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Physics of the Impossible
Cover of Physics of the Impossible
Physics of the Impossible
A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel
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Teleportation, time machines, force fields, and interstellar space ships—the stuff of science fiction or potentially attainable future technologies? Inspired by the fantastic worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Back to the Future, renowned theoretical physicist and bestselling author Michio Kaku takes an informed, serious, and often surprising look at what our current understanding of the universe's physical laws may permit in the near and distant future.
Entertaining, informative, and imaginative, Physics of the Impossible probes the very limits of human ingenuity and scientific possibility.
Teleportation, time machines, force fields, and interstellar space ships—the stuff of science fiction or potentially attainable future technologies? Inspired by the fantastic worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Back to the Future, renowned theoretical physicist and bestselling author Michio Kaku takes an informed, serious, and often surprising look at what our current understanding of the universe's physical laws may permit in the near and distant future.
Entertaining, informative, and imaginative, Physics of the Impossible probes the very limits of human ingenuity and scientific possibility.
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  • Chapter One 1: FORCE FIELDS



    I. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    II. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    III. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    -ARTHUR C. CLARKE'S THREE LAWS



    "Shields up!"

    In countless Star Trek episodes this is the first order that Captain Kirk barks out to the crew, raising the force fields to protect the starship Enterprise against enemy fire.

    So vital are force fields in Star Trek that the tide of the battle can be measured by how the force field is holding up. Whenever power is drained from the force fields, the Enterprise suffers more and more damaging blows to its hull, until finally surrender is inevitable.

    So what is a force field? In science fiction it's deceptively simple: a thin, invisible yet impenetrable barrier able to deflect lasers and rockets alike. At first glance a force field looks so easy that its creation as a battlefield shield seems imminent. One expects that any day some enterprising inventor will announce the discovery of a defensive force field. But the truth is far more complicated.

    In the same way that Edison's lightbulb revolutionized modern civilization, a force field could profoundly affect every aspect of our lives. The military could use force fields to become invulnerable, creating an impenetrable shield against enemy missiles and bullets. Bridges, superhighways, and roads could in theory be built by simply pressing a button. Entire cities could sprout instantly in the desert, with skyscrapers made entirely of force fields. Force fields erected over cities could enable their inhabitants to modify the effects of their weather-high winds, blizzards, tornados-at will. Cities could be built under the oceans within the safe canopy of a force field. Glass, steel, and mortar could be entirely replaced.

    Yet oddly enough a force field is perhaps one of the most difficult devices to create in the laboratory. In fact, some physicists believe it might actually be impossible, without modifying its properties.


    Michael Faraday

    The concept of force fields originates from the work of the great nineteenth-century British scientist Michael Faraday.

    Faraday was born to working-class parents (his father was a blacksmith) and eked out a meager existence as an apprentice bookbinder in the early 1800s. The young Faraday was fascinated by the enormous breakthroughs in uncovering the mysterious properties of two new forces: electricity and magnetism. Faraday devoured all he could concerning these topics and attended lectures by Professor Humphrey Davy of the Royal Institution in London.

    One day Professor Davy severely damaged his eyes in a chemical accident and hired Faraday to be his secretary. Faraday slowly began to win the confidence of the scientists at the Royal Institution and was allowed to conduct important experiments of his own, although he was often slighted. Over the years Professor Davy grew increasingly jealous of the brilliance shown by his young assistant, who was a rising star in experimental circles, eventually eclipsing Davy's own fame. After Davy died in 1829 Faraday was free to make a series of stunning breakthroughs that led to the creation of generators that would energize entire cities and change the course of world civilization.

    The key to Faraday's greatest discoveries was his "force fields." If one places iron filings over a...
About the Author-
  • MICHIO KAKU is a professor of physics at the City University of New York, cofounder of string field theory, and the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Hyperspace, Beyond Einstein, Physics of the Impossible, and Physics of the Future. He is the science correspondent for CBS's This Morning and host of the radio programs Science Fantastic and Explorations in Science.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 19, 2007
    In this latest effort to popularize the sciences, City University of New York professor and media star Kaku (Hyperspace
    ) ponders topics that many people regard as impossible, ranging from psychokinesis and telepathy to time travel and teleportation. His Class I impossibilities include force fields, telepathy and antiuniverses, which don't violate the known laws of science and may become realities in the next century. Those in Class II await realization farther in the future and include faster-than-light travel and discovery of parallel universes. Kaku discusses only perpetual motion machines and precognition in Class III, things that aren't possible according to our current understanding of science. He explains how what many consider to be flights of fancy are being made tangible by recent scientific discoveries ranging from rudimentary advances in teleportation to the creation of small quantities of antimatter and transmissions faster than the speed of light. Science and science fiction buffs can easily follow Kaku's explanations as he shows that in the wonderful worlds of science, impossible things are happening every day.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from January 15, 2008
    The best science fiction writers strive to render even their most fanciful visions of future technologies consistent with known physical facts. But, in some ways, the history of science shows that what is impossible must frequently be reconceived as new discoveries are made. Physicist and renowned science popularizer Kaku ("Hyperspace") classifies the impossible into three categories. "Class I Impossibilities" are those believed impossible today but violate no known laws of physics, including force fields, invisibility, teleportation, psychokinesis, intelligent robots, and starships. Accordingly, "Class 2 Impossibilities" are technologies at the far boundaries of what we know of the physical worlde.g., time travel, parallel universes, and faster-than-light travel. "Class 3 Impossibilities," those that violate known laws of the universe, constitute the smallest category and include precognition and perpetual motion machines. In these discussions, Kaku not only explores impossibilities but, in doing so, elucidates some basic physics, so this book both teaches and challenges. Finally, in the epilog, the author concedes that nobody may yet have even imagined tomorrow's impossibilities. This tour de force of science and imagination is for advanced high school students and up. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 10/1/07.]Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany

    Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    March 15, 2008
    The imagination of science fiction faces up to the laws of physics in this prognostication of future technologies from a high-profile string theorist. Kaku wrote about his specialty in Parallel Worlds (2004); here he covers a gamut of sf gadgets. Interestingly, most things Kaku turns over, such as ray guns, deflector shields, invisibility, and interstellar travel, are theoretically possible, provided one harnesses energy on a titanic scale. But until somebody can arrange atoms at will, and black holes, too, early adopters might have to cool their heels for decades or untold millennia before being able to buy the latest gizmo. Meanwhile, they can revel in Kakus amble through the technological stars of sf books and movies. Referencing a scene, as when the Death Star of Star Wars blows up a planet, Kaku spells out the mass-energy requirements necessary to replicate the destruction in reality. Excluding only perpetual-motion machines and precognition from the realm of possibility, Kaku entertains techno-dreamers through his clarity about the physics of mind reading and time machines, yielding a high popularity quotient in the process.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)

  • Los Angeles Times

    "[Kaku explores] what we still do not quite understand, those grey areas that are surely the most fascinating part of physics."

    --New Scientist

    "Kaku's latest book aims to explain exactly why some visions of the future may eventually be realized while others are likely to remain beyond the bounds of possibility. . . . Science fiction often explores such questions; science falls silent at this point. Kaku's work helps to fill a void."

    --The Economist

    "A fascinating exploration of the interface between science and science fiction, extremely well researched, lively, and tremendously entertaining."

    --Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics and The Science of Leonardo

    "Mighty few theoretical physicists would bother expounding some of these possible impossibilities, and Kaku is to be congratulated for doing so. . . . [He gets] the juices of future physicists flowing."

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Physics of the Impossible
Physics of the Impossible
A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel
Michio Kaku
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