From the London Telegraph
Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe,
seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave
reviews from scientists.
Garrett Lisi, 39, has a doctorate but no university affiliation
and spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii, where he has also
been a hiking guide and bridge builder (when he slept in a jungle yurt).
The E8 pattern (click
to enlarge), Garrett Lisi surfing (middle) and out of the
In winter, he heads to the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Nevada,
where he snowboards. "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."
Despite this unusual career path, his proposal is remarkable
because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not
require highly complex mathematics.
Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time
and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more
spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts. And it may even be
possible to test his theory, which predicts a host of new particles,
perhaps even using the new Large Hadron Collider atom smasher that
will go into action near Geneva next year.
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, working as a patent
officer, though failed to achieve the Holy Grail, an overarching
explanation to unite all the particles and forces of the cosmos.
Now Lisi, currently in Nevada, has come up with a proposal to do
this. Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, describes Lisi's work as
"fabulous". "It is one of the most compelling
unification models I've seen in many, many years," he says.
"Although he cultivates a bit of a surfer-guy image its
clear he has put enormous effort and time into working the
complexities of this structure out over several years," Prof
Smolin tells The Telegraph.
"Some incredibly beautiful stuff falls out of Lisi's
theory," adds David Ritz Finkelstein at the Georgia Institute
of Technology, Atlanta. "This must be more than coincidence and
he really is touching on something profound."
The new theory reported today in New Scientist has been laid out
in an online paper entitled "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of
Everything" by Lisi, who completed his doctorate in theoretical
physics in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego.
He has high hopes that his new theory could provide what he says
is a "radical new explanation" for the three decade old
Standard Model, which weaves together three of the four fundamental
forces of nature: the electromagnetic force; the strong force, which
binds quarks together in atomic nuclei; and the weak force, which
controls radioactive decay.
The reason for the excitement is that Lisi's model also
takes account of gravity, a force that has only successfully been
included by a rival and highly fashionable idea called string
theory, one that proposes particles are made up of minute strings,
which is highly complex and elegant but has lacked predictions by
which to do experiments to see if it works.
But some are taking a cooler view. Prof Marcus du Sautoy, of
Oxford University and author of Finding Moonshine, told the
Telegraph: "The proposal in this paper looks a long shot and
there seem to be a lot things still to fill in."
And a colleague Eric Weinstein in America added: "Lisi seems
like a hell of a guy. I'd love to meet him. But my friend Lee
Smolin is betting on a very very long shot."
Lisi's inspiration lies in the most elegant and intricate
shape known to mathematics, called E8 - a complex, eight-dimensional
mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887, but only fully understood by mathematicians this
year after workings, that, if written out in tiny print, would
cover an area the size of Manhattan.
E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is
57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional. Lisi says "I
think our universe is this beautiful shape."
What makes E8 so exciting is that Nature also seems to have
embedded it at the heart of many bits of physics. One interpretation
of why we have such a quirky list of fundamental particles is
because they all result from different facets of the strange
symmetries of E8.
Lisi's breakthrough came when he noticed that some of the
equations describing E8's structure matched his own. "My
brain exploded with the implications and the beauty of the
thing," he tells New Scientist. "I thought: 'Holy
crap, that's it!'"
What Lisi had realised was that he could find a way to place the
various elementary particles and forces on E8's 248 points.
What remained was 20 gaps which he filled with notional particles,
for example those that some physicists predict to be associated with gravity.
Physicists have long puzzled over why elementary particles appear
to belong to families, but this arises naturally from the geometry
of E8, he says. So far, all the interactions predicted by the
complex geometrical relationships inside E8 match with observations
in the real world. "How cool is that?" he says.
The crucial test of Lisi's work will come only when he has
made testable predictions. Lisi is now calculating the masses that
the 20 new particles should have, in the hope that they may be
spotted when the Large Hadron Collider starts up.
"The theory is very young, and still in development,"
he told the Telegraph. "Right now, I'd assign a low (but
not tiny) likelyhood to this prediction.
"For comparison, I think the chances are higher that LHC will
see some of these particles than it is that the LHC will see
superparticles, extra dimensions, or micro black holes as predicted
by string theory. I hope to get more (and different) predictions,
with more confidence, out of this E8 Theory over the next year,
before the LHC comes online."