Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dr. Michio Kaku (@michiokaku), a professor of theoretical physics at The City College of New York, the co-founder of string field theory, and the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Beyond Einstein, The Future of Humanity, The Future of the Mind, Hyperspace, Physics of the Future, Physics of the Impossible, and his latest, The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything.
Dr. Kaku is the science correspondent for CBS This Morning, the host of the radio programs Science Fantastic and Exploration, and a host of several science TV specials for the BBC and the Discovery and Science Channels.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today is Dr. Michio Kaku. You can find him on Twitter @michiokaku. He is a professor of theoretical physics at The City College of New York co-founder of string field theory and the author of several widely claimed science books, including Beyond Einstein, The Future of Humanity, The Future of the Mind, Hyperspace, Physics of the Future, Physics of the Impossible, and his latest bestseller, The God Equation, subtitle The Quest for a Theory of Everything.
So we will have no shortage of things to discuss. He is the science correspondent for CBS this morning, the host of the radio programs Science Fantastic and Exploration, and the host of several science TV specials for the BBC and the Discovery and Science Channels. We will link to all of his social, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter in the show notes, but you can find it quite easily @michiokaku in most cases. And Dr. Kaku, welcome to the show. Thank you for taking the time.
Michio Kaku: Yeah, glad to be on.
Tim Ferriss: I thought I would start by rolling the clock back to your childhood. And my understanding is you did not come from a wealthy family — far from it — but that you certainly found time to build things. And I was wondering if there were any notable examples that come to mind that you could share with the audience?
Michio Kaku: Well, you’re right. Ever since I was a child, I knew that my parents were locked up during World War II in a relocation camp in California, their assets were frozen. They were penniless when they were released from jail. And just because they were Japanese Americans, even though they were citizens, they were both citizens of the United States. They were both born in California, for God’s sake. So when I was a child, I realized that if I was to do anything in this world, I would have to do it myself. So when I was eight years old, something happened which completely changed my life. I still remember everyone was talking about the fact that a great scientist had just died. And on the evening paper, all they showed was a picture of his desk. That’s it. Just a picture of his desk with an open book.
And the caption said: “The greatest scientist of our time could not finish this book.” Wow. I was fascinated by this story. Why couldn’t he finish it? I mean, he could ask his mother, right? He could go to the library. He could just look it up. What was so hard that a great scientist could not finish that book? Well, I waited in the library and over the years I began to find out this man’s name was Albert Einstein. And that book was to be the theory of everything, the God equation, an equation, perhaps no more than one inch long that would allow us to, quote, “read the mind of God.” Well, I was hooked. I had to know what was this unified field theory, The theory of everything that was supposed to summarize all the laws of nature into such a compact form. So when I was in high school, I said to myself, “This is it. I want to be part of this great search for the theory of everything.”
So I went to my mom. And I said, “Mom, can I have permission to build an atom smasher in the garage? A 2.3 million electron volt particle electron accelerator in the garage?” And she kind of stared at me and said, “Sure, why not? And don’t forget to take out the garbage.” Well, I took out the garbage and I got 400 pounds of transformer steel, 22 miles of copper wire, so much wire that we had to wind it on the football field, in my high school. And the atom smasher consumed six kilowatts of power, all the energy that my house had. Finally, it was ready. I plugged it in. I heard this huge crackling sound of six kilowatts of energy surge through my capacitor bank. And then I heard this pop, pop, pop sound.
As I blew out all the fuses in the house, the whole house had plunged into darkness. My poor mom, she came home from a hard day’s work, and then she’d say to herself, “Why couldn’t I have a son who plays baseball? Why can’t he play basketball? And for God’s sake, why can’t he find a nice Japanese girlfriend? Why does he build these machines in the garage?” Well, yeah, because of these machines, I went to the national science fair. I won the grand prize and I met the physicist who built the atomic bomb. I met Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, and he offered me a scholarship that if I could get into Harvard, he would fund it. Well, I got into Harvard, and yes, true to form, he financed a scholarship so I could go and fulfill my dream. Well, when I graduated from Harvard, he offered me a job, a job at Los Alamos Labs, Livermore Labs, designing hydrogen warheads.
But you see, I had a different finished scenario. You see, for me, the hydrogen bomb was puny. It was not powerful enough. I wanted to work on the biggest explosion in the universe: The Big Bang. That is, the God equation set into motion the expansion of the universe itself. Now that’s for me. So I respectfully declined this very generous offer, but I said to myself, “I want to work on the theory of everything, an equation no more than one inch long that will allow us to summarize all the laws of the universe into one compact form.” I said to myself, “That’s for me.”
Tim Ferriss: I must ask, how did your patron, this person who paid your way through Harvard, respond when you declined his job offer?
Michio Kaku: Well, the war in Vietnam was going full blast. He knew that a lot of his young recruits could not get a job because they were going to go into the military. And that’s what I did. My draft board pretty much told me that I would go to Vietnam. And so I basically volunteered to go into the military, hoping to be part of Signal Corps as I figured I could use some of my physics education in order to the support telecommunication of our troops. Unfortunately, they put me in infantry. So I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, where I learned how to go through machine gunfire. I went to Fort Lewis, Washington, where I learned to fire machine guns. In fact, I fired the entire United States Army’s infantry’s — the whole slew of weapons fielded by the United States infantry. I fired them all. So I said to myself, “Yeah, I had to serve my country. What can I do?”
Tim Ferriss: Was there a conflict in your heart or mind having seen how your parents were treated in internment camps in serving this country? Was there any upset or any hesitation? I’m just wondering emotionally if there was anything there that’s worth discussing.
Michio Kaku: Not really, because I realized that what had happened during the war, well, let’s face it. The United States was at war. And as a consequence in wartime, people do strange things. And however, my parents’ attitude was that, well, first of all, we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, that if the war clouds start to rise again, we have to make sure that the locking up huge sectors of the population, 100,000 Japanese Americans were locked up, that it wouldn’t happen again. But my parents also believed that you shouldn’t have a chip on your shoulder. You shouldn’t hold it against the country because the country was very kind and generous and made my education possible. And so you shouldn’t hold a grudge. And the thing to do is to contribute to society. And that’s what I decided to do to contribute to society, not have a chip on my shoulder and do good.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve really, in some respects, you’ve created many careers for yourself, but you’ve combined technical skill and fluency with communication. And I want to focus for a second on the technical side of things because you mentioned that you asked your mom if you could build an atom smasher. And I think a lot of people listening, they wouldn’t immediately know what an atom smasher is. Were your parents technical? Did they have technical backgrounds?
Michio Kaku: No, they barely got out of grade school with an education and as a consequence, they didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. They just knew that it sounded very scientific and it sounded important. And so they said, “Go for it.” They were very encouraging. They said, “Go for it, go as far as you can go.”
Tim Ferriss: Was there anything that sparked that initial curiosity in the sciences?
Michio Kaku: Well, there was this mystery, curiosity is one of the great drivers of human behavior. Curiosity, coupled with passion. Those, I think, are the two great ingredients that allow people to rise above poverty and rise above hardship: curiosity and passion. So I had a curiosity. I had to know what was in that book. Now today, of course, I can read that book. I know exactly all the different incorrect avenues that Einstein was looking at in a desperate search, which he failed ultimately to create a theory of everything. So curiosity is one thing that drove me, but also you have to have a passion. Curiosity by itself is not enough. You have to be able to pay your dues. You have to be able to sit down, learn the math, learn the physics, get up to a PhD so that you could become a professor. And so you have to have a passion that takes you all the way to the top.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve read in preparation for this conversation that you were fascinated with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy as a child. I don’t know if that’s true. Please fact, check me if that’s if that’s incorrect. Did any particular sci-fi stand out to you as impactful or cultivating that passion and curiosity?
Michio Kaku: Well, yes. You see, when I was eight years old, I wanted to be like Einstein, but on Saturday mornings I used to watch TV and I used to watch Flash Gordon on TV. And once again I was hooked, I mean, starships, I mean rocket ships, invisibility shields, cities underwater, cities in the sky. What’s there not to love with Flash Gordon? But then over the years, I began to realize that the two passions of my life — that is physics on one hand and the future on the other — were more or less the same thing. That if you understood physics, you understood what is possible, what is plausible, and what is simply impossible. So when I read science fiction, I began to realize that if you have a background in physics, you can sort of put things into place. When certain technologies are going to go to fruition, when certain technologies will never happen, and it allows you to see into the future.
So those are the two things that I do. One hand, I work on the unified field theory, the God equation, the theory of everything, but I’m also a futurist. That as I look to see what trends will take us into the next five, 10, 100 years, 1,000 years into the future. And so watching Flash Gordon really impressed upon me that if you know physics, you know the outlines of the future, not totally of course, because we make mistakes, but you know what is possible, what is plausible, and what is impossible.
Tim Ferriss: I have many questions to follow up that answer, and we’re going to also veer into trends and a few related questions. And I’ll ask you about physics of the future. But first I wanted to go back to Harvard for a moment. And to ask you if it’s true that for a stint at least you studied philosophy, and if so, if you could describe that experience?
Michio Kaku: Well, I was very practical. I knew that you had to have plan B. If plan A doesn’t work out, what are you going to do for plan B? You see, for Einstein, and I studied his life very carefully — in fact, I even wrote a biography of Einstein — I realized that, well, he made enemies of his faculty. He would cut classes a lot because he knew the material already. He was way ahead of everyone, but he cut class; the professors hated that. So he got horrible letters of recommendation. So he had to go to plan B, which is become a menial worker. He applied for a job selling life insurance. Can you imagine opening the door one day and there’s Albert Einstein trying to sell you life insurance?
And he finally got a job as a low-level clerk at the patent office in Bern, Switzerland, from which he could launch the greatest revolution of modern times, relativity, which gives us the atomic bomb, gives us computer technology, lasers, gives us the power of the sun, in fact. And so he had plan B and took a low-level clerical job. Well, I had to have plan B too. So I said to myself, “Why not learn computer technology?” Computers were just beginning to surface. And Stanford University was not too far away when I grew up there, it was all apple, orchards, and alfalfa fields and farm workers, but yeah, Stanford was slowly rising and you could learn how to program computers.
And so I said to myself, “That’s what I’m going to do for plan B.” But I was also interested in philosophy, but I still remember a quote from Einstein, and that philosophy, he said, “It’s sort of like honey, that at first is delicious and tastes great. But then you realize there’s nothing really there. It’s not going to show you the future. It just tastes good.” And so he decided that, well, yes, he will learn philosophy. It’ll guide him to a degree, but it’s not going to pioneer new branches of science. Philosophy is how you sort of look at the entire terrain of physics. So yeah, Einstein was a philosopher, but he realized he could not make a living doing philosophy.
Tim Ferriss: Now, do you think that there are certain branches of philosophy or types of philosophical questioning or thought exercises that will become more practical in the sense that, for instance, if you look at the trolley problem and autonomous cars to programming machines to behave in certain ways if they have to choose between hitting say four people in their eighties versus two schoolchildren on the other side of the road or something like that, are there types of philosophy or branches of philosophy that one might view as more practical or interesting than others at least from your perspective?
Michio Kaku: Well, there are two areas of philosophy that I found interesting. One is epistemology. That is the theory of knowledge. What is true, what is false, and what is knowable? And that gets us into the question of God. That is God knowable, can you prove the existence of God? So I was fascinated by that question. Can you prove or disprove the existence of God? And then he began to realize that there are certain things outside of science. Science is what is testable, reproducible, and falsifiable. But certain things are beyond that cannot be tested, that cannot be reproduced, for example, the existence of God. So I think that a thousand years from now, people will still be debating whether or not God exists because it’s not a provable statement. For example, the unicorn, can you prove or disprove the existence of unicorns? And the answer is no because if you say “Unicorns, they don’t exist,” maybe somewhere in a cave someplace where we’ve never explored before, there’s a unicorn.
So it is impossible to disprove the non-existence of unicorns and the same thing with God. God is also not a provable statement. So a thousand years from now, we’ll still be debating the existence of God because there’s no proof, no definitive proof, one way or the other that can prove or disprove the existence of God. Another example, I was at a party once where somebody came up to me and said that she was Cleopatra. She was the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Well, I got into a conversation, asked her some simple questions about the history of Cleopatra. And she got all the answers wrong. And I said to myself, “Aha, she is not really Cleopatra at all.” But then she came back at me and left me floored. She said, “The history books are wrong. Why do I know that? Because I am the reincarnation of Cleopatra. You can’t believe the history books.”
And I was stumped. At that point I realized that’s a statement that’s not provable. Therefore it is outside the boundary of science. Do angels exist? Well, maybe, maybe not, but it’s outside the boundaries of what science can test. Because if you say there are no such things as angels, maybe they just are in a place that you haven’t looked. So that was one area that I find interesting — epistemology, the limits of what is testable, what is reproducible, and what is falsifiable. The other thing that was interesting to me was the question of human thought. Is it possible to build a robot that can think like a human? And then I read about the work of Alan Turing, the founder of artificial intelligence theory, the guy who helped to win World War II by breaking the German code.
And sadly enough, even though he was a hero, it was top secret because the British had to keep code-breaking secret and he basically committed suicide. But at the end of his life, there was a police raid and the founder of artificial intelligence theory turned out to be gay. And he was put on trial. He was forced to take hormones and he went crazy and he committed suicide. But anyway, the point I’m raising is if you have a robot that acts like a human, talks like a human, then for all intents and purposes, it is indistinguishable from a human. And therefore is a human. Now that really sent me into motion because here was a very concrete test that you could make as to whether or not something is human. In other words, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, maybe it is a duck.
Maybe it is indistinguishable from a duck. If you hold that philosophy, then you come to the realization that one day we will create humans out of the laboratory because it’ll be as synthetically indistinguishable from a human. Now, right now, it’s pretty easy to tell that something is a robot. You ask it a simple question, gets the answer wrong. So bingo, you know that it’s fake, but one day it will be so close to us that it will be indistinguishable from us. In which case maybe artificial intelligence is really possible. Here’s another example. Science is getting to the point where we can digitize everything known about you. For example, all of Einstein’s papers, lectures, notes can be digitized. And I would love to talk to Einstein. I’d love to sit down and talk to a robot that has digitized all of Einstein’s memoirs and videotapes and what have you, everything that’s known.
And so then that becomes at some point indistinguishable from Einstein himself. And so, in other words, it may be possible that the soul of a human might be digitized because we’re getting closer and closer to creating things that are indistinguishable from people. In other words, this gives us digital immortality. You can live forever, of course, as a computer program, but you can live forever because your memories, your personalities will allow you to talk to your great, great, great, great grandkids and your great, great, great grandkids will be able to talk to you because your computer program is indistinguishable from who you are. So these are philosophical questions that I think are actually quite interesting.
Tim Ferriss: So how do you think of burden of proof in the sense that while it may be impossible to prove the non-existence of unicorns, the sort of current expanse of human exploration has of yet not turned up any unicorns. So in terms of choosing what to believe or not believe, and I know some scientists will say, “I believe in the data,” right? And that’s kind of their stock response. But reality seems to be, at least in real life, messy around the corners. How do you think of burden of proof, whether it’s, say, unicorns or something like time travel?
Michio Kaku: Well, first of all, if you take a look at detectives, are detectives scientists? Detectives have data, but you see, scientists like to create experiments. They like to redo the experiment many, many, many times, so that something is reproducible, falsifiable, and testable on demand.
A detective is in a situation where the crime has been committed. You cannot recreate the crime. You can approximate the crime, but you cannot recreate the crime. It’s not testable, may not be falsifiable, but is it a science? Well, then you have to realize that most of physics is a detective story, that the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, it happened in the past, it was the crime. And so you begin to realize that all of science is in some sense not testable, because you cannot recreate the Big Bang, you cannot test aspects of the Big Bang. You only have the remnants of what happened after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.
And as a consequence, you have to be a little bit humble, humble realizing that there are limits to what we can do in the laboratory, because we cannot recreate cosmic events like the creation of the earth, the creation of the sun, and the creation of the universe. But we do what we can with the physics that we are given.
Now, you mentioned something else. What was that again, that pushed the boundaries of what we can do?
Tim Ferriss: Well, I guess the underlying question was just around how you think of burden of proof. And the part of the reason that term came to mind is, and I know we’re jumping around and that’s okay, in an interview from 2003 in Scientific American, you had said about 10 years ago, meaning in 1993, if you were a serious physicist talking about time travel, you’d be laughed out of the scientific establishment. So I wanted to ask you what had happened post-1993 that had made that less the case. And it seemed, at least I have a line here and please fact-check this, “Originally the burden of proof was on physicists to prove that time travel was possible. Now the burden of proof is on physicists to prove there must be a law forbidding time travel.” And I found that very interesting. And I was just wondering if you could expand on how you think about wrapping one’s head around something like time travel and whether it is possible or impossible.
Michio Kaku: Well, it used to be, of course, that we have a giggle factor in physics, that if you talk about higher dimensions, you talk about time travel, most physicists was simply giggle, and eyes would roll up in the heavens, and they’d shake their head. Well, they don’t do that anymore. Physicists like Stephen Hawking have taken these things very seriously.
You see, back in after the war, Einstein’s roommate at the Institute for Advanced Study, he had an office right next to Einstein. Kurt Gödel found the first solution of Einstein’s equations, which allowed for time travel. Time travel, in other words, if the universe rotated, if the universe rotated and then you rotated around the universe and came back, you could come back yesterday. You could come back before you left, which of course is time travel.
Now, Einstein of course, was horrified by this. He said in his memoirs that we can eliminate this possibility for physical reasons i.e. the universe expanded, the universe did not spin. If the universe spun, then time travel would be commonplace. Well, since then, we have found hundreds of solutions of Einstein’s equations that which time travel is a possibility. For example, if I have a black hole or something similar to a black hole, a very dense star, and it rotates and it rotates, it does not collapse to a dot. It collapses to a ring, a ring. And if you fall through the ring, you wind up in a parallel universe. These are legitimate solutions of Einstein’s equations found in 1963, in fact, by mathematician Roy Kerr. And it means that we have to take it seriously.
And then Stephen Hawking jumped into the game and he came up with the chronology protection hypothesis. That is, there must be a law of physics preventing time travel. Okay. That was a challenge. He challenged the world of physics to find the law that once and for all would disprove the existence of a time machine. Well, what happened? Nobody could find such a law. And so Hawking was forced to admit that, “Well, maybe time travel is possible because there’s no law preventing it.” Well, now we have wormholes, in fact, string theory, which is what I do for a living, is full of wormholes. You can’t move in string theory without bumping into a wormhole someplace.
And a wormhole is the looking glass of Alice. Alice stuck her hand through the looking glass and her hand wound up on the other end of forever in Wonderland. Well, that looking glass is the black hole. A spinning black hole collapses not to a dot, but to a ring. That ring is the looking glass of Alice. So that if you stick your hand through the looking glass, you wind up in another parallel universe. And this gives us therefore, a new way of looking at the Big Bang.
Einstein said that the universe is a bubble, a bubble of some sort, and it’s expanding. That’s called the Big Bang theory. However, string theory says there are other bubbles out there. In fact, there’s a bubble bath, a bubble bath of universes. And when these universes collide, well, that gives you the Big Bang. Or when these universes split in half, that could also be the Big Bang. And so we realize that there’s a multiverse of universes out there, some of which make time travel possible.
Now, the next question that people often ask me is if there’s this bubble bath of universes, parallel universes, then is Elvis Presley still alive in one of these parallel universes? And the answer is possibly yes, that if you are dead in one universe, you are not necessarily dead in a twin universe. That people who have perished in one universe may keep on living in another universe. Now, this sounds crazy, right? But it goes by a name, quantum physics. We physicists telling people that some of their loved ones could still be alive in another parallel universe. We tell them, “Get used to it. This is called quantum physics.” Now, of course, to visit these parallel universes would require technology far beyond anything we can muster. So don’t think you can visit Elvis any time soon, but it does mean that well, yeah, these universes are possible.
Tim Ferriss: I want to double-click on time. Let’s talk a bit more about time, and actually before we get to time, because that’s understandably a pretty big subject, could you just define what you mean by parallel universe?
Michio Kaku: Well, take two sheets of paper and put them side by side so that they are parallel to each other, and then get a pencil and just stick a pencil right through both sheets of paper. That pencil is the wormhole. It’s a gateway, it’s a gateway connecting two separate universes.
And guess who came up with this idea? It was Einstein himself in 1935. In 1935, Einstein was playing with black holes, mathematically of course, and realized that if you took two black holes and stuck them together back-to-back, if you fell into one funnel, you would go blasting out the other funnel. So today we call them wormholes, or in this case, white holes. A black hole is this ultimate vacuum cleaner. Everything gets sucked into this vacuum cleaner called the black hole, but where does that stuff go? We’re not sure, but in one theory, it’s blown out the other end as a white hole. And so this white hole is connected to the black hole through this gateway and the gateway is a wormhole. And this gateway in turn may be a passageway to another universe, a passageway to a distant point in your same universe, or perhaps even a gateway into the past. And so time travel can no longer be totally ruled out. It’s something that we physicists actually study now.
Tim Ferriss: I am looking at the cover of one of my books and the cover is The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, who is an Italian physicist. I think he does a lot of work in quantum gravity, if I’m recalling correctly. And in one of his presentations, video presentation, I remember him holding two different hand watches, one above his head and one down by his waist, and saying something to the effect, and I’m paraphrasing here because I’m not technical, I don’t have any physics chops, but he said that effectively time unfolds at different speeds at these different heights due to different gravitational effects and so on. I’m curious if there are any statements or characteristics of time that you can mention that might be counterintuitive or seem otherworldly to people who are listening, just because I think you’re in a better position than I am certainly.
Michio Kaku: Well, most people think that time beats at the same rate. So that one hour on the Earth is one hour on the moon is one hour in outer space, but that’s not true. It turns out that if you were in a rocket ship orbiting the earth, like in a GPS satellite, time can actually slow down a bit or actually speed up, depending upon how fast you are moving. So when you use your cell phone to calculate where you are located on the earth, that cell phone has to calculate Einstein’s theory, the general theory and the special theory of relativity, to calculate exactly what time it is, because it depends on how fast you move. In general, the faster you move, the slower time beats.
So twins, one of our astronauts was a twin, went into outer space. When the twin came back, most people assumed that they were still the same age. Nope. The twin that went into outer space is actually younger, slightly younger by a fraction of a second than his twin on the earth.
Now, on the moon, time beats faster on the moon. So if I have a clock on the moon, it beats a little bit faster than a clock on the planet Earth. A clock on Jupiter would beat a little bit slower than a clock on the Earth. And this is not science fiction. We measure this. In fact, we use it for the GPS system. So when a Pentagon general fights a war, the war depends on Einstein’s theory of general relativity and special relativity, or else the troops wind up too late to fight that war because their clocks are all wrong.
So Newton of course thought that time was like an arrow. One second on the Earth is one second on the moon is one second throughout the universe. 12:00 is 12:00 everywhere in the universe. Einstein comes along and says, “Not so fast. Time is a river.” It’s a river that can speed up and slow down. So that time beats faster on the moon than it does on the Earth. Time in outer space on a rocket ship beats slower than time on the Earth. A clock on Jupiter beats slower than a clock on the Earth and we measure it. That’s why we have the GPS system.
And then we can even go one step beyond that. The river of time can have whirlpools, whirlpools in the river of time, and can fork, fork into two rivers, and that allows us to resolve the time-travel paradoxes. When you go backwards in time and meet yourself as a child and you kill yourself as a child, how can you survive as an adult when you just committed suicide in the past? This is the grandfather paradox. How can you still be alive if you killed your ancestors?
Well, there’s a way around it. And that is if the river of time forks into two rivers, and in one river, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford Theater, he died. In your timeline, Abraham Lincoln died, but if the river of time forks and you jump stream and you’re now on this other river, you can save Abraham Lincoln from being assassinated at the Ford Theater, but you’ve saved somebody else’s Abraham Lincoln, a parallel Abraham Lincoln, because the quantum theory allows for parallel universes.
Now, the quantum theory allows for parallel electrons. Electrons can be two places at the same time. And how do we use that? In lasers. That’s how lasers work. That’s how transistors work. Anything quantum mechanical is based on the simple idea that an electron can be two places at the same time. Now, if electrons can do it, why not people? Or for that matter, why not the universe? And that’s the paradox of the quantum. If the quantum theory says that an electron could be two places at the same time, then why can’t people also be two places at the same time? And for that matter, why can’t the universe be two places at the same time?
So at this point you may say to yourself, “This is weird.” Well, get used to it. It’s called physics.
Tim Ferriss: And for those interested, at least one pair of twins who were studied extensively to my knowledge, Scott Kelly and his brother, Mark Kelly. I had Scott actually, astronaut Scott Kelly, on this podcast for people who are interested in digging into that further.
I wanted to ask you next about consciousness and your views of consciousness, because you could, as you mentioned, have someone who looks and quacks like a human, let’s just say, and passes the Turing test and is convincingly human from the outside looking in, effectively, or looking at. How do you think about consciousness yourself, if you do at all?
Michio Kaku: There are many ways of thinking about consciousness. Let’s take a look at the human brain. There’s something called the Connectome Project, which is just as earth-shaking as the Genome Project. The Genome Project, of course, sequenced our genes and changed the face of medicine. You cannot go to the doctor’s office without at some point bumping into an application of the Genome Project. It’s changed everything. Criminals can now be caught because of the Genome Project.
Well, there’s another project out there just as powerful. It is called the Connectome Project. And it wants to map the human brain, every single cell in a map of the entire human brain. Now, we’ve already mapped the brain of a fruit fly, believe it or not. A fruit fly has about 100,000 neurons. These 100,000 neurons could be sliced and diced and put on a computer. And we have a map, a roadmap of every single neuron in the brain of a fruit fly. And therefore in principle, if you were to replace every neuron with a transistor, you could create a working model of the brain of an insect.
Now, the next question is, well, what about going up to a mouse? What about going up to a rat? And then going up to a rabbit? And then going up to a dog or a cat? Well, is it possible that we could slice and dice their brain so that we would have a roadmap of every single neuron in the brain of a dog? Well, what’s to prevent it? I’m a physicist. And I realize that there is nothing in the laws of physics preventing us from creating a roadmap of the brain of a dog. And if that’s possible, then why not the brain of a human?
A human has 100 billion neurons in it. That’s the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, 100 billion. Each neuron in turn is connected to 10,000 other neurons to create this vast jungle of connections called the human brain. Can we have a map of the human brain, neuron for neuron? And the answer is yes. When will it happen? Well, let’s be honest. It may take 100 years for us to be able to create the Connectome Project, but it is certainly possible, in which case, it may be possible to create a twin, a twin of the human brain, neuron for neuron, that is identical to that of a human.
And then the big question is, is it conscious? Well, of course, we can debate that question till we’re blue in the face. But like I said, as Alan Turing, the father of artificial intelligence, once said that, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, maybe it is indistinguishable from a duck.” So that could be digital consciousness.
Tim Ferriss: Do you think that it would be, I don’t want to say as simple because, of course, it wouldn’t necessarily be simple, as recreating this neuron map or sort of in some ways mechanical model of the brain and then switching it on and that that would in some way create what we experience as consciousness? Or could there be other forces involved? Or do you think there are other forces or elements involved that would make it more difficult than that?
Michio Kaku: Well, actually, I have a definition of consciousness. The problem with consciousness is that everyone has their own pet definition or no definition at all. And we’re basically debating ghosts, because there’s no definition, but you see, I have a definition of consciousness that I laid out in my bestseller, The Future of the Mind, because as a physicist, we’re fascinated by the human brain. My definition of consciousness is the sum total, the sum total of all the feedback loops necessary to create a model, a model of yourself in space and time in society.
So, by that definition, the simplest level of consciousness is a thermostat. A thermostat has a feedback loop, one feedback loop, and it creates a model of itself in temperature. It regulates the temperature in a room. So I say that a thermostat has one unit of consciousness.
And then let’s take a plant. Let’s take a plant in your backyard. I say that has maybe 10 units of consciousness. It’s conscious of its temperature, moisture, direction of the sun, oxygen, carbon dioxide content, a few sensors that give you maybe 10 feedback loops. And that is the consciousness of a plant. So I think that a plant is also conscious, but let’s go up the scale.
The next level of consciousness is a reptile. A reptile has an understanding of space, but not much more. It has to understand where the food is located, where its potential mates are, where its enemies are. So it has to be able to create feedback loops that understand space, its location in space. So I call that level one. Level one consciousness is the thousands of neurons necessary to create a representation of space for a reptile. That’s called the reptilian brain.
Then at the center of the brain, because the brain evolves from the back to the front, the back of the brain is the reptilian brain. The center of the brain evolved later, and that’s the monkey brain, the limbic system, and that governs consciousness in society. That is, your role in society. Who’s top dog? Who’s the leader of the pack? Who’s the guy who is the fall guy in society? How do you defer to these people? Consciousness of a social type. You have to understand your place in society, just like a reptile, its consciousness decides where it is physically located.
Then, the big question is, what is human consciousness? What feedback loops does the human brain give a human that differs from monkeys, differs from reptiles? That is the key question of which I have an answer. The front part of your brain is what distinguishes us from the animals. And what does that brain do? It creates a model of yourself in time. It is a time machine. It daydreams. It imagines worlds that don’t exist.
Let’s do an experiment to test my theory. Let’s go to your dog tonight in your house and teach your dog the meaning of tomorrow. Such a simple concept, such a simple thing. Teach your dog the meaning of tomorrow. Well, your dog understands space. That’s the reptilian brain, the back of your brain. Your dog understands society, that is the society of dogs. That’s the center of the brain. But the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is not well-developed in dogs. Dogs do not daydream, to the best of our knowledge. They have no understanding of time other than where food is because it was not necessary. It was not necessary for a dog to understand and daydream. Why does a dog have to daydream, for God’s sake?
And a bear, it understands when to hibernate, but that’s automatic. It’s reflex that governs the time behavior of most animals. Now, humans on the other hand, what do we do? We constantly daydream. We can’t help it. We’re constantly imagining, what am I going to do tomorrow? What am I going to do to meet Sally tomorrow? What is the best path to go? It’s constantly creating alternate worlds of consciousness.
So I say that there are three levels of consciousness. There is location, geometric consciousness, consciousness of space, spatial consciousness. That is the reptile. Then there is social consciousness of a monkey, of a wolf in a wolf pack. And then there is temporal consciousness, which is what humans do, and that is my definition of human consciousness. Human consciousness is the sum total of all feedback loops of a human assessing its place in time, essentially the future, constantly daydreaming about, what can I do in the future?
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for that definition. I’m very happy you took the time to do that, and it can help prevent a lot of disagreements if people first agree on the definition of the terms, because it varies so tremendously. And I’m going to use that as a segue to the word God, but I know another scientist whose basic question for tests of consciousness, although this is a much more elaborate conversation, is, in effect, “Are you aware that you are aware?” So the point being, not that that is useful or accurate, but that definitions can differ.
Michio Kaku: Yeah. Well, I have a definition. I have a definition of self-awareness. Some people say consciousness is self-awareness. Well, then what is self-awareness, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Michio Kaku: What is consciousness is your ability to instigate all these feedback loops to create a model, a model of yourself in space, in society, and in time.
Tim Ferriss: And in time.
Michio Kaku: And if you think about it, every thought, every thought that goes through your mind does this. Every thought in your mind is constantly creating a picture of yourself in space, in time, and in society. In fact, I tell people, “If you want to disprove my theory, all you have to do is create a chain of thinking that is not part of the feedback loops that I mentioned concerning space, time, and society, three levels of consciousness. If you can think of a thought, a thought that is outside the domain of these three levels of consciousness, then you can disprove my theory.”
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m not going to attempt to do that, but I do want to ask you about Einstein, since certainly you’re more qualified than I on all things Einstein. Although I did take Mandarin language classes inside a classroom where Einstein once taught. That’s about as close as I get to, in any way, being close and being familiar with Einstein. The theory of everything that he tried to accomplish, the quote that I have in front of me is that it would allow him to “read the mind of God.” What do you think Einstein might have meant or did mean by God in this instance? Was it glimpsing the source code of everything that would allow you to have perfect predictive powers? What did he mean by reading the mind of God?
Michio Kaku: Well, Einstein wrote prolifically about the question of God. In fact, the God letter, a letter that he just dashed off one day years ago to a friend about God, it sold for millions of dollars, shocked everyone, because everyone wanted to know what was Einstein’s thoughts about God. Well, basically it’s very simple. He rejected the idea of a personal God, the God that you pray to, that gives you Christmas presents, smites the Philistines.
He did not believe in a personal God, but he believed in the God of Spinoza, that is the God of harmony, elegance, beauty, simplicity. The universe could have been ugly. The universe could have been random. The universe could have been chaotic, but it’s not. The universe is gorgeous. The universe is rather simple. On a sheet of paper, you can write down the theory of almost everything. You can write that Einstein’s equations and the quantum standard model of hundreds of subatomic particles.
It’s ugly as hell, but hey, it works at low energies. but on the sheet of paper, the low energy universe can be summarized by one sheet of paper. It didn’t have to be that way. And so Einstein thought of himself as a young child, entering a library for the first time, this huge gigantic library, and here’s this little boy marveling at all these books, and all he could do was open the first book, chapter one, verse one, and read the first page.
And so Einstein had a very definite opinion about how we as human beings live in an ordered, gorgeous, simple world. And then Galileo also asked that question. Galileo said that, “The purpose of science is to determine how the heavens go. That’s the purpose of science. The purpose of religion is to determine how to go to Heaven.” So in other words, religion is about ethics, how to go to Heaven, while science is about natural law, how the heavens go. So as long as you keep these two domains separate, they’re actually complimentary. There’s no problem at all. The problem occurs when people in the natural sciences begin to pontificate about ethics, and when people who are religious begin to pontificate about natural law. That’s when we get into trouble.
Tim Ferriss: If you use, and you’ve used it, but I don’t know if you normally do — in the course of this conversation, you’ve mentioned the word God. Does that have a personal meaning to you?
Michio Kaku: Well, yes. When I was a child, I realized that my parents were Buddhists. And in Buddhism, the universe had no beginning, no end. There’s just timeless Nirvana. That’s the essence of one aspect of Buddhism. But they put me into Sunday school, Presbyterian Sunday school, so I read the Bible. I learned all the parables and all those stories. And of course, there is Genesis chapter one, verse one, when God sets the universe into motion.
So the universe had a beginning. So I’ve had these two contradictory ideas in my head. Either the universe had a beginning or it didn’t. No two ways around it, right? Wrong. Now we can meld these two ideas into one theory, the multiverse theory. You see, our universe had a beginning. Our universe had a genesis. It had a moment of the Big Bang. But big bangs are happening all the time, because the Big Bang is a quantum event, meaning that it could happen again and again and again, creating a bubble bath of universes.
And so what is the universe expanding into if we have this larger arena called the bubble bath? This empty arena is hyperspace, the hyperspace of string theory. String theory allows you to meld these two diametrically opposed theories into one theory, that our universe had a beginning, a big bang. But in a multiverse, we have a bubble bath, a bubble bath of universes being born all the time, even as we speak. That is the essence of the quantum principle. If there’s a probability of it happening, it could happen if you wait long enough.
Tim Ferriss: I know nothing about string theory, I’m embarrassed to say. Fortunately, we are talking, and so I feel like I can ask you anything and everything about it. My layman’s understanding is that string theory is controversial. Is that an accurate statement? Are there proponents and detractors and controversy around string theory, or is that not the case?
Michio Kaku: Oh, sure. In fact, that shows you how healthy science is, that in science, truth comes out of incorrect debate with untruth. And so good thing we have controversies, but let’s break down the controversies. Some people say that the theory of everything is not testable directly. That is, you cannot create a laboratory that will create this to test the theory of everything, because string theory is a theory of universes.
Every solution of string theory is a universe. And so to test this theory, you have to be God, to create a baby universe in a laboratory. That’s a direct proof of string theory. Well, I think that misses the whole point. You see, science is not done directly. Most of science is done indirectly. How do we know that the sun is made out of hydrogen? How do we know what’s inside a DNA molecule? How do we know what’s inside a proton?
I mean, we’ve never been to the sun. But how do we know these things? Because we look for echoes, echoes from the sun called sunlight. We look for echoes from life called DNA. So in other words, we have indirect proof of these things. And in my book, The God Equation, I give five indirect proofs of string theory. The first indirect proof is, well, it happened just a month ago outside Chicago.
At Fermi Laboratory outside Chicago, they found a crack, the first crack in the standard model of particles. As I mentioned, the standard model is an ugly theory, but it works. At low energies, you cannot deny that the universe obeys the laws of the standard model, the quantum theory. But eventually it must fail, because the theory is so ugly that only a mother could love it.
It has 36 quarks and antiquarks, three identical generations of particles, 23 parameters that you can adjust any way you want. It’s horrible, but it works. So we found the first crack, meaning that there’s a fifth force out there beyond gravity, beyond the nuclear force, a fifth force out there which could be the next octave of a vibrating string. String theory may give you the next theory beyond the standard model.
Next, LISA is a satellite that the European Space Agency is funding, which will give us baby pictures, baby pictures of the infant universe. It’s a gravity wave detector in outer space that’ll pick up gravity waves from the instant of creation, giving us baby pictures, baby pictures of the infant universe as it’s coming out of the womb. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find evidence of an umbilical cord, an umbilical cord connecting our infant universe as it emerges from the womb to a parent universe in the multiverse of universes.
That’s well within the cards as the European Space Agency and NASA launch LISA into orbit in the coming years. Next, we have dark matter. What is the universe made of? Well, atoms, right? Wrong. Most of the universe is not made of atoms. Most of the universe is made out of dark matter. And we’re clueless, clueless to understand, what is dark matter? It holds the galaxy together. It’s invisible. That’s why it’s so hard to prove.
But no one’s been able to determine what it is. String theory predicts what dark matter is. It, again, is the next octave. The next octave of the vibrating string is dark matter, which makes up most of the invisible universe. Then next, the Japanese, the Chinese, and the Europeans are laying the groundwork for the next generation of atom smashers, much bigger than the ones that I built when I was in high school.
And we hope to find evidence of the fifth force by creating particles that are only seen beyond the standard model. And then the fifth testable way to prove the theory is to look for deviations from Newton’s laws of gravity. Newton’s laws are based on the idea of the inverse square law. If you double the distance away from a star, gravity goes down by a factor of four, but why four? Why not eight? Why not 16? Because we live in a three-dimensional world. The world is three-dimensional.
But string theory says, “Nope, the world is 11-dimensional.” And we are a three-dimensional bubble, a three-dimensional bubble floating in a much larger 11-dimensional Nirvana. So what is Nirvana? Nirvana is 11-dimensional hyperspace. And what is our universe? A bubble, a three-dimensional bubble floating in Nirvana, which is expanding, and that’s called the Big Bang Theory. Anyway, so we’re looking for deviations from Newton’s laws of gravity, which could then clinch the existence of these higher dimensions. So these are five experimental ways that we can test string theory.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s say, flashing forward, that the God equation is, I don’t know if the correct term would be solved for, but that we arrive at the answer. So the quest for a theory of everything comes to an end. What are the possible applications? Because I’m sure that there are people listening, just to step into their shoes, who are saying, “This is incredibly fascinating. I could listen to this and explore this for many, many more hours, but I’m worried that in 20 or 30 or 50 years, due to climate change, we will not have the luxury of pursuing these types of questions.” What are some of the applications? What are the outcomes or uses?
Michio Kaku: Well, some of the greatest philosophical questions of all time, “What happened before creation? Is time travel possible?” cannot be answered using the standard model. Einstein’s equations break down at the instant of the Big Bang, at the center of a black hole. All the interesting questions, well, they break down at the point where string theory starts. This is called the Planck energy. 10 to the 19 billion electron volts. That’s the energy of the Big Bang, and Einstein’s equations fail at that point.
That’s where string theory comes in. For example, what happened before the Big Bang? If string theory is correct, and there’s a multiverse, we now can say what happened before the Big Bang. The Big Bang was the collision or the splitting of universes. And we hope to get pictures, pictures verifying this picture with LISA, a satellite to be launched into outer space with funding from the European Space Agency and from NASA.
And so that’s one application, is to define what happened before creation. Is there really a multiverse? And what’s on the other side of a black hole? Well, most theories say that a black hole is a dot, a dot at infinite density. Anything falling into this dot will die. But that’s the old picture. We don’t believe in that anymore, because these black holes are all spinning, spinning rapidly. And a spinning black hole collapses to a ring, not a dot at all, but a ring.
And if you fall through the ring, you wind up in Alice’s looking glass. The ring is a wormhole, but are wormholes stable? If you watch Star Trek, you realize that one of the problems with wormholes is that sometimes they collapse on you. So you’re halfway through the wormhole, and oops, it collapses on you and cuts you in half. Well, the stability of wormholes can be calculated with string theory.
String theory is a theory of everything, including wormholes, and we should be able to calculate the stability of these wormholes. And then time travel. Is time travel possible? Well, as I mentioned, Einstein’s equations do allow for time travel, but how stable are they? That is, when you enter the time machine, will it blow up? Hawking thought so. Hawking redid the calculation, showed that time travel is possible in Einstein’s equations, but, and this is a huge but, as soon as you enter the time machine, it blows up.
Well, it blows up because, again, of quantum corrections. But string theory allows you to calculate these quantum corrections, not speculate about them. He speculated that they are infinite, but maybe they’re finite, in which case you can go backwards in time and visit yourself as a child. And then perhaps the greatest application of all is the fact that the universe is dying. Physics is the ultimate death warrant for our universe. Physics says, the law of thermodynamics says, the second law says that, “In a closed system, everything must eventually rust, decay, fall apart, and die.”
In other words, trillions of years from now, the universe will consist of dead black holes, dead neutron stars, and the temperature will be near absolute zero, and we’ll all freeze to death. This is called the Big Freeze, and it seems that the laws of physics are a death warrant for the universe. But you see, there’s a loophole here. In a closed system, the universe must die. But you see, maybe the universe is not a closed system. Maybe there are wormholes, which means that the universe is an open system.
And the second law of thermodynamics does not apply for open systems. And so what do we do? Trillions of years from now, it will be so advanced that we’ll be able to play with the Planck energy, create wormholes to order, and create a lifeboat, an interdimensional lifeboat that we can flee into and go to another younger, warmer universe and start all over again, in which case we’ll have yet another universe to mess up. We’ve already messed up this universe, so we’ll have yet another universe to mess up. We’ll have two universes to mess up, compliments of string theory.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve mentioned the phrasing of the next octave, and terminology that seems to, in some way, echo of music. My understanding is that you used to play, maybe still play, the trumpet. Does music inform or act as a complement to any of your thinking around physics or inside of physics?
Michio Kaku: Well, I live in Manhattan where playing the trumpet is impossible because all of a sudden you have everyone within 50 feet of you complaining about your trumpet playing, and so I had to give up playing the trumpet, unfortunately, as a sacrifice of living in Manhattan. But you see, there’s a joke. The joke is that you put four mathematicians together, and what do you get? A string quartet.
Einstein played the violin. Many great physicists were also violinists, because there’s a certain order. Out of the chaos comes something beautiful. And to a physicist, what is beauty? Beauty to a physicist is symmetry. There’s a symmetry in music. For example, the simplest symmetry is a rubber ball. You rotate the ball and it remains the same. Why is a kaleidoscope beautiful? A kaleidoscope is beautiful because you rotate it and it turns into itself. Why is an ice crystal beautiful? Because you rotate an ice crystal by 60 degrees and it rotates into itself.
So that’s what beauty is, that if I rearrange the components of an object, it remains the same. Now you can apply that to music and you can apply that to physics. When you apply that to physics, it means that I have an equation, I rotate its components in a certain precise way, and it rotates into itself. That’s called symmetry. Now, the ultimate symmetry would take the universe, just like the prongs of an ice crystal, rotate all the prongs so that the universe rotates into itself. That is string theory. String theory is the only theory that has a symmetry, called supersymmetry. That if you rotate all the particles of a vibrating string, it rotates into itself, just like a kaleidoscope, just like an ice crystal rotates into itself. That is beautiful. It’s so beautiful in fact that if Einstein had never been born, I repeat, if Einstein had never been born, we would have discovered gravity theory anyway, as the lowest octave of the string. The lowest octave of string theory is relativity. This is amazing. I mean, think about it.
If Einstein had never been born, we would have discovered general relativity anyway, as nothing but the lowest set of music, musical notes on a vibrating string. But string theory of course goes farther. It goes beyond that, to the next octave, where we have new forces, new particles emerging and we think that’s where dark matter comes in. Dark matter, being this thing that holds the galaxy together. And I have a challenge for young people out there. For you young people out there listening to this interview, if you ever discover the God equation and figure out the mystery of dark matter, then I give you a word of advice. What should you do? First of all, tell me first. Tell me first and we’ll split the paper. We’ll split the Nobel Prize and we’ll both be considered the next Einstein.
Tim Ferriss: I like it. All right. So everybody take note out there, as you’re working on this. I would love to ask you about your decision, and maybe it was a set of decisions, or maybe it came about in some emergent way organically to really be public facing and to teach and explain science physics these concepts that might otherwise not enter this sort of awareness of the general public. And I had read an interview with you where you mentioned a name and I don’t know how to pronounce this last name. Is it George Gamow? G-A-M-O-W?
Michio Kaku: Gamow.
Tim Ferriss: Gamow. Who, I suppose now it seems as recognized as one of the great cosmologists of the last 100 years. But could you speak to, if it’s still a case, why you think he probably didn’t win the Nobel Prize?
Michio Kaku: Well, the Big Bang was a controversial theory for many years, especially back in the ’30s and ’40s and people wanted proof, “Show me the beef. What’s the proof that there was this explosion out there?” And then George Gamow and his students had this idea that if there was a Big Bang, it was very hot and it exploded, but it cooled down and we should be able to measure that temperature even today. It should be the temperature of outer space. The temperature of outer space should be the embers, the afterglow of creation itself, which is a measurable quantity. Well, they did the calculation and they came out with the fact that the universe today should be about five degrees above absolute zero. Okay? Which is awfully close to the real value, which is 2.7 degrees kelvin. So you realize that they came awfully close to calculating the experimental proof of the Big Bang itself.
Unfortunately, they did their work so early that it would take a few more decades before we can begin to measure the temperature of outer space and show that the radiation of the Big Bang is still with us today. Believe it or not, if you get a transistor radio and you tune it between frequencies and you get the static, we’ve all heard that static, right? A certain amount of that static comes from Jupiter. Jupiter actually gives you a lot of the static on radio and also the Big Bang itself. This is amazing.
When you listen to the static on a radio, you’re listening to Genesis. The Big Bang itself is still reverberating throughout the universe. The temperature’s in the microwave range, and it is as predicted, about 2.7 degrees above absolute zero in kelvin. And it was George Gamow who had this brilliant idea, which unfortunately he never won the Nobel Prize for. But it shows you the power of the imagination and George Gamow by the way was also a cartoonist and he loved to write children’s books. In fact, that’s when a lot of kids first get interested in cosmology by reading the books of George Gamow and he illustrated them himself because he was an amateur cartoonist.
Tim Ferriss: That was the impetus for my asking the question, because it seems like his colleagues judged him somewhat harshly. Or some of them, for, or no, I shouldn’t say they judged him harshly. But they believed that his writing of these children’s books had an adverse effect on his scientific reputation. I suppose much like, some felt Carl Sagan had sort of sullied himself by being on television and my understanding is he was denied admission to the National Academy of Sciences. So it seems like there’s tremendous value and it’s of great service to engage with the public. But at least there used to be certain risks as a scientist in doing so. Have those risks largely disappeared? Or, how did you think about making that decision for yourself?
Michio Kaku: Well, there are definite risks because I’m a research physicist. I’m not a popularizer, that’s not what I do for a living. What I do for a living is work on string theory. But there was a turning point. That turning point came in the 1990s, when the physics community was backing the Supercollider. The Supercollider was this machine outside Dallas, Texas costing billions of dollars. And in the last days of hearings, one Congressman asked a physicist, “Will we find God with your machine? If so, I will vote for it.”
Well, the poor guy didn’t know what to say. So he basically said, “We’re going to find the Higgs boson.” Well, you could hear the jaws hit the floor of the United States Congress. Billions of dollars for another goddamn subatomic particle. Well, the vote was taken and it was canceled and since then we physicists have racked our brains saying to ourselves, “What should we have said the next time someone asks you, ‘Are we going to find God with your machine? And if so, I will vote for it.'”
Well, I would have said this. I would have said “God, by whatever signs or symbols, you ascribed to the deity, this machine, the Supercollider will take us as humanly possible to his greatest achievement: Genesis. This is a Genesis machine. It will recreate on a small scale the greatest event in the history of the universe, its birth.” Unfortunately, we said Higgs boson and she was canceled. But the moral of this story is, that unless you engage the public, they’re not going to give you tax money to do your research. See, during the Cold War, we physicists had to say just one word to the United States Congress to get our next atom smasher. All we had to do was say, “Russia.” And then Congress will whip out the checkbook and say, “How much?”
Well, those days are gone. We physicists have to sing for our supper now. We can’t just go to Congress and assume they’re going to fund our next atom smasher. I mean, come on, give me a break. It’s the European Union which built the large Hadron Collider. And we were more or less bystanders as the Europeans took the mantle, took the lead in physics. So the Mecca, the Vatican of physics is now in Geneva, Switzerland, not in Dallas, Texas. Because we didn’t know how to answer that question, “Will we find God with your machine?”
But there’s another reason why I got interested in popularizing science. When I was eight years old, as I mentioned, I was fascinated by this book that Einstein couldn’t finish. So I went to the library because I knew there was going to be lots of stuff in that book. Things about the fourth dimension, about antimatter, about wormholes and higher dimensions. I went to the library and I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. Yeah a few primaries about relativity, but nothing about the fourth dimension, nothing about space warps, nothing about hyperdrive, nothing. And then I said to myself, “When I grow up and I become a theoretical physicist, I want to write books for myself, for myself as an eight-year-old kid.” I want to be able to explain the most advanced concepts to an eight-year-old child because that’s how old I was when I got hooked on physics. And today, sure enough, eight-year-old kids email me. And they say that, yes, my books are the first introduction they’ve had, the things that normally they see in a science fiction movie.
But of course, it’s real science, not science fiction that they hunger for. Because once you put down a science fiction book, you realize it’s entertainment. I mean, give me a break, it’s entertainment. It’s not the universe at all. But when you learn physics, you learn that some of the things that you find in science fiction are, in fact, the cutting edge of physics. In fact, my favorite quote from Arthur C. Clarke, is that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Tim Ferriss: That is a great quote. So I want to actually use another quote from a science fiction author to frame a question. And so this quote, which is often used and abused in all sorts of ways, but it’s from William Gibson. Or more accurately, I think it is actually pulled from Neuromancer, but it may be a William Gibson quote, which is along the lines of, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
And just a few more questions left on my side. For the Physics of the Future, you interviewed 300 or so of the world’s top scientists, many of them Nobel laureates about their vision for the next 20 to 100 years in a whole variety of fields, computers, robotics, biotech, space travel, and so on. So here we are in 2021; are there any examples in your mind that you’re particularly excited about, of samples of the future being here right now that are going to be more widespread or known say 10 years, 20 years from now?
Michio Kaku: Well, in that book I anticipated, of course Moore’s law, that computer power doubles every 18 months and that’s an exponential increase in computer power, not linear. See, our brain is linear. When we talk about the future, we talk linearly in terms of five years, 10 years, 20 years as if it’s a straight line. But if it’s exponential, it could blow up. It could just blow up and that’s what’s happening in my books. When I write about these things, many people say to me, “Oh, come on, give me a break. This is not going to happen. I mean, this is just science fiction.” Well, bingo, a few years later, it happens. And then people come up to me and they say, “How did you do that? How did you do that?” And it’s actually rather simple.
I interview the people who are working on these technologies. They’re well aware of Moore’s law. And as a consequence, their timeframe is much different from the average person’s timeframe. Look at the Genome Project. When the Genome Project was first proposed, scientists could only sequence maybe one gene at a time. It was painful. One gene at a time and the idea of sequencing three billion base pairs was just out of the question. In fact, I gave a talk in Frankfurt, Germany once. I still remember that. A scientist stood up and said, “Your predictions are all wrong. There’s no way! The human genome, completely sequenced by 2020? Come on, it’s not going to happen.” And he just ranted and raved because he said, “I sequence these genes. I know how long it takes to sequence one gene.” Well, guess what? Even before 2020, we sequenced the entire genome and now you can do it for a few hundred bucks. I mean, who would have thought? Because our brain is linear. It is not exponential, but what drives a lot of these technologies is computer power, which obeys Moore’s law, which is exponential.
Tim Ferriss: So if we look back, and I’d love to, this is going to come back to science, instead of science fiction. But right now for fun, I am reading a bunch of Heinlein because I haven’t read any Robert Heinlein in a long time. I’m reading Time Enough for Love, and Lazarus Long is one of the main characters as he is in many of Heinlein’s novels. And it’s incredible for when this book was written, how prescient in some ways he was with respect to technology. But there are a couple of misses. They’re still using pens and paper for just about everything, right?
So I think maybe 20, 30 years ago, people would have predicted flying cars. We don’t have flying cars. But perhaps they wouldn’t have seen the Internet and drones. And certainly some of the medical technologies and advances in neuroscience. Are there any particular predictions or trends that you would like to, or could mention, that you think are sort of paving the way for an exciting future in the next five to 10 or even 20 years, but not 1,000 years?
Michio Kaku: Well, a lot of the breakthroughs are going to be happening with the human brain. The human brain was a black box for generations and generations. We didn’t know what the hell was happening in the brain. We knew it was important, but it was just magic the way the brain did things. Now of course, we’re picking apart the brain with MRI machines. We can actually extract images. If you think about a person’s face, we can actually extract that image out of the living brain using MRI machines, which is incredible. In fact, memories, memories can now be taken from the brain, the brain of mice, let’s be fair about it. But now the brain of monkeys, we can actually take memories, simple memories, and put them on the Internet so that other monkeys can enjoy these memories.
Next will be Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s patients will have a memory chip so that when you push a button, then memories come flooding into their mind, reminding them of who they are, where they live so they don’t wander the streets, endlessly unaware of who they are and where they’re going. And so that is going to be this huge process by which we create BrainNet. BrainNet is the future of the Internet. The Internet is digital, but why does it have to be digital? It’s so clumsy. Why can’t it be neural? Because that’s how the brain works. And so we’re going to have BrainNet where memories, emotions, feelings are sent on the Internet.
And think about that. What is television? What are the movies? It’s nothing but a two-dimensional, flat screen with sound. That’s it? How primitive! In the future, we’ll have the Internet of emotions and feelings so that we’ll send feelings on the Internet and who wants to see a movie anymore where you can’t feel what the actors and actresses are feeling. And so, think of teenagers, teenagers will love it because they put a happy face at the end of every sentence. In the future, they’ll just put the memory, the sensation at the end of every sentence. So this will change the way humans interact with each other. And, it also means that we’ll be able to feel the suffering of other people.
When you read that certain people are suffering, we say to ourselves, “Aw, come on, give me a break. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure, sure.” But if you could really feel what they’re feeling, you can begin to realize that some people’s sufferings are genuine, not fake at all. So we’ll be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. So in the same way that the invention of the telephone opened up human interactions on a new scale, the Internet of course made it numerically possible to communicate around the world. But now, we’ll be able to dream about feelings and emotions and this will replace the movies, it’ll replace television. It will be the way humans communicate with each other in the future, not digitally, but with neurons.
Tim Ferriss: What a future it will be. Dr Kaku, you’ve been so generous with your time, your latest bestseller, and you have many bestsellers, your latest is The God Equation. The subtitle is The Quest for a Theory of Everything. Is that where you would suggest people start? You have certainly a spectrum of books that you’ve published. You do a lot of work in many different areas and many different types of media. Would you suggest people start with The God Equation? Is there another book of yours you’d pair with it?
Michio Kaku: Well it depends on which way you want to go. The God Equation will be a very good introduction to what I do for a living. And that is the theory of everything, which is the crowning achievement once we get it, of 2,000 years of science. But if you’re interested in science fiction, you can get a copy of my book Physics of the Impossible, where I break down time travel, ray guns, flying cars. Everything you see on the silver screen, I break down in Physics of the Impossible.
But if you are interested in the quantum applications of all this, get a copy of my book, Parallel Worlds, where I talk about what the quantum means and how it already is changing the way we view the universe. Einstein and Newton were wrong about this. The universe really is probabilistic, which means that electrons can be two places at the same time, which means that maybe people can also be two places at the same time. So that’s my book Parallel Worlds. But just go to the Internet. My Internet website is mkaku.org. M-K-A-K-U.org and on Facebook I have about four and a half million fans on Facebook.
Tim Ferriss: Wonderful. We will link to all of those. Certainly people can find you at mkaku.org. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, they can find you Michio Kaku, easy to find. And we’ll link to all of those at tim.blog/podcast in the show notes for everyone. Is there anything else before we wrap up that you would like to say to my audience? Any closing comments? Any requests that you would like to make of listeners or anything at all?
Michio Kaku: No, I think pretty much we’ve covered everything. By the way, my favorite Einstein quote is that, “If a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably worthless.” Meaning that all great theories are based on simple principles, which are pictorial. Principles that even a child can visualize. Newton’s laws can be summarized by billiard balls bumping into each other. Einstein used clocks and meter sticks to illustrate his principles. General relativity can be explained in terms of bedsheets. And so we realize that if a child can understand it, it’s because it is explained pictorially. And because it’s based on principles, rather than memorization of details, which you’re going to forget anyway.
Tim Ferriss: That is a great place to wrap up and a great place to end. And I think you do an excellent job of not just popularizing science, but taking complex subjects and reducing them to principles and painting pictures in a way that enable people to understand. So I thank you for your work and I also thank you for the time. This has been incredible fun. So thank you very much.
Michio Kaku: Yep. And my other motto is, “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great pairing. That is an exceptional pairing. Thank you so much, Dr. Kaku. I really appreciate your time today.
Michio Kaku: Okay. My pleasure.
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