Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Carp Scientist

When I was a child, I used to visit the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. I would spend hours fascinated by the carp, who lived in a very shallow pond just inches beneath the lily pads, just beneath my fingers, totally oblivious to the universe above them.

I would ask myself a question only a child could ask: what would it be like to be a carp? What a strange world it would be! I imagined that the pond would be an entire universe, one that is two-dimensional in space. The carp would only be able to swim forwards and backwards, and left and right. But I imagined that the concept of “up”, beyond the lily pads, would be totally alien to them. Any carp scientist daring to talk about “hyperspace”, i.e. the third dimension “above” the pond, would immediately be labeled a crank.

I wondered what would happen if I could reach down and grab a carp scientist and lift it up into hyperspace. I thought what a wondrous story the scientist would tell the others! The carp would babble on about unbelievable new laws of physics: beings who could move without fins; beings who could breathe without gills; beings who could emit sounds without bubbles. I then wondered: how would a carp scientist know about our existence? One day it rained, and I saw the raindrops forming gentle ripples on the surface of the pond. Then I understood.

The carp could see rippling shadows on the surface of the pond. The third dimension would be invisible to them, but vibrations in the third dimensions would be clearly visible. These ripples might even be felt by the carp, who would invent a silly concept to describe this, called “force.” They might even give these “forces” cute names, such as light and gravity. We would laugh at them, because, of course, we know there is no “force” at all, just the rippling of the water.

Today, many physicists believe that we are the carp swimming in our tiny pond, blissfully unaware of invisible, unseen uni- verses hovering just above us in hyperspace. We spend our life in three spatial dimensions; confident that what we can see with our telescopes is all there is, ignorant of the possibility of 10 dimensional hyperspace. Although these higher dimensions are invisible, their “ripples” can clearly be seen and felt. We call these ripples gravity and light. The theory of hyperspace, however, languished for many decades for lack of any physical proof or application. But the theory, once considered the province of eccentrics and mystics, is being revived for a simple reason: it may hold the key to the greatest theory of all time, the Theory of Everything.


Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist specializing in the String Theory. He also teaches at NYU and the City College of New York. Kaku’s carp story is food for thought. He opens a door of possibilities, and we step into it. We find ourselves up to our waist in questions, but we are scared to answer them. We use our familiar life-line of beliefs to reassure us that Kaku and others like him are crossing into sacred territory without a permit. But, when we think about outside of our religious beliefs, we realize there’s nothing sacred about our quest to know what life means and how we function in spite of our ignorance.

But our ritualistic blinders are tight, and we pull the covers of religion over our heads and hope the talk of other universes and realities goes away. The best, we want to offer our inquisitive mind, is faith. The faith that God will stand firm and show us his truth. The interesting fact, we all miss, is God does show us his truth every time we expand or tweak our beliefs. In the awareness of that expansion, lies the face of God. God’s face is our face expanding in the experience of living in the magnification of our pond of beliefs.

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