"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, November 16, 2007


Well, one way to get science done is to not bother with the grants, the bureaucracy, the reports, the committees, and the modest income, and rather to just be a bum doing science.

Here's a garbled article on the Telegraph that reports that an unemployed but healthy and robust fellow has created a promising "Theory of Everything", i.e., a mathematical foundation that accounts for both gravity and quantum theory. It sure looks a lot like string theory at the vast distance I view it from, (something group theory something something) but apparently the math is actually a lot simpler than that called for by string theory. You could have fooled the reporter who blithers "E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional," and to be honest you could have fooled me.

For all I know this is completely bogus, but I really like the back story. Oh, yeah, the article is headlined Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything .


Anonymous said...

Great title, fun.

On the one hand, it seems pretty unlikely... lone researchers being compared to Einstein - usually a red flag.

On the other hand:
1) Group theory certainly helped out particle physics way back, so sometimes some pretty abstract theory turns out to be useful.

2) It doesn't seem on the surface any weirder than string theory.

3) IF it actually makes testable predictions, it would be interesting.

Jason Delso said...

So I read this post, and start thinking about gravity... Thinking about gravity generally leads me to think about black holes... And thinking about black holes usually leads me to think about Frederick Pohl's science fiction novels about the Heechee... And that led me to think about "universal constants" ("physical constants"?)... And that led me to think about the speed of light...

Is the speed of light still thought to be a constant? I don't trust Wikipedia implicitly, but it states that it is. What if the speed of light (and other/all constants) is not a constant? What if it's simply a function of some other constant, or what if it's a function of something that's not a constant, like the size of the ever-expanding universe? What if the universe isn't really expanding, but it only appears that way to our frame of reference and level of understanding? What if the Theory of Everything blows my mind?

What if I started musing about science fiction novels and a picture that looks like it was created with a Spirograph?

This is too much for my brain. I'm going back to climate change/peak oil alarmism land, where I'm comfortable. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's the first time I'm posting.

Please, be serious about this guy: that paper it's total nonsense!

There's no hint of physics the way it's known nowadays except for a fancy decomposition... but also there's a lot of weird maths, like adding bosonic and fermionic fields, etc.

This just exemplifies that reading science in newspapers or even some magazines (i think it appeared something in New Scientist) can be dangerous!

You're probably aware of this in your own field. At the lowest level, how many times people get wrong the difference between meteorological and climatological issues?

Well, sorry, just wanted to say something accurate about that article. If one relies more on the peer-review process, just go to Spires:

and search for his research career:
find a garrett lisi

You'll get 6 papers in 13 years, only 1 is published in a journal, and a total of 5 citations... ufff

Of course I agree that the diagrams are fun. Indeed I guess this has been the source of so much excitation in the media ;)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sean Carroll; I think Lisi should have spent a lot more time justifying how he manages to sidestep the Coleman-Mandula theorem, a well known "no go" result that has traditionally proved an obstacle to what Lisi wants to do.


The speed of light is still thought to be constant, but there has been some work on "variable speed of light (VSL) cosmology" (Wikipedia), with a lot of argument as to whether it's physically meaningful.

Michael Tobis said...

Sho, I am not in a position to judge the quality of the work, and I have already said so. I would not be in the least surprised if you are absolutely right.

However, I for one would vastly prefer if a person's credibility were not solely based on their formal publication and citation record!

If the work is judged on whether or not he has paid his dues rather than on the merits of his work then the scientific enterprise is in deep trouble.

I for one can make almost no sense of what modern physicists do or achieve. So it's not for me to judge the work. If you point to a discussion of the substance of the matter that is one thing. POinting to his lack of a formal record is another thing entirely.

That is what makes the story interesting to most of us. I personally have not been sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the GUT, since its existence or nonexistence will likely have negligible impact on anything I do or care about.

Anonymous said...

Of course Michael, I cannot agree with you more that good ideas and good researchers is by no means just about "the record". That's why I wrote an "If" in the sentence "If one relies more on the peer-review process, just go to Spires". That was after just some technical argumentation.

Indeed I would say more: it is because of this citation hysteria that many postdocs etc have left. There are a whole bunch of very good researchers (at least physicists) that are simply not working on one of the fancy fields today.

But to be fair, I think one has to acknowledge that in the world today, there's usually a strong correlation between some sort of citations and being good at it. One can for sure get more precise: a good record with papers in different topics, all of them with nice or even good citations, I guess it is telling you that researcher is doing ok. Isn't it?

Just to put it in your own territory: how many breakthrough papers have been recently from totally unknown guys?

Nice to talk to you. Cheers.