Physics of the Future: how Science will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku (2011) — author of Physics of the Impossible.
I must confess I did not end up reading the whole thing cover to cover. I started at the back with his conclusion, recognized his complete naivete of the real world, and excessive optimism due to (I assume) having been a gifted scientist and achieving high status without having ever had to be on food stamps or be a retail clerk. He was a co-founder of string theory, so that kind of says a lot by the fact that most people have heard of it, even if only because Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory used to research this aspect of theoretical physics.
I have lost the page reference, but he quotes Richard Feynman for predicting that in the future we will be able to move atoms and I seem to recall a post on phys.org that described actually doing that. What blows me away though is the fact that scientists can do that but no one has developed an objective test to establish the level of PAIN a human being is suffering, say from low back pain or headaches, which are so commonplace the paid is dismissed as “ordinary low back pain” even when it turns out to NOT be ordinary but arthritis. [true story of my 24 hours of hell in an ER/hospital outpatient].
We have remote controlled vehicles on MARS. We have photographs from LIGHT YEARS away of Pluto and Jupiter and more. We have killer and cancer causing chemicals in our food and in our water that is running through old lead pipes that is causing brain damage.
Profit motive cannot be the only factor that inspires billions to be spent on space exploration when our planet is doomed by climate change, water and air pollution, GMO foods, pesticides, antibiotic drug resistant bacteria. Not to mention religious wars, greed and corruption, and the ideology of consumer capitalism and the endless pursuit of profit before people.
We have an unknown world right here on earth: the oceans. We are killing the ocean life faster than it can adapt. I recently saw a photo of a whale that had died because in it’s effort to open wide to get a big mouthful of fish, it got a big mouthful of indigestible plastic. I have also seen photos of seabirds and their chicks dead from thinking plastic bits were food and so the chicks’ stomachs end up full of plastic that cannot pass through their digestive system and they starve to death. Similarly, I have seen photos of ancient sea turtles with straws stuck in their nasal passages unable to get them out because they only have flippers that can’t reach and would most likely just push it in further anyway. We don’t need no fucking plastic straws! They used to be paper and could be again. Of course, paper has it’s own issues, but plastic is definitely infinitely worse since it is indestructible and we now have a gyre in the Pacific at least as big as Texas and no one is doing shit about it. Don’t even get me started on Styrofoam, or the many other packaging materials that are not reusable.
I am too guilty myself. Plastic shopping bags are excellent for used cat litter clumps. I at least make an effort to cut the straps so no wild creature can get the bag stuck around their head to drag around the rest of their life. I have to find a better option though.
He has a chapter on nanotechnology, and mentions gene therapy and other potential medical advances. But I have to ask, who will benefit from these things? Not the average Native American child on the reservation. Not the waitress at the local dinner who doesn’t even make the “regular” minimum wage but a specifically drafted exception to about $2.17 an hour, because you know, tips will make up the difference. God forbid the earned tips might actually allow servers to survive on their wages. Right now with the choking hold of Big Pharma and medical insurance companies, too many people cannot afford a life-saving prescription. And accepted treatments in other countries may be deemed “experimental” in the gold old U.S.A. and therefore not covered by insurance and generally unaffordable to anyone not a millionaire. I saw a statistic once that cited the number of bankruptcies in several European countries as ZERO and in the United States as something like 637,000 A YEAR due to medical expenses. Thanks to Hillary and other corporatists, the bankruptcy laws still give endless new chances for corporate debt forgiveness but no longer much help for consumers. Student loans are not dischargeable, nor are income taxes owed. And if you have any amount of debt “forgiven” the IRS in a blindingly cruel rule considers MONEY YOU NEVER RECEIVED “income” and you owe income taxes on money you didn’t have to start with or you wouldn’t be bankrupt. This too is NOT dischargeable in bankruptcy. So for example, if your house is foreclosed on because it is underwater, and you have lost your job and have been hospitalized, and even with “good” insurance or Medicare (only 80% costs covered with some not covered at all if not deemed “medically necessary” by INSURANCE companies), you have no money, no home, no assets, the difference between what your house sells for ($50,000) at foreclosure and the mortgage owed ($100,000) means you owe the IRS income tax on $50,000 which is probably in the 28% bracket (thanks to bigger blocks that eliminated nuanced steps back in the day). My math skills are pathetic, but I think that is $14,000. Plus penalties and fees and interest.
None of this is discussed in the book. Neoliberalism has infiltrated the common consciousness to the point that this otherwise smart man has bought into, and cites, the cure for inequality is education, using the tired old aphorism about teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. This is an especially bitter analogy because FISH CONTAIN SO MUCH MERCURY that you should not eat much at all. They are swimming in polluted streams, they are dying in great numbers in the oceans, and massive by-catch net fishing is decimating everything in its path to make a big haul for a proportion of fish that can be sold. Remember the heady days of progress for “dolphin safe tuna” controversy? Steps were taken, people stopped buying, but who is watching the fishers of today? Are they still practicing dolphin safe practices? Or is it just a label on a can? Or maybe, it isn’t even on the can anymore because the issue has been forgotten with all the constant and complex tragedies of everyday life.
To be fair, education certainly will help, but as noted, the current system has been destroyed by Republicans who want to destroy it so public education can be privatized. To them, EVERYTHING should be for-profit and access MUST BE ONLY for those who can afford it. If you can’t afford it, you obviously have to “work harder” as Jeb Bush famously pronounced, despite all evidence to the contrary that we are actually working more for less than decades ago, and the only ones who don’t have to work are politicians and CEOs who become millionaires while paying lower hierarchy staff a non-livable minimum wage. NOTHING WILL GET BETTER as long as government is demonized (St. Ronnie) and profit idealized.
Big Pharma makes billions in profits and yet, no cure for cancer, or multiple sclerosis or any of dozens of diseases are close to being cured. Maybe gene splicing will do it, but how much will it cost? We already have television shows and books that feature poor people selling kidneys to get enough money to live.
He proposes education will be the thing that retrains workers for the new “creative” age and denies that we should even try to go back to having manufacturing based industries. NEWSFLASH, not everyone can be a computer programmer, or a software developer, or any of the other brainiac jobs he sees as the only possible future for the U.S. He even cites China as a POSITIVE example of a country that has developed huge growth percentages of manufacturing (so we don’t need to do it) and never once acknowledges that the air is not fit to breathe because they have unregulated industry. Also the facts about how the workers are little better than slaves, kept living in massive dormitories, and more is not mentioned as part of the reason they can have that growth. Growth equals good by this standard, no matter if the environmental degradation will eventually kill all but the wealthy living off in private estates.
He talks about the “planetary civilization” like that is a good thing. (p. 328) But no, not so fast. He states that “Physicists rank everything, even human civilizations, by the energy it consumes.” That is a concept I never heard of before and makes for some fascinating considerations.
When applied to human history, we see that for countless millennia, our energy was limited to 1/5 horsepower, the power of our bare hands, and hence we lived nomadic lives in small, wandering tribes, scavenging for food in a harsh, hostile environment. For eons, we were indistinguishably from the wolves. There were no written records, just stories handed down from generation to generation at lonely campfires. Life was short and brutish, with an average life expectancy of eighteen to twenty years. Your total wealth consisted of whatever you could carry on your back. Most of your life, you felt the gnawing pain of hunger. After you dies, you left no trace that you had ever lived at all.
I would say, look at almost any country in the “developing” world and you will find many people for whom life remains brutish and short — especially WOMEN, for whom he does not address the future of at all. Hell, even science fiction (Bujold) foresees a future where women do not have to carry a pregnancy to term in their bodies, but simply let it grow in incubators. Women also can’t carry very much “wealth” on their backs since their backs are probably carrying children. Even if they did have any wealth, the first strong man that came along would rape her and kill the child and take her wealth from her. Killing any man with her as well, or die trying. And obviously, these men, bandits, would gang up and roam unimpeded because they could. He doesn’t touch on any issues of violence and greed and killing each other over their land or their hunting or stealing their cows or other farm animals as agriculture developed. The wild west and cattle versus sheep ranchers is not that long ago. The “free” range is not free, but pretty damn cheap and the likes of the Cliven Bundy and his desire to capture the “commons” land for himself do not enter in the discussion of the future of public lands. In fact, there does not seem to be much about public versus private funding and use and to the victor go the spoils at all.
The development of domestication of farmland and animals led to a surplus of food and therefore made it possible to live without spending all their time hunting and gathering.
The excess wealth created by the agricultural revolution spawned new ingenious ways to maintain and expand this wealth. Mathematics and writing were created to count this wealth, calendars were needed to keep track of when to plant and harvest, and scribes and accountants were needed to keep track of this surplus and TAX IT. This excess wealth eventually led to the RISE OF LARGE ARMIES, KINGDOMS, EMPIRES, SLAVERY, and ancient civilizations. (p. 328)
Argh! He almost makes it sound like this was a good thing. I don’t agree that WEALTH led to armies and slavery etc., no it was greed and power that built kingdoms and empires. It is theoretically possible that some other variation of developing human beings could have been communal and shared a village’s assets with each other for the betterment of all, but they no doubt were all killed off and their wealth stolen early on. Just like today, “them that’s got are them that gets” (lyric by Ray Charles, possibly from some biblical citations about those who have shall have abundance and those that have little will have even that taken from them — sounds like biblical capitalism to me!).
The next revolution took place about 300 years ago, with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, the wealth accumulated by an individual was not just the product of his hands and horse but the product of machines that could create fabulous wealth via mass production. (p. 329)
Okay, I understand that he is glossing over a lot in an effort to tout his vision of the glorious future for us all (choke, gag). But he completely overlooks the fact that back in the kingdoms and empires age, farmers (aka peasants) did not get to OWN THEIR LAND but wealthy landowners did. They did not receive the wealth of their production and labor, the LANDLORDS did. They were lucky to get enough to live on, and could be turned out from their cottages at any moment at the pleasure of the LANDOWNERS. Artisans and craftsmen could produce wares for sale, but only the wealthy could actually afford to buy the best and pay whatever they chose because who else was someone going to sell to? Moving to another village wouldn’t help, because the exploitation was universal. And of course, WOMEN had no right to ANYTHING: not land, not work (other than fieldwork), and baby making for more hands to work the fields for the benefit of the LANDOWNERS. Hell, they even had a custom where knights had the right to rape a newly married woman before her husband got to have sex with her.
When he describes how mass production created “fabulous wealth” he completely ignores the fact that only the WEALTHY got WEALTHY from the mass production. The workers were forced to work for a pittance of an hourly wage, for 10 hour or more days, 6 or 7 days a week, child labor and women labor (paying less than a man) was common, and if there were safety issues, nothing could force the OWNERS to fix and when someone invariably lost a limb or similar, they were cast out, with no recourse but to beg, rely on family, or die.
He cites as if it was admirable or progress that “Life expectancy began to grow, hitting forty-nine in the United States by the year 1900.” (p. 329) Unfortunately, that is not footnoted, and does not distinguish between men and women or adults and children, or poor wage workers and rich politicians and corporation owners. I’ll be darned, I was sure a Google search was going to show lower for women since so many died in childbirth, but no, women had a few years edge even then. I guess it probably or possibly related to the relatively more dangerous work life men faced. It doesn’t specify how the data were evaluated (like accounting for war deaths). Just think, only as recently as 1949 the average life expectancy for adults was in the sixties. Although 1949 was the year that women hit 70 and never went down but it took a long time before men caught up — 1979! It looks like there is a pretty steady 7 or 8 years discrepancy. And now there are a lot of reports documenting that poor people are living as much as 7 years less that a typical middle-class white man.
Finally, we are in the third wave, where wealth is generated from information. The wealth of nations is now measure by electrons circulating around the world on fiber-optic cables and satellites, eventually dancing across computer screens on Wall Street and other financial capitals. Science, commerce, and entertainment travel at the speed of light, giving us [!!!!] limitless information anytime, anywhere. (p. 329)
US? Who the fuck is he kidding. There is no US. There are the wealthy OWNERS like there ever was, and the rest of us who do NOT in fact, have access to “limitless information anytime, anywhere.” I have to pay over $160 a month for cable and internet plus $80 for cell phone service. This is NOT AFFORDABLE for many families. But since all other entertainment is VERY EXPENSIVE and requires good clothes, transportation, and friends who can also afford it, TV with the endless buy buy buy products taking up ever more minutes of programming time, and the programs themselves featuring many more fake “reality” shows, it is not all that entertaining. Toss in 24×7 ALL TRUMP ALL THE TIME and it is hard to find it tolerable.
The “limitlessness” of the information is not the same as or better than highly sourced documented factual information. It is a sad day when intermediary sites like SNOPES.COM or PolitiFact are necessary to debunk some of the crap that passes for news.
We have a considerable portion of people who do NOT believe in science, in climate change, in EVOLUTION for pity’s sake. NO FACTS WILL SWAY THE TRUE BELIEVERS and they are allowed to “homeschool” to keep their precious spawn from learning any thing other than their eccentric to abusive beliefs.
No future technological or scientific paradise will exist as long as they are allowed to have a public stage, to control textbooks, and to infiltrate governmental and judicial systems with deliberate intent to thwart progress and return us to the dark ages.
The true sign of his delusions are his beliefs that a “planetary economy” is a good thing.
We are witnessing the birth of a planetary economy. The rise of the European Union and other trade blocs represents the emergence of a Type I economy. Historically, the peoples of Europe [and elsewhere!!!!] have fought BLOOD FEUDS with their neighbors for thousands of years. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, these tribes would continue to slaughter one another, eventually becoming he feuding nations of Europe. Yet today, these bitter rivals have suddenly banded together to form the European Union, representing the largest CONCENTRATION OF WEALTH on the planet. (p. 332)
Since this was written in 2011, BrExit had not yet happened, which pretty much puts the EU survival in question. Overwhelmed by refugees, all the European countries wealth and very existence are under threat. The rise of right wing fascism and authoritarian parties there and here indicate just how bad and how vulnerable this rosy idea of one planet one people is, actually how absurd it is.
He states that the reason the EU formed was in response to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Again, he says that as if NAFTA was a good thing, which it has proven to be a disaster to the United States. [Thanks Bill Clinton] He predicts that there will be more economic blocs forming, and in that alas, he has proven correct with the push for the corporate-written secret TPP trade deal being shoved down our throats. He states that NATIONS cannot be competitive without joining “lucrative trading blocs” which is an unbelievable view of economics.
It would be laughable except that it is no longer unimaginable that “Nuclear wars are simply too dangerous to fight, so it is economic might that will largely determine the destiny of nations.” He also believes that economic might stems from science and technology. (p. 333) With the evangelicals in charge, there will be no scientific development.
He is also woefully misguided when he makes the state that “Today, we see the same pattern taking place in country after country, as economic development EMPOWERS YOUTH with AMPLE DISPOSABLE INCOMES. Eventually, as most of the people of the WORLD enter the MIDDLE CLASS, RISING INCOMES will filter down to their youth, fueling a perpetuation of this planetary youth culture.” (p. 334)
Incredible world outside of the bounds of reality that he lives in if he thinks that the world, even in 2011 was experiencing rising incomes for the middle class. And the idea that youth have any disposable income is beyond ignorant. Trickle-down is a lie and there is no reason to believe that parents will have so much money that “youth” will have “ample” disposable income to buy fashion, rock ‘n’ roll, or anything other than pay rent and buy food.
He acknowledges there will still be war in the future, but claims their “nature will change as democracy is spread around the world.” ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Pretty sure he would not assert that belief in 2016 but given Afghanistan and Iraq, one marvels that he could assert it in 2011.
There is another reason why wars are becoming more difficult to wage [!!!!] as the world becomes more affluent and people have more to lose. Political theorist Edward Luttak has written that ware are MUCH MORE DIFFICULT to wage because FAMILIES are smaller today [no thanks to Republicans]. In the past, the average family had TEN OR SOchildren; the eldest [male] inherited the farm [of landholders], while the younger siblings joined the church [men as priest, nuns didn’t get paid], the military [men], or sought their fortunes elsewhere [men]. Today, when a typical family has an average of 1.5 children, there is NO MORE SURPLUS OF CHILDREN to easily fill the military and the priesthood. Hence, wars will be much more difficult to wage, especially between democracies and third-world guerrillas. (p. 337)
Wars are difficult to wage, especially between democracies and third world guerrillas but not for the reasons he proposes. Rather they are difficult to wage because guerrillas have so many advantages over traditional military. They speak a foreign language. They all look alike with beards and such. They do not wear uniforms. They have a righteous cause. They don’t care if they die for the cause. They have absolutely no limitations on what they will do or who they will kill to achieve their objective (destroy Western civilization).
As to the lack of SURPLUS CHILDREN, the restriction of abortion funding to poor women, difficulty paying for birth control and access to all kinds of contraception options, and racial discrimination has provided a desperate force of poor people who have little option but to join the military to be able to make a living (at minimum wage) and still having to use payday loans to survive at all.
He thinks that “spreading the ideals of democracy” will result in a miraculously happen because “the falling price of intercontinental travel is accelerating contact between diverse peoples, making wars more difficult to wage. . . .” ha ha ha ha ha ha OMG, seriously, we have and always have had poor children starving in our own country even while we give Israel $38 billion dollars for there mostly military use and he thinks Americans are going to spread democratic ideals by cheap airfares? Most Americans cannot afford time off work because they have NO PAID LEAVE. They also have no savings. They also have no healthcare. We have less and less free speech and more and more “religious freedom” to discriminate against pregnant women, the LGBT community, and atheists. People honest to God believe that God blesses America, though children still get cancer, and pregnant women are being forced to give birth even to permanently deformed defective fetuses (like Zika victims).
How he can look around the world and say that more affluent people have more to lose in war when in fact, they are making fortunes via the military-industrial complex? How can he say there is no war when we are in endless wars, abroad and at home with militarized police shooting black children with impunity. When billions are spent lobbying to prevent any kind of minimal gun control and toddlers shooting each other or parents on a daily basis no longer even is news it is so common. Mass shootings even have to be defined as four or more dead to qualify as “mass” and then nothing still is done because of the power of the NRA.
The rich get richer and WEALTHIER and the 99% get less and less. Wars do not effect the rich. Their children will not be drafted. It costs them nothing whatsoever to let wars go on forever.
Alas, he may be a good scientist, and has done some fun TV shows on scientific topics, but to believe that our planet will exist and be habitable by 2100 is increasingly unlikely.
Science will not shape human destiny. Religion will. Human destiny will remain what it always has been: rich and poor, men exploiting women, slavery either outright again, or debt peonage, or involuntary servitude in prisons.
Greed for more and more profit will always undercut any progress for humanity. That is why people in corporations lie about emission tests, sugar, and cancer causing components in food, water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Corporations will always be able to buy enough politicians who probably can’t make a living doing any other job (apart from lobbyist) who will always cave in to their requests for exemptions from the Clean Water Act or ANY OTHER REGULATION that cuts into profits. Right now, the United States is being sued by a corporation for stopping their pipeline from Canada because NAFTA gave them that right over and above national sovereignty. The TPP will only make it worse. Halliburton and other fracking companies have the juice to put preemptive state laws in place that prohibit local jurisdictions from implementing anti-fracking laws. Oklahoma is experiencing massive and constant earthquakes from fracking and yet, the drilling goes on and on. At some point, doesn’t someone have to ask, “I wonder what effect this is having beneath the drilling, like weakening the structure of the earth to the point that magma from the core will have the force to crack America and maybe the whole earth apart?
Nope, Mr. Kaku needs to get his head out of the sand and take a realistic look at what physics can do to make sure we HAVE A FUTURE instead of speculating and pursing gene splicing and nanotechnology when the oceans are dying and the planet is reaching an unstoppable level of climate change that will kill everything on earth.