Physics of the Impossible

by Michio Kaku

                       
 

Given the issues that we face in relation to running out of oil, higher energy costs and the challenges of responding to climate change, we see a lot of possible solutions coming out of the woodwork. Although we do a fair bit of scanning in this area it is very difficult to keep up with what is happening because there are so many technologies and wild ideas that are suggested and pumped up by the media. Therefore it is a very good idea to have a better understanding of the basic physics that is involved if you want to participate in this area in an intelligent way.

Michio Kaku has a reputation of having a deep understanding of physics but also the ability to explain higher level physics in terms that the layman can understand. This book enhances that reputation but you still have to work hard in reading it because these are complex subjects and impossible to break down to a completely simple level.

In order to structure the book Kaku sets out three basic levels of “impossibilities”. These are: 

Class 1 Impossibilities – Technologies that are impossible today but do not violate the known laws of physics and so may be possible in the foreseeable future. You may be surprised to learn that these include teleportation, antimatter engines, telepathy, and invisibility.

Class 2 Impossibilities – These are technologies that sit on the very edge of our understanding of the physical world. They include time travel machines and travel through wormholes in space. They may be possible but only in terms of thousands or millions of years into the future.

Class 3 Impossibilities – These are technologies that violate the known laws of physics. There are very few of these and if they turn out to be possible they will require a fundamental rewriting of our understanding of physics. They include precognition and perpetual motion machines.

In order to understand the level of intellect involved here, look at this story from the introduction:

“In High School for my science fair project I assembled an atom smasher in my mom’s garage……. Eventually I built a 2.5 million electron volt betatron particle accelerator, which consumed 6 Kilowatts of power and generated a magnetic field 20,000 times the Earth’s magnetic field. The goal was to generate a beam of gamma rays powerful enough to create anti-matter”

A high school project slightly different than most of us tried to carry out!!!

Using episodes from Star Trek and some simple analogies, Kaku is able to explain in detail the physics and systems behind invisibility, the future of robots, starship travel, parallel universes, and the three laws of thermodynamics. As an example, the three laws of thermodynamics which are:

1. That the total amount of energy cannot be created or destroyed
2. That the total amount of entropy (disorder) always increases
3. You can never reach the temperature of absolute zero

Are restated as:

1. You can’t get something for nothing
2. You can’t break even
3. You can’t even get out of the game

I was reminded of how little we understand the basics of physics which underpin so much of the comforts of our daily life when I went to a meeting the other day just as the Large Hadron Collider was being commissioned. A group of intelligent people were making jokes about the process and complaining how much money was being spent on the project with absolutely no concept of how a deeper understanding of physics has benefitted us over the last fifty years.

If you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of how the world around you works and arming yourself with information that allows you to discount some of the wilder ideas that are being promulgated then I would recommend you read this book. I found it a fascinating and beautifully written account. However you do need to know that it is a book that requires some hard work in order to get value from it, so don’t tackle it unless you are prepared to do that work.  

Michio Kaku has a reputation of having a deep understanding of physics but also the ability to explain higher level physics in terms that the layman can understand. This book enhances that reputation but you still have to work hard in reading it because these are complex subjects and impossible to break down to a completely simple level.

In order to structure the book Kaku sets out three basic levels of “impossibilities”. These are: 

Class 1 Impossibilities – Technologies that are impossible today but do not violate the known laws of physics and so may be possible in the foreseeable future. You may be surprised to learn that these include teleportation, antimatter engines, telepathy, and invisibility.

Class 2 Impossibilities – These are technologies that sit on the very edge of our understanding of the physical world. They include time travel machines and travel through wormholes in space. They may be possible but only in terms of thousands or millions of years into the future.

Class 3 Impossibilities – These are technologies that violate the known laws of physics. There are very few of these and if they turn out to be possible they will require a fundamental rewriting of our understanding of physics. They include precognition and perpetual motion machines.

In order to understand the level of intellect involved here, look at this story from the introduction:

“In High School for my science fair project I assembled an atom smasher in my mom’s garage……. Eventually I built a 2.5 million electron volt betatron particle accelerator, which consumed 6 Kilowatts of power and generated a magnetic field 20,000 times the Earth’s magnetic field. The goal was to generate a beam of gamma rays powerful enough to create anti-matter”

A high school project slightly different than most of us tried to carry out!!!

Using episodes from Star Trek and some simple analogies, Kaku is able to explain in detail the physics and systems behind invisibility, the future of robots, starship travel, parallel universes, and the three laws of thermodynamics. As an example, the three laws of thermodynamics which are:

1. That the total amount of energy cannot be created or destroyed
2. That the total amount of entropy (disorder) always increases
3. You can never reach the temperature of absolute zero

Are restated as:

1. You can’t get something for nothing
2. You can’t break even
3. You can’t even get out of the game

I was reminded of how little we understand the basics of physics which underpin so much of the comforts of our daily life when I went to a meeting the other day just as the Large Hadron Collider was being commissioned. A group of intelligent people were making jokes about the process and complaining how much money was being spent on the project with absolutely no concept of how a deeper understanding of physics has benefitted us over the last fifty years.

If you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of how the world around you works and arming yourself with information that allows you to discount some of the wilder ideas that are being promulgated then I would recommend you read this book. I found it a fascinating and beautifully written account. However you do need to know that it is a book that requires some hard work in order to get value from it, so don’t tackle it unless you are prepared to do that work.