The Universe in a Nutshell by Michio Kaku (Transcript)

Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku, an American theoretical physicist and Professor at City University of New York, talks about universe in a nutshell…

My name is Professor Michio Kaku. I’m a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and I specialize in something called string theory. I’m a physicist. Some people ask me the question, “What has physics done for me lately? I mean, do I get better color television, do I get better internet reception with physics?” And the answer is yes. You see, physics is at the very foundation of matter and energy. We physicists invented the laser beam, we invented the transistor. We helped to create the first computer. We helped to construct the internet. We wrote the World Wide Web.  In addition, we also helped to invent television, radio, radar, microwaves, not to mention MRI scans, PET scans, x-rays.

In other words, almost everything you see in your living room, almost everything you see in a modern hospital, at some point or other, can be traced to a physicist. Now, I got interested in physics when I was a child. When I was a child of eight, something happened to me that changed my life and I wanted to be part of this grand search for a theory of everything.

When I was eight, a great scientist had just died. I still remember my elementary school teacher coming into the room and announcing that the greatest scientist of our era has just passed away. And that day, every newspaper published a picture of his desk. The desk of Albert Einstein. And the caption said, I’ll never forget, “The unfinished manuscript of the greatest work of the greatest scientist of our time.” And I said to myself, “Why couldn’t he finish it? I mean, what’s so hard? It’s a homework problem, right? Why didn’t he ask his mother? Why can’t he finish this problem?”

So as a child of eight, I decided to find out what was this problem. Years later, I began to realize that it was the theory of everything, the Unified Field Theory.

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Unified Field Theory: A Theory of Everything

An equation one inch long that would summarize all the physical forces in the universe. An equation like E=mc². That equation is half an inch long and that equation unlocks the secret of the stars. Why do the stars shine? Why does the galaxy light up? Why do we have energy on the earth? All of it tied to an equation half an inch long.

But then there was another thing that happened to me when I was around eight years old. I got hooked on the Saturday morning TV shows. In particular, Flash Gordon. And I was hooked. I mean, every Saturday morning watching programs about alien from outer space, star ships, ray guns, invisibility shields, cities in the sky, that was for me.

But after a few years, I began to notice something. First of all, I began to notice that well, I didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes, I didn’t have muscles like Flash Gordon, but it was a scientist who made the series work. In particular, a physicist. He was the one who discovered the ray gun, the star ships. He was the one who created the city in the sky. He was the one who created the invisibility shield.

And then I realized something else. If you want to understand the future, you have to understand physics. Physics is at the foundation of all the gadgetry, the wizardry, all the marvels of the technological age, all of it can be traced to the work of a physicist, including computers, also biotechnology. All of that can eventually trace down to physics.

Physics and the Impossible

Most of science fiction is in fact well within the laws of physics, but possible within maybe 100 years. And then we have type two impossibilities, impossibilities that may take 1,000 years or more.  That includes time travel, warp drive, higher dimensions, portals through space and time, star gates, worm holes. That’s type two.

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And then we have type three, and those are things which simply violate all the known laws of physics, and they’re very few of them.

So in my life I’ve had two great passions. First is to help complete Einstein’s dream of a theory of everything. An equation one inch long that would allow us to, “Read the mind of God.”

But the second passion of my life is to see the future. You know, if you were to meet your grandparents at the year 1900, they were dirt farmers back then. They didn’t live much beyond the age of 40, on average. Long distance communication in the year 1900 was yelling at your neighbor. And yet, if they could see you now, with iPads and iPods and satellites and GPS and laser beams, how would they view you? They would view you as a wizard or sorcerer.

However, if we can now meet our grandkids of the year 2100, how would we view them? We would view them as gods, like in Greek mythology. Zeus could control objects around him by pure thought. Materialize objects just by thinking. And there’re perks to being a Greek god, Venus had a perfect body, a timeless body. And we are beginning now to unravel the genetics at the molecular level, of the aging process. And then Apollo, he had a chariot that he could ride across the heavens. We will finally have that flying horse, I mean, that, we will have that flying car that we’ve always wanted to have in our garage. We will be able to create life forms that don’t exist today.

And so in other words, if you want to see the future, you have to understand physics, and you have to realize that by the year 2100, we will have the power of the gods. To paraphrase Arthur C. Clark, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from divinity.”

So let’s now begin our story.

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The History of Physics

The history of physics is the history of modern civilization. Before Isaac Newton, before Galileo, we were shrouded with the mysteries of superstition. People believed in all sorts of different kinds of spirits and demons. What made the planets move? Why do things interact with other things? It was a mystery.

So, back in the Middle Ages, for example, people read the works of Aristotle. And Aristotle asked the question, “Why do objects move toward the earth? And that’s because,” he said, “objects yearn, yearn to be united with the earth. And why do objects slow down when you put them in motion? Objects in motion slow down because they get tired.”

These are the works of Aristotle, which held sway for almost 2,000 years until the beginning of modern physics with Galileo and Isaac Newton.

So, when the ancients looked at the sky, the sky was full of mystery and wonder, and in the year 1066, the most important date on the British calendar, there was a comet, a comet which sailed over the battlefield of Hastings. It frightened the troops of King Harold, and a young man from Normandy, swept into England and defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, creating the modern British monarchy.  In fact, British history dates to 1066 with William the Conqueror.

But the question is, where did the comet come from? What was this comet that mysteriously paved the way for the coming of the British monarchy? Well, believe it or not, that same comet, the very same comet that initiated the British monarchy, sailed over London once again in 1682. This time, everyone was asking the question, “Where do comets come from? Do they signal the death of the king? Why do we have messengers from heavens in the sky?” Well, one man dared to penetrate the secrets of comets, and that was Isaac Newton.

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