I was listening to Tim Ferris’s interview with Michio Kaku and though I haven’t finished it yet, a few things stood out.
It was interesting to note the amount of support that Kaku had as a kid for his interest in science. He told his parents that he wanted to create an atom smasher in his garage and his parents obliged. This undertaking would require yards of metal and all of the power in the house to even attempt, but the parents were on board.
This anecdote along with the fact that Kaku won the national science fair as a kid indicated that he had signs of promise early in life to have a successful career in science.
He eventually went to Harvard, I want to say he graduated, but was then drafted into the army. You would think that he would work as a scientist for the army or in a similar role, something utilizing his education and training. Instead, he was drafted as an infantryman. Can you imagine? Who screwed that up. Fortunately, he returned from his service and we have the astute academic today.
Kaku’s parents were interned during World War 2. When Ferris asked Kaku was conflicted about serving the same country that stripped his parents of their possessions and basically imprisoned them, he said no. The way he saw it, he understood that it was war and sometimes certain precautions are taken. In addition, his parents told him not to be upset, but rather be thankful for all of the opportunity that America does provide.
Going back to Kaku’s ambition and academic success early in life, I wonder how much of it was nature and how much of it was nurture. I don’t remember much about his environment other than his parents were immigrants and he probably live at most a middle-class life. I say that to say, he didn’t come from privilege, at least not the kind we normally think of. Also, his parents weren’t academics so it’s not apparent that he likely inherited “intelligence genes.”
Ultimately, perhaps Michio Kaku’s life story serves as an example of the possible academic success possible with the right support and interest alignment.