The Residential Library

The sometimes demented, frequently irreverent, and occasionally stupid musings of Ron Hargrove

Physics of the Impossible

By Michio Kaku   [2009]

Some technologies that seem impossible today will be realized in the future.
Force fields
Many objects can exert influence over other objects in their vicinity without direct contact with them. Like magnets. Magnets are surrounded by an area of force. Similarly, the earth itself is surrounded by a gravitational field. These forces could someday enable us to create force fields that could, for example, deflect rockets.
One way it could be done is by using magnetic and electrical fields to form an invisible sheet of plasma. Plasma is an electrically charged mass that’s neither solid, liquid nor gas. The plasma would be a kind of force field that could be reinforced with a lattice of carbon nanotubes.
Cloaking devices
Our ability to see objects depends on the light they reflect back to us. The less light is reflected back, the harder it is to see. For example, gases are hard or impossible to see because light passes through them instead of reflecting back. Even if the light doesn’t pass through, it can just be deflected and have the same effect. In 2006, Duke University scientists developed metamaterials that contain small particles which deflect light waves. Any object enveloped in such material is virtually invisible.


Star Trek type hand-held weapons could be a reality in the not-too-distant future. Lasers are already used in missile defense systems. The problem for hand-held devices is getting enough energy in a portable power source that could enable the weapon to be effective and to be fired multiple times. The first challenge is creating miniature batteries that could store enough energy. The second challenge is creating a stable material that could house that much energy.


Scientists have already succeeded in teleporting trillions of atoms over long distances. However, technically, it is really only information about the atoms that gets transmitted. Teleporting an object from point A to point B requires reconstructing it at point B based on teleported information.
Teleporting objects as complex as a human body could only be done at extremely low temperatures and would likely require the calculations of a quantum computer. So don’t expect this any time soon.


Currently MRIs can identify brain patterns that can be translated into human emotions. But this is no where near the complexity of deciphering individual thoughts in a human mind. This is a long way off.


It is now possible to use implanted chips to read brain waves and translate them into commands. This has allowed paralyzed people to not only control devices but perform complex tasks and even play video games. By the next century we will have similar technology that will allow us to perform tasks in a way that would seem like magic today.

Artificial intelligence with common sense

Decades of programming haven’t led to computers with common sense. This is because there are just too many rules to code. However, a new approach is having some success. It involves teaching computers by having them “experience” things, which is the way humans learn.
[Editor’s note: I think this means they will have to have sensors that mimic human sensors. If that’s true, and if computers could learn from sensory information, consider what they could learn if equipped not just with human-like sensors, but with all of the various sensors that we find in animals. Some examples of things animals can detect:
  • Electricity and electrical fields (sharks, bees)
  • Polarized light, infrared and ultraviolet waves (shrimp)
  • Magnetic fields (bees)
  • Echolocation (dolphins, bats)
  • Infrasound frequencies (elephants)
  • Chemicals (deep sea fish)
  • Pheromones (moths)
  • Heat “vision” (pit-vipers, bats)
  • Air pressure “vision” (butterflies)

For that matter, computers could be equipped with any number of “artificial” sensors as well].

Extraterrestrial life

Two extrasolar planets are being discovered each month. We are constantly getting better telescopes and getting better at interpreting what they show us. Also, we are getting better at identifying the conditions that make a habitable planet:
  1. Water. We assume that this is critical since we don’t know of any life forms that can live without it.
  2. A large moon. This is necessary to stabilize a planet’s axis. Without it, a planet is massively unstable, which can induce extreme weather.
  3. A Jupiter-like planet in the galaxy. This is important because it protects other planets from asteroids.

Space travel

Key challenges:
  1. Propulsion. By triggering a thermonuclear reaction in hydrogen gas, it would produce enough energy to enable a starship to travel at 77% of the speed of light. At this speed a crew could reach the Andromeda galaxy in only 23 years.
  2. Space elevator. A starship would likely have to be so big it would have to be built in space. To do so would require a space elevator to get building materials from the earth to space.
  3. Radiation. Without Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, space travelers will need protection from the Sun’s radiation.
  1. Weightlessness. Without the constant pull of gravity, our muscles atrophy and our bones deteriorate. In fact, after a year in space, astronauts are too weak to walk.

Was Einstein wrong about the speed of light?

Einstein famously theorized that the speed of light is the limit of human travel. However, he assumed that mass and energy couldn’t be negative. That might not be true. And if mass and energy can be negative, then speeds that are faster than light would be possible.

Time travel

Nothing about the idea of time travel violates the laws of physics or quantum theory. However, if we ever make it happen we’ll have to rewrite some fundamental physical laws.
Stephen Hawking contested the possibility of time travel since we haven’t yet encountered a time traveler. [Although I think he would have to admit there could be other explanations for why we haven’t].
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