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