Michio Kaku


American Futurist, Theoretical Physicist, Popularizer of Science, Author, Henry Semat Chair and Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York

Author Quotes

They [science and religion] can be in harmony, but only if rational people on both sides engage in honest debate. Einstein believed in two types of Gods, for example. He did not believe in a personal God, or a God of intervention. He did not believe that God answered our prayers. But he did believe that there was a God of Spinoza. This is the God of Harmony. He said we are like children entering a huge library for the first time, not knowing how to read the thousands of books that are beyond our understanding. Many scientists, therefore, might say that they believe in a God of harmony. For example, scientists believe in a Big Bang that started the universe. But then we have to ask what happened before the Big Bang (more on that later). Then we have to ask where the laws of physics came from. Personally, I think that the laws of physics are the only ones possible, that all other laws are mathematically inconsistent. Thus, God probably had no choice in creating the universe, as Einstein believed.

Today biologists believe that during the Cambrian explosion, about half a billion years ago, nature experimented with a vast array of shapes and forms for tiny, emerging multicellular creatures. Some had spinal cords shaped like an X, Y, or Z. Some had radial symmetry like a starfish. By accident one had a spinal cord shaped like an I, with bilateral symmetry, and it was the ancestor of most mammals on Earth. So in principle the humanoid shape with bilateral symmetry, the same shape that Hollywood uses to depict aliens in space, does not necessarily have to apply to all intelligent life.

We have to realize that science is a double-edged sword. One edge of the sword can cut against poverty, illness, disease and give us more democracies, and democracies never war with other democracies, but the other side of the sword could give us nuclear proliferation, biogerms and even forces of darkness.

When I was 16 years old, I assembled a 2.3 million electron volt beta particle accelerator. I went to Westinghouse, I got 400 pounds of translator steel, 22 miles of copper wire, and I assembled a 6-kilowatt, 2.3 million electron accelerator in the garage.

Years ago, I picked up figure skating. How hard could spins and jumps be, I thought? It's just applied Newtonian physics. After repeatedly falling on my rear end, I realized it was harder than I thought. But it had an upside. That is how I met my wife, who was ice dancing at the Rockefeller Center ice rink.

They basically ask their engineers to volunteer some probability figures, then they take the average. This is not science. This is voodoo.

Today the leading (and only) candidate for a theory of everything is string theory. But, again, a backlash has arisen. Opponents claim that to get a tenured position at a top university you have to work on string theory. If you don?t you will be unemployed. It?s the fad of the moment, and it?s not good for physics. I smile when I hear this criticism, because physics, like all human endeavors, is subject to fads and fashions. The fortunes of great theories, especially on the cutting edge of human knowledge, can rise and fall like hemlines. In fact, years ago the tables were turned; string theory was historically an outcast, a renegade theory, the victim of the bandwagon effect.

We need a theory that goes before the Big Bang, and that's String Theory. String Theory says that perhaps two universes collided to create our universe, or maybe our universe is butted from another universe leaving an umbilical cord. Well, that umbilical cord is called a wormhole.

When I was a child, it was cool to be a scientist.

You can always spot the scientist at a strip club, because he is the only one examining the audience.

They found that temperature and carbon dioxide levels have oscillated in parallel, like two roller coasters moving together, in synchronization over many thousands of years. When one curve rises or falls, so does the other. Most important, they found a sudden spike in temperature and carbon dioxide content happening just within the last century. This is highly unusual, since most fluctuations occur slowly over millennia. This unusual spike is not part of this natural heating process, scientists claim, but is a direct indicator of human activity.

Today, we have become choreographers of the dance of nature, able to tweak the laws of nature here and there. But by 2100, we will make the transition to being masters of nature.

We physicists don't like to admit it, but some of us are closet science fiction fans. We hate to admit it because it sounds undignified. But when we were children, that's when we got interested in science, for a lot of us.

When I was a kid, I had two role models. The first was Einstein, whose futile search for a theory of everything fascinated me. But I also watched the old Flash Gordon series on TV. I was hooked by all that I saw, e.g. starships, aliens, ray guns, etc. Eventually, I realized that what was driving the entire series was physics. So I saw that my two loves as a child were really the same thing.

You can mass-produce hardware; you cannot mass-produce software - you cannot mass-produce the human mind.

Think of all the nonsense you had to learn in psychology courses. None of which was testable. None of which was measurable. We had behaviorism, Freudian psychology, all of these theories that you learn in psychology. Totally untestable. Now, we can test it, because physics allows us to calculate energy flows in the brain.

Today, your cell phone has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969, when it placed two astronauts on the moon. Video games, which consume enormous amounts of computer power to simulate 3-D situations, use more computer power than mainframe computers of the previous decade. The Sony PlayStation of today, which costs $300, has the power of a military supercomputer of 1997, which cost millions of dollars.

We should downsize all these leftovers from the cold war, make them half the size, send them twice as often and energize them with solar power.

When Physicists speak of "beauty" in their theories, they really mean that their theory possesses at least two essential features: 1. A unifying symmetry 2. The ability to explain vast amounts of experimental data with the most economical mathematical expressions.

You cannot create new science unless you realize where the old science leaves off and new science begins, and science fiction forces us to confront this.

Third is Omega, the relative density of the universe. If Omega were too small, then the universe would have expanded and cooled too fast.

Unless there is a law of physics explicitly preventing a new phenomenon, we eventually find that it exists.

Well, Congress gave us a billion dollars to dig the hole, this gigantic hole. Bigger, much bigger than the hole in Geneva, Switzerland. Then they canceled the machine and gave us a second billion dollars to fill up the hole. Two billion dollars to dig a hole and fill it up. That is the wisdom of the United States Congress and it really makes you wonder: Is there intelligent life on the Earth? Certainly not in the United States Congress.

When scientists use the word God, they usually mean the God of Order. For example, one of the most important revelations in Einstein?s early childhood took place when he read his first books on science. He immediately realized that most of what he had been taught about religion could not possibly be true. Throughout his career, however, he clung to the belief that a mysterious, divine Order existed in the universe. His life?s calling, he would say, was to ferret out his thoughts, to determine whether he had any choice in creating the universe. Einstein repeatedly referred to this God in his writings, fondly calling him ?the Old Man.? When stumped with an intractable mathematical problem, he would often say, ?God is subtle, but not malicious.

You have to have a cultural ethic that allows for making mistakes. It cannot be that just because you make mistakes, you're out. You have to make mistakes in order to innovate.

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American Futurist, Theoretical Physicist, Popularizer of Science, Author, Henry Semat Chair and Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York