Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dude, where's my string theory?

Thirty-nine year old surfer dude Garrett Lisi, who holds a doctorate in theoretical physics but is not affiliated with any university, made waves among the Theoretical Physics crowd on November 6 by publishing An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.

The theory, according to its fans, interweaves the current Standard Model — which attempts to explain 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 — with gravity, the (so far) unexplained fourth force of nature.

Lisi's theory does this, believers say, with a minimum of mathematics, explaining Everything in terms of E8, an eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887. The Universe, I think he's saying, is 248-dimensional.

Lisi says "I think our universe is this beautiful shape."

Lisi's theory apparently does what String Theory can't: make predictions about the nature of the Universe that can be tested. Lisi's theory may just leave String Theory in knots.

Physicists, it seems, either love Lisi's theory, or think it's "hogwash" born of "crackpot physics."

Georgia Institute of Technology physicist David Ritz Finkelstein was quoted as saying, "Some incredibly beautiful stuff falls out of Lisi's theory. This must be more than coincidence and he really is touching on something profound."

Self-described "conservative physicist" LuboŇ° Motl (who has been called an "unpleasant troll" by writer Pozorvlak) of Pilsen, Czech Republic wrote on his blog The Reference Frame that Lisi's theory is a "huge joke" that caused him to explode in laughter.

"There is not a glimpse of physics in that paper," writes Motl, a string theory enthusiast. He tosses around words like "silly" and "kindergarten physics," and seems especially fond of calling every physicist he disagrees with a "crackpot."

"Every high school senior excited about physics should be able to see that the paper is just a long sequence of childish misunderstandings," says Motl.

Who is right? Is Lisi the next Einstein, surfing instead of working in a patent office? I don't know.

I'm just an observer, and I remain uncertain, thanks to Werner Heisenberg.

And what I do observe with interest is how the "conservative" status quo, the physics "establishment," has quickly moved to cast aspersions on the out-of-the-mainstream-but-qualified physicist Garrett Lisi. It reminds me of the online battle of words and ideas between young, "upstart" Freemasons with fresh ideas and mainstream, toe-the-line, conservative grand lodge-loving Masonic bloggers who decry innovation and a return to true education.

"You're unmasonic! Obey the Grand Lodge! Don't think for yourself!" sounds very much to me like Motl's warning against "the recent fashionable trend [of accepting] an ever broader set of passionate amateurs and undereducated, intellectually challenged loons into the physics circles."

It's always entertaining and interesting to observe when youthful brashness, optimism and new opinions smash and collide against staid, indoctrinated and firmly entrenched "leaders" who call others crackpots (or the Tin Foil Brigade) and support their worldview by dismissing dissension with "everyone knows...."

Read Lisi's An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything and decide for yourself.

Or just watch the movie.

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  1. WS:

    What a beautiful model that is! I am no where near being able to comment on its validity, but I do love when ideas can be presented in elegant models. To me, there is merit just in that beauty.

    It reminds me a little of the logic models of Shea Zellweger, a mathematical outsider, which you can see at the wonderful IFF website:

    Regarding your thoughts re: FM -- I see that for any field to be dynamic, there must be a tension between inside and outside, accepted and challenged. Mainstream American FM has, IMO, been moribund too long, and the recent challenges to the power structure are a step in the right direction. Without change, there can be no growth.

    Meanwhile, the history of "irregular" freemasonry is basically one long series of schisms and start-ups, always has been. Le Droit Humain was born out of irritation with the status quo, and I thank god it was. But then again, my own lodge has been through a schism, and that was enormously painful and counterproductive.

    I'm no fan of everyone sailing off in their own little dinghies because they want to be captain, but then again, we can't all be stuffed into one carnival cruise.

    There has to be balance in all things. We must always try to work with our highest wisdom as we move forward, to know the difference between ego and justice, when something can be resolved, and when it is time to move on. Very adult skills, huh?
    We really learn to use the tools of Freemasonry when it all hits the fan.

  2. Sis Kelly,

    I think schisms are the result of those in power trying to force their ideology and world-view on others. This works for awhile and they appear to have control. Over time internal tensions begin to rise. (It's like water building up behind a dam.) Eventually, the internal tensions and stresses are too great to be contained and the dam bursts taking with it all sense of authority and control.

    These situations are avoidable but it requires that those who think they have absolute power realize that it is nothing more than an illusion; and that they exercise leadership instead of control.

    Thriving organizations are flexible and easily conform around the needs of their members. This was true is 1717 and Freemasonry grew rapidly. Unfortunately, by 1750 Freemasonry had become too rigid and the schism of the 'Antients' was the result.

    The new order is always far more flexible than its predecessor, and as a result a paradigm shift occurs.

    History is merely repeating itself. All of these events, and those yet to come, were easily predictable.

  3. The part that sent a shiver up my back was at about 1:52:

    "using simple geometry, the pattern predicts...bringing it right back to the beginning"

    I know it's just a theory at this point, but any theory that can use simple geometry to explain the unification of the fundamental forces deserves some masonic attention!

  4. I agree with you entirely, Bro. Peace. I hope you did not interpret my comment as in any way unsupportive of these specific recent events.

    To the contrary, I am absolutely thrilled that Halcyon and Euclid have taken this stand. I am reminded of how I felt when I saw the Berlin Wall fall. Amazed. Hopeful.

    I am also very curious as to what comes next!!

  5. sis kelly,

    Actually, I was very pleased to read your comments and have always found them to be full of useful insights.



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