Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fountain of Youth 5: Michio Kaku on Time and Immortality

Pillars of Creation. Star birth in the Eagle NebulaHubble Telescope, 1995.  NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

Quantum physicists increasingly weigh in on matters originally confined to the provinces of religion.  Michio Kaku, the famous string theorist and popularizer of quantum scientific theories who teaches at City College of New York, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is working on the Theory of Everything, which even eluded Einstein.  It's a very popular quest at present, attempting to unite the forces of gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force and the weak force.  

It's initially strange that efforts to link the theories that describe galactic phenomena and the theories that explain sub-atomic particles lend themselves to topics like religion, artificial intelligence, divinity, morality, and aging.  Why is this?  Recently, Kaku commented on immortality, the Bible, and evidence of geological time.

In November 2007, BBC Four broadcast a documentary featuring Dr. Kaku entitled, Visions of the Future.  This three-part series covered the Intelligence Revolution; the Biotech Revolution; and the Quantum Revolution.  In the Intelligence Revolution, "Kaku explains how artificial intelligence will revolutionise homes, workplaces and lifestyles, and how virtual worlds will become so realistic that they will rival the physical world. Robots with human-level intelligence may finally become a reality, and in the ultimate stage of mastery, we'll even be able to merge our minds with machine intelligence.  For the first time on television, see how a severely depressed patient can be turned into a happy person at the push of a button - all thanks to the cross-pollination of neuroscience and artificial intelligence."  In the Biotech Revolution, Kaku foresees "Genetics and biotechnology promis[ing] a future of unprecedented health and longevity: DNA screening could prevent many diseases, gene therapy could cure them and, thanks to lab-grown organs, the human body could be repaired as easily as a car, with spare parts readily available. Ultimately, the ageing process itself could be slowed down or even halted.  But what impact will this have on who we are and how we will live? And, with our mastery of the genome, will the human race end up in a world divided by genetic apartheid?"  Finally, the Quantum Revolution, "could turn many ideas of science fiction into science fact - from metamaterials with mind-boggling properties like invisibility through limitless quantum energy and room temperature superconductors to Arthur C Clarke's space elevator. Some scientists even forecast that in the latter half of the century everybody will have a personal fabricator that re-arranges molecules to produce everything from almost anything. Yet how will we ultimately use our mastery of matter? Like Samson, will we use our strength to bring down the temple? Or, like Solomon, will we have the wisdom to match our technology?"

Again, the big two offshoots of all this quantum speculation are androids and anti-aging.  It's funny that these are repeats of the original 1950s' expectations that technology would release us from care and labour and enable us to devote ourselves to the luxury of free thought and higher, or perhaps hedonistic, pursuits.  In 2008, Kaku published a book entitled Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel (Doubleday), in which, he examined "the technologies of invisibility, teleportation, precognition, star ships, antimatter engines ... [and] time travel.

God Particle. National Geographic.
The more I encounter these futurist inquiries into the stuff of science fiction, the more I feel that there are four main historically-related issues that are driving scientists over spiritual and mystical dotted lines.  First, there is a lot of eschatological millenarianism floating around.  We feel the need to make these times significant, because we are living through a turn of a Millennium.  Richard Landes has commented on popular apocalyptic expectations in the year 1000; and the years 500 and 1500 equally bear consideration.  If this were just any old year in the middle of any old century, would there be this big push in the scientific community to find a godlike answer to everything?  Second, the turn of the Millennium has witnessed a great resurgence in organized religion.  In response, the apostles of the Enlightenment are fighting to keep their claim on conceptual ground seized from the Church two to three hundred years ago, which at the time paved the way for mass democratization under a secular banner and provided the foundation for all our modern concepts of statehood and politics.  Third, within the rationalist secular camp, there is an implicit battle for dominant public authority between social scientists and pure scientists; at the same time, there is some cooperation between the two, and both attempt to co-opt applied scientists and people in the humanities.  Finally, there does indeed appear to be a revival of 1950s' and 1960s' ideas and fashions, especially for aging Baby Boomer thinkers unwittingly seeking to recapture the optimism in science which prevailed during their youths.  As sophisticated and fascinating as these studies of the future are, I can't help feeling that some of the reasons physicists are looking for the so-called 'God particle' (although they dislike that media label), or are anticipating invisibility, prolonged life, and other marvellous phenomena, has more to do with historically-laden changes of perspective than it does with finding the bridge between science and divinity.

See all my posts on the Fountain of Youth.

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