When the news officially hit that Fringe will be continuing its existence on The Science Channel, I might have spontaneously combusted for a split second (don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist!). Yes, this is correct! Fringe is coming to The Science Channel, starting Tuesday November 20th in weekly three hour blocks from 8 to 11pm! Starting from the beginning with the two hour pilot episode, we will get the glory of three full hours of Fringe tomorrow night and every Tuesday after! On top of that awesomeness, while you’re basking in our post tryptophan haze, you can enjoy daylong Fringe marathons this Friday November 23rd from 10:30 am to 11 pm, and Saturday November 24th from 11:30 am to 11 pm. So, now there’s really no excuse to not get caught up on Fringe!
Created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, Fringe is now in its fifth and final season. For anyone who knows me, I have been rather fanatical about this show since it first aired on Fox in the fall of 2008.
Fringe follows Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), and Walter Bishop (John Noble), members of “The Fringe Division” of the FBI. Under the supervision of Homeland Security, the team implements the use of “fringe” science along with FBI investigative techniques to tackle a series of unexplained, bizarre, and often horrific cases that are usually related to or surrounding a mysterious parallel universe.
What began as a simple sci-fi flavored procedural, evolved into a show that has been best described as a combination of X Files, Altered States and Twilight Zone. As the story has progressed through each season, the show has further explored its mythology and is all the better for it. Episodes have run the gamut from horrific to comedic, from suspenseful to musical (yes, there is a musical episode!).
Given how much I love this show (you should too), I cannot even begin to describe my excitement when GeekNation got the exclusive opportunity to discuss some aspects of “fringe” science with theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku. Dr. Kaku will be featured in the short form companion series to Fringe, called “The Science Of Fringe”, also on The Science Channel.
GeekNaton: If an alternate universe exists, what would that world’s Dr. Michio Kaku be known for?
Dr. Michio Kaku: Many quantum physicists today, including several of my friends and colleagues who have won Nobel Prizes, lean toward the Many Worlds interpretation, which states that the quantum universe is continually splitting into parallel universes. String theory (my specialty) also leads naturally to this “multiverse” interpretation, since each solution of string theory represents a different quantum universe.
This means that, in principle, there may be quantum copies of ourselves in these different universes, in which we may be rock stars, famous politicians, or homeless people. Each of these parallel versions of ourselves, in turn, insists that they are the real person, and that all other copies are fake.
But this does not mean that we can easily enter such parallel universes to meet copies of ourselves to settle the question. Think of listening to the radio in your living room. There are many different radio waves filling up your room from different radio stations, but your radio only vibrates (i.e. is coherent) with one station. Your radio has decohered from these other universes and hence cannot pick up their signals. Similarly, each universe vibrates at different quantum frequencies, but we have decohered from them, i.e. we do not vibrate at the same frequency anymore. Hence, it is amazing that there are many parallel universes existing in your living room (e.g. with dinosaurs, pirates, comets, or nothing at all), but you have decohered from them, and hence cannot make contact them. In principle, perhaps people who have died are still alive in one of these universes in your living room, but if you reach out, you cannot make contact with them. Yes, this means that Elvis is probably still alive in one of these universes.
GeekNation: Many topics are explored in Fringe, including time travel, shape shifting and dream sharing. Which of these three topics are the most theoretically possible?
Dr. Michio Kaku: All of these technologies are very difficult. but I would guess that dream sharing will come first. Already at the University of California at Berkeley, scientists have placed subjects in an MRI machine, used a computer to decode all the signals emanating from the brain, and then reassembled a reasonable picture of what the person is thinking. When viewing animals, people, buildings, this MRI machine is able to reconstruct a crude picture of these objects.
In Kyoto, scientists there have been able to “read” the brain of people who are looking at different words. One possible next step is to place a sleeping person in the MRI machine, and then decode the signals from the dreaming brain, and then put the image onto a screen. (This has already been done, but so far the images are very crude, but one can clearly tell that a person is dreaming about another person using this MRI machine). So, in the coming years, we might be able to watch our dreams on a DVD as soon as we wake up and share them. Also, deliberately altering the course of a dream, as it progresses, might be possible. “Lucid dreaming,” where people are aware of the fact that they are dreaming and hence can alter the course of dreaming, has been verified at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Hence, it might be possible to watch a screen and deliberately alter the course of the dream by talking to the dreamer.
Dr. Michio Kaku: Shape shifting might be possible within, say, a century. Already, scientists can create computer chips the size of grains of sand. These chips can be programmed to alter the electrical charge on the surface, so they bind in definite patterns. This is called programmable matter, where we tell these smart sand particles to reassemble into different shapes. Just like we program software, we might be able to program intelligent sand so that it can reassemble into different shapes.
Eventually, these smart grains of sand might become the size of molecules, in which case we might be able to alter the shape of an object at will. Some scientists believe that the key to this might be a nanobot which can guide molecules to rearrange themselves into any object you want, like the replicator in Star Trek. Although physically possible, the techinical problems may take a century to solve.
Time travel is also theoretically possible, but extremely difficult to achieve in the lab. If you have enough positive energy (e.g. a black hole) to punch a hole in space, and enough negative energy to keep the hole open against gravity, then you might be able to build a time machine. Since the energy necessary to tear a hole in space is comparable to that of a star, this technology is many thousands of years into the future, if it is possible at all. So far, no one has ever been able to find an error in the equations which allow for time travel. (One objection might be that radiation builds up as you enter the time machine, since energy can circulate an infinite number of times through the time machine). Then it might explode as soon as you enter. (But this problem may be eliminated in the Many Worlds interpretation, where energy makes just a single pass through the machine.) To settle the question, we need a “theory of everything,” like string theory, to calculate the radiation that might be created by the time machine.
GeekNation: A number of episodes though out Fringe’s five seasons have touched on experiments done on children that resulted in heightened mental abilities. While the drug trials are fictitious, is it safe to say heightened mental abilities can result from medical experimentation?
Dr. Michio Kaku: There are several ways in which one might, in principle, enhance our brain power. First, by using genetics. Already, scientists at Princeton have discovered the “smart mouse” gene, from which you can create a mouse with superior cognitive skills.These mice can navigate mazes much faster, they learn tasks much faster, they have better memory, etc. The chemical pathways which make all this possible is also being decoded. Humans have a counter part of this gene in our body, so it might be possible one day to enchance our abilities in this fashion.
Also, we are 98.5% genetically equivalent to a chimp, our closest evolutionary neighbor. But we live twice as long and are much more intelligent. Hence, among a handful of genes separating us from the chips are the genes which doubled our life span and also increased our intelligence, and we are finding these genes now.
Dr. Michio Kaku: Also, scientists have studied individuals with “savant syndrome,” in which they suffer from mental disorders, but have fantastic calculational and artistic abilties far beyond normal. Usually, there is some degeneration, damage, or lesion on a specific part of their left temporal lobe of their brain. It is believed, although not proven, then this disrupts the balance between the left and right brain, so that the right brain compensates for the impairment of the left temporal lobe, causing these abilities to surface (while normally they are suppressed). Some scientists have even tried to use magnetic cranial devices to “shut down” this area of the left temporal lobe to induce this ability. (The results of this experiment were mixed, with some enhancement taking place, but nothing like what has been found in these individuals). It may be possible, however, that one day science can duplicate this miraculous ability.
So far, there is no proven way of increasing our brain power. But all this suggests that it might be within the laws of science to enhance our intelligence.
What else is there to say? For more amazing insight on “fringe” science from Dr. Kaku and other leading experts in the field, and to get caught up on Fringe from the beginning, tune into Science Channel tomorrow at 8pm or set your DVR. Trust me, this show is a MUST SEE for any sci-fi fan!
If you can’t wait to see Fringe on Science, you can always watch the SDCC Fringe panel right here, right now!
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