Professor Michio Kaku, the internationally acclaimed physicist and cyber-prophet, challenged the techno-pessimism of much Christian social thinking when he addressed the tenth ‘Towards Social Transformation’ (TSR) seminar of the Anglican Association for Social Responsibility in Windsor earlier this year .
Kaku is co-founder (along with Stephen Hawking) of ‘super-string theory’. This is an attempt to integrate Einstein’s theory, which maps the convertibility of matter and energy, with the insights of quantum physics, which describes the unpredictability of sub-atomic life.
The resulting paradoxes require a mathematical depiction of the universe involving more than ten dimensions. They also enshrine three fundamental revolutions which are re-shaping our inherited understanding of the boundaries of human possibility. These are the scientific shift from clockwork certainty to energistic uncertainty, the technological leap into IT and biotechnology, and the intellectual transition from specialisation to synergy.
Drawing on a series of interviews with leading exponents of new-wave science and technology, Professor Kaku outlined a progression from tribal civilisations towards a planetary society fuelled by the increasing mastery of terrestrial energy. This is dependent on the development of quantum technology when the current silicon-based technology reaches its limits within the next twenty years. It also faces real threats from ecological and astronomical catastrophes. But if these are tackled the path is open to stellar and even galactic civilisations in the far future.
Michio Kaku’s vision of humanity is certainly centred on the exponential growth of scientific knowledge. It is market and success-oriented in ethos. But it does not ignore the massive distortions which powerful vested interests (corporate and personal) can exercise over these domains. It is not (yet) a form of ‘science as salvation’. (1)
Kaku readily acknowledges, for instance, that the capacity to control illness, retard ageing, ‘improve’ biology and create new life forms carries immense moral and spiritual challenges. It requires a strong social vision, he says. But this cannot be one based on solid state or zero-sum assumptions, such as those which shaped state socialism.
Nevertheless, many seminar participants (which included social responsibility specialists, academics, church policy advisers and a journalist) wanted to argue with Kaku over his rather thin social analysis. This hinged on the democratisation of knowledge and mastery as a sufficient means of heading of the dangers of new technologies creating new ghettos of the poor and disenfranchised.
Kaku certainly disbars recourse to a romantic political past or its repackaging as a device for avoiding the quantum future. But he leaves open the tasks of recreating politics, socialising economics and remoulding theology to ensure that the network and information society does not degenerate into a dangerous power vacuum.
A detailed report of this seminar: ‘Beyond the Brave New World’, edited by Pat Logan, is available for £3 from Southwark Diocesan Board for Social Responsibility, Trinity House, 4 Chapel Court, London SE1 1HW. Michio Kaku’s weekly radio programme can be heard on the web, Tuesday evening’s at 9pm GMT, on www.kpfa.org
(1) The More I read his work, the less confident I am of this rather generous judgement back in 1999!