Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and our Future in the Cosmos (2005)
by Michio Kaku
Penguin Books, 428pp
Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist who seems determined to bring the complex ideas and theories of his field to a much wider audience, and if the evidence of this book is anything to go by, then it is a field that we as a race should be paying closer attention to.
Astronomer Royal Martin Rees called Kaku’s book “an exhilarating romp through the frontiers of cosmology” and that is the best summation of this book that I can find. It is a romp – taking in Newtonian physics, black holes, wormholes, time travel, alternative dimensions, parallel worlds and string theory. There were passages that in this book simply left me scratching my head – in a good way – and there were ideas and philosophies here that have had me thinking for days. It does what every good introduction to a new field of study should do – excite our interest.
In many respects this book is filled with more awe and wonder than most science fiction novels (and Kaku name checks a few), and contains as much speculation as those books might. Only in this instance Kaku backs up his wild theorising with science and the potentialities of science. At the end of this romp you will be left believing that time travel is possible, and that out there somewhere there is another version of you and another and another, ad infinitum.
The most troubling aspect of Kaku’s work, though, comes towards the end when he begins to discuss the question of God and His place within this cosmology. Kaku is not expounding a Christian view, but he offers a way in which God might be possibly within a scientific realm – for:
“Whenever Einstein was creating his cosmic theories he would always ask the question, how would I have designed the universe? He leaned toward the idea that perhaps God had no choice in the matter. String theory seems to vindicate this approach. When we combine relativity with the quantum theory, we find theories that are riddled with hidden but fatal flaws: divergences that blow up and anomalies that spoil the symmetries of the theory. Only by incorporating powerful symmetries can these divergences and anomalies be eliminated, and M-theory possesses the most powerful of these symmetries. Thus, perhaps, there might be a single, unique theory that obeys all the postulates that we demand in a theory.” (P.357)
All the flukes and coincidences and “events being just at the right time” (our planet being just at the right distance to support life, the planets being in just the right orbits to stop earth being hit by passing space debris etc) indicate to some that there must be divine intervention in play. If there is a divine hand, than to explain everything within this grand theory there has to be the further postulation that mankind is not special, that we are just biological beings that rise and fall like everything else.
And this is the final powerful truth that Kaku shows: that cosmology by its very nature must be concerned with the end (as well as the beginning) and that therefore it becomes a mournful elegiac science.
Kaku’s book is well worth a read, containing the basics of all the major branches of cosmology and particle science. It is a work that will produce questions and send you off looking for more answers. It is as powerful in that sense as philosophy, and this time you can back the thoughts up with facts – just don’t expect them all to be right.