Michio Kaku’s New Book Speculates on Humanity’s Journey Through the Cosmos
In February, the popular American Physicist Michio Kaku released The Future of Humanity, a book about the necessity of space travel. This book is a fantastic primer on the science and technologies that will allow humanity to reach Mars, the Andromeda Galaxy, and beyond. But be warned: Kaku may change the way you think about abstract concepts like time and philosophy.
The future that Kaku describes begins within the current decade and advances millions of years. Naturally, such a large-scale time frame can make you feel rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Kaku sees every week, month, and year of this massive time frame as an opportunity for humanity to expand, survive, and thrive in the universe.
The Necessity of Space Travel
While Kaku is fairly optimistic throughout most of the book, the first chapter of The Future of Humanity is grim. Kaku describes to us a laundry list of existential threats that will erase us from the universe as if we never existed at all. The super volcano underneath Yellowstone, the next Ice Age, a meteor impact, and the expansion and death of the Sun are among the most pressing dangers. With the possible exception of the meteor strike, these events won’t affect any person living at this moment. They aren’t even a threat for the next thousand or so generations of people on Earth. Don’t panic just yet.
[Kaku doesn’t acknowledge this in his book, but the most critical concern for living generations is human freedom and political stability. If we don’t destroy ourselves with tyrannic politics, we may have a shot at solving the long-term issues Kaku talks about.]
So, if most of these issues are not a threat to us now, should we even bother with fixing the problem? Absolutely! While an Ice Age, super volcano eruption, or death of the Sun won’t happen for many thousands of years, given enough time, a stray asteroid will transform the Earth into an inhospitable hellscape. As Kaku shares with us in the book, the physicist Carl Sagan once described our solar system as a cosmic shooting gallery. The amount of rocky debris in our system is tremendous, and just one large impact would be game-over for all of us.
Here are the threats to humanity, ordered from nearest to most distant in the future:
- Meteor impact
- Ice Age
- Super volcano
- Death of the Sun
Note that the death of the Sun is our final time limit. If we haven’t developed the technology to escape the solar system by then, say hello to extinction. Though, to be fair, we’ll probably be dead already if our technology is able to stagnate for such a long period of time.
The Journey to Mars, the Moons of Jupiter, and Beyond
If you have never heard of the issues described in the first chapter, Kaku may have shocked you into an existential crisis. But fear not. The next 300 pages of the book give us several options for escaping humanity’s fate. After outlining the history of rocket science, the author reveals that humanity is well on its way to a settlement on Mars. Headed by private enterprise, humans will likely settle Mars before the second half of this century. Elon Musk sees Mars as an insurance policy for Earth. It is clear that Kaku shares this view.
Kaku offers some brief descriptions on what life on Mars would be like. From agriculture and daily chores to exercise and recreation, Martian life will be much different than what we are used to on Earth. Kaku also provides a bit of speculation about terraforming Mars into a planet with oceans and vegetation like our Earth.
I won’t spoil the fun for you here, but Kaku also describes a future beyond Mars. He takes us to the oceans of Europa before describing how the technologies of tomorrow can help humanity reach distant distant star systems. We may also learn how to escape the death of the universe itself.
[ Read ahead if you don’t want your mind blown: The idea of escaping a dying universe is incredibly interesting. According to Kaku, you will need to find a way to create a mini-universe to live in by bending time and space. Alternatively, you can enter another universe in the multiverse (I know this sounds insane, but theoretical physicists like Kaku are leaning towards the idea that infinite universes exist!) This is all about escaping the effects of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or entropy]
Don’t be alarmed by the peculiarity of some of the ideas — many of them require an understanding of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and quantum physics to fully comprehend. Despite this minor barrier, Kaku explains complex ideas with simplicity and finesse. For the non-scientist, this book is an entertaining way to expand your horizons.
Technology to Get Us There
After reading about the possibilities of encountering intelligent life and settling distant planets, you will surely wonder about what it will take to get there. Kaku does an excellent job of explaining nuclear fusion technology, laser sails, and theoretical faster-than-light travel, so I will leave the heavy lifting to him. However, I will mention one of his most bizarre ideas yet: Laser porting. This idea is equal parts mind-boggling and terrifying, so let’s walk through it together.
Imagine that you are on Earth and would like to vacation on the beaches of an idyllic planet on the opposite side of the galaxy. You could travel there via space ship, but this is a huge commitment given the cost and risk of such a journey. With laser porting, don’t bother with the logistics. You upload your consciousness into a super computer, and your mind is concentrated into a beam of pure energy that travels to the destination. When it arrives, the energy is converted to an avatar that allows you to sense and interact with the environment around you. This is crazy!
The act of mapping the human consciousness to a computer is already being researched by several high-tech firms. Kaku is more optimistic about laser porting than others, but it is clear that the technology is theoretically possible. This may change the way we think about ourselves.
The author only discusses philosophy for a few lines throughout the entire text, but mapping the human consciousness to a computer has massive ramifications. Is the human consciousness truly transferred to the computer? Or is it simply a copy of your mind, an impostor with your exact quirks and preferences? Is the soul transferred at all? These are all questions that will be debated by the great thinkers of our time and beyond.
Overall: A Great Book
The ideas in The Future of Humanity will challenge your perceptions and force you to think beyond your years, but don’t be intimidated. This book is an excellent introduction for the laymen interested in space travel and the fate of humanity. The accessible writing style and limited use of jargon makes Kaku’s book a pleasant read for people of all backgrounds.
I give The Future of Humanity 4 out of 5 stars.