An Interview with Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science. He is professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center. He has written three New York Times bestsellers: Physics of the Impossible (2008), Physics of the Future (2011), and The Future of the Mind (2014).

Michael Richardson-Borne: I’ve heard you talk about humanity’s transition from a Type 0 civilization to a Type 1 civilization on the Kardashev Scale – which is a method of measuring the level of technological advancement on our planet. Type 1 is referred to as a “planetary civilization” and is defined as having the capability of using and storing all of the energy that reaches the planet from its parent star.

As we move in the direction of this Kardashev transition, you’re on the record as saying “the danger period is now because we still have the savagery. We still have all the passions. We have all the sectarian fundamentalist ideas circulating around. But we also have nuclear weapons. We have chemical, biological weapons capable of wiping out life on Earth.”

I talk a lot about humanity’s primary assumption of a separate self as the underlying cause of the savagery you mention. Can you speak into this a little bit?

Michio Kaku: Sure. First, let’s use the Kardashev Scale as a backdrop. Measuring the technological advancement of a civilization by the ability to harness energy while ignoring the internal development of its people is an interesting but short-sighted proposition. The separate self refuses to see that technology and weapons are productions of the mind – and that the mind is a reflection of the totality experienced by most people as a curtain that shrouds the full span of consciousness. This is the mental seduction that our civilization has been lived into believing en masse – the false belief that the mind has a body and is an autonomous actor independent of the whole. A dominant worldview of this nature makes getting the mind situated properly of primary importance. But what do I mean by this?

What I mean is the mind is seemingly personal while what is aware of the mind is not. When the mind is not situated properly, mentation is seen as the personal story of an individual rather than an action of the impersonal – which means the personal is masking the impersonal and seen as absolutely real. To observe this is to recognize that savagery, passion, and fundamentalist ideation are aspects of the mind that are pointed to by the existence of chemical and biological weapons in the first place – it’s the misunderstanding of the mind that makes these weapons dangerous or even perceived as necessary. Being open to the possibility I’m speaking of is a first step to the beginning of an inquiry – an inquiry that is able to question the dismissal of the internal as if it has no connection to or impact on technology itself. As if these two domains, the inner and the outer, are separated from one another by a hardened boundary that is easily decipherable and unquestionably true.

Left to its own devices in a vacuum, the mind may achieve the technological advancement of harnessing the full energy of the sun. But the mind is not in a vacuum – there is a perceived relational aspect that requires understanding of the self as part of a built-in survival challenge that will ultimately push humanity off a ledge by using the exact tension we are discussing here at the intersection of technological and spiritual advancement. This is why understanding the nature of relationships, whether it’s with your mind or with what we call “others,” is so drastically urgent. We actually have the opportunity today to locate and enact the understanding of our pre-existing unity in what I see as the calm before the storm. In this calm, it is fairly easy to see that understanding relationship fosters the conditions necessary to grasp that a Type 1 civilization from separation and a Type 1 civilization from realized non-separation are two very different places – even as they are lived into existence by the same source.

But maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s reiterate the question. The question is how do we survive this danger period that has equipped the separate self with weapons of mass destruction? The simple answer is that we must collectively wake up to what you call non-separation and realize that our collective identity is the impersonal existence of being that includes the personal. Surviving the transition to a Type 1 civilization is not solely dependent on energy needs – there is a corresponding internal transition that must happen if we are to make it to what Kardashev called the planetary. What is this transition? Let’s go about pointing to it this way. In the quote you just cited, notice that I used the word “we” a lot. This obviously refers to humanity as a whole, a distinction which is still engaging in the purview of separation. Getting to a place where “we” means something deeper than “humanity” is where the savagery and separative passions have a real chance of being properly understood and extinguished. “We” must amend our assumption of separation and find that the collective heart of humanity is pulsed as One prior to the experiences of the many individual pulses we imagine ourselves to be.

MR-B: That sounds very much like an article I read by Phil Torres on Motherboard where he wrote, “archaic beliefs about how the world ‘ought to be’ are on a collision course with neoteric technologies that could turn the entire planet into one huge graveyard.”

MK: Exactly. And now please allow a physicist to sound like a business-person for a brief second!

Objects of the thinking mind that arrive to awareness in terms of how the world “ought to be” are a marketing ploy of the separate self. Letting the unreal convince us of its advertising is the most successful sales job on the planet. Think about it for a second. How many people do you know that aren’t under the spell of separation? Next to zero is my guess. This leaves global culture as a form of market research that unknowingly studies and reveals the functioning of the separate self – with the chief marketer, your mind, constantly coming up with new stories that keep the illusion of separation firm so that bodies remain in conflict with themselves and others as they imagine themselves to be autonomous entities.

How the world “ought to be” and how the world is are two different occurrences that can actually be experienced simultaneously if you open to the impersonal. There is an experience where the story of the personal is noticed as it’s arising but not validated as “what ought to be” because it is recognized as a manifestation of the impersonal. This is precisely why you say non-separation is the impersonal existence of being that includes the personal. In separation, we spend most of our time tensely trying to drive our lives according to how the world “ought” to look in our eyes – but this is to the detriment of allowing the world to simply be as it is while relaxing as the unfolding.

Here’s what I recommend. I recommend we all learn to ask the question, “How am I being lived as consciousness?” – rather than feigning confidence and pretending control, assuming that we, as separate individuals, are living our neatly divided consciousnesses. From separation, “I ought” has to bow to the master of a pre-defined answer – a split in power that reveals a misunderstanding of what is living you. Seeing what you call non-separation, “I ought and therefore you ought” turns into simply “I ought” – but with the understanding that all is driven by the same pre-existing “ought” that is absent of any sense of rightness or wrongness.

This may sound overly high-browed or even childishly stupid – but if we don’t wake up sooner rather than later, the future looks bleak in a situation taken hostage by the assumption of separation. In a world where “others” exist at every turn, we are always one over-personalized reaction away from mass catastrophe.

MR-B: Switching gears a bit, I was speaking with a colleague earlier today and the conversation turned to anti-aging research. According to the Harvard geneticist George Church, scientists could effectively reverse aging within the next decade or so. This means actually making older people young again, not just stabilizing the healthy physiological state of people in their mid-20s. As Church puts it, the ultimate goal isn’t “about stalling or curing, it’s about reversing.” One possible way of achieving this end involves the new breakthrough gene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. Why do you think all of the focus of anti-aging research is purely on the physical?

MK: I would say identification with the body and misconception of death.

Identification with the body is epidemic – a ubiquitous part of the tribal worldview of separation. This kind of bodily identification is a false assumption of the religious and the secular, the scientific community, as well as the worshippers of diversity and even the spiritual. We must move beyond these tribal tendencies of labeling what we perceive as separate bodies based on family, religion, nation, race, gender, species, etcetera. But the way beyond the tribal isn’t the creation of new categories in a separative attempt at greater inclusiveness. It’s to recognize the more advanced linguistic weaponry that these new categories represent, how violent they are, even in the name of peace. Making egos comfortable by identifying more nuanced versions of them is an act of iterating the culture of separation, not the acceptance of diversity we are pretending it is.

MR-B: Were you going to say something about death?

MK: Who cares about death? It isn’t real. The possibility we’re pointing to is being released into life while the separate self is still present. We are taught to confuse birth as a beginning and death as an ending – when beginning and end are just concepts of the mind. Who were you before you were born that carries over into birth and will live on after what is called death? This is a question infinitely more valuable than giving attention to the collapse of a body.

What difference will anti-aging make if we remain in our mid-twenties physically but plod on attached to separation? The fountain of youth is merely a proper understanding of youth. Eternal youth is knowing that consciousness is all there is.

MR-B: Here’s another quote from the Motherboard article in which you were mentioned. What’s your take on what it says in regards to intelligence and fate?

Homo sapiens are considered the most intelligent species on the planet, where “intelligence” is defined as the mental capacity to attain suitable ends to achieve one’s means. But this could change if scientists successfully create a machine-based general intelligence that exceeds human-level intelligence. As scholars for decades have observed, this would be the most significant event in human history, since it would entail that our collective fate would then depend more on the superintelligence than our own, just as the fate of the mountain gorilla now depends more on human actions than its own. Intelligence confers power, so a greater-than-human-level intelligence would have greater-than-human-level power over the future of our species, and the biosphere more generally.”

MK: Notice the weight put on intelligence when humanity is not even intelligent enough to know itself.

As you would point out, what are all fates dependent upon? Knowing this is the only thing that can possibly change the human world. Anything else, no matter how “futuristic” it seems, is just a translation of separation.

MR-B: By day you are a physicist, a researcher and proponent of string theory. By night you are a philosopher interested in the brain and consciousness studies.

One of the concepts you frequently talk about is “CEO of the brain,” the part of the brain that lights up when a person is asked to think of “the self.” Why is this such an important concept in your study of the mind and consciousness?

MK: I think we would both agree that if one is not paying close attention to their experience as one appears to move through the world, there is a self that very much feels like it is making the decisions that constitute life. The self that seems to be making these decisions is what I call the CEO of the brain.

Basically, the mind convinces itself there is a CEO, and, of course, hires itself for the position! And we actually act shocked or offended when we witness Donald Trump-like behavior and wonder where it comes from!

But this leads back to your first question where I spoke about the mind as seemingly personal while what is aware of the mind is not. Ask yourself who or what is aware of the CEO – any importance this concept has is as a pointer to get the CEO of the brain situated properly so that it will meet the true CEO. Mind you, the CEO of the brain will kick and scream a bit. But, ultimately, you will find it to be like a kitten backed into a corner hissing and showing its claws. The fear is real and the threatening is cute – but the charade of controlling anything is over.

MR-B: Your old definition of consciousness was “the number of feedback loops required to create a model of your position in space in relation to other organisms and in relation to time.” What’s your opinion of this definition today?

MK: It’s a pretty damn good definition for separation and the experience of the separate self!

MR-B: I couldn’t agree more. So, here’s my final question – it comes from another quote I found of yours in an article published by Popular Mechanics.

“One day, if we have Brain 2.0, the ultimate goal of President Obama’s Brain Initiative, a map of all the neuro-networks of the brain will be a map that contains your memory. It will contain your dreams and desires, everything, on a disk. You can put that disk on a laser beam and shoot that laser beam into outer space. That would be the cheapest way to explore the universe, at the speed of light. No booster rockets, no oxygen to worry about, no weightlessness. You are sending pure consciousness into outer space.”

After taking a closer look, how would you now assess this comment?

MK: Pure consciousness can’t be “sent” anywhere. Saying that you are going to send pure consciousness into outer space is the same as saying you are going to send outer space into outer space. From non-separation, it just doesn’t compute.

Besides, sending consciousness to look at itself is unnecessary. Sending the downloaded mind to explore the universe may be interesting – but it will tell us nothing about “pure consciousness.” For that, you must locate who you truly are – which also has the advantage of not requiring booster rockets, laser beams, extra oxygen, or the challenges of weightlessness. All you have to do is sit right where you are and look within.

*This is a fictional interview written by Michael Richardson-Borne as a teaching of Non-separation.