Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Man wins physics (maybe)
November 15, 2007 6:42 AM   Subscribe

An exceptionally simple theory of everything has been released by a snow and surfboarding physicist. String theorists are grumpy feeling it doesn't have enough dimensions to be a proper theory. Others question and discuss. In it's favour - it's pretty! 10 Mb Quicktime
posted by Sparx (113 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or as our soaraway Sun reports it: "Computer geek: I know it all" - an internet nerd has solved the most baffling riddle of modern physics that stumped even Einstein – the theory of everything in the universe.

In other news, "Single mums: Fellas, would you go there?"
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 6:53 AM on November 15, 2007


Not enough dimensions? Pfff. He surfs. Case closed!
posted by DU at 6:56 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Download the paper here (PDF link on right of page). Only necessary if you have a brain the size of a planet.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 6:57 AM on November 15, 2007


"And it may even be possible to test his theory..."

I think I'll wait to get excited.
posted by Bugg at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2007


237 BC, Archimedes, "Eureka!"

2007 AD, Lisi, "Holy crap, that's it!"

We've come a long way.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm getting some crazy visuals from that video clip dude.

*packs bong*
posted by chillmost at 7:00 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


That reminds me. What ever happened to last year's outsider string theory alternative?
posted by Iridic at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2007


And by "exceptionally simple", they mean "you only need one doctorate in theoretical physics."
posted by chundo at 7:03 AM on November 15, 2007


To be fair, Olympian, "Eureka!" can be translated as "Holy Crap! I found it!"
posted by BrianBoyko at 7:04 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Einstein also began his great adventure in theoretical physics while outside the mainstream scientific establishment...

To paraphrase someone famous: In order to be an outsider genius, it is not sufficient to be an outsider. You must also be a genius.
posted by DU at 7:06 AM on November 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


If this is at all real, then it is awesome.

Even if it's not real, the guy sounds seriously cool and seriously smart either way. He's approaching stuff far, far beyond my capabilities with gusto and some degree of credibility, and for that I salute him and his bald, bald head.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:11 AM on November 15, 2007


Download the paper here (PDF link on right of page). Only necessary if you have a brain the size of a planet.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 8:57 AM on November 15 [+] [!]


Enh... I've got a mac and a reasonable amount of spare time. Does that count?
posted by Sam.Burdick at 7:13 AM on November 15, 2007


"All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end."
posted by bondcliff at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


To be honest - I don't understand a word of it. But scientists asking inpenetrable but cool-sounding questions interspersed with occasional other scientists being all "FOOLS! CRETINS! You can't have a hollyfeld matrix independent of splinor manifolds! It's non-backgroundable! No wonder you didn't get invited to the vice-chancellors bbq"? That's hot.
posted by Sparx at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2007 [13 favorites]


That first link is a hoot - pure and simple: "Being poor sucks," Lisi says. "It's hard to figure out the secrets of the universe when you're trying to figure out where you and your girlfriend are going to sleep next month."

I kind of assumed it was one of those "Ghost/piece of lint haunts Ohio gas station" stories. Then I looked at some math blogs and uh, I didn't understand a word of it. Which is a good sign something is actually happening.

I look forward to a literate translation of what the hell this all is.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:31 AM on November 15, 2007


Please tell me that somewhere in these equations and manifolds and dimensions and Lie groups, the number 42 comes out.
posted by Mach5 at 7:32 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Lee Smolin is hardly a slouch--the fact that he finds Garrett's work to be "fabulous" is pretty significant.

And Garrett himself understands that it's a long shot.

This guy is no flake.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:33 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


i bet Luboš Motl is a hoot at parties!
"Every high school senior excited about physics should be able to see that the paper is just pure junk. I understood these things when I was 14."
posted by the painkiller at 7:33 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Although the work of 39 year old Garrett Lisi still has a way to go to convince the establishment, let alone match the achievements of Albert Einstein, the two do have one thing in common: Einstein also began his great adventure in theoretical physics while outside the mainstream scientific establishment was kick-ass on the slopes and atop a wave."

Reimagined that for them.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:34 AM on November 15, 2007


Oh cool, given the leadup I was totally expecting a 'snowboarder/surf dude's' theory of everything to be either "Love" or "Zeppelin"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:38 AM on November 15, 2007


Terminal, it's been done.
posted by condour75 at 7:42 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


How does one pronounce his last name "Lisi"? If he becomes the new Einstein, it will become a part of the cultural lexicon.
posted by stbalbach at 7:48 AM on November 15, 2007


the painkiller: "So, what did I learn at Stanford? Among other things, that when you talk to string theorists in person, they’re much more open-minded and reasonable than you’d expect! Of course, when your de facto spokesman is the self-parodying Luboš Motl — who often manages to excoriate feminists, climatologists, and loop quantum gravity theorists in the very same sentence — it’s hard not to seem reasonable by comparison."
posted by you at 8:01 AM on November 15, 2007


I kind of assumed it was one of those "Ghost/piece of lint haunts Ohio gas station" stories. Then I looked at some math blogs and uh, I didn't understand a word of it. Which is a good sign something is actually happening.

While this guy does seem pretty legit, it's also worth pointing out that many a math department has been besieged with complex but worthless crankery. The obscurity of some disciplines can attract pretenders and crazy people.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:06 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


This dude thanks Tony Smith. I vote crackpot.
posted by phrontist at 8:07 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


What I learnt today.
The Standard Model A thing I don't understand may not, after all, be explained by String Theory a thing I don't understand, but rather by the much simpler E8 thing I don't understand.

*cries*
posted by Phanx at 8:13 AM on November 15, 2007 [13 favorites]


So is it all done in Lisp after all?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:23 AM on November 15, 2007 [5 favorites]


educated stupid.
posted by papakwanz at 8:23 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


surfers pushing the envelope of elementary physics . . . naaah.
posted by huckhound at 8:24 AM on November 15, 2007


I vote crackpot.

Me too.

/not a physicist but with strong crackpot-dar
posted by languagehat at 8:25 AM on November 15, 2007


you writes "who often manages to excoriate feminists, climatologists, and loop quantum gravity theorists in the very same sentence"

Meh ! I can do that ... " you suck "
posted by elpapacito at 8:28 AM on November 15, 2007


It's the Timecube guy with bigger words. Smells like crazy!
posted by Justinian at 8:29 AM on November 15, 2007


"Exceptionally simple?" Hah! Not simple enough, I tell you. Not simple enough. Go work on it, and come back when you've gotten it really simple. That's what I say.
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 AM on November 15, 2007


That was pretty movie, that God guy is pretty talented.
posted by oddman at 8:33 AM on November 15, 2007


Even if his theory were false, it wouldn't make him a crackpot, he actually says that he thinks it has a low probability of being true. Coming up with a theory itself is not enough to make you a crackpot.
posted by delmoi at 8:34 AM on November 15, 2007


Hmm, the main link references a story from March about the E8 solution, which clearly anticipates its application to fundamental physics.

I don't doubt that Risi is brilliant or that the theory is controversial, but I think the "lone iconoclast upending the stodgy establishment" angle is being a bit overplayed here.
posted by bjrubble at 8:35 AM on November 15, 2007


Lee Smolin is smart. Lee Smolin has some neat ideas. Lee Smolin would be all, like, "Your idea shows incredible promise and may yet revolutionize physics!" when presented with a precocious three-year-old's reasoned opinion that the cosmos is composed of tiny Cheerios and powered by the slobbery love of adorable invisible puppies, as long as the little tyke didn't let slip that, on the other hand, there might just be something to string theory. Then the knives would come out, and our peewee physicist would be on the ground bleeding, and Lee Smolin would last be seen running down the street in the rain cursing Brian Greene and his perfect TV-ready hair.
posted by dyoneo at 8:39 AM on November 15, 2007 [12 favorites]


If he's a crackpot, he's of an unusual variety. I've encountered more than a few crackpots and they're normally of two varieties:
they're either obviously wrong and you can immediately point to at least one reason why, or they write such total nonsense it's completely impossible to start to explain why they're wrong, but nonetheless it's obvious that they are wrong.

I've encountered one crackpot who happened to be right, but was determined to have a conspiracy of physicists telling him he was wrong anyway.

This though, I don't understand in the same kind of way I don't understand most papers coming from that area of physics.

Although following phrontist's link does lead me to raise my eyebrows a bit.
posted by edd at 8:40 AM on November 15, 2007


He may be wrong, and he admits as much, but he's no crackpot.
posted by Ricky_gr10 at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2007


This dude thanks Tony Smith. I vote crackpot

In one of the comment threads it's pointed out that John Baez has thanked Tony Smith. I don't know anything about Smith but it's at least possible he is not holocaust-denial grade misguided on the subject, despite having an eye-blisteringly awful website and apparently poor academia-socialisation skills. It's not like Lisi cited him.
posted by Sparx at 8:59 AM on November 15, 2007


That's a serious wave he's riding in the first link. Respect.

And he's pretty handy with the spirograph, by the looks of it.
posted by dontoine at 9:01 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


So, judging by the pictures in the paper, there is indeed a universal Jewish conspiracy behind everything.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:03 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


And hey, what's up with the 2012 kooks commenting here? Go back to your pseudosciencetards.com forum and leave the real science to the rational.
Posted by Kevin Loaf on November 15, 2007 3:41 PM
Report this comment


Oi! Sparx, think you've been rumbled! This guy's clearly using his loaf.
posted by Wilder at 9:04 AM on November 15, 2007


Not completely without precedent.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:09 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


An exciting discovery. Garrett Lisi rocks.

Love that exquisite kaleidoscope image of the math involved, E8.

E8 reminds of the sacred geometry of Sri Yantra and another with a diphonic performance of the joy hymn in one breath sung by Tran Quang Haï, Small on the outside, infinite on the inside.
posted by nickyskye at 9:10 AM on November 15, 2007


CAN HAZ INTERDIMENSIONAL WARPDRIVES?
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on November 15, 2007


Having spent a little bit of time on sci.physics as an undergrad, I think I have a fairly well-developed crackpot radar.

One notable thing that signifies crackpot to me is the assertion that Academia is Out To Get Them Because They're Too Right, though he gets a few crackpot points just for titling the paper what he did.

But he also spends a lot of time saying "this sure is a long shot, but it seems awful neat to me."

And that, friends, is NOT classic crackpot behavior.

His E8 ideas may be wrong; they may be badly wrong, but my crackpot detector is barely wiggling.
posted by chimaera at 9:17 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Luboš Motl (the string theorist linked in the post) is probably more the classical crackpot type himself.
posted by parudox at 9:18 AM on November 15, 2007


This could be very cool (if I understood even a tiny fraction of it), but there is great potential for crackpotism. Like a friend of a friend of mine. The guy has claimed to have "re-written the laws of physics". Without a degree in physics. And still works as an x-ray/MRI tech. Hmmm...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:19 AM on November 15, 2007


Where do I PayPal the money so I can download his eBook?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:24 AM on November 15, 2007


I've got the simple answer:

Jesus.

or if you prefer.

Flying Spaghetti Monster.
posted by papakwanz at 9:26 AM on November 15, 2007


I wonder if They Might Be Giants would treat this theory more kindly than they did string theory. (awesome song, btw)
posted by ericbop at 9:27 AM on November 15, 2007


Just want to throw in too that, anyone who says, "I'm really excited about this... I hope to make some predictions and have them verified at the LHC" and in the very least doesn't add, "Unfortunately, the international conspiracy of physicists won't let me" is not a crackpot.

He may be wrong in many, many ways, but he's not a crackpot.
posted by Alex404 at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2007


All theoretical physics is crackpot because there is no way to experimentally verify. You can say whatever you want so long as the math looks sorta good. What makes E8 special is it may be possible to actually verify it.
posted by stbalbach at 9:30 AM on November 15, 2007


'All theoretical physics is crackpot because there is no way to experimentally verify.'

You seem to have a rather narrow view of theoretical physics. The overwhelming majority of it is experimentally verifiable. It's not all high energy string theory stuff.
posted by edd at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2007


8 dimensions makes way more intuitive sense.
posted by ewkpates at 9:54 AM on November 15, 2007


Will this new theory explain why clicking on the last two links in the post apparently caused FF to crash, which then required a reboot of my Windows box? No? Useless, then. Thanks a lot snowboarding physicist guy - git back on the slopes.
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on November 15, 2007


Well, it doesn't seem like pure crackpottery. He seems to have a grasp on the actual problem (crackpots tend to invent, and solve, their own problem) and at least some familiarity with the tools used by experts. I can speak to whether the math is right, or even sensible.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:57 AM on November 15, 2007


edd, your right, I didn't mean to disparage theoretical physics as a whole.
posted by stbalbach at 9:58 AM on November 15, 2007


I didn't even understand the abstract, but I do love the visuals graphics. I clicked on the .mov version and as it started to play a Dead tune came on my i-pod. Everything, it seems is connected.
posted by mmahaffie at 10:04 AM on November 15, 2007


And I didn't mean to imply the guy was a crackpot in the TimeCube sense, just that I'm pretty sure he's punching above his weight. It's true that "this sure is a long shot, but it seems awful neat to me" isn't classic crackpottery, but, well, it sure is a long shot, all right.

Also, I knock ten points off his credibility score for being a surfer dude. Sorry.
posted by languagehat at 10:08 AM on November 15, 2007


He has a blog.
All the attention has been fun, but a bit overwhelming, and I think I just want to go back to playing with equations for a few months. I hope people can keep in mind that this is just a theory, it has no experimental support, and it might be wrong. I think it's got a shot, which is why I work on it, but it's still just a developing theory. So don't go crazy, people; but yes, it is pretty damn cool.
posted by edd at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2007


Here's Lisi's C.V. rfom his website. Looks much more interesting than mine, I have to admit.
posted by Sparx at 10:18 AM on November 15, 2007


From the Telegraph comments:
-------------------------
No disrespect.. but who cares about "the theory of everything" or anything else for that matter, when our country is being ruined and made dangerously unstable by state sanctioned mass immigration?

WHERE ARE THE LARGE SCALE PUBLIC PROTESTS? DON'T WE CARE ABOUT LOSING OUR COUNTRY???

I've almost lost interest in ALL other issues.

Posted by James on November 15, 2007 5:17 PM
-------------------------
posted by everichon at 10:22 AM on November 15, 2007


there's not one reference to string theory in his paper. it seems strange to no even acknowledge it.
posted by bhnyc at 10:24 AM on November 15, 2007


I have only a high school plus popular science level understanding of physics. My appreciation of physics is in many ways aesthetic. I've gone back and forth on string theory. "I like it because it's a big mess!" "I don't like it because it's a big mess!" As tons of people have remarked, the E8 theory is straight up beautiful. I have no basis for knowing whether Lisi's right or not, but I want him to be right.
posted by Kattullus at 10:39 AM on November 15, 2007


I call Reverse Sokal.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:40 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Three dimensional universe? Clearly this man is high.

"And it may even be possible to test his theory..."

I think I'll wait to get excited.


One of the charges that Smolin makes against string theory is that it's not easily disproven, because it allows for an infinite variety of possible universes, none of which really match the world we know. In that respect, alternate theories that lead to experiments (new particles? let's find them!) are kind of exciting.
posted by eddydamascene at 10:50 AM on November 15, 2007


From the C.V. linked to above:

5/05-1/06 Peletex, Inc.
Aqueous-froth air filter research and development.


Why, I was conducting some similar research just last night...
posted by mosk at 10:55 AM on November 15, 2007


Yes. Won't somebody think of the childrenimmigrants??
posted by Laen at 10:59 AM on November 15, 2007


People are throwing out Einstein references, but what this reminds me of more than Ol' Crazy Hair is Mendeleev's formulation of the periodic table. The Periodic Table of Elementary Particles, if you will. If this pans out I think a lot of people will be smacking themselves in the head going "why didn't I think of that?!" I'm sure a lot of other people thought there might be a Periodic Table of Elementary Particles, but I never even conceived of the idea that there might be such a thing and I'm smacking my forehead going "why didn't I think of that?!" It's such a simple, intuitive idea. It's so damn elegant!

Again, with the caveat that all this might just be big whoop.
posted by Kattullus at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Has it been peer reviewed yet?
posted by ozomatli at 11:13 AM on November 15, 2007


So the universe is, like, eight chinese checker boards stacked on top of each other? That’s cool.
posted by stargell at 11:19 AM on November 15, 2007


I'm in the wanting him to be right-crowd as well. A Grand Unified Theory/Theory of Everything would be a great addition to maths and physics. It means we'll all have beach houses on Mars in 15 years!
posted by flippant at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2007


like all other societies theoretical physics has politics and political fights so this is interesting in the context of the backlash against "string theory" as other theories fight for money and attention.

this is another "gauge theory" using a novel and large Lie group "E8." Gauge theory is essentially field theory: electromagentism is given by the group "SO(2)" and the "standard model" is essentially given by the group "SU(2)." The basic idea is that by enlarging the number of symmetries (effectively enlarging the group) you can account for more forces in the field theory that gets spit out.

for a string theorist, field theory is 19th century mathematics and to them this is like saying "hey, i've built steam powered rocket that could take me to mars." so, regardless of whether it is science or crankery it's just not interesting (to the string theorist) and sort of a threat since if the steam rocket could make it to mars than why should the department give me this money to built my super-subtle super-rocket using mirror-symmetry...

this is why the society of science largely sucks.
posted by geos at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


I e-mailed Dr. Lisi on the name thing and he replied: "My last name is Italian, Lee-see."
posted by Kattullus at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


just think of all the asinine flame wars going on that don't involve the surfer dude with a phd in theoretical physics: man bites dog...
posted by geos at 11:44 AM on November 15, 2007


"Exceptionally simple?" Hah! Not simple enough, I tell you. Not simple enough. Go work on it, and come back when you've gotten it really simple. That's what I say.

2 + 2 = universe.

I accept cash, check, credit and paypal.
posted by cortex at 11:47 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


But what's the universe 4?
posted by Sparx at 12:26 PM on November 15, 2007


All this did was remind to be dissuaded by super collision .
posted by fook at 12:26 PM on November 15, 2007


You know, given the first sentence of this fpp, I had thought that this was about a man who studied surface tension, or state change, or a dozen other things implicated in water and snow sports.

You people are way too hung up on lifestyle/hobby choices.
posted by dreamsign at 12:29 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


At the risk of turning the internet hordes against Lisi, he's a first-poster. At least he's doing it ironically (wait... is that worse?)
posted by Kattullus at 12:31 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have no idea where you people are getting "crackpot". Because, although he has a PhD, he doesn't happen to have a university or lab affiliation? Huh?

This is an elegant theory that makes testable predictions. That really doesn't say "crackpot" to me.

A lot of people - including me - are going to like it because if it's true, it resolves certain, let's call them, intuitive problems that many people have had with string theory. String theory is *clunky*. It often feels like a bunch of kludges and hacks bundled together. People want there to be a more elegant pattern to the universe, something that is, while not simple, beautiful and symmetrical.

That doesn't, of course, mean that it's true, or that it isn't. Many aspects of the universe do seem to be elegant - but many do not. I think an unbounded Universe is inelegant, too, but all current knowledge seems to point towards one. Dark energy still irritates me, but the evidence is all coming down on its side.

Still, I think the detractors of this theory aren't giving it nearly enough credit. The he could fit all known elementary particles and forces neatly onto E8 with only 20 "holes" is an astonishing coincidence if there's nothing to it. Even if it turns out not to be a TOE, I suspect there's something here.

But, we'll likely find out in a few years or so. And it's always possible that both this and string theory are completely wrong ...
posted by kyrademon at 12:32 PM on November 15, 2007


Edd, I'm curious to hear the story about the one crackpot who was right and imagined that there was a conspiracy against him.
posted by ErWenn at 12:56 PM on November 15, 2007


Essentially, I (amongst a sizeable number of other people) received an email from someone going to great lengths to convince us that quasars were in fact powered by supermassive black holes. Unfortunately I no longer have the email.

I probably exaggerate to say he thought there was a conspiracy against him, but he clearly thought people would disagree with him, when in fact most people wouldn't. There were certainly lots of details he'd got wrong, but the general gist was correct. You'll see from the wikipedia page that the basic mechanism behind quasars were not understood until relatively recently, but this was around 2004 - essentially everyone had reached the conclusion that supermassive black holes were at the core of these objects a good number of years before then.

I didn't reply to him I'm afraid - mainly as it's too easy to be drawn into time consuming conversations that don't really go anywhere, and I did kind of wonder whether he'd be a bit let down to find himself actually a part of the scientific consensus rather than a maverick struggling against it.
posted by edd at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Remember, those who label people as crackpots without understanding their theories: Tesla was a world-class crackpot, but the man figured out alternating current. Take a look around you at everything relying on alternating current, and ask yourself if you mind that he was a crackpot.

and at least he didn't electrocute animals intentionally like Edison did
posted by davejay at 1:28 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Tesla failed as a crackpot; his Death Ray didn't work! A real crackpot would never rest while his death ray was non-functional.
posted by Justinian at 1:41 PM on November 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


I am only excited if this theory helps to get us closer to a real-life portal gun. And also, I want some cake.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:45 PM on November 15, 2007


Way gnarly! I just knew we would be surfing to the stars!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2007


I can't view PDFs here, but this looks like a new way to tame the infamous "particle zoo" and impose some structure beyond "we have a lot of stuff here, and we have no idea why we need three families of fermions, but there they are."

At this point, I'll back just about anything over string, err, superstring, umm, M-theory, for a handful of reasons: M-theory, what little I have clapped eyes on, is ugly; it screams "too freakin' hard;" I need an accelerator the size of a galaxy to do test it; and it doesn't seem all that terribly useful.

Don't get me wrong, the TOE, should it exist, could in fact be hideously complex, unelegant, computationally intractable, highly counterintuitive, and generally a nasty piece of business only the genetically-engineered, sleep-indoctrinated, Piracetram-chewing superscientists OF THE FUTURE could understand, but I'd like to save that unpalatable option for the very last.
posted by adipocere at 3:05 PM on November 15, 2007


Mmmmmmm, cake. I want cake too. 8 dimensional cake. With sprinkles.
posted by ninthart at 3:53 PM on November 15, 2007


As far as I can tell (and please correct me if I'm off, as I am a dilettante when it comes to higher-dimensional anything) this is not an explicit refutation of the string hypothesis.

Granted, it's using fewer dimensions. But Lisi's point is narrower in scope. He is attempting to unify gravity with the other forces -- and he interpolates as-yet-unseen particles in the meantime. While this qualifies under the traditional definition of "theory of everything," it does not seem so robust as to describe the internal structure of particles. This seems, instead, to be a revision of the Standard Model that might give symmetry to the quantum zoo.

I've met more than my share of crackpots and Lisi does *not* fit the profile. Crackpots are generally dismissive, cock-sure, paranoid and poorly credentialed. Lisi does not show any of these traits. If it turns out Lisi is wrong (and we can find out soon enough) he'll just be wrong. No harm, no foul.

If Lisi does get some verification, it will probably be a boon to string folks. After a couple decades, the string hypothesis has yet to develop anything usefully predictive despite a host of explanations -- what Brian Greene has described as "an embarrassment of riches." If Lisi is right, the string people will be able to concentrate their efforts better. (Personally, I have my doubts about strings. But, again, I'm a dilettante.)
posted by McLir at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2007


On the matter of surfing, that's just the kind of dumb sh*t journalists love. (I'm speaking from past dumb sh*t I've done.)

To quote Richard Feynman:

"On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics."
posted by McLir at 4:21 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


The guy has claimed to have "re-written the laws of physics". Without a degree in physics.

Er, besides his Ph.D. in physics from UCSD, you mean?
posted by dmd at 5:02 PM on November 15, 2007


Not invented inside the tower! BURN IT!
posted by Sukiari at 5:18 PM on November 15, 2007


Kattullus's mention of the Periodic Table strikes me as particularly insightful. Mendeleev's first table wasn't exactly perfect, and indeed the table today isn't some fundamental law of nature but a pointer to a deeper set of laws governing chemistry - those saying how electrons build up in shells in atoms. Basically, Lisi doesn't even have to be right to have done something tremendously useful and to have given us a pointer to how to progress.

But again, I'd point out I don't understand what he's done, so he could be going in completely the wrong direction. I'll just have to wait and see.
posted by edd at 5:26 PM on November 15, 2007


The guy has claimed to have "re-written the laws of physics

dmd: I think you missed the preceeding sentence

Like a friend of a friend of mine.

Though I'm all for rewriting the laws of physics. IN CRAYON BABY, YEAH! Or maybe felt tip pen.
posted by Sparx at 5:31 PM on November 15, 2007


It's silly, but it makes me happy that there's an alternative to string theory that offers testable predictions. Everything I know about string theory I learned from one episode of Nova so I'm not even a dilettante here, but as an empirical scientist I'm uncomfortable with huge theories that explain (almost) everything while predicting (almost) nothing. Fire up the Large Hadron Collider and get to work, guys!

Pony request: can we have an FPP on this E8 thingamajig? It's got that fractalicious allure of something I'll never actually understand but which seems to be lurking in the very structure of the universe, so I'd like to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the concept. Plus, these esoteric math subjects usually involve really pretty pictures.
posted by Quietgal at 7:38 PM on November 15, 2007


Oops.
posted by dmd at 7:47 PM on November 15, 2007


Only necessary if you have a brain the size of a planet.

I have a brain the size of Pluto, but unfortunately, that no longer counts.

*shakes fist at Science*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:11 PM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


8 dimensions makes way more intuitive sense.

Here's what I reckon, after considering it for about 11 seconds (I've considered it before, but I have trouble remembering stuff before last week):

Even number of dimensions: no deity, no wife, no horse, no moustache.
Odd number of dimensions: God's all up in the eschaton, immanentizing that motherfucker.
Infinite number of dimensions: I am that I am (wonderchicken).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:18 PM on November 15, 2007


I e-mailed Dr. Lisi on the name thing and he replied: "My last name is Italian, Lee-see."

If he was Chinese, his name would be pronounced the same way.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 PM on November 15, 2007


edd: Kattullus's mention of the Periodic Table strikes me as particularly insightful.

I'd be all like "yeah, I'm the motherflippin!" except... well... Lisi describes his theory in his paper as "the periodic table of the standard model." I mean, I hadn't read the paper or the link from the fpp which mentions it when I made my comment, but... but... y'know, I've always aspired to be Captain Obvious, wearing my underpants on the inside. Every step forward is a step closer, no?

I'm now working my way through Lisi's paper, underlining all the words and concepts I don't understand so that I may attempt to study and learn it. I fear my pen may run out of ink before I get to the end of the paper.
posted by Kattullus at 10:52 PM on November 15, 2007


Quietgal, there was a previous post about E8 back in March, for what it's worth.
posted by whir at 12:14 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


slashdot weighs in. Thank god I don't rely on my knowledge of this stuff to make a living. I would be so fired.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:06 AM on November 16, 2007


The theorist speaks in this livejournal thread (yes, he has a livejournal).
posted by Eideteker at 4:40 AM on November 16, 2007


The answers to life, the universe, and everything, brought to you by Spirograph.

Who knew?
posted by po at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Whir, thanks! Off to read it now.
posted by Quietgal at 7:18 AM on November 16, 2007


This thread with Lisi et al at Backreaction is priceless. Science in this century is going to be so great. Imagine if Einstein was a MeFite, Feynman posted on Slashdot, and Tesla was a Burner (Lisi is!). That's what we're in for with the scientific heavyweights of our generation. I love it.
posted by mullingitover at 1:42 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm a pretty smart guy but that thread at Backreaction has destroyed my self esteem.
posted by Justinian at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2007


Physics is so out of my league.

Go humanities!
posted by flippant at 4:47 AM on November 20, 2007


Lisi talks about the last week (via).
posted by edd at 5:30 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


From the same FQXi forums that edd linked, there's a FAQ (consisting of actual questions and responses by Lisi) about the theory and some of the underlying math which does an excellent job of providing detailed descriptions of it for the layperson. It also includes a few little offhanded gems like this:

--4. From a physics stand point, which is better, surfing or snow boarding?

Ha! There's more going on while surfing, with water and wind rushing all around you -- it's about chaos and taking chances. Snowboarding lets you draw a cleaner line -- it's more geometric and deterministic. The difference between these two is a lot like the difference between particle physics, with it's many quantum particles careening off one another, and Einstein's theory of gravity, the smooth geometry of curved spacetime. I think, for completeness, you need both.

posted by whir at 2:32 PM on November 20, 2007


« Older Caroline Bergvall writes poems(mp3) modulated by t...  |  This house at 770 Eastern Park... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments