ScienceI am Dr. Michio Kaku: a physicist, co-founder of string theory, and now a space traveler – in the Miniverse. AMA!
Apr 19th 2017 by DrMichioKaku • 37 Questions • 2129 Points
I am a theoretical physicist, bestselling author, renowned futurist, and popularizer of science. As co-founder of String Field Theory, I try to carry on Einstein’s quest to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into a single grand unified theory of everything.
I hold the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at the City College of New York (CUNY).
I joined Commander Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station, for a cosmic road trip through the solar system. It’s a new show called Miniverse, available now on CuriosityStream.
Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVKJs6jLDR4
See us getting into a little trouble during filming (Um, hello, officer…) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQza2xvVTjQ
CuriosityStream is a Netflix-style service for great shows on science, technology, history and nature. Sign up for a free 30 day trial and check out Miniverse plus lots of other great shows on CuriosityStream here.
The other interstellar hitchhikers in Miniverse, Dr. Laura Danly and Derrick Pitts, answered your questions yesterday here.
This is Michio -- I am signing off now. Thanks to everyone for all the questions, they were really thought provoking and interesting. I hope to chat with you all again in another AMA! Have a great day.
What unanswered questions in physics are you contemplating the most these days ?
The fundamental problem facing string theory today is that it is too successful, i.e. it predicts millions of possible parallel universes. Originally, we hoped it could explain our universe. Yes, string theory can do that. It can explain the Standard Model of quantum theory and also all of Einstein's theory. But unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. String theory also describes universe which do no exist. The problem is, how do we select our universe from a multiverse of parallel universe?? If you find out the answer, we can split the Nobel Prize between us.
Where do you stand on Dr. Krauss' assertion that the net energy of our universe is zero?
Einstein was once told that the net energy of star might be zero. The idea was so incredible that he stopped walking in the middle of the street, and almost caused an accident. You see, the energy of a star is positive, but its gravitational energy is negative, and the sum could be small. If the universe started out as a quantum fluctuation of nothing, then the two might balance out and hence universe are for free!
My interest started when I was 8. Einstein had just died, and everyone was talking about how he could not finish his greatest work, the unified field theory. I said to myself, maybe I can help solve that unfinished problem.
Where do you think geologists and geophysicist will fit in the future of space exploration and planetary discovery as we become a multiplanetary species?
Yes, especially when we begin terraforming Mars sometime late in this century, we will need experts in a wide variety of areas.
Hi Michio, what are your views on the US government reducing the funding for science related programmes?
Science is the engine of prosperity. From the Steam Revolution, to the Electric Revolution, to the Computer Revolution, each wave generated the wealth we see around us. However, politicians think wealth comes from taxes, which is actually a zero sum game, since you tax Peter to Pay Paul. I believe that science will give us a bigger pie, rather than slicing or taxing the same pie so it is thinner and thinner.
Hello Dr. Kaku, more on the lighter side, which fictional future would you most like to live in or visit? Thank you!
I like Star Trek, the next generation, as one way to view the future. As a physicist, I think we will be a Type I civilization by the year 2100.
Hi Michio, I am a huge fan of your work. I have your books, and love reading them. I just want to ask, for the big bang theory, to my understanding before the big bang occurred all of matter was close to one another in an infinitsimal distance. What would have been outside of that "ball" of matter?
Thank you :)
The latest picture, through string theory,is that our universe is a bubble (we live on the skin of the bubble) which co-exists with other bubble/universes. When these bubbles collide or split in two, that is the big bang. What exists outside these floating bubbles (in this bubble bath of universes) is 11 dimensional hyperspace.
Dr. Kaku, what are your thoughts on the EM drive experimental results? Do you think it'll pan out to be a new form of propulsion? How will it change space travel?
I am skeptical of the EM drive, because it violates the known laws of physics. I am open to new, radical ideas, but, as Sagan once said, remarkable claims require remarkable proof. So an engine which uses "nothing" to power itself has to be analyzed very, very carefully.
Will the expansion of the universe ever speed up so fast that it will overcome the Nuclear Strong force and possibly rip protons and neutrons into their own quarks? Ive heard that is pretty much impossible to do this with conventional methods, but could an event like the expansion of the universe overcome this?
I hope not. Right now, the universe seems to be expanding out of control. It appears to be entering a period of de Sitter expansion. This means that one day, we might encounter the Big Freeze much sooner than expected. No life as we know it can survive when the universe reaches near absolute zero. Even subatomic particles will be ripped apart. At that dismal point, I think we should leave the universe in an interdimensional wormhole to a warmer universe.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has shown in previous interviews that he is quite skeptical about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Do you believe that the concerns around advanced AI are justified or do you take an alternate position?
Its still much too early to tell how dangerous AI can be. Right now, our most advanced robot is Asimo, build in Japan. I interviewed the creator of Asimo for BBC Tv, and he admitted that it has the intelligence of an insect. However, eventually robots will be as smart as a mouse, rat, rabbit, cat, dog, and finally a monkey. At that point, perhaps at the end of the century, they could be dangerous, so we should put a chip in their brain to shut them off if they get murderous.
How far are we from a single grand unified theory of everything?
I think we already have it. It is string theory. But string theory is not in its final form. In 10 dimensions, we have a field theory for strings (which is my contribution to string theory) but in 11 dimensions we have no such field theory. That is what I am trying to solve now.
Do you ever hang out with the other scientific media personalities; as in, you, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Brian Greene drinking tea together and talking about the state of things?
I have had dinner or lunch with all of the above. They are all great people. However, we are all very busy, so we sometimes see each other more often in a radio or TV studio than in a tea house.
As a person who doesn't know a lot about physics or mathematics but it still extremely curious, how should I learn about string theory?
There are a lot of great popular books on string theory (e.g. try my book Hyperspace). To actually work on string theory, you need a Ph.D. in quantum physics, but the basic ideas, principles can be understood by everyone. My favorite Einstein quote is, if a theory cannot be explained to a child, the theory is probably useless.
Hi Michio - your explorations into scientific 'what ifs' fundamentally changed the way I think. Thank you so much for what you do.
Is there anything in your lifetime that was once a "crazy what if" that has since become reality?
When I wrote my book Visions, the reviewers all though I was nuts to make these predictions (all of which have come true, or will be true very shortly). I remember one biologist who flatly my prediction of personalized genomics was preposterous and crazy. Yet today, you can get personalized genomes.
Good Afternoon Dr. Kaku,
Typically whenever there is an idea or theory that is a bit more on the outlandish side; IE evidence of alien superstructures in the universe, the possibility of time travel, parallels universes, etc, your name always comes up with your opinions on how and why these things might/likely do exist. In stark contrast many of the other popular voices in the scientific community tend to be more skeptical and are quicker to shoot down these theories or possibilities.
My question is: Do you feel as though you are bit more "Open Minded" than your colleagues? A healthy amount of skepticism is important in any scientific field, but I tend to find your optimism and excitement refreshing/encouraging when compared to how quickly other voices dismiss these far fetched possibilities.
Thanks for your time and for the work that you do!
There are two types of scientists who dismiss things like higher dimensions, wormholes, warp drive, time machines, etc. The first are scientists who are not specialists. They don't understand the math. Their knowledge of science ends around 1950. I don't take them too seriously. However, there are a handful of scientists that I do respect, who do know the math, and I have to take their objections, if they have any, very seriously. They, like me, tend to be more open minded.
Hi Dr. Kaku, I've enjoyed a few of your books. My question is what theory do you personally feel is the closest to being true in actuality?
Also, who's your favorite Star Trek captain?
I think Captain Picard is the wisest of the star ship captains so far. He looks at things from all sides, and then consults with his staff, and then decides. I think the Future of the Mind and the Physics of the Future are the books which predict how things will unfold in the coming decades out to 2100.
Space X is great, if we can reduce the cost of space travel. Right now, it is $10,000 to put a pound of anything into near earth orbit. Space X sometimes can get it down to $1,000 per pound. If that can be sustained, its fantastic.
I think we'll have better internet by then (interplanetary internet).
Yes, if we become multiplanetary, we will need servers on different planets, communicating across the solar system. However, that is still decades in the future.
My inspiration is a picture of Einstein's before he died, with the unfinished manuscript of the unified field theory on his desk. Today, I can read that manuscript, and see all the dead ends he was pursuing. Back then, he had no picture, no guiding principle to construct this theory. Today, we do.
How can individuals help with bringing more "science-minded" people in to the positions that influence national/global politicies?
Eisenhower had to wisdom to have a science advisor, given all the great advances in sciences seen in World War II. However, since then, politicians have taken science for granted. But nature does not exist at the whims of politicians.
Dr. Kaku, what are your thoughts comparing holographic principle and string theory? What flaws do you see in them?
One version of the holographic principle is found in string theory (where 10 dimensional string theory is mathematically dual to 5 dimensional super gauge theory). Some have tried to elevate this into a new physical principle, invoking black hole physics, but I am not so sure it is fundamental, since all of this can be derived from string theory. To me, what is more fundamental to understanding where strings came from in the first place.
Hello Dr. Thank you for doing this AMA. I have two questions:
If you were offered the opportunity to travel into space, maybe around the moon or into orbit of the earth, would you do it?
What is the most compelling evidence for the string theory?
No. Lets be real. 1% of the time, rockets fail, they blow up, and people die. Space travel is not for the weak. Even Musk has said there is chance that his astronauts my die on the way to Mars. The most compellling evidence for string theory is not experimental, but theoretical. a) it the only theory which can unify Einstein's gravity with quantum mechanics. All other theories can be shown to be incorrect. b) in string theory, gravity naturally unifies with matter (e.g. quarks, electrons, neutrinos). Gravity is just another musical note joining all the other quantum notes (e.g. particles ) to create a symphony (the universe).
Hello Dr Kaku!
One of the coolest things I learned from you was the Kardashev Scale. As you well know, humanity has some major challenges on its way to reaching Type 1 status. In my mind, the greatest threats to our progress are nuclear war and climate change. Would you agree with that? Are there other challenges we must overcome on our way to the stars?
The biggest transition in human history will be the transition from Type 0 to Type I.And that transition will happen around 2100. The transition is not inevitable, however. Nuclear proliferation, designer bio weapons, global warming, are some of the greatest challenges. In space, we don't yet see evidence of Type II civilizations, meaning that Type I civilization may be rare. Some think they committed suicide via nuclear war, global warming,e tc.
Hi Michio, I'm big fan since I read your Hyperspace book back in 94.
As a descendent of japanese-americans who was incarcerated in USA's concentrations camp for japaneses during WWII, what's your opinion about Trump's politics against immigrants and terrorism prevention on USA?
Yes, my parents were put in a camp and lived behind barbed wire and machine guns from 1942 to 1946. The mass hysteria behind that reached a feverish pitch, and even well-meaning people got swept up in the madness. My own parents were US citizens, hence legal immigrants. (My father was actually born in Palo Alto, currently the center of Silicon Valley.) Let us hope that things do not reach that level.
Hi Dr. I am a huge fan, and first I must say it is an honor to be able to ask you anything. I am a huge astronomy nerd and plan on being an astronomer, and I was wondering, what's steps can I take to become a great astronomer like you? Like what college is best? Stuff like that
I am actually a theoretical physicist, not an astronomer. But if you major in astronomy as an undergraduate, you will necessarily be a physics a major (since all colleges have a physics department, but very few have an astronomy department). The colleges which have great physics departments are the usual suspects, like Princeton, MIT, Cal Tech, Berkeley, etc