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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku – Making the Impossible Possible (Almost)

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/physics-of-the-impossible-michio-kaku/1102811386?ean=9780307278821

Pros: Utterly fascinating and mind-boggling (i.e. wow!)
Cons: Occasionally mind-boggling (i.e. huh?) and subject matter is probably not for everyone

The Bottom Line: Centuries ago, the world was flat. Decades ago, the atom was the smallest bit of matter. Currently, concepts like time travel aren't possible...or are they?

I fist found this book while walking past a display at work where I spotted a book with the Doctor Who Police Box on the cover. The TARDIS was in the process of zipping through a wormhole with lines and equations around it. The title read Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. Oh really? I read the inside cover, which described a book full of exactly what the title promised. I made a note to read it in the future.

Well the future is now or, I suppose, was. And I'll tell you, it really was a fascinating read. That's the best word I can come up with to describe it because it was fascinating. Engrossing, though sometimes mind-boggling beyond the point of "Oh wow" into the realm of "I have no idea what he's talking about."

Michio Kaku is no stranger to the beast that is physics. He was entranced by the science fiction adventures he saw on television as a child, a good thing because in high school he constructed a massive machine to create dark matter. He currently writes books on the subject of physics while working on the string theory--or a theory of everything. (and no, apparently the answer isn't 42).

The idea behind the book is extremely simple. We've all heard about the possibilities of time travel, faster than light travel, cloaks of invisibility, telepathy, and other science fiction-like phenomenons, but most of the time we chuckle and think none of those (among others) are possible. Sure, our scientists are smart, but they have yet to make the imaginations of science fiction writers a reality. Kaku seeks to show readers how some of these ideas may actually be possible. He uses the laws of physics and brings up possibilities for the seemingly impossible. As long as the concepts do not break any laws of physics, then hey, they may very well be in our future, be that future decades, centuries, or even millennia and beyond.

Kaku divides all the "impossibilities" into different classes based upon how possible they actually are, as well as how likely and soon we might develop such technologies in the future. The table of contents gives you perfect insight into the subjects Kaku discusses:

Class I Impossibilities
1. Force Fields
2. Invisibility
3. Phasers and Death Stars
4. Teleportation
5. Telepathy
6. Psychokinesis
7. Robots
8. Extraterrestrials and UFOs
9. Starships
10. Antimatter and Anti-universes

Class II Impossibilities
11. Faster Than Light
12. Time Travel
13. Parallel Universes

Class III Impossibilities
14. Perpetual Motion Machines
15. Precognition

Yeah, I know, you would have thought something like Time Travel would be stuck in a Class III impossibility, but using the laws of physics, Kaku manages to explain how it really could be possible, some of which have been utilized in television shows and science fiction books. In fact, all of these ideas have been involved in science fiction, and the ironic part is that many of these creative thoughts used to be thought ridiculous by tried and true scientists. As Agent K said in Men in Black, "Just imagine what we'll 'know' next."

It's a very cool book. Kaku does what he can to bring examples and concepts down to the level of an every day person to understand. He uses visual examples to help the reader visualize, and of course, brings in examples from popular science fiction films and books to demonstrate points and concepts. For the most part, I knew what was going on and understood how something could potentially work using atoms and computer chips and matter in space. Kaku explains things very well and even gives the reader a healthy tidbit of history and those associated with bits of highly important physics theories and equations, which are rather essential to understanding how we can go from point A (say, Newton's theory of gravity) to point B (opening up wormholes and skipping through them). Of course there were times when even I (who found all variable equations in math more fun than actual numbers) sat there on pause, trying to wrap my head around a paragraph or sentence. There were moments when I thought, "I don't know what he's saying, but it sounds like it could make sense," amid particles inside atoms and how complex equations can work (or fail in some cases). However, those times were few and overall I read each chapter with relish, wondering at the possibilities that Kaku posited and just how cool it would be if we figured out something like starships or force fields.

As a science fiction writer myself, this made the book just that much cooler. I ate this stuff up, wondering how I might incorporate some of Kaku's ideas into my work, if only by a vague mention. The difficulty in creating something like a wormhole made me laugh and wonder how one critiquer of my work could question a completely possible concept and not another, nearly impossible one. If you're a science fiction writer, read this and love it. If you're a science fiction reader, read this and love it. If you like physics and the "impossible," go for it. Even if you're none of the above, I honestly don't see why you couldn't at least get something interesting out of this book.

I even read the Preface, something I don't do often (if ever), but Kaku tells you a bit of his past and lets you know the kind of person he is and how he's able to write about such things (plenty of research involved, to be sure). Kaku's writing style is rather informal, very accessible, and makes you feel like you're talking to someone genuinely interested in both his work and getting others to understand it and be interested in it as well. He might mention something and I would pause, zooming off into my own little world in my head and wondering about the future, the mystery it holds, how small we really are, or the awesome power a Type III Civilization would command. All this, as opposed to the stiff professor who doles out hard facts and ignores whether or not you understand or care about them. He even makes a clever little quip here and there that had me smiling or chuckling.
 
There's nothing negative to say about this book...at all. I can only recommend it to you and hope that by chapter 1 you'll be as interested as I was and continue reading. I often stick it on the B&N Employee Recommendation display and one I made sure to add to my own collection.

Notes from the playlist: "Angels" by Within Temptation

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