Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Book #27 Physics Of The Impossible by Michio Kaku

Physics Of The Impossible

I didn't like Physics at school. It's 15 years since I took my GCSE and what I basically remember is a few classes on momentum and velocity, a circuit board that made a mini lightbulb light up, and basically bricking it that I was going to fail and poring over past papers in the library. I actually got a B, but God knows how. My point is though, thrilling it wasn't.

When I was on holiday with my sister, I mentioned recent developments in invisibility which caused the tabloid headlines about a potential 'Harry Potter' type cloak in the future, and I also said that I thought that 'one day' time travel would be possible. I was roundly laughed at for DAYS until we had dinner with her friend Bryn, a physicist who was able to back up some of what I was saying. Take that sis!

Wishing to have more concrete knowledge than half hearted bits and bobs, concrete knowledge being the stuff that wins arguments; I went on the hunt for accessible physics books and liked the look of this one "A rich compendium of jaw dropping reality checks" says The Times. 

This book discusses Force Fields, Invisibility, Phasers, The Death Star, Teleportation, Telepathy, Psychokinesis, Robots, Extraterrestrials, Starships, Antimatter, Time Travel, Parallel Universe and Precognition. Not only that but Kaku discusses these things within a frame of popular culture references, so you get what each particular science looks like.  He references Star Trek, Star Wars, and many science fiction films and novels to illustrate his points.

A classic example is the Hover Board from Back To Future 2, the future toy we all thought we would see when we grew up. Currently impossible, the Hover Board is actually technically possible within the laws of physics, it's just that practical reality, discovery and invention haven't caught up to the theoretical science. But one day it might....... :-D

Kaku breaks down all these exciting but currently impossible things from the realms of science fiction into three classes.

Class I impossibilities are currently impossible technologies but which do not violate the laws of physics and may become possible within this century.

Class II impossibilities are technologies which sit on the very edge of understanding, if they become possible it will be in the scale of future millenia.

Class III impossibilities are those which violate the laws of physics, if they ever became possible they would fundamentally alter physics principles as we know them.

Somewhat surprisingly a lot of the topics up for discussion are either Class I or Class II, currently impossible but not necessarily impossible forever.  He quotes the physicist Lord Kelvin, one of the most famous and respected physicists of his era as having said in 1899 "Radio has no future. Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.  X Rays will prove to be a hoax"
That which we call impossible now, our future generations may look back on us and laugh about how quaint we were once.     

One of the things people assume to be impossible but actually technically isn't, is telekinesis the ability to move things with ones mind. Successful attempts at biofeedback experiments have meant that quadriplegic patients have learned to move things with a computer chip installed in the brain enabling them to give a computer basic commands. Further and greater developments in this sort of technology are not far off. Something which hasn't taken off as hoped is Artificial Intelligence, mainly because emotional intelligence, common sense and evolutionary based instincts cannot be programmed, again here's that word again...yet.

In the seemingly impossible sciences : Are there parallel universes in which other versions of ourselves who made different choices exist? How will humans survive when the Sun begins to die? What WOULD happen if you travelled back in time and killed your grandfather? Would you negate your own existence?
At one point Stephen Hawking attempted to find a law of physics which would ban Time Travel, he was unsuccessful. His point was that if time travel became possible in the future, where were the time tourists now? Perhaps the time tourists are already around us...they just have the good sense not to make themselves known!!

Now that I'm older I kind of wish I'd paid more attention to Physics, but if my lessons had been about the sort of Physics Kaku talks about, I totally would have. This is the good physics, the sexy physics, the physics that gets you talking and thinking and dreaming of the future. How many kilowatts does it take?...this book is not.

I'm a geeky girl, I like Donnie Darko, LOST, the new JJ Abrams' Star Trek, Eternal Sunshine Of The  Spotless Mind and things like that. Things which ask questions of not just what could be one day, but what would it do to our humanity if it could?

Kaku closes the book with the sentence "We are not at the end but at the beginning of new physics, but whatever we find there will always be new horizons continually awaiting us"

If you too are a geek, you'll love this, but if you aren't interested...this is the world around you and its future...maybe you should be... 

I'm going to deduct a point because sometimes it did fly a little over my head, but not for the most part, and that is probably mainly due to my sheer lack of any ground level knowledge. I really enjoyed this book and all the topics covered were interesting. I am definitely going to read more books by Kaku to expand my physics knowledge and, I'm going to lend this book to my sister so she can expand hers! 9/10

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