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Ask Michio Your Questions

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Michio Kaku wants to find a one-inch equation that will explain everything. But for now we’ll settle for a new “Secret Life” record for questions (78 of ’em…). Thank you, Secret Lifers!

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Q: Max R

With all the complexity and beauty that comprises the natural world and its workings, why do you believe it so important to reduce it to a single theory?

A: Michio Kaku

Everything we know about basic science leads us to believe that there are simple, unifying principles behind everything. In biology, for example, evolution and DNA allows us to explain the diversity of all life on earth. In geology, continental drift allows us to unify many diverse observations about the earth. In chemistry, the atomic theory allows us to decribe all matter. And all of these principles, in turn, are byproducts of elementary particle physics. So far, the leading candidate for a theory of all elementary particles is string theory, which in turn represent all particles as musical notes on a string.

So nature is based on simple, elegant principles. But to understand the interactions of these simple principles, you have to understand the vast complexity that we see in nature. So the natural world surrounding us is full of complexity, but this in turn is based on the interactions of a handful of basic principles.

Q: Sebastien Carassou

Hi Mr. Kaku. What was the event that pushed you in the physics field? Also, it seems like you are a big science fiction fan. How does your work influence the way you see scifi today?

A: Michio Kaku

When I was 8, two events pushed me in the direction of physics, and also science fiction. First, everyone was talking about the death of Albert Einstein when I was 8, and that he could not finish his greatest work. To me, that story was so fascinating that I wanted to help finish that work (his theory of everything). Second, I used to watch Flash Gordon on TV, and was hooked. Later, I realized that these two events were complimentary. If you understand fundamental physics, then you also understand whether certain of the devices of science fiction are possible or not. On one hand, I work on string theory, which we think is Einstein’s unified field theory. But understanding basic physics, I can also understand what technologies might or might not be possible centuries from now. (For details, see my latest book, Physics of the Future, about the next 100 years). So the key to understanding the future is to understand physics.

Science fiction today also forces physicists to understand the very limits of science. You cannot create new science unless you realize where the old science leaves off and new science begins, and science fiction forces us to confront this.

Q: Science Guy

Hi, I’m a 12 year old kid who’s read physics of the impossible about 15 times over the summer and I was wondering, is there any way that dimensions could exist in a sort of spheres within in spheres where the 1st and 2nd dimension are inside the third and so on? I got this idea after reading about how light may be a wave in the forth spatial dimension creating almost a shadow down upon ours.

A: Michio Kaku

You are right in stating that light may be a result of higher dimensions.Think of fish swimming in a shallow pond. They live in a 2D, flat universe, with no awareness of the 3rd dimension, which to them is a fiction. But if it rains, then ripples on the surface of their 2D pond appears as waves which they can clearly see. So, if we are the fish, then we live in a 3D world, but ripples on the surface of this 3D world (ripples in 4D) would be visible to us as waves, which might be light. In fact, light is described by Maxwell’s equations. And, if you take a 4D world and vibrate it, the vibrations obey Maxwell’s equations (as first shown by Theodr Kaluza in the 1920s). So light may indeed be vibrations in a higher dimension.

However, these dimensions are inside one another. These dimensions are at right angles to each other (like the corner of a cube).

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.