- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (February 25, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 038553082X
- ISBN-13: 978-0385530828
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 696 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind 1st Edition
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Facts to ponder: there are as many stars in our galaxy (about 100 billion) as there are neurons in your brain; your cell phone has more computing power than NASA had when it landed Apollo 11 on the moon. These seemingly unrelated facts tell us two things: our brains are magnificently complex organisms, and science fiction has a way of becoming reality rather quickly. This deeply fascinating book by theoretical physicist Kaku explores what might be in store for our minds: practical telepathy and telekinesis; artificial memories implanted into our brains; and a pill that will make us smarter. He describes work being done right now on using sensors to read images in the human brain and on downloading artificial memories into the brain to treat victims of strokes and Alzheimer’s. SF fans might experience a sort of breathless thrill when reading the book—This stuff is happening! It’s really happening!—and for general readers who have never really thought of the brain in all its glorious complexity and potential, the book could be a seriously mind-opening experience. --David Pitt
Praise for The Future of the Mind, #1 New York Times Bestseller
“Compelling…Kaku thinks with great breadth, and the vistas he presents us are worth the trip”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Intriguing….extraordinary findings…A fascinating sprint through everything from telepathy research to the 147,456 processors of the Blue Gene computer, which has been used to simulate 4.5% of the brain’s synapses and neurons”
“Fizzes with his characteristic effervescence….Fascinating….. For all his talk of surrogates and intelligent robots, no manufactured being could have a fraction of his charisma.”
“A mind-bending study of the possibilities of the brain....a clear and readable guide to what is going on at a time of astonishingly rapid change.”
“In this expansive, illuminating journey through the mind, theoretical physicist Kaku (Physics of the Future) explores fantastical realms of science fiction that may soon become our reality. His futurist framework merges physics with neuroscience... applied to demonstrations that “show proof-of-principle” in accomplishing what was previously fictional: that minds can be read, memories can be digitally stored, and intelligences can be improved to great extents. The discussion, while heavily scientific, is engaging, clear, and replete with cinematic references... These new mental frontiers make for captivating reading”
“Kaku turns his attention to the human mind with equally satisfying results…Telepathy is no longer a fantasy since scanners can already detect, if crudely, what a subject is thinking, and genetics and biochemistry now allow researchers to alter memories and increase intelligence in animals. Direct electrical stimulation of distinct brain regions has changed behavior, awakened comatose patients, relieved depression, and produced out-of-body and religious experiences… Kaku is not shy about quoting science-fiction movies and TV (he has seen them all)… he delivers ingenious predictions extrapolated from good research already in progress.”
“Facts to ponder: there are as many stars in our galaxy (about 100 billion) as there are neurons in your brain; your cell phone has more computing power than NASA had when it landed Apollo 11 on the moon. These seemingly unrelated facts tell us two things: our brains are magnificently complex organisms, and science fiction has a way of becoming reality rather quickly. This deeply fascinating book by theoretical physicist Kaku explores what might be in store for our minds: practical telepathy and telekinesis; artificial memories implanted into our brains; and a pill that will make us smarter. He describes work being done right now on using sensors to read images in the human brain and on downloading artificial memories into the brain to treat victims of strokes and Alzheimer’s. SF fans might experience a sort of breathless thrill when reading the book—This stuff is happening! It’s really happening!—and for general readers who have never really thought of the brain in all its glorious complexity and potential, the book could be a seriously mind-opening experience.”
Praise for Physics of the Future
"[A] wide-ranging tour of what to expect from technological progress over the next century or so.... fascinating—and related with commendable clarity"--Wall Street Journal
"Mind-bending........Kaku has a gift for explaining incredibly complex concepts, on subjects as far-ranging as nanotechnology and space travel, in language the lay reader can grasp....engrossing"--San Francisco Chronicle
"Epic in its scope and heroic in its inspiration"--Scientific American
"[Kaku] has the rare ability to take complicated scientific theories and turn them into readable tales about what our lives will be like in the future.....fun...fascinating. And just a little bit spooky"--USA Today
Praise for Physics of the Impossible
"An invigorating experience"
-The Christian Science Monitor
“Kaku's latest book aims to explain exactly why some visions of the future may eventually be realized while others are likely to remain beyond the bounds of possibility. . . . Science fiction often explores such questions; science falls silent at this point. Kaku's work helps to fill a void.”—The Economist
“Mighty few theoretical physicists would bother expounding some of these possible impossibilities, and Kaku is to be congratulated for doing so. . . . [He gets] the juices of future physicists flowing.”—Los Angeles Times
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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.) 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.
Reviewed By Dr. Andrea Diem-Lane
Michio Kaku in The Future of the Mind offers us a fascinating take on what may lie ahead for our world. While some of the predictions may seem fanciful at first, one should remember how far we have come in one century. If one could go back to the late 19th century (this is when my grandmother, Grace, was born) and imagine the future from then I suspect that one would not have dared to envision the technologically advanced world we have today with cell phones in our pockets and computers connecting everyone in the world. So when Kaku unveils his vision of the future, it is not surprising that great headways can be made dramatically and quickly.
In many ways Kaku’s text resembles Ray’s Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind, as both futurists anticipate the creation of conscious computers. Kaku differs from Kurzweil, however, in arguing that while computers can attain awareness the human brain is unique from a computer. Why? The human brain, it seems, can rewire itself as it learns and a computer or robot cannot. And, unlike Kurzweil, he further agrees to some extent with Roger Penrose that quantum effects in the microtubules (and chaos theory) play a role in distinguishing the human brain from the computer. Despite these distinctions, Kaku suggests that a computer will eventually appear conscious and pass the Turing Test.
In addition to conscious computers, Kaku thinks that in the future humans will be deeply impacted by adding computer parts to their own biology. The merging of artificial components to the human body may allow the paralyzed to walk (exoskeletons), the blind to see (artificial retinas), and the Alzheimer patient to remember (artificial hippocampus). If we want to acquire a new skill or knowledge, he argues, the memories for this might be imported directly into our enhanced hippocampus. Instead of studying for final exams, the college student need only add the new material to this region of the brain. The more we understand the anatomy of the human brain and what each part does the more ability we may have to digitally replace it, enhance it, or repair a deficiency.
Besides adding on new artificial parts, Kaku imagines a world where surgery might be the thing of the past, as nanobots and nanoprobes heal us internally. Adult stem cells, he enumerates, can also play a role in regenerating brain tissue. Being constantly fine-tuned can allow for an extended, if not immortal, life. Immortality might also be achieved, argues Kaku, by uploading one’s consciousness digitally, thus extending one’s awareness indefinitely. At the very least, our memories and emotional states can be digitally saved for our descendants.
The Armagedon scenario of Bill Joy in his article “The Future Does Not Need Us,” published in Wired magazine, is challenged here and a more positive and inspiring forecast is painted. We are entering, he says, a “Golden Age” of neuroscience. To some extent one can thank the BRAIN Project, supported by the Obama Administration in 2013, and the Human Brain project, under the European Union’s commission. These two programs have generously funded brain research, specifically attempting to reverse engineer the human brain.
Kaku expects amazing feats, such as filming our own dreams with portable MRIs the size of cell phones (some MRI research has shown promise here already) or entering another’s dream as two sleeping brains are digitally connected. Instead of an Internet, there may be a “Brain Net” where we globally exchange thoughts, memories, and emotions with each other in seconds. He foresees avatars and surrogates as the norm. Artists may think of a work of art and it is instantly created. Kaku further conjectures that we might be able to experience “mind without matter” as we laser beam our consciousness through wormholes to other multiverses. As such, aliens may be part of our reality. (In his section on aliens the writer seductively adds a that it is possible that aliens and other realities living in parallel universes may right now be sharing our own living rooms with us, though we remain blissfully unaware.)
In the past in my college philosophy course I used to assign Chet Raymo’s book, Skeptic and True Believers, to give the students a sense of what I call the “wow effect.” Throughout Raymo’s text he argues the idea that right in our present state we live in a marvelous and mysterious dimension and through science we can wake up to it. He offers numerous examples to attest to this. Thus, we do not have to invent magical interpretations or invoke claims of the paranormal, when science itself offers almost more astounding ones but with evidence. Sprinkled throughout his book, Kaku reveals remarkable revelations of science, but he more pointedly focuses on where science is taking us in the future.
One of the main subjects of the Future of the Mind is understanding what human consciousness is and why it developed. According to Kaku, “human consciousness creates a model of the world and simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future…to achieve a goal.” He compares this with other forms of consciousness and develops a distinction of four levels of consciousness: Level 0 (plants with no brain structure), Level 1 (reptiles with a brain stem), Level 2 (mammals with a limbic system and thus social relations), and Level 3 (humans with a prefrontal cortex and a well-developed concept of a future).
What Kaku seems to be arguing here is that human consciousness is different than other forms, since we can “virtually simulate” a wide variety of scenarios. Years ago I wrote a similar thesis in my book, Darwin’s DNA: “In light of consciousness as a virtual simulator, any organism that can develop a mental ‘pivot’ tool will have a tremendous advantage in thinking of new and unexpected strategies. A curious, but hopefully, useful analogy can be derived here from a well-known sport. In basketball, for instance, a seasoned player knows well how to use his or her pivot ‘foot.’ Once one has finished dribbling the ball, he or she must keep one foot firmly set on the ground. The other foot, however, is free to ‘pivot’ or ‘revolve’ or ‘turn’ giving one options that the other foot doesn't. Asking ‘why’ is consciousness' pivot foot. It allows for a virtual simulator to turn and think of varying options and what they portend. It allows the mind to revolve and go into different directions.” Humans evaluate a variety of possibilities for a goal, agrees Kaku, and this gives us a tremendous evolutionary advantage because we can evade predators, find food, and also secure a mate.
If Kaku’s predictions are correct, by the end of our century, we may anticipate self-aware robots at Level 3 consciousness who can equally “simulate a future to achieve a goal.” He does warn, however, that as computers gain consciousness that we will need to create safeguards, such as programming computers and robots to be benevolent and with some ethical guidelines.
Though there have been many models to understand human consciousness, from describing it as a clock, steam engine, telephone, transistor, etc., the author prefers to relate it to a CEO in charge of a company. Similar to a company, the brain is hierarchical with many parts working in different divisions. Yet, a CEO emerges out of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to make sense of all of the various feedback loops. A sense of I awareness, or a leader, appears to be in charge. Yet, while a CEO appears be directing the show, there are sub departments working under her that she is not even aware of. A similar analogy we can employ is an orchestra leader. As the music is being played by various instruments there surfaces the maestro who appears to orchestrate. And, interestingly, the brain may create a unified world, despite the different parts doing their job separately, as electromagnetism vibrates across the brain at a similar frequency of 40 cycles per second.
While at a conference in India last year on consciousness I presented a paper on the illusions created by the brain, and coined the phrase “cerebral mirage” to explain it. Besides the illusion of an I, Kaku does a superb job offering other examples of the cerebral mirage. A favorite of mine was his discussion on color. He explains that the brain only sees three colors: red, green and blue. All of the other colors we imagine is the brain mixing these. As we observe the world, he adds, we have a huge black hole in our view due to our optic nerve. Yet, the brain compensates for this and we see a world that appears completely filled in.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this book is how in every chapter Kaku makes his material relatable as he connects his ideas to either a movie or a popular T.V. show. The films such as Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio, Liar Liar with Jim Carey, The Terminator with Arnold Swarzenegger, as well as past shows such as the Twlight Zone and Star Trek and from the current time the Big Bang Theory are among the many examples he draws from.
Overall, this book is a wonderful read. It covers so many diverse topics from NDEs to mental illnesses to alien life to the scandalous MKULTRA program of the CIA. Yet, throughout all of these adventurous topics, Michio Kaka seems to consistently portray an astonishing future for humanity and one which titillates our imagination.