A peek into the future, as scientist Michio Kaku visits FDU

Eli Amdur and Michio Kaku

Adjunct faculty member and alumnus Eli Amdur, BA'68 (Ruth), interviews theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku (R) at FDU's Metropolitan Campus. (Photos by Bill Blanchard)

By Kenna Caprio

The future of science came into focus at Fairleigh Dickinson University on Thursday, April 14, as theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku touched on string theory, the universe, the Internet, human lifespan and consciousness.

Kaku spoke with alumnus Eli Amdur, BA’68 (Ruth), an adjunct faculty member and co-founder of the University’s “Sands of Time” program, before a room full of students, staff and faculty at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus. Daniel Clarke, a student in FDU’s electrical engineering/computer engineering combined degree program, introduced Kaku.

Conversation highlights:

In high school, Kaku built a particle accelerator in his parents’ garage. He asked his mother for permission — her response, “Sure. Why not? Don’t forget to take out the garbage.” However, on testing his work, Kaku promptly blew out the circuit breaker, plunging the house into darkness.

Kaku attended Harvard University as an undergraduate student. After graduating, he realized that, instead of working on something like warheads, he “wanted to work on an even bigger explosion — the big bang.”

As Amdur and Kaku covered topic after topic, Amdur asked provocative questions, Kaku posed rhetorical ones, and offered fascinating and thoughtful answers.

“All great theories are based on simple pictures and principles that children can understand,” said Kaku. He compared physics to harmony, chemistry to melody and said simply, “The universe is a symphony of string."

On the universe:

“How many stars are there in the universe?” he asked. “How many stars does each galaxy have? If we’re the only one with intelligence, Mother Nature has a sense of humor.”

He noted that there is so much that scientists still don’t know about the universe.

“Most of the universe lies beyond what we can see,” Kaku said. “The greatest mysteries of science are the universe and consciousness.”

On consciousness:

“Alligators,” he said, “understand spatial orientation. Wolves and monkeys understand social consciousness. Then, what are we? What separates us?” He said the separation between human and animal consciousness is time. “Animals have no conception of tomorrow. We constantly plan for the future.”

On global warming:

In comparing today’s climate and weather patterns to those of the past, Kaku noted, “An average summer is a week longer.” From his experience speaking with farmers about crops, he said they notice the “planting season is shifting. They know the seasons are changing.” He added, the world is experiencing, “100-year events — floods, hurricanes, forest fires — all in a short time.” His approach when talking about climate change is to point out these facts, “plant the seeds,” as he said, in an effort to provoke new thoughts in those who might not believe in it.

On lifespan:

“Living forever is no longer totally impossible,” he said. With “inroads in biology and neurology, we now know what aging is — an accumulation of errors at a cellular level.” In his estimation, these discoveries may help extend life.

“Aging,” Kaku said, “is a lot more interesting than we thought.” Consider whales and alligators. Nine years ago, a bowhead whale near Alaska was discovered with fragments of a harpoon in it. That harpoon dated back to the 1800s, he said. “We’re just beginning to understand how long whales can live.” Likewise, he said, no average age has been determined for alligators.

Students at Michio Kaku eventOn the Internet:

Kaku said the next leap for the Internet is “brain net.” Instead of sending videos, words or images to one another online, people will send one another emotions, memories and feelings.

Students listen intently at the Kaku event.

On humanity, science and technology:

In response to Amdur’s question — “Why is it that our science exceeds our humanity?” — Kaku replied, “Our psychology has not changed.” As former hunters and gathers, he explained, “We want proof of the kill. We want hard copy.” We used to bond with other hunters to protect ourselves from predators and danger. Now, Kaku said, we bond by living in cities. “We used to take off our clothes and get drunk at a campfire. Now Facebook is the campfire. We’re just as silly and foolish as we were.”

But, he said, technology is a positive thing. With it, “people realize we don’t have to live like this with poverty, disease and dictators. The spread of the Internet is the spread of democracy.”

Kaku concluded by saying, “I think technology has a moral direction.”

Following the discussion, Clarke said, “It was an honor to introduce him and to have him here at FDU. At the end, what hit me the most was his defense of technology. It can really help our world. I’m very involved with artificial intelligence in my research and studies. I see vast potential to improve the world and overcome the capacities of the human condition.”

Later in the evening, Kaku spoke at the New Jersey Speakers Series. The series is presented by FDU, and held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J.

Known as a futurist and popularizer of science, Kaku has written numerous books about physics and makes regular appearances on radio, television and film. He is a frequent host of TV specials for the BBC, Discovery Channel, the History Channel and the Science Channel. Kaku also hosts a weekly, syndicated, one-hour radio program called “Explorations.”