March 4, 2015

Michio Kaku

Dear Professor:
You had been kind to a young woman, a child back then, who was your great fan so when I saw Physics of the Impossible at the Chicago Planetarium I got it for her.  It was taking some time to reach her, so I succumbed and read it myself, whereupon I could not resist getting your book The Future of the Mind.  That one is now in the possession of yet another young lovely.  Well you certainly have the knack.  I notice that you have communicated with more top minds than I have been snubbed by; I wouldn’t have thought it physically possible.  Anyway, there’s that sociability.  So I make myself so bold as to write you.  I do have a legitimate question, but first I’m going to indulge myself because I rarely find anybody with an interest in physics and the mind, although x-ray techs, engineers and neurologists have been my regular contacts.

I take a literal interpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation.  Does that make me a physics fundamentalist?  Nothing exists until observed.

But now we know that most of what we think we are seeing is really self deception, (and don’t think radiologists aren’t aware of that) so reality hangs by a thread.  Just for fun I followed the logic and invented a new kind of vampire.  A vampire is a 3D hole in reality.  Of course it can suck another person through and make another hole.  The result of staking the vampire is to reestablish Cartesian space.  I made a little movie and have a DVD of it if you want it.

We learned at Harvard Med that it is possible to rewrite a person’s memories.  When you combine that with the fundamentalist view reality gets shaky again.  Do you re-write history when you brainwash?  I thought the idea of indoctrination was interesting enough so I presented a lecture on the topic to the Boylston Society there in Boston.  Reviewing everything in the Widener Library at the time I learned that if you have power over or the cooperation of a person you need but isolate the individual from all familiar objects and social contacts and inundate him or her with new ones.  Within two months expect the person to break.  With a very tough person, like one who knows what you are doing and is your enemy, a broken arm or case of diarrhea may be needed to move things along.  As the break is reached you need to be very vigilant.  It is as if the “new personality” does not treasure the old, and loss of self esteem leads regularly to suicide.  Beliefs and memories will be changed but the emotional climate – how stable or brittle the person, how expressive or reticent – cannot be changed.  One caveat is that I could at the time find no record of a person being indoctrinated by anybody who didn’t believe in what he or she was doing.  I tend to dismiss that, and say you could arbitrarily change somebody if you had the opportunity, the resources and the conscience for it. 

It looked a lot like ordinary life; one follows routines but sometimes changes.  Boot camp, medical school or pitched battle differ in intensity but all require attention to new issues and lack of old comforts.  Mind control with drugs or brain stimulation in the long run cannot work.  Return to the environment and you return to being the same person if you don’t kill yourself first or get into a social bind from which you cannot escape.  Funny how far fundamentalism can lead, eh?

I imagine the lecture is still at the Countway Library, but I doubt anybody has looked at it, else there would have been a lot fewer silly things done in the name of mind control. 

It was no surprise when I learned that the returning Vietnam veterans were dying at an accelerated rate, faster than they had been dying in battle.  They weren’t being supervised during their return to civilian life so suicide direct or indirect was and remains a real problem.  I spent a couple of years trying to get something done about that; ultimately something was done but nobody ever told me I had been instrumental in it.

The issue comes down to the present.  Being a terrorist or joining ISIS seems on the face of it to be elaborate suicide; and how do they recruit – radicalize – people? Simple.  Just put them through routine indoctrination, and when they go suicidal say, “Hold that thought.  We can use you.”  Again physics leads to a speculation about the mind.

Another angle at least on how math is tied in.  In Impossible you mention Alan Turing.  He did a lot of very specific work and he made 3 general contributions: 1) In principle you can make a Universal Calculator that can do any routine calculation.  2) Any such calculator has the same powers and limitations as any other.  3) There are certain problems no calculator can solve; among such things lying the “Print Problem.”  I have no authoritative example, so I’ll make one up.  Slap me up aside the head and straighten me out if I’m off base here.  Program: A. Print vigintillion one. B. Subtract two. C. Print the result. D. If the result is less than minus 7 stop.  E. Else go to B.  Will the program print zero?  It took you almost no time to solve that, and we can all agree that you are right.  But no computer can do it.  It would take more time than the life of the galaxy to run the program.  And figuring out the end without actually running it is impossible for any computer.  So where did you get the answer?

Let’s build a simple universe.  Lend me a neutron.  I release the neutron into nothing.  Suspend your disbelief while it takes an erratic course.  There is no clear preferred direction of time, but speed changes and local accumulations of matter have a time-like effect.  Eventually it begins to make sense.  Times and spaces where the neutron or its electron and proton components linger warp local space and those together with electrical and magnetic forces determine the course of the neutron.  Eventually the neutron comes back to the exact location and velocity at which I released it, so I grab it and give it back to you.  When you peer in you will see a collection of mass within a limited time frame so that it establishes an event horizon, which begins to collapse under its own gravity.  Inside the density of matter, energy and information are all increasing according to the usual laws of nature.  (There is another law that isn’t on the books at present.  Even at absolute zero a ponderable object has some degree of location.  This has been demonstrated in the lab by producing matter with negative temperature.)  

The contents of the event horizon have, along with the usual laws of nature in reversed time, some counter-intuitive properties.  1) It is a universe.  2) With contents. 3) That change. 4) According to rules. 5) That are not absolute. (As you go into a larger universe things are slightly indeterminate.)  So it has all the makings of a universe in which moral values can be acted out, except that it needs an observer that can make such judgments, which of course are not possible for a computer. 

We already knew there had to be an observer because otherwise we’d still be in the indeterminate quantum state of the Big Bang.  “And God saw the light …” No, scratch that.  We are being physics fundamentalists, not that other kind. 

Now this universe is a stripped down model.  The observer had to be brought in from outside.  And the rules of inference – laws of logic – available in this universe are not capable of solving a silly little problem.  Make your Touring machine the size of a galaxy, use a quantum structure with an astronomical number of objects capable of having dozens of superimposed states, massively parallel, running at light speed for billions of years with probabilistic and fuzzy logic.  All that stuff can be modeled by a Turing machine.  So the rules to solve it cannot be written down in this universe because if they could they could be made routine, and they can’t. 

When you started this, you had not heard of the vigintillion and one problem.  By now you’ve forgotten it.  So at some point in the course of reading this you left the universe and returned.  Welcome home. 

Time for some data.  You can do this cheap or pricy.  Here’s the cheap way.  Grab a piece of paper and jot down a column of a couple dozen Print Problem type questions, hopefully of about the same degree of difficulty and such that you are not going to get a learning curve going.  Fetch a stopwatch.  Put down a column of a dozen environmental inputs to six different parts of the brain, both sensory and social with conflicting properties: blue vs green color, Mozart vs Dave Brubeck and so forth.  Now run down the column of problems, each with a different sensory input and jot down how long it takes you.  Take the environments that gave you the three best and three worst times.  Make up a dozen more environments or mix, match and very what you already have.  Eventually either you will or will not have a set of environmental factors that is optimally conducive to accessing that place outside the universe.  I’m sure you can come up with something to do with that.

Or if you want to do it pricy, do the same thing while the pathways in your brain are scanned.  If the track goes frontal lobe to temporal lobe, pause, back to frontal, pause, done, and there is no environmental pattern you have evidence against an outside universe.  It isn’t proof, but you’re the only one in the world with any evidence at all.  Or maybe the track goes frontal lobe, Broca’s area, pause, eighth nerve nucleus, frontal lobe, done, and Mozart under green light while you are scratching the ears of a puppy and chewing mint gives you far better results than the opposite … well that would be fun, too. 

You know, I never built an anti-gravity machine, but I once built a space warping appliance.  It didn’t reverse or even slow time.  It only drew a couple thousand watts.  It was a pity it failed, since the engineering spinoffs might have been hyper-acceleration, superluminal speeds, lots of really cheap clean power and restoration and maintenance of youth.  I chucked the machine in a trunk.  Years later I found an improvement I could make.  When I went to the trunk instead of dusty, trusty parts it was mostly filled with this black fungating stuff.  I was so weirded out I closed the trunk.  By the time I might have gone back and tried it again I was off in pursuit of my new obsession, which makes space warping a triviality no matter what the engineering possibilities. 

I wasn’t going to mention it, but you nailed it, so I must.  You pointed out that Rome fell because of declining population.  Our birth rate is inadequate.  I know why.  Here’s a link
If you want the movie version check out the beginning of March, 2015 on 

I like your theory of mind.  The type 3 mind plans for the future and might indeed describe the mind that can solve the Print Problem.  I would propose a type 4 that takes the same attitude toward knowledge.  What we know is a tiny fraction of what we might; fundamentals are to be challenged.  Keep looking.  If you take the type 3 approach to this you’ll get: “What’s in it for me?  Nada. End of story.”  The type 4 response: “Does this point into the unknown?” might entail a bit more effort.

So here’s what I’d like to know.  Turing’s 3 proofs are obviously of monumental importance.  What’s the easiest way to learn them? 

Sincere thanks,

M. Linton Herbert MD

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