Professor Michio Kaku is a wonderfully clever man who has thought deeply about the future of humanity. Sadly his show in Sydney last night was like watching the trailer for a movie – a short run of great highlights that give you a feel for the whole thing, but no real substance in itself.
So the pitch on which I spent $150 for a ticket was “World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, intimate detail the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilisation in outer space.”
The show was supposed to start at 8:00pm but didn’t kick-off until almost 8:30 with a series of ads for the organisers’ other shows. It did however finish on time 60 minutes later, probably to facilitate a meet and greet for members of the organsiers’ club. So for a start my 90-minutes became 60-minutes. I’m making that clear partly because it annoys me and left me feeling ripped-off, and partly because I have to admit to seeing everything else through a grumpy lens.
The show itself involved a brief introduction from the man himself which touched on the futurist things he had written about in his ‘best selling book” X and his “best-selling book” Y. And if you would like to know more you could buy his book. He must make an awful lot of money out of his books to prioritise pitching them over entertaining the 5,000 fee-paying listeners in the room. Then it was on to a chat with the MC for another 20 minutes and finally six or seven people got to ask a question – were Tesla’s inventions buried by commercial interests, and is clean coal the future of power were two that stood out as left field. There was an excellent question on scientists taking over from politicians but sadly it didn’t lead anywhere much. The touchstone response that resonated widely was that the middle of high school is the death-zone for young scientists’ enthusiasm and the curriculum needs to change to focus less on naming and memorising and more on principles.
Then it was all suddenly over for most of us. As I went with my son, I ended up $300 poorer for an hour of very light entertainment and information. Certainly there was no exploring “in rich, intimate detail” how humanity may move away from the planet. Like all movie trailers it left you wanting more, although sadly in this case the only way to get more would be to buy the Professor’s new book. So I just paid $300 to be given a teaser for a book.
Michio Kaku is a serious physicist, a polished and experienced presenter, and a thoughtful futurist. He’s a direct link to Einstein, Teller, and Feynman. He built a particle accelerator in his parent’s garage! He is a giant in the field. None of that was reflected in last night’s show and that’s deeply disappointing.
It’s possible all of this is indicative of a wider issue: We’re treating scientists like social media stars where just being in the same space as them is enough to be exciting: Kaku himself bemoaned a future where the Kardashians are wielding such deep influence over our society. It is disturbing when we turn serious thinkers into facile presenters, and that’s pretty much what we saw last night. I’m a great fan of the idea that scientists should wield more influence over our society – but only when they are doing so because of their thinking, not because of the fact they have become famous. And the only way we’ll know what a scientist is thinking is if they treat us like grown-ups and actually talk us through their reasoning.