Michio Kaku interview on Deepak Chopra Wellness Radio-Sirius XM Stars September 19, 2009
Deepak Chopra: Today my guest is Dr. Michio Kaku, author of The Physics of the Impossible. I picked up his book a few days ago and haven’t been able to put it down. I have only gone half way through it, but it’s something that I recommend very highly. We’re going to talk about the book right now. Dr. Kaku is also the founder of the String Theory of physics if you’ve heard about it and we’ll talk a little bit about that as well. And, he’s one of the few scientists in my view who’s really a giant in our times in that he goes beyond being a technician and can look at the big picture. His passion is the Unified Field Theory which is something that Einstein struggled with all his life. As I mentioned, he’s the originator of the String Theory, but he’s also very well versed in other things, the emerging technologies of the future, biology, neuroscience, so it’s a great privilege and I’m really surprised that I have him in the studio this morning and the privilege of having him to speak to all of us today. Welcome to the show Dr. Kaku.
Michio Kaku: Glad to be on your show.
DC: I’ve been reading your book, Physics of the Impossible and you divide the impossible into three sections. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MK: Right. Class one of impossibilities are impossible today but actually are possible. We think within, within the next twenty, fifty, hundred years. For example, invisibility was once considered preposterous. Harry Potter stuff, right? Invisibility cloaks. But we’ve actually done it in the laboratory with microwaves. And we’re actually doing it now with visible light at the University of California at Berkeley. So, Harry Potter watch out! We will have invisibility in the coming decades. Class two impossibilities…
DC: In this area you also talk about teleportation…
MK: That’s right. Teleportation, starships, force fields. We talk about most of the gadgets you see in Star Trek and Star Wars. We physicists are working on them and we think they will be possible in the coming decades. Class two impossibilities are further out. Time travel. Believe it or not, we physicists believe that it might be possible to meet your mother before you’re born. We have a very active field of physics devoted to looking at warp drive, looking at time travel, looking at parallel universes. Is Elvis Presley alive in another universe? Well, we actually discuss that in the book. And the Science Channel is filming it. Twelve episodes being filmed for November of this year. I’m the host of it and we’ve been all over the world filming for Physics of the Impossible. We were in California at the Livermore National Laboratories. Filming at the largest laser in the world, two football fields long, talking about ray guns. We were at Stanford and NYU talking about robots, filming some of the most advanced robots that we have today. We’ve been to NASA to talk what star ships will look like in a hundred years. So all this stuff that you see on the silver screen jump at you in Physics of the Impossible.
DC: Well, I want to remind our listeners that I’m talking to Dr. Michio Kaku and he is a physicist. He’s a professor here in New York. He’s the founder of the String Theory. He is a very well-known scientist, devoted his life to pursuing the Unified Field Theory of physics. So, if you’re listening to all these things and you find that they’re totally impossible, please listen carefully and read the book Physics of the Impossible, published by Doubleday a division of Random House. So, you know I see that everything you talk about in the book, which is impossible to our current science, our current technologies I should say. Not, to our current science because what you’re saying is, that everything you are saying is currently impossible is possible within the framework of the laws of physics as we understand them today.
MK: That’s right and I first got introduced to the impossible when I was a child growing up in San Francisco. I used to visit the Japanese tea garden and I used to spend hours looking at the fish swimming just beneath the lily pads, oblivious to my existence. And then I imagined that if I were a fish, what would I see? And I realized I would be living in a fantastic world, a two-dimensional world. I could swim forward, backwards, left and right, but anyone who talked about the world of “up”, beyond the pond, beyond the visible universe, that was considered impossible. There was no world of up. And as a child I imagined that there was a scientist fish living among the carp and he would say “Bah hum bug, there’s no such thing as ‘up’, the universe is two-dimensional. What you see is what there is.” And then as a child I imagined reaching down and grabbing the scientist, lifting the scientist fish into this impossible world of the third dimension, hyper space, the world of “up”. He would see beings breathing without water and he would love biology, beings breathing–moving without fins, a new law of physics.
MK: And then I realized that this impossible world was actually possible. Now today we physicists believe that we are the fish. We’ve spent our whole life looking at three dimensions: going forward, backward, left, right, up, and down and anyone who talks about a fourth, fifth, higher dimension is considered a crackpot. Impossible we say. What you see is what you can measure and that’s what is. Well with the Large Hadron Collider in just a few more months we’re going to be searching for these other dimensions. We’re going to be searching for a theory called String Theory which you mentioned. And String Theory exists in ten maybe eleven hyper space. So we are the fish, the impossible has come true and this is what Einstein missed. Einstein was also a fish, he got stuck in the third dimension. But, we think when you start to add higher dimensions then the law of physics simplify to a equation no more than one inch long and that’s why we need this impossible technology to create a Unified Field Theory. And we’re going to test this starting November of this year outside Geneva, Switzerland.
DC: That’s amazing. Now, is it true that Einstein’s idea of the universe was limited to the Milky Way Galaxy, that he was unaware of all the other galaxies?
MK: No, he was aware that the universe was expanding, but when he first proposed his theory of cosmology that was 1916. We didn’t know much about the universe in 1916. By 1929, Edwin Hubble showed that there were other galaxies out there beyond the Milky Way and that they were expanding and it did in fact fit Einstein’s theory. So, Einstein was so a believer in current technology that he thought the universe was static and put a fudge factor called the cosmological constant to keep the universe static. Now we know it’s expanding, in fact it’s accelerating, so we actually use Einstein’s blunder of a cosmological constant to make the universe accelerate. So, yeah the universe is huge. We see this, them with the Hubble Space telescope. We have photographed the farthest star with the Hubble Space telescope.
DC: You know the whole basis of science and I’m asking you this with great humility because I personally am not that much of an academic scientist. I have a deep fascination with it. But, the whole basis of science is objectivity isn’t it? That there’s an observer that looks at an outside world which is separate from the observer. And yet the observer, the conscious observer is also part of the universe. You know, is not outside of the universe. So, that when science excludes all subjectivity in its methodologies does it not in a sense become incomplete? Subjectivity is a pattern of behavior of the universe.
MK: That’s right. It’s sometimes said that a scientist, like a physicist are the only scientists that don’t blush when you mention the word “God”. However, if you want to make a physicist blush mention to them the Schrodinger’s Cat problem and then the physicist really starts to turn red-faced. When you look at a cat, you know that a cat in a box is either dead or alive. That’s common sense. But, you see in the quantum world, which is the world that I live in we have electrons that are spin up and spin down simultaneously. So when we describe a cat, believe it or not, when we describe a cat in our physics classes we have to say that the cat is neither dead nor alive. The sum of a dead wave function and a live wave function. Now, when you observer it now the cat turns dead or alive.
MK: Now, at first you might say to yourself to yourself: “You physicists are wacko! How can you have a cat that’s either dead or alive or a mixture of the two?” But that’s the way it is in the quantum down. Electrons are spin up, spin down, simultaneously and that’s why we have radio, that’s why we have laser beams. You are listening to my voice as a consequence of this paradox that electrons exist in these multiple states i.e. multiple parallel universes. So, how do we resolve that problem? One way is that consciousness determines existence. Now Einstein hated this.
DC: Yeah, he did. Yes.
MK: He hated this idea. But, that’s one branch of physics that we’re taught at as a graduate student. When I teach quantum mechanics I teach the standard version. That is you look at a cat, you determine its existence. Now Einstein said: “That’s a bunch of baloney, cats exist dead or alive, independent of the human.” Well, Einstein was wrong. We see this everyday with laser beams, transistors, and you listen to my voice as a consequence of this fact. But there is a rogue interpretation that’s getting more credibility recently and that’s perhaps maybe there are parallel universes. Maybe the cat is alive in one universe and dead in one universe and the universe splits in half. Now this sounds like Twilight Zone, right? But hey this is where physics is taking us, kicking and screaming, dragging us into the world of the Twilight Zone. So, in one universe yeah, Elvis Presley is still alive. In one universe Michael Jackson is alive. We just happen to live in the one universe where they have passed away and they can’t come back.
DC: So my friends we’re not listening to a theologian, we’re not listening to a spiritualist, we’re listening to a physicist who is one of the most important physicists of our time talking about what Einstein frequently also referred to when we get to that topic: spooky action at a distance, entanglement. Explain for a minute entanglement to our listeners Dr. Kaku.
MK: Well Einstein had the common sense point of view that a rock is a rock and it doesn’t affect other rocks. A rock on Mars has nothing to do with a rock on the Earth. That’s a very common sense point of view. The quantum point of view is that there is an umbilical cord. There is something, there is a thread that binds every rock in the universe with every other rock in the universe and that if you move one rock here on Earth, something happens on Mars.
DC: Without sending energy or an information signal because this entanglement is in a sense non-local, right? It’s unmediated, it’s unmitigated, it’s instantaneous.
MK: That’s right. Now, Einstein believed in a local universe. That is if you kick a rock your foot hits the rock and that’s the end of the story. When you kick a rock, a rock on Mars does not move. That would be a non-local universe, right? Something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon where you hit Elmer Fudd and all of a sudden somebody on the other side of the Earth moves, right? Well hey, the universe is stranger than a Bugs Bunny cartoon. That we actually measured this in a laboratory. In fact we filmed it, we filmed it for the Science Channel. We have teleported atoms right across the room and we filmed it. An atom in one chamber actually teleported across just like in Star Trek about three feet away and we filmed it using a computer that then blipped every time an atom was teleported. So we can actually teleport information, actually teleport atoms using this effect. That we are all connected via this unseen umbilical cord that intertwines us with, with everything else. Like I said, Einstein hated this idea, but we measure it every day. In fact, we filmed it for the Science Channel.
DC: So you know as a biologist I think of entanglement or non-local correlations or acausal quantum mechanical inter-relatedness as it’s called or even synchronicity in a sense because when you look at a biological organism, for example: the human body. We have a hundred trillion cells which is more than all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Each cell is performing one hundred thousand activities per second and every cell in a sense knows what the other cells are doing, correlates its activities. How does the human body think thoughts, play a piano, kill germs, and remove toxins, and make a baby all at once? And while it’s doing that your body tracks the movements of stars and planets because your biological rhythms, whether they are circadian rhythms which have to do with the movement of the Earth, the rotation of the Earth on its axis, seasonal rhythms, tidal rhythms, gravitational rhythms. It seems like you have to invoke non-locality to understand the simplest things in biology.
MK: Well Einstein had what is called a mechanistic world view. That is everything could be reduced to tiny little pieces. The universe is a clock. You can take it apart and look at its tiny things. But if you take a look at an anthill and you dissect an ant down to the molecules looking for the blue print of an anthill you’ll never find it. You’ll never find the blueprint of an anthill by dissecting an ant, even down to its DNA you’re not going to find it. So we call this an emergent or self-organizing system. That a bunch of ants whose DNA has no presence of an anthill will somehow create an anthill. So this is a more holistic point of view and in quantum theory we used to have this very mechanistic point of view where you smash an atom, you get protons. You smash a proton, you get quarks. You smash a quark and maybe you get a sub-quark. We thought that that’s the way nature was, like a Russian doll puzzle. You keep mechanistically cracking one doll open, there’s another doll inside, another doll inside that. Well out of this mechanistic point of view going down to the quarks came String Theory which is holistic. Because String Theory immediately says that there are higher dimensions in which these strings move. So the irony is starting from a very Western mechanistic point of view of smashing atoms to get protons, smashing protons to get quarks, we had so many quarks we didn’t know what to do with them. And now we think that they are part of a larger fabric. The fabric of a string and that the string vibrates into musical notes and that’s why we have protons and neutrons and quarks and neutrinos. They’re nothing but musical notes on a string. Biology is the melodies you can play on the string. The universe is a symphony of strings.
DC: You call it the U-N-I-verse. One song in a sense.
MK: Right. And we think that the mind of God that Einstein wrote about eloquently throughout his entire life. The mind of God would be cosmic music resonating through eleven-dimensional hyper space.
MK: We now have a candidate for the mind of God.
DC: That’s brilliant. Absolutely. It has been said that our new science is not only stranger than we can think, but not only stranger than we think it is, it’s in many ways stranger than we can think. You know one of the things and I had read about in your book which you explain very eloquently is Gödel’s Theorem. Can you mention a little bit about Godel’s Theorem? Because I have a question.
MK: Yeah. Gödel’s Theorem overthrew two-thousand years of Greek Philosophy. The Greeks wanted to prove everything. Every theorem could be proven using the laws of arithmetic. So it’s a very tight, elegant system. But Gödel comes along and overthrows a two-thousand year old dream by showing that there’s incompleteness. That there are two statements that are non-provable. For example, if I say that I am a liar, if I’m a liar and I am telling the truth…
DC: Then you’re lying.
MK: I’m lying. But, if I’m a liar then I’m telling the truth which means that I am not a liar. So you are a liar if and only if you are not a liar. So, statements that refer to themselves okay are inconsistent. And therefore you get into paradoxes every time you refer to yourself. For example, this statement is false. If that statement is false then it’s true. If that statement is true then it’s false. These are self-reparational systems. So in any mathematics anything that refers to itself automatically has paradoxes involved. That means that there are true statements which are not provable. For example, if I say that this statement is not provable then I have just made a statement which is not provable. So there are provable statements which are not provable.
DC: When I read about Gödel’s Theorem and again correct me if my interpretation is wrong, but what basically Gödel is saying is that if you have a sufficiently elaborate system of mathematical logic then you’ll find within that system, within that theoretical system a theorem that does not necessarily fit that logic. That it’s almost a discontinuity. You cannot, it’s not part of the algorithm and yet it’s a true statement. Is that true?
MK: Yes, true statements that are not provable. Now, in mathematics we overthrew the dream of the Greeks. In physics we also overthrew the dream of Newton with the Uncertainty Principle. So here we have two gigantic principles that have overthrown everything we believed up to the 1900’s. The incompleteness of mathematics and the uncertainty of physics. By the way even the Bible mentions this paradox. Saint Paul was asked to comment on a famous Cretan philosopher who said: “I am a liar,” and that means it’s true only if it’s false. And then Saint Paul’s conclusion was: “I knew it all the time, Cretans are liars.” So, in the Bible it misses the point. The Bible itself misses the point of the Cretan paradox of the statement “I am a liar”.
DC: (laughs) Right. But, Godel’s Theorem and the Uncertainty Principle to me, again, simplistic but I want to ask a real scientist this. Godel’s Theorem and uncertainty both imply creativity in nature because a creative process is something that is unpredictable, essentially. A creative process is discontinuous. A creative process is almost quantum in nature in that what emerges has nothing to do with what existed before and to me that implies consciousness as inherent in nature itself.
MK: Well you now touch perhaps the greatest controversy in all of artificial intelligence theory. All of the artificial intelligence, everything that we know about robots, predators, i-Robots, vacuum cleaners in your living room. Everything has been built on the idea that the brain is a computer. The brain is a digital computer. It has a Pentium chip, it has a Windows operating system. But here is the paradox: the brain has no Windows, the brain has no Pentium chip, the brain has no programming. If the brain is a computer where is the program, where is the windows, where is the Pentium chip? There isn’t any. The brain is a learning machine and that is what digital computers are very very bad at, learning. So then the question is, did we make a mistake for fifty years? For fifty years the Pentagon and IBM and corporations threw millions of dollars trying to build a mechanical brain based on a digital computer. A digital computer is an adding machine, that’s all it is. Adding machines can add a million times faster than you and me so they have the appearance of being intelligent, but they’re stupid. The chess playing machines we have are very stupid because all they do is play chess. Our most advanced robots have the intelligence of a cockroach, a retarded cockroach, a stupid, lobotomized, retarded cockroach. Even a cockroach can run across a room. Our most digital, our most advanced digital robots take six hours to walk across the room. Now, a neural net is a learning machine. It rewires itself every time it learns a task.
DC: With every experience?
MK: With every experience a neural network simply rewires itself. Get a bunch of neurons, hook them up randomly and simply ask it to learn every time it masters a task. That’s a neural network. At the present time we can model bugs and fish with the neural networks but not much more than that. One of these days we’ll be able to start to model a cat or a dog and maybe we’ll get up to a monkey. Right now we’re at the level of a cockroach. That’s why creativity does not exist in our machines, our machines are not creative because a digital computer is an adding machine, a glorified adding machine that adds a million times faster than you and me and gives the appearance of being smart.
DC: Creativity, insight, introspection…
MK: Very difficult to compare…
MK: Leaps of logic.
DC: Leaps of logic.
MK: That’s right.
DC: And yet, these are expressions of nature don’t you think. At a fundamental level it seems like you have this big schism between theologians who believe in creationism then Darwinian people talk about random mutations and natural selection. But, even when you talk about natural selection it’s a survival of the fittest. Who is trying to survive? I mean there’s a sentient entity, a fundamental, sentient entity in a microbe in an animal in a plant that has this wide range of responses to stimuli.
MK: Well here’s the fundamental paradox. We have thirty thousand genes that make up our body. That’s it, period, end of story. Thirty thousand genes. However, our brain has a hundred billion neurons. If we have a hundred billion neurons in our brain and a blueprint only has thirty thousand instructions, then how can you build a brain out of thirty thousand instructions right?
DC: It’s like writing a story with the alphabet I would say. You can write an epic, or you can write an essay, or you can write a sentence.
MK: Well the conclusion you have to come to is that large portions of the brain are randomly connected. Randomly connected. And that’s how neural networks operate. Neural networks are largely randomly connected and all you do is ask it one thing, just one, learn.
DC: Do neurons bind with each other non-locally also?
MK: Well they have dendrites. Each neuron is connected to maybe ten thousand other dendrites so it is very complicated. In fact, believe it or not sitting on your shoulder is the most complex object that Mother Nature has created. Out to the nearest in our sector of the Milky Way galaxy, sitting on your shoulder might be the most complex object in our sector of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s very humbling to realize that human intelligence is the supreme product of Mother Nature. There’s nothing more complicated.
DC: I was reading in your book also that, and I got to the part where I got the impression that you believed that there is sentient life elsewhere in our universe?
MK: Yeah, I believe there are other civilizations out in outer space. We physicists even rank them by energy, a type 1 civilization is truly planetary, they minethe oceans, they control the weather. A type 2 civilization is stellar: they control stars like in Star Trek. Type 3 is galactic in like the Empire Strikes Back. Now, what are we? Are we type 1 that control the weather? Are we type 2 that play with stars? Are we type 3 that sails the galaxy? No. We’re type 0. We get our energy from dead plants. We don’t rate on the scale of intelligent civilizations. Oil and coal, dead plants that’s where we get our energy from. We’re about a hundred years from becoming a type 1 civilization. For example, the internet is a beginning of a type 1 telephone system. A planetary telephone system. English will be the language of this future type 1 civilization. The European Union and NAFTA is the beginning of a type 1 economy. Rock and roll and blue jeans and hip hop is the beginning of a type 1 culture. My God, now we know what type 1 culture is going to look like.
MK: It will still be blue jeans, rap music…
DC: Now you know throughout your book I see that you also talk about not only Star Wars technology but star wars, the Death Star and so on. So you give the impression that while our science will continue to evolve our consciousness as in the understanding of love, compassion, connectivity, absence of violence. This seems to be a diabolical combination. You know modern technologies and ancient, very primitive, tribal habits.
MK: You know it’s unfortunate, but modern humans emerged from Africa 100,000 years ago. You take a cave man from a hundred thousand years ago, you give him a shave, aftershave lotion, three piece suit and put him on Wall Street and they look like all the other barbarians on Wall Street.
MK: Now, if our human nature hasn’t changed in 100,000 years the only difference is that now we have nuclear weapons. Now we have biotechnology and bio-weapons. Now we can manufacture smallpox when we feel like it.
DC: Or we can destroy the world with information.
MK: That’s right. And our brain hasn’t changed. We have the same jealousies…
DC: That doesn’t sound very good.
MK: The same savagery, the same passions. So, I would hope that we become more mature as we head toward a planetary type 1 civilization in a hundred years and that’s planetary consciousness. So I think the next level of our consciousness will be planetary consciousness and we’re going in that direction whether we like it or not. Global warming, wars, the internet, all of it forces us to think in a planetary way which is what we physicists call a type 1 civilization.
DC: And from what I know about you, you have the confidence even that now we have the emerging of technologies that could solve problems like global warming, the energy problem, radical poverty, shouldn’t we be looking at technology which is expanding exponentially as a way to heal our planet of its diabolical nature?
MK: That’s the goal. I view technology as a sword, a double-edged sword. One side I can cut against ignorance, poverty, disease, all the savagery that typifies our existence from the swamp. But, the other side can also liberate us. The other side can reduce poverty, disease. For example, throughout most of human existence the average life expectancy was 18 years. When we go back to the Cro-Magnon man and dig up grave sites and analyze their bones, life expectancy was 18 years in those days. For 99% of human existence we didn’t live very long. Now we live much longer and it is due to technology. And now we have the ability to eliminate poverty and disease only if we put our minds to it. So my attitude is, it’s a race against time. We have the forces of darkness, chaos, global warming, overpopulation, pollution, biotechnology, nuclear proliferation. On the other hand we have a march towards a type 1 planetary civilization which is enlightened, progressive, scientific, egalitarian. It’s not clear which of these two tendencies will survive and dominate. So one day we’ll go into outer space perhaps and we’ll visit other civilizations and we’ll find dead civilizations. Type 0 civilizations that never made it to type 1. Because the transition from type 0 to type 1 is the most dangerous transition in the history of civilization. Type 0 means we’re still savages except we have nuclear weapons. Type 1 means we’re planetary. We have a planetary way of communicating planetary consciousness. We understand the limits of technology and it’s not clear whether we’re going to make the transition to type 1. So in outer space maybe that’s the reason why aliens don’t visit us. People often ask the question, “Well, where are they?” Maybe they never the made the transition from type 0 to type 1. So when we go into outer space we may find the wreckage of dead civilizations. It’s a warning.
DC: My very special guest today has been Dr. Michio Kaku, he’s the author of Physics of the Impossible . I’m very grateful that he joined and I hope that he will come back on the show because we just touched the surface of his magnificent intellect.
MK: Thank you.