“What problem was so difficult the great Einstein himself couldn’t solve it?” Asks a Knowing Kaku…

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What drives Michio Kaku? Well, the quest that has captivated him since the age of eight began when he learned the great scientist had died and left behind a book with an unsolved mystery. That scientist was, of course, Albert Einstein. And it was Einstein’s unfinished business that would allow him to become of world’s best-known and most prolific physicist who was driven in his latter years to find a single set of laws for the universe: laws that would apply as readily to the chaotic motion of sub-atomic particles as they would to galaxies in deep space.

On the 100th anniversary of Einstein and E=mc2, a new generation of physicists is carrying the torch and offering the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. They say the answer is string theory. But string theory is too weird for most people to understand, and some even say it’s more fiction than science.

Not Michio Kaku, who is ‘sold’ on string theory – and one of the earliest players in its development – he is also a passionate proselytiser – lecturing all over the world.

As he sees it, physicists and engineers have long failed to see eye to eye. “Engineers want to build bridges; physicists want to understand fundamental laws,” he said. ” Engineers disdained Einstein’s theories, but those equations ultimately resulted in the atom bomb.” Einstein was Kaku’s hero and has been seen he read Einstein’s book.  “I wanted to know what was in that book; to me, it was more fascinating than any adventure story. What problem was so difficult the great Einstein himself couldn’t solve it? Today we believe that [the answer to Einstein’s quest for the unified field theory] is string theory. It also makes the engineers’ eyes go crazy because we are talking about universes that are unseen.”

UNDERSTANDING OTHER WORLDS came naturally to him, and perhaps it was the result of being the child of Japanese Americans who spent World War II behind barbed wire, guarded by people with machine guns incarcerated by their own country as enemy aliens. Kaku was born in California and after the war, his father worked as a gardener, his mother a maid – some of the only jobs available to Japanese Americans. Kaku and family loved to visit Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park where he had a childhood epiphany. Kaku looked at the carp swimming in the pond and imagined how they would not be able to conceive of other worlds, and then he realized that “A carp engineer would believe that was all there is, but a carp physicist would see the ripples on the surface and start thinking about unseen dimensions,”

THE BITTER WARTIME EXPERIENCE of Kaku’s parents did not dent his own patriotism. In 1969, just three days after graduating from Harvard, he enlisted into boot camp and went to Vietnam. It was while dodging bullets, that he began to conceptualize the math of how strings could move through space as loops. These revelations later became the basis for his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley as he pondered how hard it is to create a universe where matter, space and time are stable. For it all to work, the fundamental forces must be unified. And that unification can only take place in higher dimensions. As Kaku puts it, “Forget building bridges, we’re talking about being God. This is what Einstein dreamt about every day of his life. If I’m God, how do I create a stable universe? It’s extraordinarily difficult.”

Kaku parents were Buddhist, but he was raised as a Presbyterian – a seeming contradiction.  Yet modern physics seems to accommodate both views. “In Christianity, there in an instant of creation; while in Buddhism there is Nirvana, which is timeless,” he says. “I am pleased that modern cosmology provides a beautiful melding of these two mutually contradictory ideas: continual genesis taking place in a hyper-dimensional timeless Nirvana.”

And that influenced his belief in string theory as he told a writer that he, “felt freed, no longer dragged down by the sordid parameters of existence: the inexorable passage of time, ageing, death, oblivion – there were other dimensions, parallel worlds, multiple universes beyond anything an engineer carp could imagine. I had become a convert to string theory and maybe even a believer in a God that composed the harmony of the Universe.”

Kaku summed up his belief eloquently: “I would say that I lean toward the God of Einstein and Spinoza; that is, a God of harmony, simplicity and elegance, rather than a personal God who interferes in human affairs,” Kaku muses. “The universe is gorgeous, and it did not have to be that way. It could have been random, lifeless, ugly; but instead, is full of rich complexity and diversity.”