Essays > Biography: Michio Kaku.

I’m not convinced Kaku has ever been compared to a low wattage bulb. However, I’m immediately struck by how firmly he sees the mind through the lens of the physical. This places him squarely on one side of a centuries-old debate about the nature of the mind. In one corner are those who assert that the mind is nothing more than physical processes – electrical impulses cascading throughout the brain. In the other corner are those who hold that the mind is something above and beyond the physical – that it is made of stuff not found on any periodic table, with properties that can’t be described in physical terms. It’s a debate close to my heart – my honours thesis grappled with the possibility that the mind can be explained in physical terms alone. Kaku, it seems, thinks it can.

Michio Kaku Theoretical Physicist, Professor, Bestselling Author, Popularizer of Science
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As a physicist, Kaku works a lot with models. His job consists of abstracting various chunks of the world and compressing them into cogs in a grander equation. A model, if it is good, should neatly predict future phenomena.

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Michio Kaku Theoretical Physicist, Professor, Bestselling Author, Popularizer of Science
Photo provided by Flickr

Kaku envisages a world where our new insights into the workings of the brain enable (almost) unbelievable feats. We will enhance our intelligence to super-Einsteinian levels. We will encode the billions of connections in our brains and upload that information into computers, effectively hitting ‘CTRL-S’ on our personalities and consciousness (whatever the latter is). We will beam that information to other planets via laser, loading our minds into robots on the other end to explore the cosmos like a legion of sentient Mars rovers. There’s nothing in the laws of physics that explicitly says we can’t do any of these things, so they simply become engineering problems.

Kaku is not shy about quoting science-fiction movies and TV ..

Of course, if the mind is nothing more than information and physical processes, that means we can create artificial minds as well, although Kaku acknowledges we’re still decades away from building a Level III mind that can think like us.

The mind of Michio Kaku | Cosmos

I ask Kaku about the conspicuous absence of consciousness in his theory and he hastens to dismiss the problem, borrowing another analogy from science. “It used to be that the question of ‘what is life?’ dominated and paralysed biology for decades. Now the question is irrelevant. We now know there are gradations – we have different kinds of viruses, different forms of life. So biologists no longer ask the question ‘what is life?’, because it turned out to be many layers of a continuum.

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Kaku outlines levels of consciousness that correspond to different degrees of complexity, from the simplest things like plants at Level 0 to we humans on Level III. The big difference with us is that we are self-aware. “Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time,” he writes in the book. “This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops to make a decision to achieve a goal.”