Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Easy Surfing

New Scientist Space Blog: Surfer physicist gets grant to study theory of everything

A. Garrett Lisi lives the life. While most of the news stories about this young theoretical physicist focus on his not having a job and slacking all over the place with his surfer buddies, the New Scientist reveals that Lisi doesn't need a job -- he gets $77,222 this year to think about physics by way of a grant from the Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology Institute. Not only that, but he was also paid $38,640 a year for the past two years by FQXi to do the same thing. That will buy a lot of Mr. Zogs Original SEX Wax.

Being paid for thinking is nice work if you can get it. Lisi is the author of a paper that attempts to create what Einstein could not -- a Unified Field Theory that reconciles General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics. The paper, "An Exceptional Simple Theory of Everything" (requires PDF), posits that the relationships of all the particles in the Universe can be explained with the mathematics of a figure called G-8. It looks like something you could make with a Spirograph-- click on the picture below for a much larger view.

According to The London Telegraph the figure is "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."

Lisi noticed an uncanny resemblance between the equations used to explain the relationships of the points in G8 and equations used to explain elementary atomic particles. He was able to show that 228 of those points represent a known sub-atomic particle. The other 20 are particles yet to be found — including the elusive ones that power gravity.

Lisi will spend his year working to create testable predictions that would prove his mathematics in the real world. In between surfing, hiking, and other essential activities, he will be calculating the masses of the 20 particles. If any of these particles with these masses are confirmed later this year when the Large Hadron Collider starts up, then Einstein may have to move over closer to Newton to make some room on the shelf for Lisi.

Lisi himself gives the probability of his being right as tiny. This real or affected humility is necessary for survival in the sciences. It should be remembered that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity shook up the scientific world so badly that rival scientists jealously prevented him from ever receiving the Nobel Prize for it. The one Nobel he did receive was for the lesser theory on the photoelectric effect and that was awarded only after world-wide public censure shook up the Nobel Committee and forced them to toss Albert a bone.

A comparable lynch mob of String Theorists ,who have spent their entire lives working on a rival theory that has yet to yield one single testable prediction, are already making ugly noises.