Physics Of The Impossible

Author : Michio Kaku

Genre : High Science

I have always been a science fiction buff. Have seen all the Marvel Comics movies (absolutely love Iron Man!) and Star Trek and Star Wars. All of us fans ask the obvious questions with a childlike curiosity: One day would it be possible to walk through walls? Or become invisible? Or destroy a planet with a death star? To read other people’s minds? To teleport ourselves through space? Are there aliens and UFOs? Will our real star ship crew go out anytime soon beyond milky way galaxy?

Internationally acclaimed physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics, is equally mesmerized by science fiction. [And so, it turns out, were Carl Sagan and Edward Hubble]. But like a true blood physicist, Kaku not only asks these questions, he tries to analyze their possibilities using the known laws of physics. And then classifies 15 of the more common ideas into 3 sets:

  • Class I impossibilities are possible and do not contradict any known laws of physics. In fact, it may just be a matter of time (say a century or two) when these become a reality.
  • Class II impossibilities would take more time, a millennium or so to become real.
  • Class III defy laws of physics and, as of today, they do not appear to be possible.

Interestingly, the vast majority of ideas – force fields, teleportation, invisibility, telepathy, aliens etc – are just Class I impossibilities. And while a century of wait sounds like a dampener, remember, life on earth still has 4.5 billion years ahead of it. If we could make so much discoveries in the last few hundred years of organized science, imagine what all we will conquer in the billions of year the human race still has ahead of it (unless of course we self destruct before that!).

Even time travel is a Class II impossibility and not a Class III. Meaning, a million years from now (a mere speck in galactic time), our progenies may come back to visit us!

Force fields, the invisible shields that can protect an entire city from any incoming missile, may be possible through plasma gas (ionized gas). Invisibility may be achieved through metamaterials (in lab these have already proved to be invisible to microwave radiation, and now we need to repeat the same feat for visible light). Atoms have been teleported under the Danube river and one day we could teleport entire humans. An entire DNA molecule teleportation is planned in the next decade. Similarly, as a real world telepathy, using fMRI scanners, scientists are currently able to guess what one is thinking to an 80-90% accuracy.

More than the predictions, the fun in reading lies in the detailed scientific assessment of each idea. For example, under psychokinesis (ability to move things just by thinking), the way it has already started working is by implanting a chip in the brain of a person. Then the person is trained to think a particular thought pattern which generates a specific distinguishable type of electrical waves in his brain, which are picked by the chip. These are amplified by a small device and then fed to the computer which correctly identifies these and executes a series of tasks (e.g. changing TV channels). So, the net effect is that just by thinking about changing TV channels, the channels actually change. The chip and computer work in the background.

Along the way, there are interesting anecdotes. Of scientists who considered things were impossible only to bite their tongue later. Or why King Kong like large animal threats are not possible (their weight grows with volume, hence 1000 times while their strength grows with area, hence 100 times. Very soon their legs will break just by their sheer weight). Or how our solar system might end (will we die from an ice age? Or from a meteor strike or wait till sun dies?). Carl Sagan says humanity is so precious we should immediately plan to move to a two-planet species, so in case there is a problem at earth, the other planet could ensure the survival of homo sapiens.

Why should you read the book: If you are interested in high science, this is a must. This is the last frontier for our species and why shouldn’t we be at the cutting edge? After all this curiosity has brought us this far in evolution, it could make us godlike in future! At the minimum, you will have wonderful anecdotes to tell everyone in a party! Like how CIA has spent more than $20 million trying to enlist the help of psychics in bending the mind of North Korean dictators!

Goodreads Link: Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku | Goodreads