Graphic/John Stembridge, University of Michigan
Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything
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).
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.
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.”
An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything – A. Garrett Lisi
I don’t know, it looks pretty complicated to me, but what is really interesting is how the graphics are like old alchemical symbols, it does not require more dimensions than the vanilla varieties we are used to, and the new Large Hadron Collider set to come online next spring will be able to test his theory.
Jared Tarbell has rendered an exceptionally beautiful version of the E8 figure – hi-res version