Thursday, October 28, 2010

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku

From Publishers Weekly

In this latest effort to popularize the sciences, City University of New York professor and media star Kaku (Hyperspace) ponders topics that many people regard as impossible, ranging from psychokinesis and telepathy to time travel and teleportation. His Class I impossibilities include force fields, telepathy and antiuniverses, which don't violate the known laws of science and may become realities in the next century. Those in Class II await realization farther in the future and include faster-than-light travel and discovery of parallel universes. Kaku discusses only perpetual motion machines and precognition in Class III, things that aren't possible according to our current understanding of science. He explains how what many consider to be flights of fancy are being made tangible by recent scientific discoveries ranging from rudimentary advances in teleportation to the creation of small quantities of antimatter and transmissions faster than the speed of light. Science and science fiction buffs can easily follow Kaku's explanations as he shows that in the wonderful worlds of science, impossible things are happening every day. (Mar. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Kaku (Parallel Worlds, Beyond Einstein, Hyperspace) introduces complex theories of physics to general readers. As The Economist notes, Kaku "makes a good stab at explaining difficult physics. But his grasp of his subject is perhaps trumped by his knowledge of science fiction." While Kaku writes in language designed to captivate nonscience readers, it's his references to pop culture—Star Trek to Terminator 3—that clarify his fringe physics. (Those wishing to explore the topic further can refer to Kaku's detailed footnotes.) To critics' delight, Kaku also investigates the moral issues of futuristic technology that SF does so well and asks provoking questions about the fate of humankind. The only complaints? Kaku omits a few obvious SF parallels, and, more seriously, readers who don't enjoy that genre may find less of interest here.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“[Kaku explores] what we still do not quite understand, those grey areas that are surely the most fascinating part of physics.”
New Scientist

“Kaku's latest book aims to explain exactly why some visions of the future may eventually be realized while others are likely to remain beyond the bounds of possibility. . . . Science fiction often explores such questions; science falls silent at this point. Kaku's work helps to fill a void.”
The Economist

“A fascinating exploration of the interface between science and science fiction, extremely well researched, lively, and tremendously entertaining.”
—Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics and The Science of Leonardo

“Mighty few theoretical physicists would bother expounding some of these possible impossibilities, and Kaku is to be congratulated for doing so. . . . [He gets] the juices of future physicists flowing.”
Los Angeles Times

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

Teleportation, time machines, force fields, and interstellar space ships—the stuff of science fiction or potentially attainable future technologies? Inspired by the fantastic worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Back to the Future, renowned theoretical physicist and bestselling author Michio Kaku takes an informed, serious, and often surprising look at what our current understanding of the universe's physical laws may permit in the near and distant future.Entertaining, informative, and imaginative, Physics of the Impossible probes the very limits of human ingenuity and scientific possibility.

About the Author:Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku is the Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the CUNY Graduate Center, a leader in the field of theoretical physics, and cofounder of string field theory. He is the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Parallel Worlds, Visions, Beyond Einstein, and the bestseller Hyperspace. His books have been translated all over the world. He has written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Discover Magazine, The London Daily Telegraph, New Scientist Magazine, and other periodcals.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


I. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

II. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

III. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


"Shields up!"

In countless Star Trek episodes this is the first order that Captain Kirk barks out to the crew, raising the force fields to protect the starship Enterprise against enemy fire.

So vital are force fields in Star Trek that the tide of the battle can be measured by how the force field is holding up. Whenever power is drained from the force fields, the Enterprise suffers more and more damaging blows to its hull, until finally surrender is inevitable.

So what is a force field? In science fiction it's deceptively simple: a thin, invisible yet impenetrable barrier able to deflect lasers and rockets alike. At first glance a force field looks so easy that its creation as a battlefield shield seems imminent. One expects that any day some enterprising inventor will announce the discovery of a defensive force field. But the truth is far more complicated.

In the same way that Edison's lightbulb revolutionized modern civilization, a force field could profoundly affect every aspect of our lives. The military could use force fields to become invulnerable, creating an impenetrable shield against enemy missiles and bullets. Bridges, superhighways, and roads could in theory be built by simply pressing a button. Entire cities could sprout instantly in the desert, with skyscrapers made entirely of force fields. Force fields erected over cities could enable their inhabitants to modify the effects of their weather-high winds, blizzards, tornados-at will. Cities could be built under the oceans within the safe canopy of a force field. Glass, steel, and mortar could be entirely replaced.

Yet oddly enough a force field is perhaps one of the most difficult devices to create in the laboratory. In fact, some physicists believe it might actually be impossible, without modifying its properties.

Michael Faraday

The concept of force fields originates from the work of the great nineteenth-century British scientist Michael Faraday.

Faraday was born to working-class parents (his father was a blacksmith) and eked out a meager existence as an apprentice bookbinder in the early 1800s. The young Faraday was fascinated by the enormous breakthroughs in uncovering the mysterious properties of two new forces: electricity and magnetism. Faraday devoured all he could concerning these topics and attended lectures by Professor Humphrey Davy of the Royal Institution in London.

One day Professor Davy severely damaged his eyes in a chemical accident and hired Faraday to be his secretary. Faraday slowly began to win the confidence of the scientists at the Royal Institution and was allowed to conduct important experiments of his own, although he was often slighted. Over the years Professor Davy grew increasingly jealous of the brilliance shown by his young assistant, who was a rising star in experimental circles, eventually eclipsing Davy's own fame. After Davy died in 1829 Faraday was free to make a series of stunning breakthroughs that led to the creation of generators that would energize entire cities and change the course of world civilization.

The key to Faraday's greatest discoveries was his "force fields." If one places iron filings over a magnet, one finds that the iron filings create a spiderweb-like pattern that fills up all of space. These are Faraday's lines of force, which graphically describe how the force fields of electricity and magnetism permeate space. If one graphs the magnetic fields of the Earth, for example, one finds that the lines emanate from the north polar region and then fall back to the Earth in the south polar region. Similarly, if one were to graph the electric field lines of a lightning rod in a thunderstorm, one would find that the lines of force concentrate at the tip of the lightning rod. Empty space, to Faraday, was not empty at all, but was filled with lines of force that could make distant objects move. (Because of Faraday's poverty-stricken youth, he was illiterate in mathematics, and as a consequence his notebooks are full not of equations but of hand-drawn diagrams of these lines of force. Ironically, his lack of mathematical training led him to create the beautiful diagrams of lines of force that now can be found in any physics textbook. In science a physical picture is often more important than the mathematics used to describe it.)

Historians have speculated on how Faraday was led to his discovery of force fields, one of the most important concepts in all of science. In fact, the sum total of all modern physics is written in the language of Faraday's fields. In 1831, he made the key breakthrough regarding force fields that changed civilization forever. One day, he was moving a child's magnet over a coil of wire and he noticed that he was able to generate an electric current in the wire, without ever touching it. This meant that a magnet's invisible field could push electrons in a wire across empty space, creating a current.

Faraday's "force fields," which were previously thought to be useless, idle doodlings, were real, material forces that could move objects and generate power. Today the light that you are using to read this page is probably energized by Faraday's discovery about electromagnetism. A spinning magnet creates a force field that pushes the electrons in a wire, causing them to move in an electrical current. This electricity in the wire can then be used to light up a lightbulb. This same principle is used to generate electricity to power the cities of the world. Water flowing across a dam, for example, causes a huge magnet in a turbine to spin, which then pushes the electrons in a wire, forming an electric current that is sent across high-voltage wires into our homes.

In other words, the force fields of Michael Faraday are the forces that drive modern civilization, from electric bulldozers to today's computers, Internet, and iPods.

Faraday's force fields have been an inspiration for physicists for a century and a half. Einstein was so inspired by them that he wrote his theory of gravity in terms of force fields. I, too, was inspired by Faraday's work. Years ago I successfully wrote the theory of strings in terms of the force fields of Faraday, thereby founding string field theory. In physics when someone says, "He thinks like a line of force," it is meant as a great compliment.
The Four Forces

Over the last two thousand years one of the crowning achievements of physics has been the isolation and identification of the four forces that rule the universe. All of them can be described in the language of fields introduced by Faraday. Unfortunately, however, none of them has quite the properties of the force fields described in most science fiction. These forces are

1. Gravity, the silent force that keeps our feet on the ground, prevents the Earth and the stars from disintegrating, and holds the solar system and galaxy together. Without gravity, we would be flung off the Earth into space at the rate of 1,000 miles per hour by the spinning planet. The problem is that gravity has precisely the opposite properties of a force field found in science fiction. Gravity is attractive, not repulsive; is extremely weak, relatively speaking; and works over enormous, astronomical distances. In other words, it is almost the opposite of the flat, thin, impenetrable barrier that one reads about in science fiction or one sees in science fiction movies. For example, it takes the entire planet Earth to attract a feather to the floor, but we can counteract Earth's gravity by lifting the feather with a finger. The action of our finger can counteract the gravity of an entire planet that weighs over six trillion trillion kilograms.

2. Electromagnetism (EM), the force that lights up our cities. Lasers, radio, TV, modern electronics, computers, the Internet, electricity, magnetism-all are consequences of the electromagnetic force. It is perhaps the most useful force ever harnessed by humans. Unlike gravity, it can be both attractive and repulsive. However, there are several reasons that it is unsuitable as a force field. First, it can be easily neutralized. Plastics and other insulators, for example, can easily penetrate a powerful electric or magnetic field. A piece of plastic thrown in a magnetic field would pass right through. Second, electromagnetism acts over large distances and cannot easily be focused onto a plane. The laws of the EM force are described by James Clerk Maxwell's equations, and these equations do not seem to admit force fields as solutions.

3 & 4. The weak and strong nuclear forces. The weak force is the force of radioactive decay. It is the force that heats up the center of the Earth, which is radioactive. It is the force behind volcanoes, earthquakes, and continental drift. The strong force holds the nucleus of the atom together. The energy of the sun and the stars originates from the nuclear force, which is responsible for lighting up the universe. The problem is that the nuclear force is a short-range force, acting mainly over the distance of a nucleus. Because it is so bound to the properties of nuclei, it is extremely hard to manipulate. At present the only ways we have of manipulating this force are to blow subatomic particles apart in atom smashers or to detonate atomic bombs.

Although the force fields used in science fiction may not conform to the known laws of physics, there are still loopholes that might make the creation of such a force field possible. First, there may be a fifth force, still unseen in the laboratory. Such a force might, for example, wo...