A Surfer’s Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

Garrett Lisi, a freelance physicist who apparently divides his time between surfing in Hawaii and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, has come up with a new (and apparently falsifiable) approach to unifying quantum mechanics and gravity without using superstring theory, and is being taken seriously. I’ve blogged about the problems in physics before, and in the context of that unfolding drama, this appears to be viewed as a win for the heterodox camp (which includes digital physics). Even if it is ultimately proved wrong, there seems to have been some movement, and what is interesting to us non-physicists is that it seems to require a complete break with the establishment to make progress.

I won’t pretend to understand what the guy actually achieved, since I understood about 1% of the paper, but the best us lay people can do is think of it as follows: Lisi somehow used the E8 exceptional Lie group to write down a unified description of both gravity and quantum mechanics. Some details:

I am a sucker for a romantic story, and I guess that’s why this story resonates with me, no matter how it ends. That somebody could basically choose to be an impoverished odd-jobber in pursuit of something like this makes me hopeful that we aren’t dead as a species yet.

The one critical point I sort of understood was made by Woit in his blog: that Lisi’s approach just substitutes the question “How to unify” with the equally difficult question “what breaks the unified grand symmetry?”

If I ever get a chance to take a year-long sabbatical, studying all this physics is what I will do with my time. Unfortunately, I am not smart enough or brave enough to quit my job and deliver pizza to pursue things like this.

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter