Behold the Most Complicated Object in the Known Universe

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Brainstorming image. Most scientists don't achieve their first big breakthrough until their late thirties. (User art4all/Shutterstock)

Dr. Michio Kaku tackles the most fascinating and complex object in the known universe: the human brain. For the first time in history, the secrets of the living brain are being revealed through high-tech brain scans devised by physicists. In The Future of the Mind, Kaku looks at the astonishing research being done in top laboratories around the world—all based on the latest advancements in neuroscience and physics.  

Interview Highlights

Kaku said that we’ve learned more about the human brain in last 10 to 15 years than in all of human history combined. He talked about the mission of the BRAIN initiative, launched by President Obama last year. “We want to do is to have a map, a complete map of the brain, all the way down to the neural level. Then we’ll see whether or not we can duplicate schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and OCD,” Kaku said. “When the brain malfunctions, we think part of it is because of the it’s wiring that’s been done incorrectly, but there’s no map, there’s no map of the brain.”  

Mapping the brain is a larger, more complex project that mapping the human genome was. There are roughly 23 thousand genes in the human genome. But, Kaku said, “The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.”

Other promising new technologies include memory-stimulation devices. “We’re thinking of creating what is called a brain pacemaker, like your heart pacemaker, for Alzheimer’s patients.” He explained how it might work: “If an Alzheimer’s patient forgets their keys, for where they’re located, forgets who they are, they just hit the pacemaker, or the pacemaker automatically clicks on, and they remember who they are, they remember where to go home.”

Another technology is a device called the “god helmet,” which shoots electromagnetic radiation into the brain and indices religious behavior. “It turns out that the left temporal lobe, if there’s a lesion there, will create hyper-religiosity. People become super-religious. They see demons and spirits everywhere. We think Joan of Arc may have had it.” You can actually induce this kind of behavior in someone when they wear the helmet (the effects are temporary).

There are also some new drugs on the horizon that can help people forget things. “This has military implications because of all the wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan,” and those who have PTSD, he said. Of course, there’s a danger in drugs like this. “ What happens when you put a false memory in someone?”


Dr. Michio Kaku

Comments [21]

Quent Braz from NYC

The 10% of the brain is a myth; we use all of the brain. See:

May. 29 2014 06:35 PM
April from Manhattan

After the first computer came to town, in a huge room, my father a university prof, proclaimed to my brother and me that we wouldn't die. Our brains would be recorded on computers. We'd check out a body to play tennis or make love. However he was highly pessimistic about us as a species. Predicted Katrina, based on the "improvements" of the Mississippi and foresaw Climate Change. We are marvelous creatures. We think. Yet are incapable of acting rationally. We continue to use fossil fuels, and overbreed. Kill each other over a delusion called God. Or Goddesses, an improvement in Hinduism. Unfortunately, I have ESP. Usually I know someone is going to die. Though it was ecstatic when my father woke me up the moment he died at 6:04 AM, streaming through me saying "YES!', out the window through the bare pear tree and shot off towards the rising sun. I spoke of that at his memorial service. So many other professors came over to thank me for talking about that kind of experience. When John Lennon was killed about ten blocks south, I was in bed going to sleep, but kept waking with the sight of a solar ball being rolled and smashed into blood. I'd go back to sleep and the image recurred. Finally I got up and went into the living room. Asked my husband "What's happening?" "John Lennon was just shot." I'm an atheist mystic. Third generation atheist. I disagree with Mr Kaku in that he assumes he knows what animal's do and do not experience. And a lesion on the brain does not reduce a mystical experience to meaninglessness.

Feb. 26 2014 10:16 PM
John A.

Look, complain about the advertising and you might lose download privileges.

Feb. 26 2014 07:02 PM

To Independant_Noach and WNYC - I'd appreciate such a page

Feb. 25 2014 02:17 PM

How about creating a page for listeners to comment on the pitching interludes?

I know I'm not the only one who has a thing or two to say about sponsors like Tek Serve (because of Apple's atrocious labor record and more) and Whole Foods (See, for example, ). Or the salaries of WNYC President and CEO Laura Walker (roughly $500,000 last I checked) and any number of other privilged WNYC and NPR employees.

Feb. 25 2014 02:10 PM

Dr. Kaku suggested we shouldn't "lock-up" people who take pleasure in the pain of others (i.e., sadists) unless/until they actually commit a crime.

But don't such individuals need treatment and careful monitoring to ensure that they don't endanger society?

Feb. 25 2014 01:55 PM

Animal instinct vs ability to plan - bears, crows, beavers... need no instruction to forage, nest, cache, repair, breed, care for offspring... They will do these things without instruction. Raise a kitty without any feline interaction and it will hunt mice w/o instruction. Why do cats like catnip but reject the rest of the mint family - no training required?

Feb. 25 2014 01:53 PM
db from Manhattan

How do you see the interaction between from theoretical physics and neuroscience?

Feb. 25 2014 01:48 PM

What do you believe limits human intelligence? I tend to think we are closing in on our innate abilities.

Feb. 25 2014 01:43 PM
John A.

But how Aspergian is Dr. Kaku himself, however?

Feb. 25 2014 01:42 PM
oscar from ny

I love Dr Kaku..I spent many hours smoking pot and listening and watching this guy ..its so entertaining and interesting..
Ps, I wonder if he believes in the lord master..

Feb. 25 2014 01:39 PM
Lorin from Park Slope

William Gibson's "Constructs" (I think): stored consciousness.

Feb. 25 2014 01:33 PM
Penny from Downtown

Take the bear:
Does it stuff itself frantically with berries and fish with no idea of the impending winter? Does it choose a den robotically, or with knowledge of the coming weather---probably better knowledge and feel than we have.

Take the beaver:
Would it repair its dam if it didn't know that the water level would go down and open its house to predators?


Feb. 25 2014 01:29 PM
Sandy Cook from Ocean NJ

Has there been any mapping or physical research into severe depression. Particularly when it's combined with bipolar symptoms. Are they related or totally separate in nature?

Feb. 25 2014 01:29 PM

If you can make a "god helmet," can you also make an "atheist" helmet?

Feb. 25 2014 01:29 PM


Feb. 25 2014 01:28 PM

He keeps saying that animals don't plan, what about crows who cache food?

Feb. 25 2014 01:22 PM
John A.

Sometimes I think the main advantage of Brain imaging is that it allows professors to say "this lights up" and "that lights up" to an audience who just themselves "lit up" before entering the lecture hall.

Feb. 25 2014 01:20 PM
John from Brooklyn

I once asked Michio Kaku about the possibility of the internet becoming
sentient, his answer was that we could always pull the plug. I don't think this was a satisfactory answer. Has Professor Kaku really thought about the implications and Ethics of neuro-tech?

Feb. 25 2014 01:10 PM
antonio from baySide

It's always noted we only use only 10% of our actual brain, do we know if that percentage has increased as we evolved? DId that hold for Neanderthals, CroMags too? Has any research been done with other animals in this regard?

Feb. 25 2014 01:08 PM
Ana from NJ

How can scans and imaging help people with dementia?

Feb. 25 2014 12:59 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.