Theoretical physicist, futurist, and popular science communicator Dr. Michio Kaku makes science fascinating wherever he goes. You may have seen him on The Tonight Show or the daily news, discussing cutting-edge scientific discoveries in terms most people can grasp.
Kaku has written many books for the general public about science, making it possible for anyone to understand complex scientific subjects. If one can’t explain a theory to a child, it may not be of worth, a quote he learned from a great theoretical physicist.
“Einstein once said, ‘If a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably worthless,” Michio says.
Seeing the Big Picture
When teaching about science, he sees the big picture and helps us to as well. When it comes down to it, science isn’t about relatively boring facts and figures but about ideas in the language of pictures.
“Meaning that great ideas are pictorial. Great ideas can be explained in the language of pictures. Things that you can see and touch; objects that you can visualize in the mind. That is what science is all about, not memorizing facts and figures.”
To learn about physics, he believes curiosity and drive outweigh the need to be a genius like Einstein.
“Sure, physicists have to be proficient in mathematics, but the main thing is to have that curiosity and drive. One of the greatest physicists of all time, Michael Faraday, started out as a penniless, uneducated apprentice, but he was persistent and creative and then went on to revolutionize modern civilization.”
So, theoretical physics isn’t only for the intellectuals but for anybody who is curious and motivated.
A Universal Game of Chess
For Kaku, solving the universe’s mysteries can be seen metaphorically like winning the ultimate chess game.
“The universe in some sense is like a chess game, and for 2,000 years, we’ve been trying to figure out how the pawns move. And now we’re beginning to understand how the queen moves and how you get a checkmate. The destiny of science is to become like grandmasters, to solve this puzzle that we call the universe,” he told the Guardian.
Playgrounds for the Imagination
As a child, Michio Kaku loved science fiction and fantasy books and science fiction shows like Flash Gordon. They allowed his imagination to wander from mundane reality.
“Magic, fantasy, [and] science fiction were all a gigantic playground for my imagination. They began a lifelong love [of] the impossible,” Michio says.
As he grew older, he wanted to find out if futuristic technologies from Sci-Fi were possible. Unlike most people, he decided to apply himself to understanding advanced mathematics theoretical physics.
“Without a solid background in advanced physics, I would be forever speculating about futuristic technologies without understanding whether or not they were possible. I realized [to know,] I needed to immerse myself in advanced mathematics and learn theoretical physics,” Michio says. “So that is what I did.”
Today, he believes that “most of science fiction is within the laws of physics, but possible within, maybe 100 years.”
His Hero Albert Einstein
One of Kaku’s heroes is Albert Einstein, who passed away before completing his biggest discovery, a “theory of everything.” Newspapers showed Einstein’s cluttered desk with the caption, “The unfinished manuscript of the greatest work of the greatest scientist of our time,” Kaku recalled.
Kaku, then eight years old, learned about Einstein’s passing while in grade school. Afterward, he began visiting libraries to read about his work.
“I said to myself, ‘Why couldn’t he finish it?’ I mean, what’s so hard?” he said as a child. “It’s a homework problem, right? Why didn’t he ask his mother?”
Only years later would Kaku realize what it was Einstein was hoping to accomplish in his work.
Einstein hoped to unite his theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics. Today, the two theories remain incompatible if physics laws as we know them now are applied. However, research is unlocking new clues all the time.
One day, he hopes to “unite the four fundamental forces of nature into a single grand unified theory of everything.”
See him discuss Einstein below from Big Think:
Multiple Universes and Aliens
In that effort, Kaku is a co-founder of String Field Theory, a String Theory branch, which suggests multiple universes and dimensions, a multiverse. In scope, the theory knows no bounds.
“String theory takes you before the Big Bang, before Genesis itself,” says Kaku.
Under Einstein’s theory of the Big Bang, we exist like insects on a soap bubble, Kaku suggests. Under String Theory, there are multiple bubbles, which can collide.
“When two universes collide, it can form another universe,” he says. “When a universe splits in half, it can create two universes. That, we think, is the Big Bang.”
Thus, Sring Theory suggests the Big Bang was created either by the collision of universes or “the fissioning” of universes merging.
Time Travel and Wormholes
Furthermore, Kaku suggests that wormholes between the universes are genuine solutions to Einstein’s equations. If travel through wormholes and time travel are possible, it would be a way to escape the eventual death that each universe faces under physics laws.
“There is only one way to escape the death of the universe, and that is, leave the universe.”
With String Theory, intergalactic, interdimensional, and even time travel could be possible. Perhaps, even alien civilizations exist, and if so, Kaku suggests treading carefully.
“There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that’s a terrible idea. We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortés in Mexico so many hundreds of years ago. Now, personally, I think that aliens out there would be friendly, but we can’t gamble on it. So I think we will make contact, but we should do it very carefully.”
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See Michio Kaku discuss this below from Big Think:
Nevertheless, Kaku believes that String Theory holds great promise as researchers carry out experiments into the unknown.
“I think we’re on the verge of a new era. New experiments are being done to detect deviations from the Standard Model. Plus, we have the mystery of dark matter. Any of these unexplored areas could give a clue as to the theory of everything,” he told the Guardian.
See Michio Kaku discuss String Theory from Big Think:
Creating New Mathematics During a Plague
Other than Einstein, another one of Michio Kaku’s favorite heroes is Isaac Newton. Everyone knows how Newton discovered gravity while watching an apple fall, but did you know, it took place because he was home due to the plague of 1666?
London faced both a Great Plague that killed 15 percent of the population and a Great Fire that left 100,000 people homeless.
During this time, Newton escaped to the hamlet of Woolsthorpe, his birthplace, and used the free time productively. Without university life to restrict his studies, those years later became known as the Annus Mirabilis or the “Year of Wonders.”
As a result, he invented calculus since math in the 1600s couldn’t explain gravity. Not to mention, he developed his theories on optics and the laws of motion and gravity.
Kaku says that scientists in lockdown due to COVID-19 are also taking the time to make big leaps in mathematics.
“So the epidemic gave Isaac Newton an opportunity to sit down and follow the mathematics of falling apples and falling moons. But of course, there was no mathematics at that time. He couldn’t solve the problem, so he created his own mathematics. That’s what we are doing now. We, too, are being hit by the plague. We, too, are confined to our desks. And we, too, are creating new mathematics.”
Interestingly, Newton may have discovered gravity by observing a comet rather than an apple. Whether inspired by earthly or cosmic observation, Newton’s observations inspired Einstein, who inspired Michio Kaku who inspires us.
Perhaps we are nearing the time when great minds – like supernovas – will write the theory of everything, unlocking a new era in possibilities? If we take the time to ponder, who knows what we may discover?