Big Think Interview With Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku: My name is Professor Michio Kaku. That’s M-I-C-H-I-O K-A-K-U. I’m a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York and also host of the science panel series, Sci-Fi Science.
Question: In 90 seconds, can you summarize what Einstein did?
Michio Kaku: If I were to rank perhaps the top 20 individuals who helped to shape the world around us, I think Albert Einstein would be on that short list. Kings and queens, they come and go. Emperors and empresses, they leave almost no trace in the footprints of history, but Albert Einstein’s work resonates throughout history even today. People ask the question, what has Einstein done for me lately? And the answer is everything. Everything we see around us; the electronics, the satellites, the atom smashers. All of that in some sense can be traced back to the work of Albert Einstein. In fact, many of the crumbs, the crumbs from his table, have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for physicists even today.
Question: What drew you to physics?
Michio Kaku: When I was a child, there was something that happened that changed everything; changed my outlook on life. When I was about eight years old, everyone was talking about the fact that a great scientist had just died. I still remember, everyone was talking about it, it made the front page of all the newspapers, and they put a picture of Einstein’s desk in the front page. And the caption said, "Unfinished manuscript of the greatest scientist of our era." And I said to myself, "What? Why couldn't he finish it?" I mean, it's a homework problem, right? Why couldn't he simply go home and finish this project? What could be so difficult that the greatest mind of our era couldn't finish it? Well to me, this was greater than any adventure story. I had to know what was in that book. What was the problem that the greatest mind of our era couldn't finish?
Well, later I realized, years later, I found out that it was the Unified Field Theory. The theory to unite all laws into an equation perhaps no longer than one inch. An equation one inch long that will allow us to read the mind of God. That was the project that Albert Einstein set forth.
But, you know, I had a second role model when I was a kid. Not only did I idolize the work of Albert Einstein, and I had to know what was this Unified Field Theory, I used to watch the Sunday -- Saturday morning TV programs on television. And I was mesmerized by "Flash Gordon." For the first time, I saw this whole new world open up. A world of ray guns and rocket ships and aliens, and beings from outer space and I said to myself, that's for me. But you know, after awhile, I began to figure out something. First of all, I didn't have big muscles. I didn't have blonde hair. I was not going to be Flash Gordon. But I realized it was the scientists behind the scenes that made everything work. Without Dr. Zarkoff, there were no cities in the sky. Without him, there were no starships. He made the whole series work. And I began to realize something, and that is science is the engine of prosperity. Everything we see around us, all the technological wonders that have enriched our life and created this huge population on the planet earth, all of that can be traced back to science.
Question: What were your other formative experiences as a young person?
Michio Kaku: When I was a child, there was another event that helped to shape the person I was. My parents used to take me to San Francisco to the Japanese Tea Garden, and I used to spend hours watching the carp swimming just beneath the lily pads. And then I asked a question of myself that only a child would ask, and that is, what would it be like to be a fish? What would it be like to be a carp swimming in a two-dimensional world? A very shallow pond where you can only go forward, backwards, left and right, and anyone who would have talked about up, the world of the third dimension, was considered a crackpot. And then I imagined a carp scientist there and I said to myself, what would this scientist say? He would say, "Bah, humbug. Anyone who talks about the third-dimension, the world beyond the Lilly pads, the world beyond the pond, is an idiot because you can only go inside the pond. That is the universe. The universe is only what you can see and touch."
And then I imagined reaching down and grabbing the scientist fish, lifting him up into the world of the third dimension. What would he see? Well, he would see beings moving without fins. A whole new law of physics. Beings breathing without water. A whole new law of biology. And then I imagined putting him back into the pond. What would he tell his fellow fish?
Well today, we physicists believe, but we cannot yet prove that we are the fish. We spent all our life in three-dimensions; going forward, backward, left, right, up, down, but anyone who talks about a higher dimension, the world of up, hyperspace, a dimension beyond what you can see and touch is considered a crackpot. Until recently. And now, of course, some of the world's leading physicists now believe that perhaps there are other dimensions, other universes, other worlds to explore.
And perhaps one day, our machines will give us definitive proof of the existence of hyperspace.
Question: How could the existence of hyperspace be definitively proven?
Michio Kaku: The idea of hyperspace. The idea of higher dimensions, unseen universes beyond length, width, and height, is not just idle dinner table conversation. We're not spending over $10 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, an atom smasher outside Geneva, Switzerland. Now, when I was a kid, I have my first taste of atom smashing because when I was a kid, I decided to do a Science Fair project. First of all, I was working with anti-matter in high school, photographing brilliant tracks of anti-matter inside my magnetic field that I built. Then one day, I wanted to create my own beam of anti-matter. Not just photograph it, but actually manipulate it.
So, I went to my mom one day and I said, "Mom, can I have permission to build a 2.3 million volt atom smasher betatronic accelerator in my garage?" And she kind of stared at me and said, "An atom smasher in the garage? I mean, sure. Why not? And don't forget to take out the garbage." So, I took out the garbage and I went to Westinghouse and I got 400 pounds of transformer steel, 22 miles of copper wire, and we wound a 6 kilowatt, 10,000 gauss magnetic field on the high school football field. I put 22 pounds of copper wire on the goal post, gave the wire to my mother. My mother ran to the 50-yard line, gave the wire to my father and he ran to the goal post, and we wound 22 miles of copper wire on the high school football field. Finally, it was ready. It was my proudest achievement, this 400 pound, 6 kw, 10,000 gauss magnetic field in a 2.3 million volt electronic accelerator.
I closed my eyes, I plugged my ears, I plugged in the wall socket into the garage circuit, and I heard this pop, pop, pop sound as I blew out every single circuit breaker in the house. Wow! My poor mom. She had come back from a hard day's work to see all the lights flicker and die. And then she would say, "Where's the fuses?"
Well, I imagine that my mother would say to herself, "Why couldn't I have a son who plays basketball? Maybe if I buy him a baseball, and for God's sake, why can't he find a nice Japanese girlfriend? Why does he build these machines in the garage?" Well that machine was an atom smasher. And now the biggest atom smasher of all time is being built outside Geneva, Switzerland. It is 17 miles in circumference. You need a car to actually go around this gigantic device. And it will help recreate a piece of creation.
Well, some people ask the question, why are the European countries building the Large Hadron Collider? Are we losing the edge? What about an American machine. Well, hey. Let's be frank about it. We had our chance and we blew it. Back in the 1990's, President Ronald Reagan and others had a vision. Why not create the largest colossal atom smasher outside the city of Dallas. Well everything was all set, funding was initiated, but in 1993 the machine was cancelled. A machine, a supercollider many times bigger then the Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland.
Well, what happened? Many things happened, but on the last day of hearings in Congress, one Congressman asked a physicist, "Are we going to find God with your machine? If so, I will vote for it." Well, the poor physicist didn't know what to say. So, he collected his thoughts and said, "We will find the Higgs Boson." Well, you could almost hear all the jaws hit the floor of the United States Congress. $11 billion for another goddamned sub-atomic particle. Well, the role was taken a few days later and the machine was cancelled. Congress gave us $1 billion to dig this gigantic hole in the ground outside Dallas, they cancelled the machine, and they gave us a second billion dollars to fill up the hole. I can't think of anything more stupid than giving us $2 billion to dig a hole and to fill it up again. But hey, that's the government.
Well, since then, we physicists have been racking our brains asking ourselves the question, what should we have said? This will happen again. Our NSF budgets, our science budgets, our Department of Energy budgets. All of them will depend on the taxpayers. So, what should we have said? Well, I don't know. But I would have said the following. I would have said, "God, by whatever signs or symbols you ascribe to the deity, this machine, the supercollider will take us as close as humanly possible to his, or her, greatest creation and that is, genesis. This is a Genesis Machine. It will recreate, on a microscopic scale, perhaps the most glorious event in the history of the universe. Its birth." Unfortunately, we said, "Higgs Boson." So, our machine was cancelled and America is no longer on the cutting edge of the most basic research in physics.
Question: Will the Large Hadron Collider be able to recreate the moments after the birth of the universe?
Michio Kaku: With our satellites today, we can pick up radiation actually from the Big Bang itself, a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. Radiation was released throughout the universe that is now in the microwave range. Believe it or not, when you turn on the TV and you pick up static, when you turn on the radio and you pick up static, some of that static comes from creation itself. You can actually listen to some degree to the actual explosion that created the universe.
However, this explosion dates from a few hundred thousand years after the incident of creation. We're not satisfied. We physicists want to go to the instant of the Big Bang itself, and that's what the Hadron Collider will do. It'll recreate conditions not seen since perhaps a trillionth of a second after creation itself. And we hope the Large Hadron Collider will unlock some of the deepest secrets of space and time, matter and energy.
Question: How will the universe end?
Michio Kaku: Well, when we try to look at the whole universe itself -- many people ask the question, "Well Professor, how do you know -- how do you know that the universe is expanding? How do you know that it came from a big bang? How can you project so far into the future, billions to trillions of years into the future? Well one way we do this is by looking at the Doppler shift. Now, the doppler shift is something that even children are familiar with. When children play "Star Wars" with each other, they go err, err, err with their rocket ships. Right? Well, what makes that err, sound? It's the Doppler effect. When a car moves toward you, the pitch is higher, when the car moves away from you the pitch is lower. And it sounds like this. Eee err. We've all heard it. Same thing with starlight. When yellow light moves toward you, it turns greenish and bluish. When the yellow light moves away from you it turns reddish.
Now, how can you memorize this? Well, I was reading a paper a few years ago and I read this fascinating story of a high school physics teacher who got a speeding ticket for running a red light. The physics teacher went to the blackboard and said, "Your Honor. My car was moving toward a yellow light. Light is compressed in a forward direction when you move toward it, and therefore it turned green. This is the Doppler shift," he said. And he went to the black board and he correctly wrote down all the equations of the Doppler shift. And then this high school physics teacher said, "Your Honor. I do not deserve a traffic ticket." Well, the judge scratched his head and according to the article, the judge said, "Well, I guess there is a law higher than the state of New Jersey, and these are the laws of physics." But then, according to the article, there was a high school kid in the court room and he raised his hand and he said, "Your Honor, I'm just a high school kid, but I happen to be in his high school physics class and he just taught this a couple of weeks ago that this only happens when you approach the speed of light." End of article.
To this day, I still don't know what happened to that poor high school kid. But I tell my students, that if I'm ever in court arguing a speeding ticket or red light, they better not raise their hand if they know what's good for them and they know what's good for their grade.
So, when we look in the heavens, we look at starlight emitted from distant galaxies and we find that the light is slightly reddish. Redder than it's supposed to be. That means that these objects, the gigantic galaxies are moving away from us and therefore the universe is expanding. Well, we could run the video tape backwards, and by running the video tape backwards we could then calculate when all these galaxies came from a single point. And that's how we calculate the age of the universe, by simply hitting the rewind button when we calculate the expansion of the universe.
So by running the video tape backwards, we see that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, plus or minus 1%. So, we now know the age of the universe. 13.7 billion years by running the video tape backwards. But what happens if we hit fast forward. What happens if we go forward in time billions of years? Well, here it gets murkier. But by analyzing how the universe has been expanding in the past, we used to think that the universe is slowing down. We used to think the universe is aging and therefore it's slowing down; running out of steam. Wrong. We now believe that the universe is speeding up. It's actually accelerating, in runaway mode which means that in stead of dying in a big crunch, we'll probably die in a big freeze. We're not positive. We don't know if this will keep on going for billions of years. But if so, the universe is in a runaway mode. It means that one day, perhaps when we look at the night sky; perhaps we'll see almost nothing because the distant galaxies are so far that light cannot even reach our telescopes. Not a pleasant thought. But our universe may eventually die in a big freeze rather than a big crunch.
Question: How soon would this scenario most likely take place?
Michio Kaku: Nobody knows when this big freeze will take place, or if it will ever take place. However, estimates have been made, perhaps hundreds of billions of years, perhaps trillions of years. One day it will get so cold that you'll look at the night sky and it will be almost totally black. All the stars will have exhausted all of their nuclear fuel, the universe will consist of neutron stars, dead black holes, the temperature will reach near absolute zero, and at that point even consciousness, even thought itself, cannot exist. and some people think that perhaps the laws of physics are a death warrant to all intelligent life; that we're all going to die when the universe freezes over.
But you know, there's a loophole. There's a loophole in the laws of physics. you see, trillions of years from now, perhaps intelligent life will be able to master what is called, "The Planck Energy." The Planck Energy is the ultimate energy. It's the energy of the Big Bang. It's the energy at which gravity itself begins to break down.
You know that if you have a microwave oven and you heat it up, you can take ordinary water and make it boil; ice can melt, water can boil. But what happens if you crank up that microwave oven even more? Eventually the steam starts to break up into oxygen and hydrogen. If you crank it up some more, all of a sudden ions form; atoms themselves begin to rip apart. And then if you crank up that microwave oven even more, then even the nucleus begins to break apart and you get a plasma of protons and neutrons. You crank it up some more and you get a gluon plasma. And if you crank it some more to this incredible energy. Ten to the 19 billion electron volts, we're not sure, but perhaps even space itself begins to boil. Even space time becomes unstable. Bubbles begin to form at this Planck Energy. And perhaps these bubbles are gateways. Gateways to a parallel universe.
Of course, we're not sure about this. This is pure speculation, but there are theories that say that there could be universes right next to our universe. And in fact, the Large Hadron Collider will give us the first experimental evidence about the existence of parallel universes.
So, think of us as ants living on a sheet of paper, but perhaps there are other parallel sheets of paper with other ants living on them. And perhaps we are very close to these other universes, but we can't reach them. The energy necessary to reach a parallel universe would be the Planck Energy, 10 to the 19 billion electron volts.
I would suppose that trillions of years from now, intelligent life, facing the ultimate demise of the universe itself, might decide to leave the universe. To leave our universe and enter a parallel universe in the same way that Alice entered the looking glass to enter Wonderland.
Question: What is the role of imagination in science?
Michio Kaku: I believe that science is the engine of prosperity. Everything we see around us, the goods and services, the iPods, the internet, the GPS system, all of it comes from science. But what is the rocket fuel? What is the rocket fuel that makes science work? That makes this engine propel itself? And I think that rocket fuel is curiosity. It's imagination. It's the innovative spirit. That's what keeps science alive. And I would hope that we could nourish that among our young people. But unfortunately, oftentimes, that rocket fuel is wasted.
If you take a look at our educational system, you'll realize that all of us are born scientists. All of us are born wondering why does the sun shine? Where did I come from? What's out there? How big is the world anyway? All of us are born scientists until we hit the danger years. When we hit about 13, 14, 15, those are the danger years and we start to lose these young scientists left and right. So, by the time they graduate from high school, we have only a tiny, tiny fraction of the original 100% of young people who are born scientists. They drop like flies. What's wrong?
Well, many things are wrong. But among that is the way that we teach science. We teach science as a list of facts and figures to memorize and we crush, literally crush, any curiosity and spirit of innovation and imagination from young children. For example, my daughter once took the New York State Regional Exam. She took the exam in geology, and I had a chance to tutor her by looking at this manual. And I realized that the entire manual consisted mainly of memorizing the names of crystals, the names of minerals, hundreds of them, and of course, all the things that you are going to forget the day after your exam. So, it's not that our students are stupid, they can memorize these things. They are so smart. They've figured out that this material is totally useless. Our students are so smart they’ve figured out they're never going to see these things ever again. They just have to memorize it once in their life, throw away their book, and they're absolutely right. They will never, ever see these hundreds of minerals, crystals, again in their life.
So, my daughter comes up to me after struggling with all this memorization and she says to me, "Daddy, why would anyone want to become a scientist?" That was the most humiliating day of my life. I spent my entire life being a scientist trying to understand the way nature works, trying to tease apart some of the fundamental laws of physics, and my own daughter says, "Why would anyone want to become a scientist?"
At that point, I felt like taking this book and ripping it apart. Well, in the future **** the Internet in our contact lenses. And we're going to be able to see in our contact lenses the entire sum total of all knowledge accumulated since antiquity. And our kids are going to be able to download all the exam questions that depend on memorization of silly facts and figures they will never ever see again in their life. And you know something? I think that's the way it should be. Because science deals with concepts, principles. And how many principles are there? Not many. The principle of evolution, the principle of relativity, draconian physics, quantum theory, they're not that many principles that drive all of science. And so I believe that in the future, when we have the Internet everywhere, in our contact lenses, in our eye glasses, professors and educators are going to have to throw away their exams and begin to teach science in the way it should be taught.
Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate, tells this story. When the future Nobel laureate was a child, his father would take him into the forest. And his father would tell him about birds; why certain birds are shaped the way they are, the coloration, the shape of the beak, their feeding habits. Everything about the life history and lifestyle of birds. And then one day, a bully comes up to him and says, "Hey Dick, what's the name of that bird over there?" Well, he didn't know. He could tell that bully everything about that bird, its coloration, its shape, the shape of its beak, its feeding habits. Everything about that bird except one thing. Its name. And then the bully says, "Hey Dick, what's the matter? You stupid or something?" And at that point, he got it. He began to realize that for most people science is nothing but memorization. But what is memorization? You can look it up on the internet in the future. Science is not about memorizing facts and figures. Of course, you have to know the basics, but science is about principle. It's about concepts.
You know, my favorite Einstein quote is as follows. Einstein once said, "If a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably worthless." Meaning that great ideas are pictorial. Great ideas can be explained in the language of pictures. Things that you can see and touch, objects that you can visualize in the mind. That is what science is all about, not memorizing facts and figures.
Question: Will U.S. science education ever improve?
Michio Kaku: Unfortunately, I'm rather pessimistic about the way we teach science. And some people ask me a simple question. They are visitors from overseas. And they say that, "Wow, America has so many Nobel laureates, but it has one of the worst education programs known to science." This is measurable. Our kids scored dead last of all the other developed nations. And our students ranked actually a little bit below the students of Jordan in science and math tests.
So my friends from overseas ask a simple question. Why doesn't America collapse? I mean, where do all these Nobel laureates come from, and these innovations come from that we see coming from Silicone Valley? Well, America has several secret weapons that most nations have never heard of. First of all, our secret weapon, the weapon that keeps us at the forefront of innovation and scientific progress and high tech, is the H1B. That is our secret weapon that most nations and people have never heard of. The H1B is the genius visa. You are "a genius," a PhD, you have wealth, you're an established figure, zoom you go right into the United States to energize Silicon Valley, which is 50% foreign born. Yes, you see Bill Gates. Yes, you see Steve Jobs out there, but 50% of the **** scientists behind Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are foreign-born. There's a brain drain. A tremendous brain drain into the United States. The top talent comes here. This is where innovation takes place and is rewarded financially.
But there are other reasons why America does catch up. First of all, America does "see the genius in the classroom." The young Bill Gates, the young Steve Jobs, the young Albert Einstein. These people **** because in the East there is an expression, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." In the East there is this Confucian tradition that you're not supposed to make your peers look bad by excelling and trying to achieve something beyond their abilities. However, in the West, we have another saying, and that is, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." So, the innovators, the real imaginative thinkers, they are rewarded in the American system, while in the East they are hammered down. And third, our college system is not so bad. Even though our high school system graduates generations of near-illiterate students, by the time they hit college, then that's when they begin to accelerate. That's when they begin to get up to speed.
But you know, we cannot sustain our scientific establishment this way. We cannot continue to depend on foreign scientists. We cannot continue to depend on the genius that may or may not arise, and we certainly cannot depend on college being a remedial high school.
Question: To what extent is it possible for subatomic particles to travel in time, and will we ever be able to do so ourselves?
Michio Kaku: When I was a kid, I used to watch a lot of science fiction. And of course, time travel is one of the main plots that dominate science fiction. But I said to myself, if I pursue this path of simply reading science fiction, simply speculating about anti-matter, the fourth dimension, hyperdrive, and star ships, I'll **** to be a crackpot. I'll eventually just start to mouth all these words, all these buzz words from science fiction and be clueless, absolutely clueless about whether or not any of these things can actually happen. Well, that's when I said to myself, I have to sit down and get serious. If I'm really serious about learning, about the frontiers of science and when it meets science fiction, I'm going to have to hit the books. I'm going to have to pay my dues. I'm going to have to learn theoretical physics. I'm going to have to learn as much mathematics as I possibly can to understand why Einstein could not complete his Unifying Field Theory.
Well today I can read that book. I can read from Einstein’s Unified Field Theory, the theory that may one day answer these questions about higher dimensions, about time travel, about star ships and hyperdrive. I could read that book now. And I realize that all the dead ends that he was hitting, I could see where he stopped, where certain avenues were promising, but he simply couldn't take it any farther. And the reason why is because the nuclear force was not known until the 1970's, and yet he was working on the Unified Field Theory starting in the 1920's. This was an impossible task. He was putting together a jigsaw puzzle with one of the big pieces missing, and that big piece was the nuclear force.
And so, Einstein understood the electromagnetic force. He, of course, pioneered the gravitational force, but he did not understand the nuclear force. Well, today we have a very good grasp of the nuclear force. The nuclear forces are mediated by quarks and gluons, subatomic particles that we physicists have to memorize. But how many subatomic particles are there? Hundreds. Perhaps thousands of subatomic particles with bizarre Greek-sounding names.
In the 1950's, J. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, was so frustrated that we began to find all of these zoo of subatomic particles that he made the announcement. And that is that the Nobel Prize should go to the physicist who does not discover a new particle this year.
Well, today, to get your PhD, you have to memorize the names of all these goddammed subatomic particles. That's what I had to do. But I would hope that in the future, young students in theoretical physics, instead of memorizing all of these Greek-sounding names, would simply say, String Theory. And they would get their PhD.
String Theory says that all the notes on a vibrating string correspond to a particle. That to an electron is actually a rubber band; a very tiny rubber band. but if you twang this rubber band and the rubber band vibrates at a different frequency, it turns into a quark. And you twang it again and it turns into a neutrino. So, how many musical notes are there? An infinite. How many musical notes are there on a string? An infinite number. And that may explain why we have so many subatomic particles. They are nothing but musical notes. So, physics are nothing but the laws of harmonies on a string.
Chemistry is nothing but the melodies you can play on vibrating strings, and the mind of God, the mind of God that Einstein worked on for the last 30 years of his life, the mind of God would be cosmic music. Cosmic music resonating through 11 dimensional hyperspace. You see, our universe is a symphony. It's a symphony of vibrating strings and possibly membranes, but when it was born, it was born as a perfect entity in 11 dimensional hyperspace. That may eventually give us "a theory of everything."
So, people come up to me and say, "Professor, if this is a theory of everything, what's in it for me? What's in it for numero uno? Why should I care?" Well, let me tell you why you should care about a theory of everything.
When Isaac Newton worked out a theory of gravity, he also worked out a mechanics, how forces guide the motions of objects including steam engines. With steam engines came the Industrial Revolution. So, in some sense, the work of Isaac Newton helped to revolutionize society with machines that could be understood using Newton's laws of mechanics. Steam engines that could then create locomotives that could industrialize America within 150 years.
And then in the 1800's, we had the pioneering work of Maxwell, Faraday, leading up to the work of Edison that gave us the electromagnetic force. So the unraveling of the second great force, the electromagnetic force gave us the electric and computer, and information revolution of today. You're iPod, the internet, GPS, lasers, computers, micro chips, all of that coming from the work of scientist who unraveled the second great force, the electromagnetic force.
The third and the fourth force is all of the nuclear forces. They make the stars shine. Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC2, unravels the secret of the stars. That a little bit of "M," matter, can create fabulous amounts of cosmic energy, "E." The nuclear force energizes the stars is responsible for the creation of the earth and may one day energize our machines with fusion reactors. Now we are on the verge of the unification of all forces. all four fundamental forces perhaps unified into an equation one inch long. That's the dream. Now, are we going to get better cable television this way? Are we going to get better color reception this way? Not immediately. But this theory, the "Theory of Everything," will answer the key questions: is time travel possible? Can you drill a hole through space and time? How was the universe born and what happened before genesis itself?
String Theory may answer all of these questions. For example, time travel. Isaac Newton said that time is like an arrow. Once you fire it, it speeds uniformly throughout space and time. One second on the earth is one second on Mars, is one second throughout the universe. Einstein comes along and says, not so fast. Not so fast. Time is a river. The river of time meanders its way throughout its way through the universe, speeding up and slowing down. And we measure that every day with our GPS systems. Without Einstein’s theory of relativity, you could not have a GPS system that could locate your position to within about 10 feet or so.
So, the new wrinkle in all of this is that we believe that the river of time has whirlpools. Whirlpools in the river of time. The river of time may fork into two rivers, and this may answer many of the paradoxes of time travel. What happens when you go backwards in time and shoot your parents before you were born? How can you born if your parents were just killed by you by going backwards in time. If time forks into two rivers, then parallel universes emerge and that's how we can resolve all of the time travel paradoxes.
But then people ask the question, "Professor, this is all fine and good, but when can I have my own personal time machine to visit the dinosaurs?" Well, there's a problem. There's always a catch. And the catch is the energy, positive and negative, necessary to open gateways through space and time is not for us. If time travel is possible, then the fuel, the energy necessary to open up gateways to create pretzels in the river of space and time is fabulous. You're talking about the energy of a black hole. The energy of a super nova. The energy far beyond anything that we can harness today. But perhaps, who knows, aliens from outer space millions of years ahead of us. Perhaps our descendants may be able to wrap time into a pretzel. So, one day, if somebody knocks on your door and claims to be your great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, don't slam the door.
Question: Will we discover a “theory of everything” by 2050?
Michio Kaku: My work is in String Theory. In fact, I'm the co-founder of String Field Theory, which allows you to summarize all of the laws of String Theory into an equation about one inch long. Well, that's my equation. I helped to write that with Professor Kikowa of Japan, and in fact, you can even buy a T-shirt which has my equation on it. However, my equation is not the final word because first of all, there are five different string theories. So, there are five different one-inch equations for each of the different String Theories. And now we have something called M-theory, a theory of membranes vibrating in 11 dimensions and we are clueless, absolutely clueless about getting that one-inch equation that will allow us to understand M-theory, Membrane Theory.
So, we are, in some sense, going back to square one in terms of the mathematics, but in terms of the theory itself, we hope to match String Theory with the results of the Large Hadron Collider.
First of all, dark matter. We now realize that most of the matter in the universe is dark, invisible matter. If I had dark matter in my hand right now, it would be invisible. In fact, it would literally dissolve its way right through my fingers, go right to the center of the earth, would go right to China, back to the center of the earth and back up into my hand, and then it would simply oscillate between China and my hand forever. That's dark matter. And you know, it means that every single chemistry book and science book on earth is wrong. Every book of science says that the universe is mainly made out of atoms, hydrogen, helium, going up to uranium. Wrong. We know realize that most of the matter in the universe is dark matter. And most of the energy of the universe is dark energy. An invisible energy that permeates the vacuum of space and time. In fact, 73% of the energy of the universe is dark energy. And we're clueless about what is the nature of dark energy.
Twenty-three percent of the matter energy of the universe is dark matter. And we hope to create dark matter with the Large Hadron Collider. Well, where do we fit into this? Stars made out of hydrogen and helium make up 4% of the universe. But what about us? What about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, what about us? We make .03% of the universe. Let me repeat that again. The atoms that are familiar to us, the higher elements make up .03% of the universe. We are the odd balls. We are the exception. Most of the universe is made out of dark energy and dark matter and we hope to create dark matter with the Large Hadron Collider.
The leading theory of dark matter is that it is caused by sparticles. Sparticles are super particles higher vibrations of the string. So, we represent perhaps the lowest octave of the string. Everything you see around us is nothing but the lowest vibration of the string. But the Large Hadron Collider would be powerful enough to excite the next set of vibrations, super particles, sparticles, that may makeup dark matter.
But there's another theory about the nature of dark matter. If our universe co-exists with a parallel universe, and there is a galaxy in this parallel universe, it would be invisible because light would move behind, underneath this parallel galaxy, but gravity seeps between galaxies, therefore you would feel this gravitational effect, but it would be invisible. Now, what is invisible, but has gravity? Dark matter.
So, ironically, maybe we have already discovered dark matter, already dark matter exists in a parallel universe whose gravity we detect in our universe. So, the Large Hadron Collider, outside Geneva, Switzerland, may finally answer the question. What is dark matter? We know it holds the galaxies together, but what is dark matter?
I should also point out that there's a little bit of a sad story with regards to dark matter. Dark matter was actually postulated by a woman, Vera Rubin, back in the 1960's. Our Milky Way galaxy rotates so fast, that by rights, by Newtonian mechanics, it should fly apart. Well, Vera Rubin's results were considered ridiculous. How could our galaxy spin so fast that it has to fly apart? She said, well maybe there's matter out there holding it together? People laughed and pretty much ignored her work. Not any more. We now realize that she may eventually win the Nobel Prize for dark matter.
So, there is a dark secret in our field of physics, and that is that women scientists are sometimes not treated as equals. The most famous case is that of Jocelyn Bell. Back in the 1960's, she was a lowly female graduate student who saw a star blink at her through a telescope. Well, she carefully logged the blinking of that star day after day night after night, week after week, and then she made the biggest mistake of her professional life. She told her thesis advisor. He came over, took one look and said, "Oh, hey." Well, when it was time to write up the paper, whose name came first? Jocelyn Bell? The one who made the discovery? The one who on very cold nights would log this tiny star blinking at her? Or the famous scientist? Well, his name came first.
When it was time to give talks around the world, who gave the talks? Her or the scientist? He gave the talks. And when it was time to win the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the pulsar, who won the Nobel Prize? He did.
Now, what's the lesson here? The lesson here is, if you ever make an astounding discovery, tell me first. I mean, I'm a generous man, I'll give you a nice footnote, a subway token perhaps to reward you for making this fantastic discovery, but hey, we big-name scientists, our name comes first.
A conversation with the professor of theoretical physics at C.U.N.Y.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.
- Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
- Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
- Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
An amateur astronomer discovers an interstellar comet on its way to our Sun.
Take the circumstances in your life seriously, but not literally. Here's why.
- Galileo was quite controversial, in part, because he argued that Earth moved around the sun, despite people's senses deluding them that the world was static.
- Evolution may have primed us to see the world in terms of payoffs rather than absolute reality — this has actually helped us survive. Those who win payoffs are more likely to pass on their genes, which encode these strategies to get to the "next level" of life.
- It's important to listen to people's objections because they may bring something to your attention outside your ken. Learn from them to make your ideas sharper.