Sunday, February 27, 2011

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

Editor's Note: Like most anyone, I'm not interested in every genre of books. But, I'd love my blog to offer insights on a wide range of books. So, enter guest bloggers. Below, my husband, who is smarter and more eloquent than me, offers a thoughtful post on a book he just read. I'm a dunce at all things science so I would never pick this book up on my own, but now I think it sounds extremely interesting.

An unfortunate and depressing fact about mankind living on planet Earth is that eventually the rock we call home will not be here anymore. The Sun will die, expanding to the point that Earth will be swallowed whole by the very star that gives us life. Of course this is billions of years from now, but what if mankind (or whatever we’ve evolved into) could escape this by traveling to a parallel universe? What if mankind could escape the solar system long before this happens by traveling to another star, perhaps faster than the speed of light? These are the topics brought to life by theoretical physics professor Michio Kaku of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in his book Physics of the Impossible.

I’m sure right now you’re thinking, "Why would I want to read 300 pages about theoretical physics?" I have an engineering and physics background in my former career, and that doesn’t even sound fun to me. However, at some point we’ve all thought about what it would be like to time travel. We’ve all seen teleportation in Star Trek, or traveling faster than the speed of light in Star Wars. How many movies and TV shows have been made about robots becoming smarter than we are and turning on us? Terminator or I, Robot, anyone? What about Watson on Jeopardy?

Kaku takes the pop-culture sci-fi topics that everyone has thought about at one point or another, and describes the physics that may actually make them possible in a (more or less) easy-to-read fashion. You don’t need to have a huge science background to understand what’s going on. Kaku deconstructs into three classes what most people think are impossibilities. The first class being impossibilities that don’t break known laws of physics, and may be possible in this or the next century, including force fields, teleportation, invisibility, robots, UFO’s, and starships. Can you imagine how the world would change if you could order a book on Amazon and it would be teleported to you? You think that the USPS has a hard time now?! Also discussed are class II impossibilities that might be realized within a millennia or more (time travel, parallel universes) and class III impossibilities which violate the known laws of physics which would require a fundamental shift in mankind’s understanding of physics (perpetual motion machines).

Kaku takes great care in honoring the past scientific discoveries by giving a bit of history from the scientists whose research has brought us to where we are today. Sadly, many of these great thinkers were persecuted for their beliefs (some even committing suicide) that were later proven in labs. Ludwig Boltzmann was hounded for his belief of atoms and hanged himself in 1906 because of the intense pressure. What Boltzmann didn’t realize was that Einstein had written a paper in 1905 demonstrating their existence.

While the research from the past has made possible everything society takes for granted today (the internet, cell phones, computers, space travel), we are an infantile society when it comes to scientific discovery. It is highly likely that societies are thriving in the universe (or in other universes) that are much more advanced than we are. Kaku paints a broad picture of how we may discover and use technologies to become a more advanced civilization, and on the extreme long-term timescale, survive. Kaku does so in a way that someone with little scientific background but a little bit of nerd in them can understand. I myself can’t wait for his next book Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100.

1 comment:

manda said...

Ok, wow. I have to admit that the opening of this post scared the crap out of me!

It sounds like this book had just a ton of cool stuff in it. I can't imagine how hard it was to pick what to highlight. Thanks for giving a good smattering of the things in this book. I thought the three classes of impossibilities sounded interesting and then there's the whole part about the great thinkers.

Great guest-post Jon! Excited to read your thoughts on his next book. ;)