Tag Archives: Michio Kaku

Book: Physics of the Impossible

Physics Of The Impossible

Tour of the future. Written with poetic grace and a child’s wonder.
328 pages, ★★★★★

Michio Kaku is one of the most readable pop-sci writers of today. His books straddle the boundary between physics and science fiction. He uses sci-fi technologies (such as teleportation, warp drive and invisibility) to get readers excited about real-world physics, which, he predicts, will resemble current-day sci-fi in a few millennia from now.

He’s one of few scientists lucky enough to work on what we call “sexy science”. Sexy science is the stuff that gets everyone excited; the stuff that doesn’t bore people when they ask you what you do; and only it constitutes about 1% of all scientific research. Unlike biology (much of which is “sexy”), research at the forefront of physics can be extremely complicated and abstract, and seems to have little practical implication. Kaku succeeds not only because he’s a great writer, but also because he writes about fascinating (“sexy science”) topics that have a direct connection to everyone’s lives.

In Physics of the Impossible, Kaku tackles 15 “sexy” physics topics in three groups:

  1. Class I impossibilities: impossible this century (e.g. invisibility)
  2. Class II impossibilities: impossible this millennium (e.g. time travel)
  3. Class III impossibilities: violations of the known laws of physics (e.g. perpetual motion machines)

Most of these 15 topics are in Class I, and I’m really excited that some will even become true in our lifetimes (cold fusion, perhaps, or fission-powered rockets?)

Author Michio Kaku is extremely optimistic not only that these incredible technologies will eventually come to fruition, but also that humanity will use them all in a benevolent way. He assumes that humanity won’t exterminate itself, and I’m pleased to say that there’s no mention of climate change or nuclear bombs in this book whatsoever! Kaku’s books make me feel very excited about the future of science—and reassured about the fate of humanity. Kaku’s books invoke feelings of wonder, excitement and hope. Kaku, and authors like him, are doing Physics a great service.

(Makes me wonder—Chemistry really needs a Michio Kaku to balance out the damage done to its reputation by Breaking Bad’s Walter White.)

Physics of the Impossible is similar to his later book, Physics of the Future, which I reviewed two years ago. They’re both captivating reads. The main difference is Physics of the Future’s much smarter conclusion: that once we’ve solved one major technological problem, such as cold fusion or warm superconductors, all the other technological barriers we now face will disappear. Excitingly, Kaku just announced a new book, Future of the Mind, which is coming out in February 2014, and I definitely want to get my hands on a copy. 🙂

I recommend this book for moderate fans of either physics or science fiction. ★★★

Book: Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell

Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking

A perfected, revised sequel to A Brief History of Time suitable for everyone!
216 pages, ★★★★★

I read somewhere in one of Michio Kaku’s books that Stephen Hawking admitted making a blunder about predicting the existence of universes in which time runs backwards. (This is exactly the criticism I had when I reviewed Hawking’s last book, here.) This book, The Universe in a Nutshell, is a perfect sequels it hall such blunders corrected. It inspires, it educates, and it has an enchanting blend of humorous prose and engaging graphics. It’s suitable for all ages, which, especially for a physics book, is very difficult to do.

The Universe in a Nutshell describes the history of our universe, the nature of space-time (including relativity and red-shift) and what might be possible if we were to take full advantage of the science we are starting to understand. The concluding chapter, touching on time travel and teleportation, makes enough predictions to inspire young people to study science without getting too lost in conjecture. In my opinion, the concluding chapter strikes a perfect balance between fact and fiction.

I found this book much easier to understand than The Illustrated A Brief History of Time. Many of the illustrations are the same but the text in this book is clearer. This is one of few books I’d recommend for anyone, of any age, in any career or discipline. ★★★★★


Book: Einstein’s Cosmos

Einstein's Cosmos by Michio Kaku

Excellent modern physics primer that’s mostly a biography of Einstein
203 pages, ★★★★

Author Michio Kaku is a very talented science writer. He is one of the few science writers who achieves the near-impossible goal of communicating advanced science accurately, in a way that’s easy to understand, and with added humour throughout. Most writers can’t do that!

In Einstein’s Cosmos, Kaku explores how Einstein’s life story shaped almost all of modern physics. The question of uniting two seemingly incompatible theories is a recurring theme in this book (and in physics itself). The first instance is on page 11, where we learn how Einstein was faced with the problem of reconciling Newton’s forces and Maxwell’s fields. “One of them had to fall”, Kaku writes. Einstein would topple Newtonian forces and replace them with something beautifully simple.

Kaku’s analogies are very easy to understand. To illustrate length contractions and time dilations using cars, he slows the speed of light down to 20mph and describes what each observer would see.

We’re now faced with an incompatibility between general relativity and quantum field theory. Both hold true at different scales, but they don’t seem to overlap properly as part of a grand “unifying theory”. Just as Einstein unified Newton’s and Maxwell’s equations, physicists are now faced with the task of unifying general relativity and quantum field theory—and the book almost exactly as it started.

Beautiful! ★★★★


Book: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

I am edging closer to fiction by reading this book. This book belongs in the middle group of "realistic fiction".

Written from a science fiction perspective
387 pages, ★★★★

Physics of the Future makes references to dozens of (mostly sci-fi) movies that I’m now tempted to download and watch. The author’s a professor of physics but relies very heavily on dozens of examples (Star Wars, Star Trek, Bladerunner, Twister, Rain Man) to illustrate which technologies will become a reality. Robots, genomes, and cheap energy are all among them.

Each chapter focusses on one area of expertise. The chapters are broken into three subsections: early 21st century, mid-21st century, and late 21st century. Each subsection then contains a list of technologies that will transform our lives (such as cold fusion, warm superconductors, space elevators, and human cloning).

Most of this book is pretty accurate. There are some cute mistakes, such as “one day, we’ll all carry our genomes around on a CD-ROM”; but most of the book is well-thought through. He predicts the future of manufacturing and capitalism, as well as the more cliché areas such as energy and transportation. Each technology has a limitation that stops it being a reality today (usually financial limitations, but sometimes insufficient science, ethics or political limits are invoked). I’m comforted to read that technology only seldom has intrinsic limit.

Magic happens hen you piece all of this together: all the obstacles fall like dominoes. Superconductive power transmission allows for a renewable energy boom. Carbon nanotubes allow for space elevators and thus cheap spaceflights. Nuclear fusion allows for energy-hungry magnetic levitation; and super-fast transportation. Mastering just one of the technologies in this book (particularly nuclear fusion or room-temperature superconductors) would allow most of the other technologies to fall into place, like magic!

Machines can become IQ billionaires but will always have an EQ of zero. The further we advance our understanding of robotics and computers, the higher we increase demand for EQ-based “human” services to work alongside them. Widespread computers and robots have the potential to make our work less menial, and our personalities more human. And that’s a world I would love to live in.

Physics of the Future introduces non-fiction readers to fiction; and coaxes science-lovers into reading science fiction. Admittedly, it would be a dull book for sci-fi buffs or lovers of literature, but is a page-turner for a non-fiction lover like me. ★★★★