The evolution of human liberty necessarily demands a greater understanding and appreciation for Nature. Alongside this fact are the technological developments that have dramatically improved the overall quality of life for millions of people. Once individuals embrace cogent reasoning and the scientific method as indispensable tools in their own lives, then perhaps one day humanity will free itself from the bondage of failed ideas, especially statism.
As an fascinating and easily readable history of physics, the author’s book explains the discoveries of scientists like Georg Riemann, Charles Hinton, Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, James Maxwell, Edward Witten, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and many others. From the Yang-Mills Standard Model to quantum cosmology, the discipline of theoretical physics offers us a unique look into how the universe may (or should) work. Möbius strips, tesseracts, and orbifolds are just a few of the absolutely fascinating concepts presented in this enjoyable book.
Kaku explores what are popularly considered as science fiction topics in the light of contemporary theoretical physics. Black holes, parallel universes, multiple dimensions, and time travel are all addressed in clear, understandable language. Worm holes are mentioned as the basis for faster-than-light travel (or warp drive), since the idea here is not to move the ship through space, but instead, to move space around the ship; if this could ever be successfully demonstrated, then ambitious endeavors like space colonization start becoming quite feasible.
Nature, and mankind’s place within it, is worth the hassle of exploring, for without curiosity, humanity becomes little more than a collection of intelligent bipedal savages. The cosmological, teleological, and ontological proofs of God are uniquely intriguing because they thankfully do not rely on revealed religion (such as the Bible) in order to be either verified or debunked. After briefly detailing each of these proofs, Kaku attempts to debunk them:
“The flaw in the cosmological proof, for example, is that the conservation of mass and energy is sufficient to explain motion without appealing to a First Mover. For example, gas molecules may bounce against the walls of a container without requiring anyone or anything to get them moving. In principle, these molecules can move forever, requiring no beginning or end. Thus there is no necessity for a First or Last Mover as long as mass and energy are conserved.
“For the teleological proof, the theory of evolution shows that it is possible to create higher and more complex life forms from more primitive ones through natural selection and chance. Ultimately, we can trace the origin of life itself back to the spontaneous formation of protein molecules in the early earth’s oceans without appealing to a higher intelligence. Studies performed by Stanley L. Miller in 1955 have shown that sparks sent through a flask containing methane, ammonia, and other gases found in the early earth’s atmosphere can spontaneously create complex hydrocarbon molecules and eventually amino acids (precursors to protein molecules) and other organic molecules. Thus a First Designer is not necessary to create the essentials for life, which can apparently emerge naturally out of inorganic chemicals if they are given enough time.
“And, finally, Immanuel Kant was the first to isolate the error in the ontological proof after centuries of confusion. Kant pointed out that stating that an object exists does not make it more perfect. For example, this proof can be used to prove the existence of the unicorn. If we define the unicorn to be the most perfect horse imaginable, and if unicorns don’t exist, then it’s possible to imagine a unicorn does not exist. But saying that it exists does not mean that it is more perfect than a unicorn that does not exist. Therefore, unicorns do not necessarily have to exist. And neither does God.”
It seems to me as if Kaku is assuming that the cosmological, teleological, and ontological proofs of God are all based on the God-of-the-gaps perspective, and as such, these proofs are not scientifically valid pieces of evidence for the existence of an incorporeal super-intelligence. Despite what seems to be an attempt at disproving deism, Kaku, unlike Richard Dawkins, is very linguistically kind when referring to notions of God, all the while retaining his ability to engage in freethinking.
Developing societies usually have more complex energy needs that do simple tribes of humans. Kaku distinguishes between these types of civilizations:
“A Type I civilization is one that controls the energy resources of an entire planet. This civilization can control the weather, mine deep in the earth’s crust, and harvest the oceans. This civilization has already completed the exploration of its solar system.
“A Type II civilization is one that controls the power of the sun itself. This does not mean passively harnessing solar energy; this civilization mines the sun. The energy needs of this civilization are so large that it directly consumes the power of the sun to drive its machines. This civilization will begin the colonization of local star systems.
“A Type III civilization is one that controls the power of an entire galaxy. For a power source, it harnesses the power of billions of star systems. It has probably mastered Einstein’s equations and can manipulate space-time at will.”
This is rather interesting, for it shows how humanity can grow if only it has the freedom to do so, without arbitrary or despotic limits upon individuals. But what about us in the here and now? Kaku explains:
“Our civilization, by contrast, can be categorized as a Type 0 civilization, one that is just beginning to tap planetary resources, but does not have the technology and resources to control them. A Type 0 civilization like ours derives its energy from fossil fuels like oil and coal and, in much of the Third World, from raw human labor. Our largest computers cannot even predict the weather, let alone control it. Viewed from this larger perspective, we as a civilization are like a newborn infant.”
Gee, whiz…this would also mean that a Type 0 civilization is an improvement over our hunter-gatherer ancestors (unless they would count as Type 0 as well, in which case we’d be not that much different from them).
What is rather depressing about this book is Kaku’s claim that not only will our Sun extinguish in approximately 5 million years, but that the universe itself will experience entropy death after a googol years (10100); however, it may be possible for a Type III civilization to avoid this by escaping into the 4th dimension. In the meantime, however, what is hopeful to me is the potential for settling the final frontier. Apparently, since the publication of Kaku’s book in 1994, there have been fantastic developments towards realistic space travel, such as the White-Juday warp-field interferometer based on the Alcubierre warp drive. It’s just too bad Kaku didn’t mention anything about terraforming or O’Neill cylinders, which I think are two key developments in the effort to colonize outer space.
Dr. Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension is a wonderful look into what is scientifically possible, and really brings me hope that humanity can become better than what it currently has become. Since Kaku’s speciality lies in superstring theory, it makes sense why he constantly discusses both the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Interestingly, it also turns out that Kaku was a Vietnam veteran. As he says:
“Infantry training, I discovered, is rigorous; it is designed to toughen the spirit and dull the intellect. Independence of thought is ground out of you. After all, the military does not necessarily want some wit who will question the sergeant’s orders in the middle of a firefight. Understanding this, I decided to bring along some physics papers. I needed something to keep my mind active while peeling potatoes in KP or firing machine guns, so I brought along a copy of the KSV [Kikkawa-Sakita-Virasoro] paper.
“During night infantry training, I had to go past an obstacle course, which meant dodging live machine-gun bullets, froglegging under barbed wire, and crawling through thick brown mud. Because the automatic fire had tracers on them, I could see the beautiful crimson streaks made by thousands of machine-gun bullets sailing a few feet over my head. However, my thoughts kept drifting back to the KSV paper and how their program could be carried out.”
He went on to lament about how many scientists were prematurely snuffed out because of government war, as well reflecting about how his machine gun training forced him to manipulate large blocks of equations mentally (which he later considered to be a blessing in disguise). Overall, this is a truly wonderful book, and can show what could be possible following the restoration of constitutional government.