"I'm Not Convinced We Know Anything"

Weekend Read: Physics of The Impossible

Wine, music, book action! This weekend has been one of my best as I got lost into Michiu Kaku’s bestseller ‘Physics of The Impossible’. Michiu Kaku is an American Theoretical Physicist and one of the celebrity Physics faces beside Stephen Hawking.

Having watched him in several documentaries and lecture videos his style came across in the book making me feel like I was attending his class.

Physics of The Impossible is Kaku’s 3 group classification of various feats that might be considered impossible even though some have already been achieved in some form and others within reach in the foreseeable future. These range from things like invisibility cloaks to robots to time travel. There are three classes. The Class 1 Impossibilites are those that are not possible today but do not violate laws of physics for example teleportation and invisibility. Class II Impossibilites are at the fringe of our current knowledge and might be achieved after a million or so years e.g time machines. The last category, Class III Impossibilities, do not agree with our current laws of physics as we know them and might change our understanding of everything if ever achieved for instance perpetual motion machines.

The book makes it very obvious how much science fiction has influenced scientific exploration and technology and makes it hard to just dismiss something you see on TV as just for fun. It has actually made me want to watch more science fiction(though it’s all I watch nowadays) but with a more academic eye. In fact before I finished reading the book I was already looking for episodes of Star Trek which is the most mentioned science fiction in the book.

This is a great read and highly recommend it. It’s very enjoyable, he knows how to keep you glued. Unlike some books which towards the end I felt like I was reading just finish, this one got more interesting as I read along. I guess mostly because it veered into the quantum world which I love very much. However I felt at some point that it wrongly rides on the assumption that everything can be explained using Physics. Even though this is arguably close to the truth, sometimes the theme of the chapter is completely lost when the author delves into quantum physics and cosmology while ignoring other applicable fields of study like he ignores Biology in the chapter ‘Precognition’.

One other thing that came across is that ‘Physicists never learn’. It is interesting how they(we) can be at the very edge of knowledge and yet it reaches a point where they declare something impossible. Take Lord Kelvin for example. Kelvin is known to have claimed that heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible despite him being one of the giants of modern Physics and Mathematics.  William Bickerton the New Zealand Astronomer once said “This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists…the proposition appears to be basically impossible.” And new evidence seems to suggest that Einstein was wrong on the speed of light being the ultimate speed that can be achieved. What history should teach us is that we can never rule out something to be impossible, we can only say they are highly unlikely at a certain day and age. But it’s only human to look at history in the eye and dismiss it. Even Stephen Hawking has become guilty of this by saying that A Theory of Everything is impossible.  I like the way Kaku is open about a myriad of possibilities – but I do think that perpetual motion machines are impossible :)



 Weekend Read: Physics of The Impossible