Surfer Solves the Mystery of the Universe
Regis NicollRegis Nicoll's weblog
- 2007 Nov 21
...Well, maybe. As I have noted in "Unlocking the Mystery of the Universe" (part I, II, and III), for the better part of a century, investigators have been on the quest for the Holy Grail of science—a theory of everything (TOE) that unifies all the laws of physics into a single, meta-principle of the universe. Among other things, the TOE would account for the universal forces and elemental particles of nature, as well as the relationships between them.
While the Standard Model of physics has been highly successful in describing the properties for dozens of fundamental particles, as well as the electromagnetic force and two nuclear forces, it doesn’t include gravity, nor give a clue as to how the twin pillars of physics—General Relativity (governing the very large) and Quantum Mechanics (governing the very small)—can be reconciled with each other.
But that may soon change. Garrett Lisi, who has a Ph.D. in physics but works in construction, and serves as a hiking guide when he’s not surfing, has found what he believes is the key to the TOE. It involves an arcane mathematical artifact discovered in the 19th century, called “E8.” E8 is an intricate geometrical pattern that models the inter-relationships and symmetries for objects with up to 57 dimensions.
"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.
Lisi's proposal has gotten some high-caliber attention. Prominent physicist, Lee Smolin calls it “one of the most compelling unification models I've seen in many, many years."
Needless to say, Lisi has a long way to go before his theory is enshrined as scientific orthodoxy. Promisingly, experiments at the Large Hadron Collider could give it significant heft, something that is not possible with foreseeable techniques for the rival string theory.
At the same time, even if experimental research ultimately verifies the E8 theory, Lisi’s model will only describe how, rather than explain why, the fabric of the cosmos conforms to it. In fact, the most vexing questions of man -- Why is there something instead of nothing; Where did it come from?; Does life have meaning and purpose?; What does it mean to be human?, What is the "good" life?, etc. -- will be left unanswered by this, and any other naturalistically derived, theory.
That's because the real “Theory of Everything” is neither embedded within an esoteric mathematical abstraction nor penetrable with the next generation of particle accelerators; it is revealed in an ancient text that begins, “In the beginning…”
What do you think of Dr. Lisi’s finding. Post your comment here.