The God Equation, by Michio Kaku, Doubleday, 2021
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar travel, Immorta
lity, and our destiny beyond Earth, by Michio Kaku, Random House, 2018
I get my books from the public library and receiving the God Equation mere days after requesting it was surprising. New books usually have a long waiting list. This fast arrival could be because people are intimidated by books about physics, or about science books in general. A romance novel, a gossipy yarn, a book on history or a biography gets more attention. Science books are not in demand and this should change. And Michio Kaku’s books can help with this change because they make complex science subjects accessible to ordinary people.
I should admit that being a bit of a nerd, I have read about quantum physics and will not be lost if someone said “second law of thermodynamics.” So science focused books are not alien to me. But nerd or not, books with pages full of physics and maths formulas make my eyes glaze over too. Reading Kaku’s books, despite the occasional formula, has the exact opposite effect. Each chapter makes the reader hungry for more, more curious about new topics and wanting to learn more how the world works.
The God Equation is a book about the theory of relativity and quantum physics. It is ultimately about that elusive “theory of everything.” Despite such complex subject matter, the book is a page turner: you cannot put it down. Even the few pages that contain a mathematical formula or a chart does not dampen the reader’s interest. And true to its title, the final chapter is about that eternal question: does God exist? Cleverly, Kaku does not give a simple yes-no answer but shares his perspective: that there is the idea of God as proposed by most religions (the one most people know as omnipresent and omniscient, often punishing, a super entity that checks our score cards and gives a final grade that determines one’s final resting place: hell or heaven) and then the other “God” that he experiences when his spirit is moved in awe – of nature, of the universe, of stars and constellations, and when he finds an instance of the magical symmetry in all of existence.
As an atheist since age 10, I found myself connecting with that second idea. I have felt that awe a number of times during my life of 60+ years. I felt it very deeply in some cases like when I was in a boat looking up at the majestic fjords on the coast of Norway that dwarfed us, realizing they have been around for millennia and will still be there long after all of us in the boat and the boat itself are gone. Another type of awe instance is noticing the amazing resilience of nature like when I see a tree sapling that sprouted through a crack in the pavement. Realizing my own resilience against adversity and that of others around me is always another moment of awe – last time I felt it strongly was when I finally emerged out of the over 2-weeks of Covid-19 hell, having survived it alone in a locked-down city, its air filled only with the sound of ambulances. And the awe from sudden finding of symmetry must feel like someone opened a door where no door had existed before.
The Future of Humanity is a a similarly informative book that is easy to read despite its complex subject matter. Anyone looking for a book that makes complex science accessible without an advanced degree in sciences and anyone who wants to learn about the possibilities our future holds must read this book. For sci-fi readers, this book is the best because the topics are those one finds in sci-fi genre, but the content is all real, not fiction. Chapters on terraforming another planet, or on interstellar travel are not filled with fantasy but with description of what is possible with existing or emerging science. Another way Kaku makes the book easy to read is the links he makes to popular culture such as movies or tv-shows that most of us have seen at some point. Chapters are full of references to Start Trek episodes, and to movies such as Star Wars, Age of Adeline, 2001 Space Odyssey, and Total Recall. These links make reading the book feel like you are having a chat with the author on a summer afternoon sipping fresh ice tea (or chilled wine).
The promise of the book is to investigate the steps for humanity to “move to outer space, terraforming planets and travel among the stars.” By the time you finish the book you have a good idea about the discoveries and inventions that will be the building blocks of these steps. There is not only information about the discoveries or inventions that are available today but also those that are in the making based on today’s knowledge of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology. The narrative reviews a range of emerging technologies from self-replicating robots to genetically engineered super longevity.
The discussion on consciousness (defined as the process of creating a model of yourself using multiple feedback loops to carry out a goal) and the three fates of the universe really intriguing to me and will prompt future readings on the topics. The Good Equation also touches upon the fate of the universe in the final chapter. Description of the ever bubbling universe in which big bangs happen all the time with new universes coming into being while some universe bubbles pop and disappear. I very much liked the idea of universe as a bubble bath with each bubble a universe popping in or out of existence. It is a moment of humility considering our smallness in the big space of universe bubbles!