Thursday, July 26, 2007

Soap bubble heads

Posted by goatchurch at 4:32 AM
I got given a copy of Michio Kaku's 2005 Parallel Worlds book yesterday as it seems to be the source of a lot of SF speculation about Time, Space, and Multiverse travel which supposedly makes all of Mundane SF irrelevant. I'm reached page 97, and it's so far a rehash of the usual Einstein history of physics. Flicking forward, I can tell I'm not going to like this M-space stuff. It reminds me of that cosmological speculation you hear when people have smoked enough dope.
Like, Man, you know each of those atoms in your fingernail could be like a tiny solar system with a whole other earth and people living on it.
The BBC appears to have had a lot of time for him. And there's this nifty FAQ which is good for a laugh.

Better still, there's a 23 minute interview with him on an in-depth news program in April 2005.

This interview literally took my breath away, so I've transcribed it extensively.
Kaku: Even 150 years ago thinkers like Charles Darwin or Bertrand Russell wrote about the fact that Physics does seem to say that the Universe will eventually run down, it rusts, we have what is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics, chaos takes over, stars blink out, stars get cold, the oceans will freeze over, and we'll all die in a big freeze. And Charles Darwin wrote in his autobiography, "What an unpleasant thought that we struggled to get out of the swamp, that every letter we struggled with is all for naught." Why bother to wake up tomorrow morning? Why go to work, knowing that we're all going to freeze to death billion of years from now?

Well, now we have an exit strategy. Ah, you mentioned George Bush. He has to ponder when is the situation cool enough in Iraq to exit troops.

Well, we Physicists believe that our universe is cooling down too rapidly. That it is out of control. That we are in an accelerating run-away universe.

...In some sense there seems to be a death warrant for our universe. Again, it'll be billions of years from now. But what a thought, knowing that all the achievements of humanity will eventually crumble, when the universe itself begin to crumble.

Now we Physicists just give talks. We get very embarrassing questions like, "Professor, what happened before the Big Bang?" Well the answer to that is: The Multiverse.

The other embarrassing question we get is, "This is all very depressing, hearing that the stars will blink out, the universe will consist of black holes, the oceans will freeze, the night sky will be dark, there will be no stars to guide us at night. What a horrible thought."

And my attitude is that the laws of Physics do have an escape clause. An escape clause by which we may have to go through this umbilical chord to perhaps journey to another universe.
(I stare at the screen with shocked and terrified expression like John Stewart after he's played an appalling clip of Bush.)

According to wikipedia, there's an interview with Kaku in the February 2007 Jordanian magazine "Business Today" in which he says that he considers terrorism as one of the main threats in man's evolution from a Type 0 civilization to Type 1 on the Kardashev scale, that's a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star.

Well, the link is broken; it's only wikipedia. Can't possibly be true.

The BBC interview continues.
Kaku: We're Type 0. We get our energy from dead plants. But every time I read the newspaper I read the birth-pangs of Type 1.

What is the internet? The internet is the beginning of a planetary telephone system. I see it right before my eyes a type 1 communication system opening up. The language of Type 1 will be English. It is already the universal language of elites. It will be the language of Type 1.

And, look at the economies. NAFTA, European Union, Trading blocks, the birth of a new economy is taking place.

Now there are people who don't like this transition, who feel in their gut feel more comfortable being in a Type minus 1. They're the terrorists. They in their gut realize that a Type 1 civilization has flowing ideas, challenging orthodoxies, new bigger, wondrous ideas popping forth. That's Type 1.
The interviewer asked whether mankind is going to destroy the world in our own way with global warming or war before we have anything like these problems.
Kaku: When I look in outer space and we look for signals for alien life, we see nothing. It's quiet out there. But the laws of physics tell us it should be teeming with intelligent lifeforms.

One theory is that there were many Type zeros out there. But the savagery of their rise from the swamp kept with them all the sectarian, fundamentalist, racial nonsense of the forest. And that's why they self-destructed before they attained high-form status. So the birth of Type 1 we think is going to be quite convulsive. It'll take place in the next hundred years. The next hundred years are the most important hundred years in all of human history, because it'll determine whether or not we make that transition to Type 1 civilization, a planetary civilization.

...We'll go out into outer space and see different star systems. Perhaps we will see planets whose atmospheres are too hot, they did have a greenhouse effect, or their atmospheres are radio-active, they did have a nuclear war. And perhaps that's why we don't see them with our telescopes.
(I lean over and weep into my hands.)

I pretty much agree with the particle physicist Martinus Veltman that astrophysicists are full of crap, which he explained in a lecture I blogged about in February.

These are dangerous ideas. Of the kind that believing you can fly off a cliff with a pair of cardboard wings is a dangerous idea.

Correction: Replacing erroneous "Yaku" with "Kaku".

13 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Wheeler said...

If you're going to insult the man's career and reject his ideas without even engaging with them, the least you can do is spell his name correctly: it's Kaku, with a 'K."

7/27/2007 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous david ellis said...

His ideas are speculative in the extreme but your response:


These are dangerous ideas. Of the kind that believing you can fly off a cliff with a pair of cardboard wings is a dangerous idea.


doesnt seem warranted to me.

Can you tell us specifically what disastrous consequences you see inherent in his speculations?

7/29/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger goatchurch said...

Name corrected. I have no idea how that mistake crept in. Shocking.

AW: I'd like to engage with your comment, but there's nothing at all to work with. The substance of my posting is the transcript. So, you don't see anything weird about his connection between the billions of years of future history and today's US government's global war on terror?

DE: He's basically saying that the dire and immediate challenges which the scientists say our species are presented with don't matter because the new economy/so-far-nonexistant technology will sort it out. What would you say if a faith healer convinced your grandmother to stop taking her medication because he had cured her?

8/08/2007 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All well and good, but academic rivalry aside, what does this has to do with all of astrophysics being utter crap? Would you dismiss the biological sciences just as easily if not all of it conformed to your own particular world view?

8/08/2007 06:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll add that anything counting as bullshit from merely one Astrophysicist doesn't count. People like Roughgarden, after all, do not represent the mindset of all biologists.

8/08/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger goatchurch said...

Anonymous One: There is no academic rivalry because I am not an academic. I'm only pointing out that the world-view which I infer from his statements seems to me to be extraordinarily parochial, for reasons I have outlined. Can you give me an alternative view?

I've not said anything about the biological sciences which are, at least, subject to experimentation.


Anonymous Two: If idea X, which is bullshit, is stated by person Y who happens to be of type Z, then person A who also says X is talking bullshit, while person B of type Z is irrelevant.

Once again, I don't see what this is to do with biology. I do, however, hold it against all astrophysicists for the fact that they never explained the flimsiness of their evidence for the existence of dark/invisible matter -- for which no likely substance whatsoever exists.

8/11/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger David B. Ellis said...


He's basically saying that the dire and immediate challenges which the scientists say our species are presented with don't matter because the new economy/so-far-nonexistant technology will sort it out.


Thats not the impression I got from anything you quoted. Much the opposite, in fact. He speculates that the vast majority of species fail to make the transition to a stable long-term technological species and go extinct.

That hardly implies that new technologies will magically solve are our problems.

What he is saying, so far as I understand him, is:

that for a technological society to survive long enough to reach the type 1 level (and maintain themselves there without self-destructing) they will have to abandon "all the sectarian, fundamentalist, racial nonsense of the forest".

And that seems mere common sense to me.

Perhaps there was more to the interview that said or implied something like what you are accusing him of but its far from clear (or even implicit) in anything you quoted.

8/11/2007 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Reading comprehansion. Learn it.

2) I do, however, hold it against all astrophysicists for the fact that they never explained the flimsiness of their evidence for the existence of dark/invisible matter -- for which no likely substance whatsoever exists.

What exactly makes you so knowledgable about physics in the first place? Do you even have any references from other than anything coming from disgruntled string theorists?

8/11/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The subatomic physicists have had to invent the strong force, the weak force, the Higgs force, spin, quark, strangeness, and charm; so should we be surprised if the same nonsense of new laws unobservable on a human scale need to be postulated at large scales beyond the level of the solar system?

So I take it that you're a big fan of Bruno Latour.

8/11/2007 10:52:00 PM  
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