by Michio Kaku
The Future of the Mind continues a line of inquiry that Michio Kaku has been following with his earlier books Physics of the Impossible and Physics of the Future. The central question remains: what sci-fi imaginings might come to fruition, which of them are impossible given the laws of physics in the known universe, and what breakthroughs or discoveries would be necessary to achieve the achievable. Technology is the inevitable gateway to these advanced breakthroughs. Humanity has eliminated gross evolutionary pressures through technology—this might not remain true, but we can certainly not expect X-men style mutations as a result of the foreseeable progression of humanity (which is more likely to be described by the horrible—though probably presagious 2006 movie Idiocracy than it is by the X-men movies.)
The theme of the book, as the title suggests, is the mind. As the most complex system that we know of, the human nervous system offers fertile ground for investigation. Among the sci-fi mainstays considered by Dr. Kaku are telepathy, telekinesis, false memories (think Total Recall), intelligence enhancement, mind control, artificial intelligence, and the nature of alien minds. Along the way he considers the challenges of reverse engineering the brain and whether consciousness could take a non-material form (e.g. embedded in a beam of light.)
As always, Kaku’s book is easy to follow, even for the scientific neophyte. Few others write on the topic with such clarity. While part of Kaku’s book deals with the same concepts covered by Roger Penrose in his book Shadows of the Mind, the Kaku book scores much higher in readability. Of course, the flipside is that Kaku’s book offers less explanatory power. So if one isn’t looking for pop science simplification, The Future of the Mind is probably not for you. However, if you want the jist of the science and have neither the background nor the energy to digest the mathematical and biological nuance, you’ll find this book readable.
Incidentally, Kaku is more optimistic about the ability to computationally replicate consciousness than Penrose, which the latter argues is impossible. Professor Kaku’s optimism runs through all of his books. He takes the stance that if one can imagine it–and figure out a technological or theoretical loophole around the known barriers –one can achieve it. Therefore, some of his discussion of what could come to pass depends upon theories about, for example, black-holes being true. It should be noted that Kaku is quite clear about the differences of opinion that exist about these theories and the role that differences between theory and reality could play in making science fiction into scientific reality.
I enjoyed this book. I’ve been reading a lot about neuroscience lately—entirely on the pop science level- and found this book to be beneficial to my understanding of the subject. It begins by discussing what is known about the brain and consciousness—it turns out that a lot remains unknown, but the technology of recent years has vastly improved our understanding of the brain, and it continues to do so by the day. The book also delves into the depths of what could come to be. There is definitely pragmatic understanding to be gained as well as outlandish, but fun, science fiction ruminations.
For sci-fi fans and writers, it’s definitely worth reading. I had many new conceptions of the future as I read the book. (I might suggest reading Physics of the Impossible first, which gives an overview many “impossible” technologies and explains how few are just flat impossible regardless of technological development and scientific discovery. My review of that book is here.) Many of the ideas covered may seem a bit eccentric, such as what first contact with an alien race would look like. (Kaku is of the notion that the transmission of an immaterial consciousness(es), possibly in conjunction with self-replicating machines would be the likely shape of such an alien presence.)
I recommend this book for almost anyone. We are really only beginning to venture out of the dark ages understanding the mind, and this book provides an interesting map what might be possible.
As I mentioned it, sadly, this may be the more likely future of the human mind: