Mind, Body, and the Transcendental Dialectic

This essay is part of an ongoing series on Sakura no Uta. It contains spoilers for the content through What is Mind? 

The transition visual of Mizuna in the cage evokes the ancient Greek concept of “soma sema,” that the body is the prison of the soul. This is a concept closely related to Plato’s theory of Forms, the theory that the physical world is a flawed imitation of the ideal Forms that make up the essence of all existence. How exactly these Forms relate to the soul (and subsequently, the mind) is a question that has shaped the course of philosophical inquiry throughout human history, and it is one that has never truly been settled. All that remains consistent is the intuitive acknowledgement that the mind has a unique ability to deal with abstractions that resemble a “greater truth” than the facts we derive from our observations of the physical world. 

While Plato comes short of distinguishing the mind and the body as truly separate, we see in his work the groundings of the concept better known as mind-body dualism that What is Mind? explores. Mizuna considers the body unnecessary, seeing its impurity as the source of suffering. Kusanagi tries to show Mizuna that the mind and the body are not in conflict. This discourse forms the essence of their lifelong romance. 

“If they represent nothing, then nothingness itself must be so”1

Miyazawa Kenji’s Spring and Asura lies in the heart of What is Mind? Appearing first in the prologue of Sakuuta and again in Mizuna’s first encounter with Kusanagi, the poem consists of Miyazawa’s mental sketches. Miyazawa calls these sketches “Landscapes”, recorded as they are and as they are recorded.2

This idea that the mental sketch is both a recording of reality and reality is the recording resembles the philosophy of 18th century bishop and philosopher George Berkeley, who the quote “What is Mind? No matter,” is often (mis?)attributed to.

Whether or not Berkeley is specifically invoked here, he represents a view on the nature of existence relevant to the themes of this route. Berkeley believed that all things existed only in the mind as ideas, and in particular, to be is to be perceived (esse est percipi). The relationship between the Miyazawa and Berkeley’s line of thought is even more apparent in a later stanza of Spring and Asura which is not quoted in Sakuuta:

For just as we perceive our own senses,
landscapes, and people’s characters,
And furthermore, as if we collectively perceived them,
the records and histories, even natural history,
and all their various data,
(Under the temporospatial limits of karma)
are nothing more than what we perceive.

Miyazawa Kenji – Spring and Asura3

“The heart is not the body. The body is not the heart.4

To understand where Berkeley’s theory comes from, it is useful to know that much of Enlightenment philosophy was a response to Descartes’ Meditations. Descartes observed that we could not trust our senses to give us an accurate representation of reality. Rather than accept the idea that it was impossible to know anything about the external world based on our perceptions, Descartes argued that reason allows us to question whether the conclusions we draw from our perceptions are sound. The idea that we must question our methods of analyzing the evidence we collect from our senses revolutionized science and philosophy, and philosophers started questioning the nature of the things we perceived and how we should understand them.  

Descartes theory of knowledge is loosely constructed in the following way: 

  1. The mind exists. 
  2. It is possible to know abstract, infallible truths using proper reasoning. 
  3. Objects also exist in a physical world external to our minds. 
  4. Our mind perceives material objects through the senses. 
  5. The senses are not reliable, and our perceptions of material objects may not be accurate representations of the objects themselves. 
  6. We can still gain some knowledge about the external world using reason to avoid drawing improper conclusions from our perceptions. 

Under Descartes’ system, mind and matter exist in fundamentally different realms, and knowledge of the physical world was constrained by our ability to understand it with reason. 

“No matter. Never mind.”

Berkeley rejected the premise that the physical world exists external to our minds. His argument can be roughly broken down as follows:

  1. When we perceive something, that perception is an idea that exists in the mind.
  2. It is impossible for there to be any evidence that these ideas/perceptions correspond to some real property in the material world, for any such evidence must itself be an idea. 
  3. The fact that we cannot truly interface with the external world does not cause any issues. In practice, we explain natural phenomena using only our ideas of what the world is like.
  4. Not only is the existence of a material world not necessary for the process of gaining knowledge, but belief in such an existence causes more problems by introducing doubt in our senses.

By denying the existence of a material world, Berkeley takes a different approach to rejecting skepticism. The senses cannot mislead our minds because there is nothing to be perceived outside of our minds. 

“But the Body is the Heart, and the Heart is the Body.” 5

Berkeley’s idealism attempts to resolve the conflict between mind and body by rejecting the physical existence of the body. Yet such a framework does little to resolve the practical problems of the body.

Mizuna realizes this when she says, “Whether you hate the heart, whether you hate the body, it is the heart that hurts.”6 Making the body an idea of the mind merely reframes the problems of the body as problems of the mind. One must love both the heart and the body to be happy.

This reconciliation is encapsulated in the inscription on Kusanagi’s Reclining Sakura, which serves as a response to Spring and Asura.

Spring and Asura opens with a cryptic passage:  

The apparition we call I,
Is a single blue glimmer of the hypothesized organic AC lamp
(A compound body of all transparent ghosts). 

It continues to shine, 
With landscapes, with everyone, 
While frantically, frantically, frantically flickering, 
A single blue glimmer of the Karmic AC lamp
(The light endures, the lamp gets lost).

Miyazawa Kenji – “Spring and Asura”7

Without any additional context, translating 現象 (genshou) as “Apparition” instead of a more common word like phenomenon would be preposterous. But this opening line is intrinsically linked to the first line of the inscription on Kusanagi’s Reclining Sakura:  

What appears to be one face of the spring-colored sky,  
A mere AC lamp, blind like Karma,  
Shines brightly, brightly, brightly.

Kusanagi Kenichiro – Inscription on “Reclining Sakura”8

Even in translation, the dialogue between the two poems is obvious, with Kusanagi directly quoting Miyazawa throughout the poem. A dialogue between the two takes place through small changes in the words, starting with their opening lines.

The word 仮象 (kashou), which I translate here as “Appears to be”, visually and phonetically resembles Miyazawa’s 現象.  There is also a logical connection between the two words. The 現 character in 現象 typically appears in words relating to reality, while the 仮 character in 仮象 appears in words relating to imitation. Juxtaposed together, they evoke the Mind-Matter questions that make up this route and point to the one explicit reference to formal philosophy present in this route.

When Kusanagi meets Mizuna for the second time, she is reading perhaps the single most famous philosophical text, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (CPR). As mentioned before, the word 現象 is typically translated to “phenomenon.” This is a word with special importance in Kantian philosophy. It is overly ambitious to explain Kant’s transcendental logic in a single paper, and I am not confident that I even understand Kant’s CPR, so in a futile attempt to stay relevant to Sakuuta, I will be making some broad generalizations.

Like Descartes, Kant notes that our senses give us information that seems to correspond to the objects external to our minds. When we interact with an object in the external world, our senses create an apparition (Erscheinung) in our mind. This apparition or appearance is referred to as a “phenomenon.” While the phenomenon is caused by an underlying thing in itself (Ding an sich), it is our personal subjective experience of that object rather than an objective representation.

So, if we take a step back, there is an external reality (which Kant calls the noumenal realm), and there is the empirical reality created by our senses (which Kant calls the phenomenal realm). Our mind judges these phenomena through the application of pure a priori concepts Kant calls Categories.

This is a view reminiscent of Plato’s theory that the external world is a shadow of the ideal Forms, and Kant is essentially a Rationalist in his stance on the relationship between mind and matter.

But while Rationalists like Plato and Descartes would argue that we could gain true knowledge of the noumenal realm through reason, Kant argued largely against the validity of such knowledge. All knowledge of the external world comes through our senses, and all knowledge we derive from our experiences must necessarily relate to and only to the phenomenal realm. This view is more in-line with Berkeley who argued that it is impossible for us to know the nature of things beyond what we perceive.

Kant’s theory of the noumenal and phenomenal realms synthesises ideas held by Rationalists like Descartes and Empiricists like Berkeley. It acknowledges the mind’s function in making judgments, while also acknowledging that our understanding is mostly limited to the phenomenal realm.

Still, we are ultimately rational beings, and we have an innate tendency to draw objective conclusions from our subjective experiences. When we inevitably make mistakes, the rational arguments we construct create an illusion of reality (Schein). Kant would probably consider Berkeley’s rejection of the external world as one of these transcendental illusions.

Here is a great example of why translation is hard. In English, Erscheinung and Schein both translate to “Appearance,” and while in the original German you can see the etymological relationship between the two words, this is much more difficult to do using English vocabulary. It is through some careful translating that philosophers settled on “Illusion” as the proper word. While Mizuna was reading CPR in English, Sca-DI most likely read it in Japanese, where 現象 and 仮象 are used for Erscheinung and Schein. These are the two contrasting words in the opening lines of Miyazawa and Kusanagi’s poems. The Japanese translation preserves not only etymological but also the Kantian relationship between the two words.

As discussed in the beginning of this essay, one possible reading of Miyazawa suggests that the world and our perceptions are one and the same. This line of thought can result in the rejection of the external world like Berkeley’s idealism and Mizuna’s rejection of the body. By invoking Schein, Kusanagi tries to present a different view on the underlying objects of Miyazawa’s poem.

In particular, Kusanagi’s poem inverts the relationship between landscape and the self:

There is no me before the landscape,
There is no landscape before me,
I chase, I catch, and am no more,
The world vanishes, wrapped in softness,
The world rang within the soft forest of sakura
The world rang with beautiful tone color.

Kusanagi Kenichiro – Inscription on “Reclining Sakura”8

Here, the landscape is detached from the perceiver. The world vanishes inside the sakura, but can still be heard ringing from within. I will admit that there is not as much evidence to suggest that Kant is referenced here as well, but the concept of noumena underlying the phenomena we perceive is so compelling that it is easy to draw such connections.

No matter, never mind.

Kant believed that it was human nature to seek greater truth. We have such a need for unconditional knowledge that without these transcendental illusions, we would not be able to maintain our reason. As Kusanagi eloquently puts it, Mizuna studied Kant because she thirsted for the knowledge that would save herself.10 This knowledge was ironically obscured in the very book she was struggling with.

To an extent, Kantian philosophy implies that we should not worry so much about the underlying truth, because we have no capacity to experience the noumenal world. Our innate tendency to search for this truth creates the illusions that result in philosophical problems. Again, we are reminded of Wittgenstein, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,” and Kusanagi’s comment that the mind-body problem is a case of mistaken wording is unapologetically Wittgensteinian.11 This really stresses just how similar these ideas are underneath. Philosophy is in many ways more about reconciling and accepting what appear to be opposing ideas than it is about rejecting them. It is not so much discovering new knowledge as it is adjusting our attitude towards what we already know.

Descartes and Berkeley agreed on a lot more than they disagreed. They recognized the same phenomena and had the same general intuition about the mind’s relationship with the world. They are both philosophies that aim to affirm the self and reject skepticism. Rather than rejecting one or the other, Kant synthesized their views, accepting both the mind and the body as equally important. You don’t need to read Kant to understand this, but he is one insightful guy when you find yourself trapped in a metaphysical struggle.



  1. それが虚無ならば虚無自身がこのとほりで 
    ある程度まではみんなに共通いたします  ↩︎
  2. たゞたしかに記録されたこれらのけしきは
    記録されたそのとほりのこのけしきで ↩︎
  3. けだしわれわれがわれわれの感官や
    記録や歴史 あるいは地史といふものも
    われわれがかんじてゐるのに過ぎません ↩︎
  4. 「心は、身体じゃない。身体は、心じゃない」 ↩︎
  5. 「だけど、心は身体だし、身体は心だ」 ↩︎
  6. 「心を嫌っても、身体を嫌っても、痛むのは心……なのですね」 ↩︎
  7. わたくしといふ現象は仮定された有機交流電燈のひとつの青い照明です 
    (ひかりはたもち その電燈は失はれ)   ↩︎
  8. 仮象のはるいろそらいちめん



    みんなのおのおののなかのすべてですから)  ↩︎
  9. 仮象のはるいろそらいちめん



    みんなのおのおののなかのすべてですから)  ↩︎
  10. 「君があれほどの成績を維持している事……、そして本を読む事……。
    真理に冷たい視線を保ちつつ、いつでも自分を救う様な真理を渇望している」 ↩︎
  11. 「心は、身体じゃない。身体は、心じゃない」
    「だから、水菜は自分の身体をいたわってやれ、自分の心をいたわってやれ」 ↩︎

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