More Science Fiction

It seems that every week there’s a new book out about branes, M-theory, the multiverse, etc. by someone who doesn’t really seem to understand the difference between science and science fiction. This week’s example is Michio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds: A journey through creation, higher dimensions and the future of the cosmos.

My impressions of the book come from a few minutes spent flipping through it in the bookstore, so maybe I missed something. The only reference I saw to the lack of any experimental evidence for anything he is writing about was where he noted that we’ll need to travel faster than the speed of light to get to these parallel universes. So, we just have to wait for the development of warp drives. While references to experimental evidence were lacking, there were plenty of references to various science fiction novels.

I recently ran across a review of one of Kaku’s very similar other books, called “Hyperspace”. My favorite line in the review was near the end:

“Hopefully some time-traveler will go back and prevent this book from ever being published!”

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22 Responses to More Science Fiction

  1. plato says:

    If one had to sum up Gr, how would you do it?

    Never mind about the lesser degrees of intelligences and references to angels and all kinds of things. You follow the history, it leads you where?:)

    As a laymen, I would have had to think about this very hard and assume it was about gravity, but of course once you meet this idea, all of a sudden you wonder what is being emitted? Taylor and Hulse have graduated the ideas for us in those elliptical paths that Mercury orbited to the discoveries of …..?:)

    So you move from this point to learn, what the historical forbears have revealled in their journies and come to meet Wheeler and Kip Thorne. Webber, and his alumininum bars and you understand that detection systems, are now being developed and have been employed.

    If you do not keep abreast of this continuing developement then of course one would become dismayed, about the new direction GR has gone?:)Numerical Relativity?

    So in weak field manifestations, you had to know that early cosmolgical consideration would have already included the standard model, and look to incorporate gravity into a whole view of the cosmo from planck epoch to now.

    Yes, the early uinverse and the symmetries involved of course in question:)

    Rest assured that we are talking about the cosmological discernation of the geometry thats leads us to consider, other things(topological considerations), and how quickly this is dimissed?

    I have heard Peter speak about the ideas of Reimann and the fruitless direction this has gone and am equally dismayed at how this could not have been estimated from a geometical standpoint not to have questioned the quantum mechanical discription of the small world[quantum geometry](it’s incapatibilty GR) with the quantum world becoming very large?

    So again, it is a easy enough assumption to realize that the model in question changes what we view of the spacetime fabric, and becomes it? It then asks about light and if this is included, how would you ever get to what Smolin would have wanted in the Glast determinations as the final deal?

    This is what I have surmised, and I could be wrong:)

    This is a easy enough assumption about energy sources(gamma ray bursts) and the information that is release? Some would be very happy with the ideas of the compton scattering(glast determinations) that has gone on, to help us determine this information, as well as what will be revealled to LIGO and the SETI computers users, being utilized?

    This goes to Gerard Hooft’s question of how much information could ever be assembled at such levels, that strings would have implied, that he would have been quite happy I am sure, with the way in which the SETI user screens are being utilized.

    I hope my asseessment has been correct and am open to any corrections.

  2. serenus zeitblom says:

    Were you referring to the s.p.r thread on whether Special Relativity is diffeomorphism invariant?

    Indeed I was. The thread title was “symmetries of GR” or something like that. One of the many things I found amusing at that time was LM’s insistence that Carlip and I “wanted” general covariance to become meaningless. I guess we two are just a pair of terrorists who should be dealt with by the US army.

    I think Bertrand Russell’s ABC of Relativity is a prime example of a bad popular book.

    Well, it’s a very old book that probably reflects the majority view of the subject at that time. Nowadays we think about relativity very differently, but most popularizers, together with those who depend on them for an education, are stuck in 1920. In many cases this is just laziness — people writing books about string theory aren’t really interested in telling you about the foundations of GR, so they just copy all the old junk about angels pulling up elevators etc, so that they can quickly get on to what really interests them.

  3. plato says:

    After consideration, I think I am in need of a exorcism?:)

    New post should turn up later, in real time:)

    Cynicism can run from higher dimensional existance, to manifest as real emotive qualities called, human action, or words?

    So if I attack cynicism from the right angle, I should be able to convince?:)Good thing, we have standards from which to proceed.

  4. D R Lunsford says:

    All the text below was Anderson, not I, notwithstanding software post mangling.

    -drl

  5. D R Lunsford says:

    PW Anderson writes this morning in the Times, in response to the question “What do you believe but cannot prove?” –

    Is string theory a futile exercise as physics, as I believe it to be? It is an interesting mathematical specialty and has produced and will produce mathematics useful in other contexts, but it seems no more vital as mathematics than other areas of very abstract or specialized math, and doesn’t on that basis justify the incredible amount of effort expended on it.

    My belief is based on the fact that string theory is the first science in hundreds of years to be pursued in pre-Baconian fashion, without any adequate experimental guidance. It proposes that Nature is the way we would like it to be rather than the way we see it to be; and it is improbable that Nature thinks the same way we do.

    The sad thing is that, as several young would-be theorists have explained to me, it is so highly developed that it is a full-time job just to keep up with it. That means that other avenues are not being explored by the bright, imaginative young people, and that alternative career paths are blocked.

  6. Arun says:

    S.Z.,

    Were you referring to the s.p.r thread on whether Special Relativity is diffeomorphism invariant?

    —-

    I think Bertrand Russell’s ABC of Relativity is a prime example of a bad popular book.

    -Arun

  7. Dolomite says:

    I’ve never seen any of his popular books, but I once made the mistake of buying one of Kaku’s graduate level textbooks on String theory. The table of contents looked quite impressive, but the body of the book turned out to be a smorgasborg of equations from the various original papers, but with the symbols changed around in a failed attempt at making the different chapters look consistent, in the process removing much of the logical connective tissue and adding in typos. All in all negative value added. I’ve regarded him as a charlatan ever since.

  8. serenus zeitblom says:

    The usual response to criticisms of popular books is: what harm do they do? The answer was provided to me back in October 2003 when Lubos Motl very unwisely got into an argument with — of all people — Steve Carlip about the foundations of general relativity. It soon became painfully clear that LM had never taken a formal course in GR and had, in fact, derived all he knew about GR from reading popular books. The whole fiasco ended with Steve Carlip having to remind LM that it is actually quite Ok to use polar coordinates in special relativity! The problem of course is that popularizers tend to hand down basic misunderstandings from one generation to the next, so the account of GR you get in most of these books corresponds to Einstein’s understanding circa 1912 when he was professor in Prague….

  9. Dave Bacon says:

    I saw Michio Kaku on Tech-TV (before it merged with G4) a few years ago. He talked about quantum computers. He said that the beauty of quantum computers was that they could efficiently multiply numbers. I almost went and burned his field theory book on the spot.

  10. D R Lunsford says:

    I like Kaku’s field theory book, and he seems like a normal, straigtforward person in interviews (that is, not another carnival barker). Maybe he writes these books just to make money. Maybe his grad students write them for him for a cut. Certainly his “real” book is not full of hyperbole and sensationalism.

    -drl

  11. quantoken says:

    Peter said:
    “It seems that every week there’s a new book out about branes, M-theory, the multiverse, etc. by someone who doesn’t really seem to understand the difference between science and science fiction. This week’s example is Michio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds: A journey through creation, higher dimensions and the future of the cosmos.”

    Peter, looks like you are the one who does not understand the difference between science and science fiction. When you see a book in a book store, you should be able to clearly make a determination if this is a science book or a science fiction book, based on its content, not what the author claimed to be.

    If I am a book author, I surely want to write a science fiction book and some how make it look scientific. Science fiction books sell better, especially those disguist as science books.

    Any talk about things not happening in THIS universe, are pure fictions or religions, not science. Because science deals exclusively with this universe only, which is the only thing accessible by observation. So next time some one meantioning multiverse or alternative universe, you should automatically know it is not about science but fiction.

    Now Lubos, are you really going to accept my criticism against the fatal error in your paper, and not even try to say a word to defend yourself? Admit defeat! You take derivatives against continuous space and time at Planck Scale where continuous space time simply do not exist. So the rest of your paper looked nice mathematically but are simply rubbish.

    Quantoken

  12. Peter says:

    Sure, the book does go on about CMB, COBE, WMAP. But as you know well, the experimental CMB results don’t provide any evidence for strings, branes, M-theory, the multiverse etc.

    I didn’t look closely enough to see whether Kaku explicitly acknowledges this. If he doesn’t, his inclusion of reference to these experiments is just intentionally misleading.

  13. Lubos Motl says:

    I thought that this book spent a lot of time with experimental cosmology, such as WMAP, COBE, and others. Was I really wrong?

  14. Peter says:

    Hi Eleggua,

    My comments about “Parallel Worlds” not explaining anything were directed at the idea of different universes being part of the same “multiverse”, not at the many-worlds interpretation of QM.

    I don’t have anything much to say about interpretational issues in QM. These are something I’ve never found relevant to questions that do interest me. I am a big believer in Occam’s razor, and it is not an argument against quantum fields. QFT is by far the most conceptually simple and compact theory that covers all the different things we know about how elementary particles behave.

  15. plato says:

    Correction: Denmark, should read Vienna in previous post.

  16. plato says:

    I really do not know what Peter means when he only has a slight look at what is being exposed to him from others opinions?:)I am to assume he read them?

    No less then what I can give him and then to say, that if the brain as a muscle was not exercised, one would not have understood the comments made immediately by Michio Kaku about his artistic expression of the vision from the bridge and speaking about the gold fish:)

    Imagine the surface of water and looking at it from two different perspectives:)

    Not that I am a defender of the faith, but for sake of the abstract developement of the brain to move in the higher dimensions, he would have missed the obvious.

    If the brain was further developed, one could also have distilled the understanding that part of crackpotism was not to have encourage discussion or respond, so I develope knowing full well, that resignation is always much easier, then being truely honest about how one could have become so cynical, no less then the psychological developement, of others.

    Hmm…where to now?:)

    To poster below me.

    What was developed in Denmark(quantum entanglement) was a materialization of the points Penrose highlighted as a question.

    THis is part of Smolins developmental attitude, as well as strings graviton graviton intersectional ideas that have yet to be developed.

    Lubos might see the significance of the work he spoke on earlier in regards to gravitational lensing and clumping in the early universe:)

  17. Eleggua says:

    Hi Peter,

    Now that I have had a look inside the book at my local bookstore, I see what you mean.

    However, I am interested in your statement:

    ‘The problem with “Parallel Worlds” is not that they aren’t observable, but that they don’t actually explain anything.’

    Now, I am interested in what you think about the field of quantum computers.. In particular the statement by David Deutsch in Fabric of Reality that how do you explain the working of a quantum computer without parallel universes?
    Of course, you can say that it is just Quantum parallelism, but I have never seen a DETAILED explaination of what Quantum parallelism would be for Quantum computers outside the Many-World scenario! (I would be very interested in references for such a thing!)

    Anyway if you believe in the Many World scenario, surely it EXPLAINS away all of the problems in QM regarding measurement in a natural way?

    I understand that Occam’s razor could be used against it, but I believe Occam’s razor can be used against Quantum Fluctuations in QFT as well!

    Thanks in advance for any reply

  18. Peter says:

    Hi Jesse,
    I wasn’t trying to promote anything about that review other than the snide line about time travel. I couldn’t care less about whether Kaku is a “materialist”, dialectical or otherwise.

    Hi Eleggua,

    The book definitely contains large sections of material about branes, strings, M-theory, etc. The part about many-worlds seemed to me to be a small fraction of the material I saw there.

    No, I’m not really a positivist. If a simple theory that successfully explains a lot of observed phenomena is based on some unobservable objects, I’m happy to believe in them. The problem with “Parallel Worlds” is not that they aren’t observable, but that they don’t actually explain anything.

    Peter

  19. Jesse M. says:

    Some of the statements in that guy’s review sound pretty crockpot-ish themselves. For example:

    [However, it is all too easy to cook up theories that produce “predictions” that you already know the answers to, and then pretend the theory is thus a great success! Cosmologists are always doing this (e.g., with the Big Bang theory); indeed it seems to be their basic modus operandi.]

    Or how about this:

    And as presented by Kaku, string theory is essentially idealist besides. Pythagoras and Plato would have loved it; it is one of those theories that claims that matter and energy are composed entirely of “geometry”. Although Kaku does not mention it in this book, these “strings of vibrating hyperspace” are assumed in the theory to be strictly one-dimensional, that is to say, geometric objects, not physical objects. He does constantly say in the book that the whole goal is to reduce physics to a geometrical theory. No real materialist can possibly acquiesce in the idea that the world is truly composed of geometric, rather than physical objects. All geometric concepts, such as points, lines and circles, are abstracted from physical objects in the real world, such as tiny things like dust motes, rows of things like pencil lines on paper (which are really composed of numerous graphite particles), etc. But points, lines, and other geometric “objects” do not literally “exist” in the world, and the world is certainly not “made” out of them!

    The idea that the basic elements of reality should conform to preconceived ideas about what “physical objects” are supposed to look like is an idea Feynman disparaged in chapter 2 of The Character of Physical Law (‘The Relation of Mathematics to Physics’), and it sounds pretty close to #17 on John Baez’s crackpot index:

    10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn’t explain “why” they occur, or fails to provide a “mechanism”.

  20. Eleggua says:

    As far as I can tell, Michio Kaku’s book is NOT about String Theory, or Branes, instead it is about the many worlds hypothesis and theories about cosmology similar to Max Tegmark – see http://www.hep.upenn.edu/~max/.

    Now, I understand that the Many World hypothesis is not strictly testable, but are your views about science really as positivistic as you are making out in this post? I mean Science has many concepts which are not observable like information/energy/action but have proven useful in the past!!!

    Thanks for your reply in advance Eleggua.

  21. Peter says:

    You can’t really blame the publishers on this one. These books are written either by people with serious academic credentials, or by science writers quoting such people. The problem is not that publishers are passing off science fiction as science, but that scientists are doing it.

  22. JC says:

    For many book publishers, isn’t revenue maximization the main goal of their enterprise? Whether something is correct in factual and/or scientific terms, seems to be a secondary concern for many publishers. This is possibly one of the reason why there zillions of books on subjects like UFOs, astrology, ESP, political ideologies, etc …

    The only time they seem to be concerned about getting things factually correct, is when there’s the potential of a libel or slander lawsuit.

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