Fans of fantasy and science fiction, hear ye: the day may come when we can actually sword-fight with light sabers; or say, “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Maybe not in our lifetime. But the stuff of fantasy and science fiction is currently in development in laboratories around the world. Dr. Michio Kaku tells us what are possible, and what are not, in his bestselling book Physics of the Impossible (2008).
In the book, Dr. Kaku tackles Harry Potter‘s invisibility cloak, Star Wars‘s Death Star, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s Infinite Improbability Drive, Bruce Almighty‘s psychokinetic powers…you get the picture.
In fact, you will get the whole picture. From the beginning. Dr. Kaku rifles through the closet of history to enlighten us about the first mention of these powers and weapons.
For instance, we will find out that concentrated beams (laser) as a weapon goes as far back as 214 B.C., when Archimedes is said to have focused the sun’s rays against enemy ships. Its first mention in science fiction was in H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, and the first Hollywood film to feature a laser is the James Bond movie Goldfinger.
Trivia: Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
We will not get cross-eyed from complicated equations, because there aren’t any in this book. Well…the inevitable e = mc² is mentioned, but not because we need to solve anything. It is because Einstein and his elegant Theory of Relativity is the springboard of modern physics.
We will also learn about an inelegant theory that springs away from the Theory of Relativity, called the quantum theory. When Dr. Kaku discusses this, we are treated to his trademark wit, as he writes, “…so haphazard and supremely inelegant. Here was a theory only a mother could love.” Oh, how I laughed out loud at that line. In the subway. Reading a physics book, for goodness’s sakes.
And that, dear friends, is the Law of Attraction at work. Easy-to-understand language in a science book attracts readers. So does wit. And the stuff of fantasy and science fiction from your favorite movies and novels. Pretty attractive book, I might say.
But…and here comes the but…the book is just so dense with information that it needs to be read slowly, or more than once. It was only in my second reading that I noticed the factoid about Steve Jobs’s bitten Apple logo–that it is rumored to be a tribute to Alan Turing (who laid the groundwork of the computer revolution). Turing ate an apple laced with cyanide.
And because I am a Journalism major (no math subjects at all), with only high school physics as my foundation, I also continue to have difficulty understanding certain concepts such as the eleven-dimension string theory, which Dr. Kaku himself revolutionized. Prior to that, the highest dimension I have heard of is the Fifth Dimension–the singing group from the 70’s.
Still, I don’t have to understand curled-up dimensions to grasp much of what is contained in this book. From straight-up facts like the origin of the word “robot,” to somewhat complicated ideas like Schrodinger’s wave equation, Physics of the Impossible is a fun way to get smarter. (Or sound geeky).
Dr. Michio Kaku is only the third physics author I have read in my lifetime. The other two are Carl Sagan (Cosmos, Billions and Billions, etc.) and Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time). All three have a way of connecting with people using simple language and charming wit. Because of this, all three also have, or had, popular TV programs.
In fact, Physics of the Impossible gave birth to a TV series of the same name, broadcast over The Science Channel. But you may have seen Dr. Michio Kaku in numerous other documentaries dealing with futuristic subjects, or guesting in talk shows to promote his books.
His subsequent books, Physics of the Future (2011), and The Future of the Mind (2014), are also bestsellers.
If time travel does indeed become a reality in the future, and you happen to be from the future, reading this old article from 2014, please do drop by and visit me–and tell me all about force fields, and space warp, and anti-matter, and if we found the Higgs boson…
(This article is in response to a blog from Nerdophiles about showing off your geek space.)