に「2050年カーボンニュートラル」達成に向けた方針が表明されています。これは、地球全体の温暖化を1.5℃未満に抑えるためのエネルギー政策の大転換で、IPCC(気候変動に関する政府間パネル, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)の評価報告書による科学的根拠に基づいています。








中世教会法における「イシドルス教令集」は、過去の教会会議決議や教皇令などをまとめた教令集として長年にわたって高い権威を誇っていましたが、16世紀頃にそれが捏造・改ざんを含む偽作であることが明らかになりました。この「偽イシドルス教令集(Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals)」が偽書であることが明らかになるまで、実に数百年の年月を要しましたが、なぜそのように長年にわたり見抜かれなかったのでしょうか。その要因として、まず、この偽作に多数の著者と工房が長きにわたって関与したことが挙げられます。書物の形式として精巧に作りあげられていただけでなく、その内容も見抜かれにくい特質を備えていました。例えば、この教令集に収録された偽物のテクストの多くは、既に実在するテクストの断片を素材に、それをモザイク状に切り貼りして組み合わせて作られていました。つまり本物のテクストの断片を利用していたために、全体が偽物であると見抜くことが難しかったわけです。





第3に、問題解決にとって重要なのは、何が分かっていないのか、どこが不確実なのかという、いわゆる”Known unknowns”を明確にし、多様な専門家およびステークホルダーを包摂した対話を積み重ねることです。現在進行形の課題では専門家集団の中でさえ様々な意見があります。人間には物事を理解したい欲求があるゆえに、不確かな情報に乗せられてつい「分かったつもり」になることがままあります。よく理解しないままに分かったつもりになることを日本語では「生合点」と言いますが、生合点はむしろ本当の問題解決を阻害します。対話を深め、生合点の不確かさを克服していくことは、大切です。これは、東京大学がこれから重視してゆく方向性でもあります。








藤井 輝夫