Space Frontier Society
A Chapter of the National Space Society
Vol. 5, No. 3
by Dan Perlman, Editor
“listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; lets go.” – e.e. cummings
I was going to claim that I now completely understand the theories of general and special relativity, quantum mechanics and superstrings and am now ready to formulate The Theory of Everything. It isn’t, however, quite true. On the other hand, after reading and thoroughly enjoying Michio Kaku’s book Hyperspace, I can at least claim to have a better understanding than what my college physics professors left me with. (To be fair, nobody was really talking about superstrings then, so I can’t really blame them for that part.)
The book is subtitled “A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension.”With all the news stories about black holes, wormholes, and holes in the fabric of space-time, I thought it was about time to find out just what the (w)hole hype was about. Kaku, who is a professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of City University of New York, manages to take this intriguing and complex set of subjects and somehow make it all seem quite reasonable, really.
The book is clearly written for lay folk. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist, figuratively or literally, in order to follow him through fields of wavering quarks. Kaku has a warped sense of humor that he brings not only to his descriptions and demonstrations, but also swings around point-blank on the history, egos, secretiveness and pomposity that surrounds much of the work of theoretical physics.
Using a medium that is, for all practical purposes, two-dimensional, a sheet of paper and ink, he unfolds first one and then another dimension of space-time and lays it out for our inspection. By the time I finished the first section, “Entering the Fifth Dimension,” I not only felt I had a clear grasp, for the first time in my life, on the theories of relativity, but I was also using terms like “blue-shift,” “hyperdougnut” and “scalar particle”in polite conversation.
The one negative I found in the book was in the second section, “Unification in Ten Dimensions,”where Kaku slipped a bit on the layperson approach. For some of the quantum brambles that he wanders through, he seems to assume that the reader has a basic working knowledge of leptons, mu-neutrinos and just exactly what SU(N) symmetry is. I found myself a bit bogged down in flipping back and forth to short explanations in the endnotes (an anathema to any reader – footnotes are so much easier to refer to), and having to reread passages. If one were psychologically inclined, one might assume that Kaku doesn’t really like a lot of quantum theory….
Luckily, he jumps back in with both feet, a smile and a “how-de-do” when he gets to superstrings, black holes and the possibility of other universes in “Wormholes: Gateway to Another Universe?” Whether he’s talking time travel, the existence of God, wrinkles in space, or wave functions of creation, he’s back on solid ground, and so is the reader – which, given the subject matter, is a pretty impressive feat.
In the final section of the book, “Masters of Hyperspace,” Kaku looks at what our future might be. He takes us through Type 0 through Type II civilizations, and pegs us squarely in mid-0 position. He also takes the opportunity to philosophize and climb onto a well-reasoned soapbox about where we’re going to get if we stay on our current heading.
It’s hard to say that the book ends on a positive note, especially given that basically, he leaves us drifting within the boundaries of the universe, with only minimal theoretical hope for some sort of existence as it either expands and cools to absolute zero or collapses as one big multi-billion year flash-in-the-pan. Kaku leaves us a faint glimmer at the end of the hyperspace tunnel, that maybe, perhaps, we might just find our escape into another dimension. Rod Serling would like this guy.
Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku, published by Oxford University Press, 1994, $25.00, ISBN# 0-19-508514-0.