By Sarah Vukalovic
Dr. Michio Kaku has been a Phi Beta Kappa member since he graduated from Harvard in 1968 at the top of his physics class. While he remains committed to research and academia, Kaku’s work as a theoretical physicist and futurist has been popularized by the media. His many public appearances—part of a decided effort to generate scientific discourse on multiple platforms—include television specials for the Discovery Channel and History Channel, in addition to the Science Channel and BBC.
In February, Doubleday published Kaku’s The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, in which he predicts and explains the most cutting-edge research in brain function. The book topped the New York Times best sellers list in mid-March.
The Future of the Mind operates from the premise that the human mind is something that will be discovered to be, to some extent, downloadable after neural pathways are mapped and reproduced.
“Think about all the college courses that we flunked when we were younger…we might be able to have a play button, you hit the play button, and you upload mathematics or calculus to the brain,” Kaku explained in an interview on The Daily Show.
Although the scenario seems impossibly futuristic, Kaku maintains that it is quite feasible. In fact, researchers have already “uploaded” memories successfully to mice in the laboratory. Next, Kaku hopes to move on to chimpanzees and, eventually, use the technology to allow Alzheimer’s patients to reclaim lost memories of their own.
The emergent technology has the potential to aid victims of paralysis as well and, indeed, already has. For a number of patients, a chip is implanted in the brain, connected to a laptop, and transmits radio waves from the former to the latter to allow patients who are completely paralyzed to use household appliances and answer emails with complete independence.
The human brain, Kaku explains, is the most complex entity in the universe:
“We would have to build a computer the size of a city block, cooled by a river, energized by a nuclear power plant to mimic the computational power of the brain. Which [the brain] does for only 20 watts.”
With proper funding, which President Barack Obama supports, the human brain initiative could become a reality. Mapping the pathways of the brain could not only help persons with mental illnesses, but could, according to Kaku, potentially provide us with a “CD-rom” containing the entire personality and neurons of an individual that can “live on” after the human person has passed. Kaku claims that, as personality traits and mannerisms are preserved, consciousness might just be able to exist outside the human body.
“In this line of approach, your personality, your quote “soul” would be reduced to information. Digital information that in some sense, your great, great, great, grandkids can access to have an evening conversation with you,” Kaku claims.
Kaku’s most recent book has been met with both enthusiasm and skepticism. Regardless, one must agree with his conclusion: “This is the golden age of brain research.”
Sarah Vukalovic is a senior at the University of Dallas majoring in Philosophy. The University of Dallas is home to the Eta of Texas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.