Fate recently had the distinction of a personal interview with renowned physicist Michio Kaku when he visited Minneapolis. Kaku is the author of Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Telepotation, and Time Travel. Kaku is the Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
PG: You are a proponent of string theory, which envisages an 11- or 13-fold dimensional universe. How do you envisage these extra dimensions?
MK: We live in a three-dimensional world. Length, width, height, and we also have the fourth dimension, which is time. But anyone who talks about higher dimensions is sometimes called a crackpot. Now, when I was a child, I used to go to the Japanese tea garden in San Francisco where there are fish swimming in a shallow pond. And I imagined being a fish myself. And if I was a fish, I could travel forward, backward, left, and right, but the concept of “up” made no sense because the pond is the universe.
So I imagined there was a scientist there who would say, “Bah, humbug. There are no other dimensions other than forward, backward, left, and right. There’s no such thing as up. What you see is what is. If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist. So then I imagined as a child reaching down and grabbing the fish, lifting the scientist into the world of up, hyperspace, the third dimension. What would he see?
He would see a world where beings move without fins, a new law of physics. Beings breathing without water, a new law of biology. Then I would put the fish back into the pond, what stories he would tell. A universe beyond the universe.
Well, today many physicists believe that we are the fish. We spend all our lives in three dimensions, going forward, backward, left and right, up and down. And anyone who talks about another, unseen dimension is considered a crackpot. Well, not anymore. This summer, the largest machine that science ever built, the Large Hadron Collider, 27 miles in circumference, costing eight billion euros (about ten billion dollars), will be turned on. And we hope to get evidence of the eleventh dimension. One of time, ten of space.
We work in an area called string theory, which used to be a bunch of outcasts in the physics community. But now, we’re center stage. We have gotten the major faculty positions at Harvard, Princeton, Yale; all the young crowd coming up are string theorists. My generation suffered enormously because people thought, “Oh my god, this is Star Trek, beam me up to the higher dimensions,” they said.
The young people, however, have the benefits of realizing that we are now the center of gravity. What happened? What happened was we physicists began to smash atoms, and we have a pretty good understanding of the theory of particles. It’s called the Standard Model. Except it is the ugliest theory known to science. Why should mother nature at a fundamental level create this ugly theory called the standard model? It has 36 quarks, it has eight gluons, it has three W bosons, it has a whole bunch of electrons, a whole bunch of neutrons, it just goes on and on and on.
The Music of Creation
Why should this be nature’s supreme theory? It’s like getting an aardvark, a platypus, and a whale, start shaping them together and calling this nature’s finest evolutionary creation, the byproduct of millions of years of evolution of the earth. I would like to believe that these 36 quarks, eight gluons, three W bosons are nothing but the lowest octave of a vibrating string.
Now, these strings are special. They are not ordinary strings. These strings, when they vibrate, create the musical notes which correspond to the particles we see in the universe. We can explain why we have leptons, muons, hadrons, photons, neutrinos, the zoo of subatomic particles; it’s nothing but the lowest vibration of the string. The normal aspect of the string is that they only vibrate in ten or eleven dimensions. They vibrate in ten dimensions. When you add membranes or beach balls, they can vibrate in eleven dimensions. So we think that’s what the Big Bang was. The Big Bang was an instability in eleven-dimensional hyperspace.
Einstein wanted to read the mind of God. That was his goal in life. He wanted an equation one-inch long that would allow him to read God’s thoughts. That’s what dominated his thinking. For the first time now, we have a candidate for the mind of God. The mind of God is: cosmic music resonating through eleven-dimensional hyperspace. That is, we think, the mind of God.
PG: So you think Einstein was right?
MK: He was on to it. He didn’t go far enough, basically.
PG: Could the unseen dimensions contain or conceal various paranormal phenomena such as UFOs, ghosts, psychokinesis, metal-bending?
MK: Well, a hundred years ago, at the turn of the last century, the idea of these higher dimensions began to penetrate into British society. People began to speculate about these things. And then people began to ask a simple question: If you look down on a lower-dimensional world, how would they look at you?
People began to realize that if you look down on a flatland, people living on a tabletop, you would have the power of a god. You’d be able to walk through walls. You’d be able to disappear, reappear. You’d be able to reach inside a safe, steal the gold without ever breaking open the safe.
If you were to put a flatlander in jail— what is jail? Jail is a circle. You draw a circle around one of these cookie men, flat as a pancake on a tabletop. A circle is prison. So, you say to these people, “Why don’t you escape prison?” And they say, “Why? How? Everywhere I move I bump into the wall.” And then you say, “Well, why not move up?” And then they say, “There is no such thing as up. Only mystics and crazy people talk about up. There’s no such thing as up.”
Well, if you were to just lift them off, what would they see? As they float in three dimensions, they would see cross-sections of our world as they begin to float vertically upward. So if they were to see us, what would we look like? If they looked at my chest, they would see three balls. They would see two arms and a torso. Three balls. As they move higher and higher, the three balls coalesce into one. So that’s my neck. And as they go higher, the balls disappear entirely, and that’s because they’re over my head. That’s how they would visualize us. They would think of us as a god because we could break out of jail, we could go right over walls, nothing can stop us.
Around 1900 in Victorian England, they began to ask: Who lives in these higher dimensions? Who has the ability of walking through walls, disappearing, reappearing somewhere else, reaching into a safe, grabbing the gold. And they said, “Ghosts have that power.”
Around the turn of the last century there was a whole movement saying that ghosts could live in these higher dimensions. The Church got involved; they said that maybe God lives in the fourth dimension. One theologian even said that four dimensions is too small for God. God should live in infinite dimensional hyperspace.
Well, nothing happened, because you couldn’t measure these dimensions. You couldn’t do anything with it. There was no theory of these higher dimensions.
Then Einstein comes along and says that time is the fourth dimension, and the simplest consequence of it is: the atomic bomb. And that scared the hell out of people. So for a generation all of this thinking was lost. People said: Oh my god, the fourth dimension means like the sorcerer’s apprentice, opening up powers, cosmic powers that we were not destined to see; that is nuclear energy, the power of the sun coming from e=mc2.
We string theorists, a hundred years later, are beginning to reexamine things and realize that perhaps there are these higher dimensions. We are going to try to measure these dimensions: (a) with the Large Hadron Collider opening up this summer, and also (b) through dark matter. We now realize that there is an invisible form of matter called dark matter. It makes up 23 percent of the universe. It’s invisible, but it has weight. We hope to find evidence of dark matter which is predicted by string theory.
Also, we want to have direct evidence of a parallel universe. If a parallel universe exists in this room, then Newton’s laws would be wrong in this room. The inverse square law, for example, only works in three dimensions. If the universe is four-dimensional, it would be the universe cubed.
At the University of Colorado they’ve actually done the first experiment measuring gravity on a small scale to test Newton’s theory of gravity. We use this theory of gravity for our spaceships and our space probes, but not inside a room. Well, the experiment was done a few years ago and the result came out negative. But to me that simply means there’s no parallel universe in Colorado. There could be parallel universes everywhere, but in Colorado we find no evidence of that.
This is a very hot topic. It is now a legitimate subject to look for evidence of parallel universes and higher dimensions.
ESP in the Lab
PG: What about psychic people who can see into other dimensions? I am 180 degrees different from you. One of my brothers is a nuclear physicist, and so he has this kind of brain. I am very intuitive. I grew up in a haunted house seeing ghosts and seeing otherworldly creatures. I have all my life.
MK: Well, I’m a physicist. We only believe in what we can measure with reproducible results. Dark matter we can measure. It is invisible; it makes up a huge chunk of the universe. It’s mysterious, but we know it’s there. Higher dimensions, we’re not sure. Remember we’re building the Large Hadron Collider, we’re building these experiments on dark matter. We can’t say one way or the other. We think it is true. That’s why we’re devoting our lives and our professional careers to building machines which may access some of these higher dimensions, but we can’t say one way or another.
PG: Have you ever had any otherworldly experience yourself?
MK: Well, Richard Feynman, who was one of the founders of modern physics— he won the Nobel prize—put himself in a hyperbaric chamber. He tried to see whether he could leave his body. And he did. And he wrote about it. There is a rather famous essay where he writes about being put into this chamber with sensory deprivation and then seeing himself rise from the chamber and then look at himself from a distance.
The question is, what does that mean? He said that he’s not sure what it means but it is compatible with dreaming. He’s not saying this is dreaming but the body can imagine itself leaving itself. That doesn’t mean it actually happened; it means the body can imagine itself doing that.
As a physicist, I work on what is measurable, what is is testable, what is reproducible in the laboratory. These experiments are going on now, so this is serious business.
Let’s talk about telepathy and psychokinesis. We physicists approach the concept of telepathy and psychokinesis in terms of what we can demonstrate in the laboratory. We now know that with an MRI scan we can begin to read the thoughts, primitive thoughts, that are racing inside our minds.
In Japan, for example, you can show somebody a picture of a dog, a cat, a table, a ball. Read their MRI scans. Have a dictionary between the scan and a ball, the scan and a dog, and tell every time what you are looking at. With the MRI machine you can, quote, read the thoughts, simple thoughts, of somebody looking at simple objects. Maybe ten objects. But in the future we should be able to exponentially grow that number. We should be able to tell whether or not somebody is thinking about a chair, a table, a dog, a house, a rocketship, or what have you, because we have the brain patterns listed.
Also, if you put a chip in the brain we can then begin to have the brain control objects around it. This is a very primitive form of psychokinesis.
A stroke victim at Brown University has been placed into a device connecting his partially-dead brain to a laptop. He can control the cursor on the screen. He can now do crossword puzzles, he can surf the web, read email, write email, and he’s paralyzed.
What was once forbidden, accessing people’s thoughts, the secrets are now slowly coming out.
PG: Do you think there is a chance for mind control if we have such chips in our brains, if we have implants?
MK: So far the answer is no, because all we do is read what already exists. If you want to have somebody think of a ball without showing them a ball, we don’t know how to project that into that person’s mind.
If we ever encounter extraterrestrial civilizations, they may be at a point where they can access the human brain without having to use language. But we are only children doing this.
PG: To travel the huge distances which separate the stars and the galaxies one must travel at speeds in excess of light or else make use of black holes or postulated “wormholes” in space-time, or journey times will be in thousands or millions of years. Is such interstellar travel a realistic possibility for advanced civilizations or are such things always to remain in the realm of science fiction?
MK: First of all, if you talk to the average scientist about UFOs, aliens, intergalactic travel, and stuff like that, most of the time their eyes roll up to the ceiling and they start to giggle. This is called the giggle factor. And they say the distances between stars are so great that UFOs, interstellar travel is not possible.
But that’s using today’s physics. Today for us it is impossible for us to go to the stars. It’s impossible for us even to go much beyond Jupiter. But that assumes today’s technology. If you assume a civilization is a thousand years, a million years, more advanced than us, then whole new realms of physics open up. And a million years, on the scale of the universe, is nothing. It’s just the blink of an eye. So, I don’t laugh. I don’t giggle when people talk about extraterrestrial civilizations because maybe they’re there and we’re too stupid to know it.
If you had a galactic civilization, how would they explore the universe? They would not send Captain Kirk going from planet to planet to planet. That is the stupidest possible way to explore the galaxy. There are billions of planets out there. You can’t send a starship going to every single planet. What you do is you get a robot that replicates itself, lands on a moon (moons are quite stable), digs the soil, and makes copies of itself; millions of copies. They shoot out to other moons, create copies of themselves, and they shoot out. Starting with one robot, you get a million. Then a million times a million. Then a million times a million times a million. And pretty soon you have a sphere expanding at the speed of light containing trillions upon trillions of these probes, probing the galaxy.
Now where have we seen that before? That’s a virus. The virus is the simplest way for one molecule to colonize your body to give you a cold in two weeks. One molecule infects trillions of cells to give you a cold.
A galactic civilization would land on our moon and build a probe to build copies of itself. Now where have we seen that before? The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey…the most realistic encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence.
Stanley Kubrick, when he made the film, interviewed astrophysicists and had ten minutes of the film with interviews, and they laid it out: This is the most mathematically efficient way to explore the universe. Then he cut the first ten minutes of his own film. And then this film became very mystical. But if you watch it, it is the most realistic encounter with a civilization in outer space.
PG: Do you think something like HAL could happen? Where the computer gets intelligent and it starts controlling things?
MK: Well, robots today have the intelligence of a cockroach—a retarded cockroach. They can barely walk across the room. They can barely recognize patterns. They are so stupid.
I think 2001 was off by a hundred years. It should have been 2100. In 2100 we’ll have an operating moon base. Right now we’re so primitive that if there is evidence of visitation, we would never know. Let’s say that on our moon right now there is a probe that is a million years old, left by a passing galactic civilization that has used our moon as a base to explore this sector of the galaxy. Would we know it? No, we are so primitive, we wouldn’t even know it.
Then the other question. Carl Sagan asked himself this question: Are we advanced enough to know that our sector of the galaxy is inhabited? Let’s say that there is a galactic civilization, and many of these planets are inhabited. Would we know? And the answer is “no.”
Let’s say that we’re walking down a country road and we see an anthill. Do you go down to the ants and say, “I bring you trinkets. I bring you beads. I give you nuclear energy. I give you ant paradise, ant utopia. Take me to your leader”? Is that what you tell them? Or do you have this urge to step on a few of them? If somebody’s building a ten-lane superhighway next to an anhill, would the ants know what a ten-lane superhighway was? Would they be able to communicate with the workers? Would they even know that these are humans who are building this thing? They’d be clueless, totally clueless. They wouldn’t know how to communicate. They wouldn’t know the frequencies, they wouldn’t know what a ten-lane superhighway was. They don’t know what a car is, they don’t know what a truck is.
The distance between ants and us is actually quite small compared to the distance between us and what is called a type-three civilization. So if there is a type-three civilization in our backyard, we wouldn’t even know. They could be right there. Ants just staring at a highway, wondering, what is this?
Time Travel Is Possible
PG: Do you believe it’s possible to make a time machine?
MK: It may be possible. It seems to be consistent with the laws of physics.
You need fabulous amounts of energy, comparable to a black hole. Michael J. Fox with his DeLorean cannot do it.
Einstein said that time is a river, a meandering river. We measure that with our satellites. A GPS satellite slows down in outer space. We measure that every day. Your GPS would fail without Einstein. But the new wrinkle is the river of time may have forks. If the river of time forks, then perhaps you can go backwards in time without a time paradox.
So, you go backwards in time and meet your teenage mother before you are born and she falls in love with you; you’re in deep trouble. But if you hop stream, if the universe opens up a parallel universe, then you’ve basically met somebody else’s teenage mother who looks like your teenaged mother but is not. There are no time paradoxes involved.
These are solutions of Einstein’s equations. This is not just somebody dreaming a science-fiction story. We have mathematical realizations of all these things. Many, many designs have been proposed, all of them consistent with Einstein. The problem is energy. You need fabulous amounts of energy to do this.
It takes a lot of energy to keep me on the floor. It takes the earth just to keep me on the floor. So, it would take a star to bend the fabric of space and time. And that’s what you need to create a time machine. Anyway, in my book I give a design.
PG: Do you ever read science fiction?
MK: Yes, I used to read the Asimov series.
PG: I taught science-fiction in high school. You’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle?
MK: Right. In fact, in that book, it was a tesseract that was the gateway. A tesseract is a four-dimensional unraveled hypercube.
That One Percent
PG: Are there any UFO researchers’ arguments you find compelling?
MK: I get a lot of sightings, but 99 percent of them can be dismissed as radar echoes, swamp gas, the planet Venus, weather satellites, meteorites, atmospheric anomalies…it’s that one percent that gives you the willies. It’s that one percent that is multiple sightings by multiple modes. They are the hardest to debunk, the famous one being the JAL sightings where you had an object off a JAL airline.
The hardest to dismiss are those that involve radar sighting, visual sighting, by not just one person but a whole crew on an airplane.
What we need…see, this will go on forever. Forever and ever people will say, “I saw something.” And then people will say, “Well, what did you see?” What we need is more direct, tangible proof. That is, alien DNA. If we had alien DNA that would end it right there. But so far, no alien DNA.
Second of all, an alien ship. That would also end it. Any sign that there’s an alien culture, information that is different from our information. That would end it right there. But some people say well, maybe our technology came from aliens. Well, it’s not a testable theory.
PG: Reverse engineering?
MK: It’s not testable. I can say that it’s not reverse engineering because I know the people who developed this transistor or that thing, and it was done by hard work and patience, not by mind reading. But when you talk about visitation, you need hard proof. That requires either alien DNA or an alien ship. Until that happens, this is going to go on forever. People will argue forever, whether that was a meteor or a flying saucer.
PG: Some say that the aliens can cloak themselves.
MK: Well, we’re going to be able to cloak ourselves very soon. We will be able to cloak an object under visible light in a few decades. It’s in my book. I have a whole chapter on invisibility.
Maybe they’re here. Maybe they are invisible. We would never know.
But my personal attitude is that we may not be very interesting to them. They may come and visit us once in a while, but would you engage in a conversation with ants? You may not.
We think we’re so great that they’re going to want to come down and give us all the fruits of their technology. Why would they do that? We’re not that interesting to them. If they can go from star to star, they are automatically 2,000 years ahead of us, meaning that we may not be that interesting to them.