The Future Of The MInd- The Scientific Quest To Understand, Enhance and, Empower The Mind
Author: Dr. Michio Kaku
Genre: Popular Science
Michio Kaku, born in 1947, is a theoretical physicist, science communicator and futurist. He studied at Harvard and Berkeley and teaches in US. Inspired at an early age by Einstein, he built an actual “atom smasher” using 22 miles of wire in his father’s garage. He has authored many books like Physics of the Impossible (2008), Physics of the Future (2011), The Future of the Mind (2014), and The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything (2021) and most became New York Times best sellers. He also has multiple science shows on BBC, Discovery, and radio and is the co-founder of String Field theory. As one of the leading scientists bridging science and science fiction, he has been awarded Sir Arthur Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award in the year 2021.
The Future of the Mind talks of the most fascinating and least understood part of us: Brain! Kaku interviews leading scientists from top laboratories of the world and tries to see if what we have read in fiction can one day be true. Indeed, it includes questions that philosophers have been debating for centuries: Do we have a soul? What happens after we die? Do we even have to die? What would it take to produce a robot with human consciousness or emotions? The author discusses the advancements in brain-computer interfaces for the disabled, recording dream images using MRI machines, implanting memory in mice, and recent experiments in telepathy/telekinesis and even mind control.
The book is divided into 3 parts; each part probes future technologies, and the future of the societies that will exist centuries from now.
Part I discusses how important physics is for neuroscience and how revolutionary technologies like MRI, PET, DBS, etc have used basic knowledge of physics. There is a fabulous discussion on how exactly to conceptualize consciousness itself. Ins his “space-time theory of consciousness”, he defines consciousness simply as “the process of creating a model of the world using multiple feedback loops in various parameters in order to accomplish a goal.”
Part II discusses how these technologies will help us perform telepathy, manipulate thoughts & memories, and how to enhance intelligence. For example, scientists can already predict with 80% accuracy what specific words or numbers a subject is thinking. This is done by looking at the electric signals within the brain and comparing it with known patterns (on which part of the brain lights up when we think of say the number 7).
Part III again talks about consciousness, and possibilities related to mind-altering technologies, and explores ideas straight out of science fiction like one day our physical bodies will be too cumbersome to travel to other galaxies through deep space so we will simply leave them behind while projecting our consciousness in space.
Dr Kaku first explains experiments that are already taking place in mice or primates and then relates them to what could happen in humans over the next few decades or centuries. For instance, we are far from directly transferring complex memories from one person to another but recently TMS device (transcranial magnetic stimulation) has shown it can enhance memory, and in the long run, this can help in increasing eyewitness memory.
Dr. Kaku has explained consciousness using two parameters: one is the space-time model where both space and time are placed on one continuum and the other is string theory. Dr. Kaku has explained this theory as 4 levels of consciousness 0-3, where every organism is given a numerical value basis how many loops or parameters of space the organism is able to interact with. For example, level 0 (the lowest level) is given to plants but if a plant is able to regulate itself based on the following 3 parameters (temperature, sunlight, and moisture) it would have a value of 0:3, where 0 represents the level of consciousness basis space-time theory continuum and 3 represents a number of feedback loops that the plant is able to use for regulation. Humans are different from other organisms as they are able to imitate a situation not only with respect to space but also time (humans can plan ahead for times beyond their lifetime).
One of the most engrossing chapters in the book focuses on silicon consciousness or how machine intelligence could further evolve so that robots are able to feel emotions and could conduct sophisticated thought processes. For now, robots are simple machines that belong in level 1 in Dr. Kaku’s space-time theory (one step above plants) because they have the ability to use physical space as a parameter and they may have a few different sensors that act as feedback loops.
While talking about the future that is decades/centuries away, Dr. Kaku refers to the transhumanist Dr. Ray Kurzweil’s ideas that humans will have the potential to live forever using three distinct methods: upload consciousness onto computers, create clones, and have nanobots inside the bloodstream that will keep repairing body even at old age. Just like Dr. Kurzweil, Dr. Kaku believes that silicon consciousness and advances from the BRAIN project (initiated by Obama) will carry us into the future. These predictions also raise ethical questions like how using such consciousness scales will influence our healthcare practices, the legal status of non-humans, animals, and mechanical or silicon minds. A larger question also arises: in a society where one would be able to read minds, how will cognitive privacy be protected? Dr Kaku trusts that “the real impact of this technology…will be to liberate the mind, not enslave it.”
Why should you read the book: The Future of the Mind is one of the best books of its kind, taking the reader through cutting-edge scientific research and explaining its long-term significance on humanity. Dr. Kaku excels in simplifying complex terminologies and experiments and, using known laws of physics, predicting what the future may hold. You will not know where fiction ends and facts start.