In his scientific nonfiction book The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind
(2014), Dr. Michio Kaku tackles the big questions we have about the human brain, concluding that our minds are the most powerful and complex objects in our known universe. Critics praise the book for making neuroscience accessible to lay readers. Dr. Kaku is a New York Times
bestselling author, popular scientist, and communicator. The author of numerous scientific books, he taught theoretical physics at the City College of New York. He is also the co-founder of string field theory.
Dr. Kaku divides The Future of the Mind
into three parts: “The Mind and Consciousness,” “Mind Over Matter,” and “Altered Consciousness.” “The Mind and Consciousness” introduces readers to neuroscience and the general complexities of the human brain which evolved from the species before us. Now, it has the same number of neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way, as it continues to grow more complex.
In “Mind Over Matter,” Dr. Kaku considers whether it is possible to improve our cognitive functions, including memory retention and alertness. He asks, for example, whether telekinesis is real, and whether we can make ourselves smarter. In “Altered Consciousness,” he asks what the future of neuroscience holds and whether it will ever be possible to know exactly what is going on in someone else’s mind.
Dr. Kaku first gives readers an overview of human brain anatomy. First, there is the reptilian brain which originates from our earliest ancestors. It controls instinctive behavior such as danger avoidance. Second, there is the mammalian brain, which is the outer part of our brain. Finally, the prefrontal cortex is the part that makes us different from other mammals.
According to Dr. Kaku, there are four levels of consciousness across the animal and plant kingdom. The first is level 0, which responds to stimuli such as light and heat. Plants operate on this level. The next is level 1, for primitive animals. Level 2 animals have well-defined social hierarchies and a sense of past, present, and future. Only humans have level 3 consciousness, which grants us self-awareness.
Following the discussion on consciousness levels, Dr. Kaku describes the various brain hemispheres. There are two sides to the human brain—the right side and the left side. They perform separate but very essential functions for our survival. With advanced imaging techniques, scientists can monitor brain activity and watch how the two sides communicate. What is startling is that although our brain is a whole entity, the two sides can have very different personality traits of their own.
Dr. Kaku goes over some of the huge advances in neuroscientific technology in recent years. For example, it is now possible to read our thoughts using MRI scans, and scientists can download and preserve memories. Theoretically, it is possible for humans to communicate mind-to-mind without speaking through telekinesis, although science isn’t quite there yet. Dr. Kaku anticipates though that, one day, we will be able to send our entire consciousness across the universe.
In the concluding section of the book, Dr. Kaku looks at how neuroscience is evolving to support mentally disabled and paralyzed individuals. Now, it is possible for scientists to implant microchips into a paralyzed person’s brain so they can use a special computer to do what able-bodied people can do. He also considers the role of brain imaging and neurotechnology in curing, treating, and managing neurological diseases.
Dr. Kaku briefly considers what happens during times of altered consciousness. For example, if someone takes drugs, they may experience an entirely different reality. He also looks at what happens to our consciousness during the various stages of sleep and what our dreams can tell us about neurological functions. It is possible now to map and record dreams, the technology helping neuroscientists understand the brain more clearly than ever before.
In The Future of the Mind
, Dr. Kaku explores the connection between the laws of physics and levels of consciousness. He finds many compelling overlaps between how the universe operates and how the human brain works, believing that human consciousness allows us to simulate the world around us to create our own personal experience. In other words, Dr. Kaku gives new meaning to the idea that no two people see things the same way—from his point of view, it is possible that we are literally crafting our own reality from the depths of our unique consciousness. It is unclear whether science will ever definitively answer such questions.
Finally, Dr. Kaku proposes questions about artificial intelligence (AI). He theorizes that it is possible to give robots “human” levels of consciousness, but he leaves it up to readers to decide whether this is a good idea. The Future of the Mind
raises scientific, moral, and ethical questions designed to trigger further discussion.