What do you think of Michio Kaku

The physics of consciousness

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung | Discussion of March 22, 2014Brain to brain likes to join

The power of thoughts, not the powerlessness of the body: Michio Kaku imagines the fulfillment of old human dreams through the neurotechnologies of the future.

Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist. It could even be that the professor at New York City University is now one of the best known in his field. Not because of contributions to physics, but because he has been extremely successful in cultivating non-academic terrain. With books as well as television programs, which quickly gave a special spin to the common understanding of major questions in his field. It was never just about the status quo, but always about the outlook on future developments. And Kaku kept his orientation towards the future when he switched from physical theories to more broadly defined scenarios: to predictions about which technological innovations the future will bring in a wide variety of fields.

Science fiction films play an important role for Kaku. In his book "Physics of the Impossible" it was self-evident: It was guided by the question of which science fiction miracle techniques - from teleportation to defense fields to lightsabers - are physically possible at all, and if so, with which technological steps they could be reached. The "Physics of the Future", published last year in German, was about predictions of which technologies will be developed in the next twenty, fifty and one hundred years: extrapolation from the tendencies already visible in the research laboratories and development departments in which Kaku had looked around the world.

Science fiction remained unmistakably present: When Kaku struck his leitmotif that the new technologies will make us rulers of a completely culturally permeated world (because then data is calculated at almost any place at any time) in which we can To be able to control things through our thoughts alone, examples from science fiction were at hand. And in Kaku's most recent book, which appeared almost simultaneously with the American edition, you come across them continuously. It focuses on a segment of the scientific and technological future landscape: technologies that couple to the brain. It is the neuroscientific laboratories that Kaku is now looking around to find out where the path might lead, which foreseeable advances in our understanding and mastery of brain functions will open up.

And it is still courageous anticipation of the success of research approaches and technical settings that set the tone. Even more clearly than in the "Physics of the Future", which had already touched on the field of brain research. Because the prospect of the scientific-technological penetration of the brain, thus of the spirit, sets the central register of Kaku's futurologically attuned and science-fiction scenarios in motion.

You can tell right away that it starts with the direct transmission of neural activity patterns between different brains and the possibility of controlling objects directly through thoughts. For Kaku, the power of thoughts, without the intervening of the body, is the promise of an ancient dream of humanity. In just a few steps, he turns this into scenarios of an Internet of the Mind, which is linked through direct brain-brain contacts. Go one step further and you are faced with evocations of the complete amalgamation of the mental and sensory contents of different individuals. It goes just as quickly from the still modest attempts to transfer certain neuronal outputs between (mouse) brains to scenarios in which certain memories, competencies or entire memory archives are "uploaded" into brains.

One step further, and one stops at a "library of souls" with which it becomes possible to slip into résumés that have become available through the complete recording and storage of mental data. And of course at the vanishing point of such paths there is also the question of what the final disconnection of the mind from the frail body might look like. Or that which is then stored on silicon or transported into the vastness of space on a beam of light - in order to do something there that we absolutely cannot imagine.

Of course, this only describes a few stations on Michio Kaku's extensive course. They show the pull of science fiction, and naturally Kaku tends to put the difficulties of the technologies in the background into the background. Although he leads them, he does not dwell on them, but draws the lines into a future that for him is the sum of what is technologically feasible. Kaku is an emphatic of this future. He may throw in a few references to their risks. But that deep desires come true in her, that's what everything revolves around him.

Which is a bit surprising because the cinematic science fiction plots he cites actually speak a different language. As a rule, they are more about the fact that the perfected neurotechnologies produce fatal effects and overloads - and thus demonstrate in a contrasting process what a conventional human life is all about. At Kaku, on the other hand, they lead to the simply exciting possibilities of the future. He does not worry about the social conditions and consequences of the envisaged technologies.

One can certainly learn something about some approaches in the field of neuroscience from Kaku. But on the whole it is more about the expectations, hopes or promises that stand behind them - and above all those of a daring and steep nature. They are precisely the material that an emphatic futurologist of technology like Kaku prefers to work on.

HELMUT MAYER

Michio Kaku: "The Physics of Consciousness". About the future of the mind. Translated from the English by Monika Niehaus. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 2014. 542 pp., Hardcover, 24.90 [euros].

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