Michio Kaku is a world-renowned physicist, futurist, and author of numerous bestselling books including “Beyond Einstein,” “Parallel Universes,” “The Future of the Mind,” and “Physics of the Impossible.”
In this talk, he discusses the groundbreaking first image of a black hole as well as a range of topics related to his latest book, “The Future of Humanity,” in which he explores how humanity might gradually develop a sustainable civilization in outer space.
Following is the full transcript of the talk:
FEMALE SPEAKER: So I think before we get into some of the exciting things that come up in your book, today was a pretty big day in astronomy. There is some news about a black hole. Can you talk about that?
MICHIO KAKU: Yes. A black hole is a cosmic roach motel. Everything checks in, nothing checks out. And we photographed this. This is incredible. History was made when we actually showed a photograph of a gigantic black hole. It weighs 6.5 billion, with a B, billion times more massive than the sun. It is 55 million light years away. It is a gigantic monster. And it’s sort of like a unicorn.
We physicists knew at some point this exotic object would be found. Einstein’s equations predicted it in 1916. We’ve known for a hundred years that a black hole could be lurking in the heavens, but we finally — we finally photographed it. And it was revealed this morning.
Next, in a few weeks, we’ll reveal the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
So tonight, when you go outside, look in the direction of Sagittarius. There’s a raging black hole in the constellation Sagittarius, in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It weighs about two to four million times more massive than the sun. And it’s in our backyard.
So children ask the question — if the moon goes around the Earth and the Earth goes around the sun, what does the sun go around? And the answer is — a black hole.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So you talk about children asking questions. And you’ve talked about that you had a moment when you were growing up, of what sparked your interest in science.
MICHIO KAKU: Yeah, when I was eight years old, something happened which changed my life completely. They made the announcement, when I was in elementary school, that a great scientist had died. And they flashed a picture in the newspaper of his desk. And on the desk was a book, an unfinished book. And the caption said, this is the unfinished manuscript of the greatest scientist of our time.
So I was eight years old. I said to myself, why couldn’t he finish that book? It’s a homework problem, right? Why didn’t he ask his mother?
So, I went to the library. And I later found out his name was Albert Einstein. And that book was “The Theory of Everything.” He wanted an equation no more than one inch long that would allow us to, quote, “Read the Mind of God.”
So I said to myself, wow, that’s for me. I want to work on this theory of everything. And in fact, that’s what I do for a living. I’m the co-founder of string field theory, one of the main branches of string theory. And we think that that is the theory of everything, that everything we see around us is nothing but vibrations of tiny strings. Each subatomic particle is a note on a vibrating string.
What is physics? Physics is the harmonies we can write on vibrating strings. What is chemistry? Chemistry is the melodies we can play on vibrating strings. What is the universe? The universe is a symphony of strings.
And then what is the mind of God? The mind of God is cosmic music resonating through 11 dimensional hyperspace. That is the mind of God.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I think for all of us who are not theoretical physicists in the room, we appreciate that clarifying explanation, really elegant metaphor as well. One of the things that I found when I was sort of thinking about questions that I might want to ask you, or that might be interesting, is that, in looking at the breadth of your work, it’s really hard to know where to start, because your work spans an incredible range of fields from the history of astronomy, to string theory, to theories of consciousness.
And so I was going to ask you, what do you feel like is at the heart of your work? If your body of work were a solar system, say, what would be the sun at its center?
MICHIO KAKU: Well, when I write books, I write for myself as a child. Because when I was a child going to the library, I would look up things like the fourth dimension, like anti-matter, like parallel universes. And there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the library for a young kid who wants to know about all these fantastic things they see in the movies.
So I said to myself, when I grow up, and I become a professor of theoretical physics, and I work at the unified field theory, I want to write for myself, as a child.
And then when I was in high school, I decided to put this into motion. So I went to my mom one day, and I said, “Mom, can I have permission to build an atom smasher in the garage?”
FEMALE SPEAKER: As one does.
MICHIO KAKU: Yeah. I grew up in Palo Alto, where a lot of young people in their garages built machines. So I built a beta-tron particle accelerator. I got 400 pounds of transformer steel, 22 miles of copper wire, and I built a 6-kilowatt, 2.3 million electron vol beta-tron in my mom’s garage. I plugged it in finally. I closed my eyes. I shut my ears. And I heard this huge crackling sound as 6 kilowatts of raw power surged through the capacitor bank. And then I heard this pop, pop, pop, sound, I blew out all the circuit breakers and fuses in the house.
So my poor mom, she’d come home from a hard day’s work and say to herself, why couldn’t I have a son who plays baseball? Maybe if I buy him a basketball — and for God’s sake, why can’t you find a nice Japanese girlfriend? Why does he have to build these machines in the garage?
But it earned the attention of another physicist. A physicist took an interest in me at the National Science Foundation — at the National Science Fair in Albuquerque. And he arranged for me to get a scholarship to Harvard. His name was Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb.
FEMALE SPEAKER: And from then to now, how do you feel like the course of your career has changed, or what — have your interests shifted since then, since that beginning of you want to solve the theory of everything?