Autobiographical notes are not easy to write! Too big is the danger of falsifying facts, romanticising the past, whitewashing incidents and exaggerating the one or the other thing. However, you might feel like it is important to know my “background story” that makes it easier to understand why I think like this or that. I will try to be as precise as possible without going too deep into detail. And, of course, I won’t publish some delicate private stories on the internet…
I entered this world on October 9th in 1981. After two years in a small town my family moved to the countryside. We had no agriculture, just a few animals (cats, dog, chicken, horses, sometimes ducks, geese and for a short time even goats, sheep and three pigs). So much space for me! And so many things to explore! I grew up with the nature. I learned a lot about trees, flowers and animals. And I loved them! I was playing outside everyday, I never cared about the weather. I love sunshine same as snow or thunderstorm (oh, thunderstorm even is my favourite weather!). From 1985 to 1988 I went to the kindergarten and in 1988 I entered the primary school. I didn’t have many friends there. I was invited by other classmates for their birthday partys, I invited them for mine, sometimes we met and played together… But I was never the “dominant” part in class. Maybe living in the countryside was the reason why I was often playing on my own. But there was an advantage to live in the countryside: There was so much space, so many things to do.
My youth was just very usual. I entered Gymnasium, the German secondary school type that permits to study at University afterwards. From time to time I fell in love with a girl, but I was too shy to ask her. I found out that I like to play drums and entered the school’s BigBand. I took part in a scientific competition for young pupil and was member of the pupil’s council. I learned three foreign languages: English (nine years), Latin (five years) and French (two years). French I learned voluntarily, I think this was the only mistake I made in school. A little bit later I found out that I prefer the natural sciences. The last three years are called “Oberstufe” (upper grade), this was the best time of all! I could select my subjects, and I mainly chose natural sciences like chemistry, biology and mathematics. I also had “Music education”, which was very important! I got really good marks in music, because I learned to play musical instruments (drums and piano). So my average mark at the end of school was quite good. The language subjects were not so good, but music and chemistry gave me a good final grade!
Here are some “lessons learned” from my teenage years:
- People are evil.
I was bullied a lot at the age of 13,14,15… My classmates made fun of me living in the countryside, making bad jokes about being a farmer. I can’t blame my friends because they probably never realised they were bullying me, but I started to hate everyone! My intraverted and rather anxious personality and my lack of self-confidence made me escape even more into my own world, playing on my own, even starting my own country (“Pannonia”) in which I was the King, in which I made the rules. But ever since I can’t get along easily with “dominant” outgoing and extraverted people. Still today I often feel shy, insecure and want to hide when facing people that are “too strong” and dominant. These incidents back in the days mark the first step in developing serious misanthropy.
- Mankind as a failure
Inspired by a book called “Trial and error: Mankind – a failure of Nature” written by German Anthropologist Theo Löbsack I felt confirmed in my anti-human viewpoint at the delicate age of 16. The book states that the human race is condemned to die out because of its “excessive organ”, the brain. We developed technology, ethics, medicine, social systems, etc., which in the long run lead to a weakening of mankind. I hope mankind disappears as soon as possible, before destroying earth more! It would be the best for the planet! Mankind is like a plague, like a virus for this planet! Finally the planet will get rid of it. And it will be painful for mankind!
I often asked myself: How can I think so terrible about mankind and at the same time just lead an ordinary human life? I talked about mankind as if I was not part of it. Finally I came to the conclusion that it is OK to see things from two points of view: Regarding “mankind” as the sum of all humans, without any individuals, and regarding myself as an individual that has to make its own way among all the others. For a while I felt very guilty and unhappy, but I think it is just part of evolution. Mankind had to develop into that, and we will leave that planet as soon as we have gone too far! And no one will ever cry any tear about us! Sad but true!
- Emotional intelligence
My first girlfriend was a very emotional person who often lost temper and freaked out even because of little things. She claimed it “human” to live out anger whenever it came up, and that I am weird because I obviously suppress my anger and other emotions. I tried to control my negative emotions, because I realised that they always have only bad effects: anger made other people also angry or sad, sadness made me feel powerless, greed or envy made me do evil deeds. Also in my family I learned: be considerate! Do not make everything with too much emotion, but think about it first. In my opinion “emotional” is not the opposite of “rational”. Emotion and ratio always work together. But emotion is faster, so people do “emotional” deeds and it seems they did not think (ratio) about consequences or the effect of their action. Having “emotional intelligence” means to have a high self-awareness, the ability of self-management, but also empathy and social awareness. I think all these things can be trained – and should be trained. They are essential for good physical and mental health, for having good relationships and for leading a good life with a peaceful soul.
Since Chemistry was my favourite subject at school I decided to study Chemistry at University. I entered Münster University, because it was close to my hometown and I can continue my bands that I had for many years. I lived in a “community” with my old school friend Jonas (we know each other since 1992), that means we lived together in an apartment, one room for each of us, sharing kitchen and bathroom. I really enjoyed having my own space, experiencing all aspects of a students life (Party, drinking, hanging out with friends, playing music… oh, and sometimes study…), and learning more about chemistry. I got the Diploma degree after successfully finishing several lab courses, exams, a semester in Korea and a really great time with new “lessons learned”!
- Emotional Intelligence revisited
My second girlfriend was the opposite of the first one in this respect: She seemed to be completely emotionless, like a stone or a block of ice. It was much easier with her, she never got angry. When we quarreled we simply discussed about what happened or what is wrong. And we came to a conclusion very fast. We always used our brains when quarreling, finding arguments, listening to the other, trying to understand the other and finally find an agreement (= solve the problem). This is the advantage of being emotionless. But on the other hand she also never showed joy or happiness. She seemed to be callous or even apathetical. It was very difficult to make her smile or even laugh. Or people might say, she was not so natural… Always controlling herself, never “letting herself go”. As I said: with negative emotions this is very useful, but not with positive ones. This was my first time experiencing that the best way is usually the middle way between two extremes.
- To have or to be, that is the question
Erich Fromm taught me a lot about these two different life approaches. Having lifestyle, which is found in industrialised countries, is based on possession or ownership, Being lifestyle – as an example the Asian countries are mentioned – is based on self-development, finding the own abilities and strong points and lead a life in agreement with the environment. Three examples:
- Loving someone in the Having-style takes love as a “thing” that you can “have”, but that you can also lose. “Love” is there, but it can vanish, so that the partnership is always at danger. Lovers might stick to “love” as a concept. “Being-style love” doesn’t waste time on such aspects, it is enjoyed in the moment, the two lovers “are” (or become) the love.
- In Western medicine a disease is often regarded as a disturbing factor that came in from outside and must be taken and removed. Eastern medicine regards the disease as a momentary part of the patient and must be transformed instead of removed.
- Studying in the having-lifestyle mainly means memorizing (having knowledge), whereas studying in being-style means growing by making the learned a part of oneself.
- No life without Music
When I was 12 years old I was a nobody. I was shy and weak. People in school treated me like a fool and I never raised my voice against that. But then I learned to play the drums and I was really good! Someday I noticed that there is something I can do better than everyone else at this school! I had no reason to hide or to act shy. Drumming made me strong, I got a lot of self-confidence. Still I identify myself with music! It is my most passionate hobby. Next to playing drums I also learned to play Piano a little, and if there is no instrument I just sing. I will make music all my life! I hope I can motivate you and your future siblings to play musical instruments! I would play together with you as a family band!
- The peaceful warrior
A book by Dan Millman changed my life! The key message is: whatever you do, do it HERE and NOW, with all your concentration and an aware mind. Don’t let anything distract you, especially eliminate all your attachments that give you the illusion of controlling the uncontrollable. Inspired by his “peaceful warrior” I started to think a lot about my life. I identified so many attachments and unhealthy patterns in my life! First I started to take more care of my body and lost 20 kg of weight by changing my eating habits and going swimming regularly. Then I tried to transform my mind by practicing a positive attitude towards life: Don’t talk negatively, don’t see negative aspects in something, but appreciate beauty and harmony. It was very obvious to me that this book explains the ideas of Buddhism applied to daily life aspects, even though it doesn’t use the term “Buddhism” a single time! It was my first time to get in touch with that philosophy and since then I learned a lot more about Buddhism. I must say, my life is better since then! I think I found a way to LEAD my life (instead of only existing…).
- Exit the Matrix
I began to understand the deep meaning of the “Matrix” movie trilogy in which all people live in a “Matrix” generated by computer programs to create the illusion of a free world whereas in reality the people are exploited by machines that rule the world. There are so many hints to Buddhist philosophy in those movies: Our mind construes the world by interpreting perceptions according to previous experiences and shaped patterns. It should be our goal to free ourselves from this mental prison and see the reality. The “hero” in the movie, Neo, tries to do that by fighting against the agents (the Matrix elements that keep us trapped in it), which doesn’t bring him any further. Finally he succeeds by stopping fighting. When there is no fight, the concept of an “opponent” looses its meaning. The peaceful warrior is always the winner. This topic kept me thinking for many years. I will write more about it in a separate article.
My second girlfriend was a german-born Korean. Through her family I learned a little about that Asian country, but since she knew nearly nothing about her roots I decided to study one semester in Korea – a good chance to get to know that country. I successfully applied for a DAAD (German academic exchange service) scholar ship to do two practical courses in a material science lab and a biochemistry lab at Seoul National University. A few weeks before I left Germany that girlfriend broke up and revealed that she already had a new boyfriend. That was a shock, but after a while in Korea my heart was healed. It was simply too exciting to explore this beautiful culture with its friendly people, the delicious food, the unique traditions and stunning modernity, so that I forgot about my Ex quickly. I had wonderful six months there, made many good friends, travelled around the whole country, played music in clubs in Seoul, learned to work from 8am to long after midnight, and found a “second home”. Since then I was in Korea 5 times and will probably always come back once in a while!
The research I did for my Diploma thesis and during my PhD course, Microcontact Printing, can be explained in analogy to “potato printing” from the Kindergarten: Potatoes are cut into two halfs and on the inside a pattern is cut with a knife. Then, colour is put on it and printed onto paper. I did the same, but with a little difference. Instead of potatoes I took polymer stamps. The pattern on the stamps is in the nanometer scale, very very small. The eye can not see the pattern, I have to use special microscopes to make it visible. The “ink” is not paint, but a solution of molecules. And the “paper” is not real paper but glass with special other molecules on the surface. The molecules on the stamp and on the glass undergo a chemical reaction. With this method I can pattern a surface in a certain way. There are many applications in medicine, nanotechnology, industry (for example car coatings…) or life science. In my first project I investigated which molecules I can print and which are not so good. So first I have to synthesize these molecules. I prefer the printing and investigation work. I detect the patterns by fluorescence. The ink molecules glow red or blue in a fluorescence microscope. In another project I printed Carbon Nanotubes with special electronic properties in order to fabricate a field effect transistor.
My institute at Münster University had a collaboration with Nagoya University in Japan and I was participating in that. It included a 6-months-stay in Japan, working in the labs of Prof. Shinohara (the carbon nanotube project). I found that Japan is very different from Korea. People here are extremely polite, but a little superficial and not as heartful and friendly as Korean. The whole country is very superficial and totally money-oriented. The majority of people is not interested in anything (people have no hobbies, don’t talk about politics, never complain, just work, eat and sleep) and never talk about personal things, even not with close friends or family members. Of course there are many good sides, for example excellent food, very beautiful cultural items and historical spots, and high safety wherever you go. But the six months made it very clear to me: I will spend my future rather in Korea and definitely NOT in Japan!
Philosophy has always been one of my interests, especially its “application” to daily life aspects. My daily work raised many philosophical, especially ethical questions. Next to some fundamental issues about the theory of science (What does it mean to “observe”, to “do experiments”, to assume certain theories of matter and how to interpret results?) I was highly interested in ethical and social implications of Nanotechnology, because I saw many problems arising from it. Before I followed the debate on genetic engineering, which was very emotional and caused the wide public to refuse it. But Nanotechnology had very similar characteristics: It has a high uncertainty because many nanosized particles can’t be seen and can’t be found after releasing them (for example in medical, cosmetic or food products). For sure it has benefits, but there are also risks. How can benefits and risks be balanced? How can they be predicted and controlled? Which role does the researcher play, what is his responsibility, if he has any at all? Together with an Amercian Professor I started a side project on this topic, developing and carrying out a “Seminar on ethical and social implications of scientific research”.
Exactly at that time I found an offer from the Philosophy department of my university: a Master course in Applied Ethics! That was perfect for me to switch the direction of my career a little: away from “pure science” to “talking about science” and governing science. I saw a gap between science and Philosophy and wanted to become a bridge between the two. In that course I learned a lot about medical ethics, bioethics, media ethics, political ethics, science ethics and concepts of justice, autonomy, freedom, dignity, responsibility, etc. I learned to use the ideas of Aristoteles, Sokrates, Plato, Kant, Mill, Hobbes, Rawls or Singer to evaluate special phenomena, incidents or dilemmas ethically. And most important: I learned how to read and write! Philosophical texts are very different from other texts. Every single word needs to be read or written carefully, high precision in the details is very important! After two years I finished the course with a Master thesis on “Ethical implications of artificially intelligent machines with decision-making ability”.
My third girlfriend was Korean (student in Germany). I found she was perfect for me because she was the middle way between the first two: controlled emotional, but healthily rational. We had a lot of harmony! Just one thing made us disagree over and over again: she was deeply religious, a “fundamental Christian”, as she called herself. She was “married to Jesus” and took the Bible as the ultimate truth, word by word. She believed the Earth is 6000 years old and created by God in 7 days, as described in the Bible. No room for interpretation. For me as a Scientist and Philosopher it was unacceptable to use “religion” and “truth” in one sentence! I spent a lot of efforts on eliminating all dogmas (I mean, beliefs that can’t be further reasoned) from my worldview. As a teenager I called myself “atheist”, but in the meantime I found that I am rather an agnostic: I just don’t know if there is a “God”, but it also doesn’t really matter. My most plausible explanation: God stands for the principle of basic harmony, the driving force of the universe. Buddhists call it “love”, Daoists “Dao”, Muslim “Allah” and Christians “God”. Believing can be a strong source of inner peace, hope, inspiration and balance! But I define “religion” as “belief plus politics”. Church exploited mankind over centuries in order to have power and wealth. What people need is faith and knowledge! But religion makes people blind and keeps them small and stupid. Without religion peoples’ faith would be more pure and peaceful!
The combination of a PhD in Chemistry (with research in a Nanotechnology field) and a Master in Applied Ethics gave me a job at the “European Academy for Research on Implications of Scientific and Technological Developments”, a technology assessment institution in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. I was involved in a large research project of the European Union with 15 partners (universities, hospitals, companies) researching on “Nanoparticles for early diagnosis of Arthritis”. My task was to do “accompanying research” on the ethical and social aspects of Nanomedicine (using Nanosized materials for medical applications). Our work was quite political: the final report was taken by the EU as help and orientation for making useful regulations for this new field of technology. That is what this job is good for: Help shaping the future in a way that risks are minimized and peoples’ benefits are maximized. First, it needs to be defined what is “good” for people, values have to be pointed out. Then, the current and near-future development have to be analysed in order to identify aspects that violate or endanger those values. Controversial debates are unavoidable, of course, because every stakeholder has different interests and viewpoints! The main task of an ethicist is to “moderate” the discussion, to sort and classify arguments, to point out errors and unlogic statements in argumentations, and to bring different opinions to one conclusion.
For my new job I moved to Bonn. I found a nice apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom, two rooms (living room and bedroom) and a balcony. Here I could live out my third hobby (after playing music and cooking/baking): constructing furniture and decorating my home, making it a nice and homy place. I built a multifunctional bed with many features, a decorative shelf structuring the living room, chose the wall pictures and other decorations carefully by colour (mainly red, combining well with white walls and black furniture), installed comfortable lighting and put many plants and flowers everywhere. Especially a well-equipped and well-organized clean kitchen is important to me! In this respect I might be typically German: The “home” is the center of my life, here I can be myself, be creative and let my mind fly around freely (another hint that I am intraverted). That apartment in Bonn was so far my most comfortable living place…
My girlfriend (the religious one) was psychology student. I often helped her to write homeworks or her Bachelor and Master thesis, and we talked about psychological topics often. I was more and more interested in understanding the mechanisms of “mind”. In Biochemistry I learned the molecular basis of how the human body works, the “chemistry” of perceptions and of thinking. Psychology added a new “flavour” to it by trying to answer the question “why?”. Before my reflections on “emotional intelligence” or “Matrix” had psychological elements, but they were very amateurish. I learned a lot from my girlfriend and got many new insights into the “inner structure” of people, the effect and usefulness of emotions, the connections between environment and mental health, etc. By discussing with her (a strong dualist) I was more convinced of a monistic worldview. I am by far not professional psychologist, but I am sure that on my list of “majors I would have studied if not chemistry” psychology is on top! Followed by anthropology (the american understanding of it) and architecture…
After the failed third relationship I threw myself more than ever into studying Buddhism and its healing effect on body and mind. I blamed Christianity for “destroying” my partnership and wanted to prove to myself that Buddha’s philosophy is much more efficient in leading to happiness and inner peace than the Bible! After months of studying theoretically I found that I can only make progress when I apply the findings and practice actively. I decided to spend all my annual vacation for a trip to Korea to do a “templestay”: Four weeks in a Buddhist temple, living like a monk, meditating, chanting, bowing, having vegan meals, cleaning the body, purifying the soul, clearing the mind. The temple I chose for it (Golgulsa) had a specialty: it is headquarter of Sunmudo, a traditional Korean form of martial arts, that I had to practice three hours per day. This time was really intense, very helpful, a great source of inspirations and one of the best things I ever did in my life. But I also learned this: I am not a Buddhist! In the western world we often underestimate that Buddhism is mainly this: a religion! The templestay didn’t make me more religious but intensified my interest in the philosophical and psychological aspects of Buddha’s teachings.
The templestay experience changed my mind about many things. I identified so many “unhealthy” things in my life! But most of all I started to question my way of life. First I felt very happy with my change from the lab to the office desk, but I began to doubt that this job is the right thing for me. After all this institute was a kind of “company” with interests that I had to follow. But I wanted to do research! I wanted to publish my findings and write articles with my own arguments and viewpoints, convincing other people. I wanted to be free and indipendent! I can reach that goal only with an academic career at universities. After thinking thoroughly about it, I decided to quit my job and look for a postdoc job in Korea! I had the plan to find such a job first, but then a Korean friend came up with an unusual idea: Her friend is headmonk in a small new temple that is still under construction, I could stay there and help building it as long as I don’t have a job yet. With high confidence I quit my job, sold all my stuff (except a few personal things and my musical instruments), quit all contracts, left my apartment and Germany towards Korea…
This second templestay in the middle of nowhere deepened my insights into Buddha’s teaching, but more from the perspective of religious practice which – as you know – is not so much my interest. My attempts to find an academic scholar as collaborator for my postdoctoral project failed, mostly because South Korea wasn’t open for reflections on science ethics and social implications. After three months my visitor visa expired and I had to leave the country for a trip. Therefore, I visited my friend in Taiwan in September 2013. I didn’t know much about Taiwan at that time and assumed it must be like China (the mainland). During that visit I noticed that it is very different: more developed, more “civilized”, with everything available that is necessary to maintain a good lifestyle (e.g. doctors, well equiped supermarkets, public transport, a certain degree of freedom). I also felt welcome after meeting a Professor at a University in Taichung who didn’t hesitate to host me as a postdoc in his institute. A few months later I moved entirely from Korea to Taiwan.
The above-mentioned friend is now my wife, and you are the offspring of our love. Therefore, my connection to Taiwan is very strong and, somehow, even sealed by a contract! I call Taiwan “home” for now because it is the place where I reside and live my life, not just visit. Therefore, I try to keep a certain distance that allows me to “observe” and reflect. I don’t “love” Taiwan unconditionally and I don’t hate it totally. Compared to Germany and Korea, my former two “homes”, Taiwan is far less “socially developed”, it has much bigger environmental problems, the education level is low and the historical and political situation is very different. In many respects it would be unfair to compare Taiwan to Germany or Korea, but since Taiwanese regard their Island as a “modern” country it should be possible to face the truth: There is a huge gap! I often find myself cursing at the stupidity of people and wish a volcano would wash this damn island with all its dirt and scooters and stupid idiots back into the sea. But then I realise that my “problem” lies within myself. I guess, this is the real “Buddhist practice”: the challenge to lead daily life with a mindset of forgiveness, loving-kindness and compassion.