Monday, August 01, 2005

Kaku on ET, Time Travel, Space Travel

Dr. Michio Kaku, Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York, author of books such as Parallel Worlds and Beyond Einstein, and co-founder of String Field theory, has a number of very intriguing - and accessible - articles at his website.

Three of particular interest to UFO aficianados are:

1. "The Physics of Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations"

An excerpt:

"The late Carl Sagan once asked this question, 'What does it mean for a civilization to be a few million years old? We have had radio telescopes and spaceships for a few decades; our technical civilization is a few hundred years old... an advanced civilization millions of years old is as much beyond us as we are beyond a bush baby or a macaque.'

Although any conjecture about such advanced civilizations is a matter of sheer speculation, one can still use the laws of physics to place upper and lower limits on these civilizations. In particular, now that the laws of quantum field theory, general relativity, thermodynamics, etc. are fairly well established, physics can impose broad physical bounds which constrain the parameters of these civilizations.

This question is no longer a matter of idle speculation. Soon, humanity may face an existential shock as the current list of a dozen Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets swells to hundreds of earth-sized planets, almost identical twins of our celestial homeland. This may usher in a new era in our relationship with the universe; we will never see the night sky in the same way again, realizing that scientists may eventually compile an encyclopedia identifying the precise co-ordinates of perhaps hundreds of earth-like planets."

Dr. Kaku then provides a ranking system for potential extra-terrestrial civilizations based upon their energy consumption. He also outlines some thoughts about how an advanced civilization might go about exploring the galaxy that puts Captain Kirk and crew in the dry-dock in favour of robot probes designed to reach distant star systems and create factories which will reproduce copies of themselves by the thousands (much to Dr. McCoy's chagrin).

On the other hand, he doesn't rule out human (or alien) travel by way of wormholes, either.

Fascinating stuff.

2. "The Physics of Interstellar Travel"

This article expands upon some of the points discussed in "The Physics of Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations" with regard to space travel. While Dr. Kaku gets his statistics wrong with respect to UFOs (he claims that only 1% are truly unidentified), he is correct in pointing out that:

(a) "there is no funding for anyone seriously looking at unidentified flying objects in space, and one's reputation may suffer if one pursues an interest in these unorthodox matters," and

(b) "what is disturbing to a physicist... is the remaining 1% [PK note - the actual number is significantly higher] of these sightings, which are multiple sightings made by multiple methods of observations. Some of the most intriguing sightings have been made by seasoned pilots and passengers aboard air line flights which have also been tracked by radar and have been videotaped. Sightings like this are harder to dismiss."

Ufologists should look at both these points and ask themselves:

(a) Why is there no funding, and why do scientists fear that their reputation will suffer? Here's a hint: because the serious study of the UFO phenomenon has been unable to disentangle itself from the looney fringe, best exemplified as of late by Dr. Michael Salla and his exopolitical cohorts, and because some thoughtful, intelligent people within ufology, like Stan Friedman, insist on presenting the ETH as a fact, when the evidence does not yet support this conclusion.

(b) How can serious ufology engage scientists like Dr. Kaku, who have demonstrated at least an interest in the phenomenon, even if their perceptions of the evidence are incorrect? Here's a hint: stick to the facts, and present those facts to men and women like Dr. Kaku who may be willing to give them a look. For example, ask them what they make of the RB47 case. One has to start somewhere.

3. "The Physics of Time Travel"

An excerpt:

"Interestingly enough, Stephen Hawking once opposed the idea of time travel. He even claimed he had 'empirical' evidence against it. If time travel existed, he said, then we would have been visited by tourists from the future. Since we see no tourists from the future, ergo: time travel is not possible. Because of the enormous amount of work done by theoretical physicists within the last 5 years or so, Hawking has changed his mind, and now believes that time travel is possible (although not necessarily practical). Furthermore, perhaps we are simply not very interesting to these tourists from the future. Anyone who can harness the power of a star would consider us to be very primitive. Imagine your friends coming across an ant hill. Would they bend down and give them trinkets, books, medicine, and power? or would some of your friends have the strange urge to step on a few of them?

In conclusion, don't turn someone away who knocks at your door one day and claims to be your future great-great-great grandchild. They may be right."

Here's a question - if you could travel back in time, who would you most want to meet?

I would like to think that I would pick Jesus, or some other figure of world-historical significance, but I'd have to admit that I'd be sorely tempted to go visit my younger self (oh, at about age 16), to whom I would (a) impart some basic wisdom about dating, and (b) tell him not to make fun of my Dad's receding hairline, on the theory that what goes around, comes around.

Anyway, I urge everyone to read all three of Kaku's articles, as they are related to each other. Then check out his other articles, which are just as thought-provoking, and his books, which are great reads.

I just wish someone like Dr. Kaku had been teaching physics at my old high school. Perhaps then I would have found it more interesting.

Oh well - no time like the present!

Paul Kimball


RRRGroup said...

Kaku's theoretical physics are truly interesting -- but don't impact ufology in a practical way,

...unless UFOs contain time travelers, with which you, Paul, are somewhat consumed.

Achieving Kaku's propositions are impractical in our life-times I'm afraid.

Rich Reynolds

Paul Kimball said...


The point isn't that we're ready to get "there" but how "they" might be getting here.

And since when did you become interested in the practical end of the UFo phenomenon?? :-)


RRRGroup said...

Kaku assumes motivations for otherworld beings that are projections of a psychological kind -- quite unscientific.

Kaku theorizes, which is what physicists should do. But the quantum scenarios he engenders are Earthly.

Alien life, if there is such (and I believe there is), should be so strange that, unless there is one God or one Universal Principle, we could not comprehend it.

The physics of the universe may be one of a kind but the use of those physical properties depends upon a lot of suppositions that might not hold up for alien cultures: the desire to explore, to colonize, to be curious (as Earthlings are), etc.

Anthropomorphizing alien species is an art-form, not a science.

Kaku has created subjective hypotheses; hardly scientific to my way of thinking (and I like the guy's creativity).

(Being practical isn't in my nature some think, but it is quite otherwise -- my guys thinks I'm a-existential, rudimentary to the core,)


gordon said...

Why should alien life be so strange that we cannot comprehend it? There must be _some_ characteristics that we could understand, beyond the trivial life/not-life classification. We are, after all, in the same Universe, and "alien" lifeforms ourselves. Hoever, that's just my opinion.

Regardless, I don't think Kaku's theorising can be called "unscientific". If he were theorising about one particular "alien" then maybe, but when talking about entire species, over millions of years, it is quite logical to look at things in terms of universal laws, such as thermodynamics.

It is logical, is it not, to assume that if a population of entities has discovered the intricacies of quantum or thermodynamic physics, then they can be described as "curious"? And that any civilisation must overcome its need for energy (a simple application of the 2nd law of thermodynamics). I don't see any "anthropomorphizing" in that??



GordH said...

According to the most contemporary theories of the "evolutionary process", there is great reason to suppose that alien life forms might resemble us. This is due to ideas concerning "convergence" which indicate that organisms naturally evolve towards discrete forms and states. In other words, although bipedal and quadrapedal forms may both be norms, it is unlikely we may run into creatures with three or five legs (as just one example).

As much as it might be fun to imagine alien creatures as tribles or other fanciful cretures dreamed up by Hollywood, it is perhaps quite possible that most organisms in the cosmos may bear some resemblance to forms already found on our home planet.

Anonymous said...

Have to say I also call "knee jerk" on that whole "aliens will be incomprehensibly alien" idea. Physics and biology are bounded by parameters.
If you posit an alien race that builds machines, records data, has the sensory input and co-ordination to pilot a vehicle AND is carbon-based (as there is NO evidence any other element forms complex enough chains for large molecule organisation and reproduction)then sorry to say, any given alien will be at least approachable and probably very recognizable. Sadly for really strange and crazy alien designs, there are very good reasons why we are these ungainly teetery kinda ugly looking naked apes with our brains in such a vulnerbale spot.
I would even go further and bet a good 100 bucks on anyone from a roughly 1G and 1 atmo pressure world is going to look vaguely similar to us.

Paul Kimball said...

Hey, here's hopin' they look like us - and by "us" I mean hot actress / model types, although without the attitude.