The Physics of the Imbecile: Chopra Interviews Kaku

I don't remember who pointed me at this transcript of Deepak Chopra interviewing Michio Kaku, but if I remember who it was, I fully intend to hate them.

DC: Is our conversation affecting something in another galaxy right now?

MK: In principle. What we're talking about right is affecting another galaxy far, far beyond the Milky Way Galaxy. Now when the Big Bang took place we think that most of the matter probably was vibrating in unison.

DC: So it was already correlated?

MK: It was already correlated. We call this coherence or correlation. As the universe expanded, we're still correlated, we're still bound by these invisible webs. You can't see them. The book Physics of the Impossible is being filmed for the Science Channel and we actually filmed this quantum entanglement.

DC: You actually demonstrated this?

MK: We actually demonstrated it right on TV cameras. We went to the University of Maryland outside Baltimore and we showed an atom being teleported right across the room. You can actually see two chambers, an atom in one being zapped across the room. A TV screen shows the blip whenever an atom is being teleported and this is non-local matter.

DC: That means going from here to there without the space in between?

MK: That's right it just disappears and reappears to someplace else.


The whole thing is like this. It's just brimful of gibberish. I mean, I expect Chopra to sound like a character from Star Trek, that's his shtick, but Kaku claims to be a scientist. He's on every other show on the goddamn Science Channel, and here he is spouting New Age twaddle and grossly misrepresenting good science.

It's a measure of the incoherence of this whole mess that Kaku can't even locate the experiment properly-- at least, I assume he's talking about Chris Monroe's experiments at the University of Maryland. I suppose technically College Park is "outside Baltimore," but by that definition, so is Philadelphia.

More importantly, they don't teleport atoms from one place to another. At the start of the experiment, they have a ytterbium ion in a trap on one side of the lab, and a second atom in a second trap a meter or so away. They teleport the state of one ion to another-- at the end of the experiment, the second atom is in exactly the same quantum state that the first one was at the start of the experiment. No material objects "disappear and reappear someplace else"-- you have two ions at the start, and two ions at the end, and two ions at every instant in between.

The teleportation is also not instantaneous. The quantum teleportation protocol requires information to be sent from one trap to the other at a speed less than or equal to that of light. This is fudged a little in the Maryland experiment, as the way they establish the entanglement gives them only one of the four possible output states, so they have advance knowledge of where it will end up, but in a more comprehensive system, the teleportation is not complete until a final adjustment is made to the target ion based on information obtained from measuring something about the sender. Quantum teleportation is not magic, it's perfectly consistent with both relativity and quantum mechanics.

And they're not using any mystical entanglement that dates from the Big Bang to teleport states. They have to work very hard to get the states of their two ions entangled for the experiment-- their success rate is something like one teleportation every 12 minutes. That's the main reason why their experiment is impressive-- getting the entanglement to work is a great technical achievement (as explained in my ResearchBlogging post on the experiment). It's not something that we get for free because all matter used to be in the same place fourteen billion years ago, or whatever New Age idiocy Chopra's peddling this week.

And the whole interview is like this-- this segment is just the part that I'm in the best position to evaluate. Between the two of them, though, they manage to say all manner of idiotic things about physics, biology, cosmology, and computing. Among other subjects.

Somebody ought to be ashamed of this. Ideally, Kaku would be, but that's clearly not possible given that he went on Deepak Chopra's radio show in the first place. But somebody ought to be ashamed. I'm just not sure who-- the Huffington Post? the Science Channel? Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the Web that let me read this gibberish? Guglielmo Marconi for inventing radio?

I don't really care who, but there better be some shame around here somewhere. Because this is completely ridiculous. Jesus, my dog could give a better description of the relevant physics, and she doesn't have a Ph.D., let alone a tv show...


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I tweeted this link earlier this week, so you might have got it from me. If so, rest assured that I feel duly ashamed on behalf of everyone involved. I often think of starting a blog called "People say the funniest things ... about quantum mechanics", but I know that it would be too much effort for too little reward.

Right, now it's time to watch England get knocked out of the World Cup.

I'm so glad somebody took the time to put something up about this. When I read the transcript, I could scarcely believe I was actually reading it. I expect this out of Chopra, but like Chad, I am appalled by Kaku, who certainly must know better.

By Paul Frank (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

I'd suggest trying to read this like a joke. The first part clearly involves word magic, as if I said "Grow grass, grow!" and it obeyed me. The second part implies a pre-established harmony. Think Voltaire's Candide. Well, Dr. Pangloss, assuming that, this is the best of all possible worlds. This becomes even funnier if you've ever tried to read some of Leibniz's philosophical texts.

By Doug Spoonwood (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

Nice. Now I can stop being embarrassed every time I recall that "kaku" means "poo" in Polish.

By hat_eater (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

MK is really starting to get on my nerves... He's got a talent for publicity, I'll say that for him.

That's truly sad when a supposedly qualified physicist misrepresents the results of an experiment, particularly on a show run by the champion of the BS mystic frauds.
Chopra, is a con man or a complete moron.

You want to blame someone? That's easy. It's Barack HUSSEIN Obama's fault!

I've never trusted Kaku. Something about him just seems off. As a physics student very interested in how scientists present themselves to the public, I've paid attention. To me he's always come off as slimy, cocky, and a little bit like he's always missing the point. Non-physics folk see nothing wrong with how he presents things, but... it's never been quite right in my mind. This just shows that a bit more. There should be shame, indeed.

I donât like pointing fingers, but you really didnât have to link to that piece. We all have seen semi-retired academics (say, good two decades past their latest scientific paper) waxing poetic about something they have no expertise in, you could have left it to our imaginations.

Arrrrgh is right, this is wince-inducingly awful.

I'm more or less an interested lay person. Having said that I understand that there are many things that we simply can't explain. Personally, I like this mystery. However, offering an explanation into this void is similar to pissing in a whirl wind. You might not get wet, but odds are on that at some point it will all come back at you. Using science to explain mystical or spiritual situations is a really bad idea for the same reason. The difference is it takes away from science and props up a false belief. If you want to have faith, have faith. Offering up quasi-scientific explanations has created a large sense of distrust within me for any group or organization that employs them.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 23 Jun 2010 #permalink

Holy monkey, I can teleport across a room because everything correlated in the Big Bang!? I'm a God! I'm a God! I'm a--ow I just stubbed my big TOE.

@Glendon Mellow, initially I thought your comment was really funny. I guess I still do. But, it got me to thinking. The scientists and educated types I've known can be at any point of the scale of humble as the greatest saint to being nearly as ego-centric as the worst fascist dictator. But, none I've known ever thought they were God. Even in this situation what is insane about it is that these yahoos think that through an understanding of science, they either understand God or understand some great mystic principle. They don't become God and ego is not their problem it is that they believe they are of a true faith they have to "awake" others to. Personally, ego is an issue, but I'm really tired of the notion that everytime some scientific frontier, whether it is particle physics or stem cell research pushes the frontiers of human understanding, some one will claim they are "playing" God. Knowledge can be dangerous and new technologies must be tested...but caution is one thing...closing a door or creating perceptions of insanity or dangerous delusions within the scientific community helps no one and maintains dark age superstition about the acquistion of knowledge(the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge ring a bell?).

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 24 Jun 2010 #permalink

@Mike Olson,

Oh I agree, the "scientists playing god" trope is a silly one and not reflected by reality.

I was just trying to be silly, primarily, and also thinking of the New Agey we-are-all-beings-of-light type of assumptions sometimes thrown around - and how people can misunderstand even what Kaku and Chopra are going on about and dive deeper into nonsense.

You bring up good points about my off the cuff comment; thanks!

Eat that forbidden fruit, and plant an orchard.

kaku would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddlin' bloggers!

"... at least, I assume he's talking about Chris Monroe's experiments at the University of Maryland. I suppose technically College Park is outside Baltimore... "

No, well, it used to be at College Park. That was before the experiment.

Nobody has any shame anymore, certainly not M. Kaku...