The Universe in a Nutshell: Dr. Michio Kaku On the Physics of the Impossible

While some inventions will remain forever confined to the pages of science fiction novels, much of what we've dreamed up in books - warp drive, star gates, portals through space and time - will one day make the leap in to living rooms everywhere.

What's the Big Idea?

Sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them to the impossible." Dr. Michio Kaku would like to clarify what kind of impossibility we're talking about.

There's a difference, he says, between ideas that are beyond our technical capabilities today but will be available within the next century, ideas that will be doable 1000 years from now, and ideas that violate the known laws of physics. Surprisingly, very little falls into the third category. 

In this excerpt from the latest lecture at Great Big Ideas, the new online course offered by The Floating University, Dr. Kaku explains that while some inventions will remain forever confined to the pages of science fiction novels, many of the innovations we've dreamed up in books - warp drive, star gates, portals through space and time - will one day make the leap in to living rooms everywhere, like the television set did in 1948.

What's the Significance?

As a professor at CUNY, Dr. Kaku is often asked by students, "What does physics mean to me?" His answer is simple. Everything. All of the major technological advances of the past 400 years have been powered by physics, from the laser beam to the microwave to the Web. You might say the history of physics is the history of the modern world.

From the standpoint of our agrarian ancestors, then, the marvels of the post-Industrial world would seem to be magical. (What would a Renaissance man make of a vending machine, let alone an Ipad?) Following that logic, Kaku predicts that the people of 2100 will have harnessed "the power of the gods" by present day standards. "We will have that flying car that we’ve always wanted to have in our garage," he says.

But the most interesting places in the universe are beyond the reach of Einstein's equations. Dr. Kaku is searching for another equation, one that is as simple as E=mc², but unlocks the secret of the stars. A Theory of Everything would finally answer age-old questions like "Why does the galaxy light up?  Why do we have energy on the earth? Why do the stars shine?" We can only assume our ancestors would be pleased.

To unlock the second clip in the lecture, click here and become a fan of the Floating University Facebook page.

Related Articles

How schizophrenia is linked to common personality type

Both schizophrenics and people with a common personality type share similar brain patterns.

Mind & Brain
  • A new study shows that people with a common personality type share brain activity with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • The study gives insight into how the brain activity associated with mental illnesses relates to brain activity in healthy individuals.
  • This finding not only improves our understanding of how the brain works but may one day be applied to treatments.
Keep reading Show less

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less