Monday, June 28, 2010

Michio Kaku and Deepak Chopra

Some people have asked me what I think about Michio Kaku, the string theorist who popularizes physics and futurism.  His last book, Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel, discusses three classes of "impossible" technologies.  Class I impossibilities may become possible within a century or two.  Class II impossibilities may become possible in thousands or millions of years.  Class III impossibilities will never become possible unless there is some fundamental shift in our understanding of physics.

I think Michio Kaku and I have very different philosophies about popularizing science.  Kaku likes to reach for the amazing and sensational potentials of the world.  I like to bring things down to earth, grounding them in simple concepts.  Or something like that.  Clearly there are differences even if I cannot articulate them.

But that doesn't mean we have to clash!  I would probably agree with Michio Kaku on most of his futurist predictions, at least when properly translated.  Allow XKCD to do the translating.

Michio Kaku says that class I impossibilities may come in a century or so.  The translation is "It has not been conclusively proven impossible."  I totally agree!  See, no clashing.

But recently, Uncertain Principles pointed out an interview of Michio Kaku by Deepak Chopra.  If there is a time to clash, now is it.  Let me pull out a bunch of the worst quotes.
DC [Deepak Chopra]: What the basis for your book is, that if it does not violate the laws of mathematics or physics then it is in the realm of possibility, really?
MK [Michio Kaku]: That's right. If it's not forbidden by the laws of physics, it's mandatory.
This is an example of type 2 technobabble.  It's true that there is a principle in physics that states, "If it's not forbidden, then it's mandatory," but this is really not the right context for it.  The correct context is particle physics, because all possible particle interactions will mathematically contribute to the result.  Of course, some interactions contribute more than others, and most interactions are just impossible.  But don't let that get you down on life, because this only relates to the context of particle physics.
MK: Right. Think about this: if you were to push a button and the force field has knowledge of how to construct walls and floors and sidewalks, with a push of a button you could create an entire city.
If I had an infinite lever and an immovable place to stand on, then we could move the world around.  It's all a matter of getting the technical details sorted out. (That's a Terry Pratchett reference btw.)
DC: Is our conversation affecting something in another galaxy right now?
MK: In principle. What we're talking about right is affecting another galaxy far, far beyond the Milky Way Galaxy. Now when the Big Bang took place we think that most of the matter probably was vibrating in unison.
I guess if we take a strict Many Worlds Interpretation, I suppose it is true "in principle" that things here are correlated with things in other galaxies.  But this is very misleading.  Really, it will be a mix of correlations, anti-correlations, and everything in between, which is to say that on average there is no correlation at all.  This is the very important principle of quantum decoherence.
MK: We actually demonstrated it right on TV cameras. We went to the University of Maryland outside Baltimore and we showed an atom being teleported right across the room. You can actually see two chambers, an atom in one being zapped across the room.
Chad explained why this is misleading over at Uncertain Principles.  One major error is that there is already an atom in each chamber.  Quantum teleportation only transfers a quantum state from one atom to another, not the atoms themselves.  Also, the atoms were very carefully prepared by experimenters, not by the Big Bang.

This post is longer than I expected, so I should insert another visual.
DC: Every cell is instantly correlated with every cell. A human body can think thoughts, play a piano, kill germs, remove toxins, make a baby all at once.
To my mind the human body is an example or for that matter a leaf for any biological, of quantum entanglement. Everything is correlated with everything instantly. What would you say to that?

MK: Yes, things are entangled so in some sense messages can travel faster than light instantaneously, however the messages that go faster than light are random messages. You can't send Morse code or information through these things and sometimes we de-cohere from matter so that we can no longer communicate with other forms of matter.
This time, it's Deepak Chopra who is saying something deeply silly, and Kaku just lets most of it go.

Chopra is proposing that correlations between different parts of our body is caused by quantum entanglement.  I'm no expert, but I thought it was caused by electrical signals moving along neurons.  It certainly is not instant, it's just instant for all practical purposes.  It is not faster than light, so no quantum entanglement is necessary.  And as Kaku points out, if it were faster than light, then only random messages would be communicated.
DC: But let's come back to a biological system. That's not random, that's very coherent, you know this biological system or a system like say when you have morphogenesis and differentiation, when a cell divides, keeps dividing so that you know in first year applications it has become the hundred trillion cells which is more than all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. That requires some kind of non-local correlation to my mind, theoretically.
MK: Well these non-local correlations are going to be extremely important in the next few decades coming from the computer realm of things.
Auuggh, no!  Michio Kaku just conceded that the biological correlations are non-local (ie faster than light).  They aren't!  That's why the messages can be non-random, as Chopra observes.
DC: To me a rose is rainbows and sunshine, earth, water, and wind, air, and the infinite void and the Big Bang all rolled into one.
MK: Mmm hmm. And Einstein was wrong in this one. We measured this every day in the laboratory. That electrons can dance in between multiple states and then the question is why can't I dance between multiple states?
If someone says, "a rose is rainbows and sunshine," the correct answer is "No it isn't," no matter what kind of dance the electrons are doing.

Michio Kaku also said something very silly about how quantum mechanics might prove the existence of an omniscient being, but I'll leave that one for another post.  (ETA: It is done)

I agree with Chad, someone ought to be ashamed for this interview.


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

Wow. Are these people like leaders in the field? Or at least qualified and respected? Or did they just write best-selling books about the quantumness of quantumosity and then everyone assumed they knew whaat they were talking about?

miller said...

Michio Kaku is a string theorist and presumably knows what he's talking about. His errors are not the result of ignorance.

Deepak Chopra, on the other hand, is not a scientist, but some sort of new age spiritual leader. He's well known for using an abundance of quantum nonsense. I think any science popularize who agrees to an interview with Deepak Chopra has got to get hir priorities straight.

Anonymous said...

Kaku is a dumbass.

Anonymous said...

you are so arrogant to question kaku are you a scientist are you the cofounder of string theareyhow many science classes do you teach how many books have you read

miller said...

If Kaku was talking about string theory, I would concede that it is his area of expertise and not mine. But he is just talking about popular physics, and you don't need to be a scientist to spot his errors.

Anonymous said...

What has Kaku proven. Science is about questioning then giving answer 's. My kid has ideas that doesn't make them fact