Monday, August 06, 2007

Garrett Lisi's Inspiration

Some weeks ago I asked Garrett Lisi to write a contribution to our Inspiration series. He suggested we instead do an interview by email. I found it a good idea because I thought it might be easier to keep these inspiration posts to a manageable length - after all, I could just stop asking, right?

B: Well, let me start with some introductory questions so readers know what they are dealing with. Ten words that describe Garrett Lisi?

    G: "Vell, Zaphod's just this guy, you know?"(I can't follow instructions)
B: Five things that are important in your life?
    G: Physics, love, and surfing. I'm only three dimensional -- and no, those aren't in order.
B: Complete these sentences: When I was 15 I thought I could ...
    ... get a girl to like me by showing off.
- Now I know ...
    ... all one really needs to do is listen.
- My biggest mistake was/is ...
    ... not listening.
- I dream of ...
    ... discovering a beautiful T.o.E. that kicks string theory's ass.
B: Well, next time a girl says ten words, try to listen.
    G: Ha!
B: Okay, so among all the possibilities to show off why physics and surfing?
    G: Because they're the hardest? No, actually, physics and surfing aren't about showing off. I've always been intrigued by the relationship between mathematics and nature. In school, we learn the math first, then later we learn some physics and see that the math relates to what happens in the world. Then we learn more complicated math -- calculus, group theory, differential geometry, and so on -- and see how this all connects up and describes how the universe works; it's quite wonderful. I got hooked. And the surfing... surfing really nice waves is simply the most fun one can have on this planet.

    We have these big brains, and a limited amount of time. So what to do? A lot of people spend their time making money, sometimes with the hope that they'll be able to do what they want after they make it. But you never get that time back. Theoretical physics is the most abstractly beautiful and challenging pursuit there is. It's what I want to spend my time thinking about, so that's what I do.

    But all thinking and no action would make for a dull life. So I surf.
    A lot.
B: Was that destiny, random choice or your physics teacher and her convincing arguments?
    G: Ha, no, my first highschool physics teacher once told my parents: "I'm afraid Garrett just won't ever get anywhere in physics." I remember arguing with him in class constantly -- at one point he stubbornly claimed the force of gravity grew stronger near the center of the earth. He was a chemist.

    As a kid I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. And I was very good at math. Turns out I was too good at math -- I got so interested in math and physics classes that I ditched engineering during my second year of college.

B: And what is the beauty that you are dreaming of?
    G: Currently, this:


B: Sorry for the delay, E8 got stuck in PI's spam filter... Do you think beauty is in symmetry and simplicity, and should be our guide?
    G: I've always found symmetry and complexity to be beautiful. Not complexity in the "random mess" sense, but as a richness of structure... which belies an underlying simplicity. I think nature is a balance of simplicity and complexity in this funny way. Though I do follow one guide for theory building:

    "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." - A. Einstein

B: Why then would you want to kick string theory's ass?
    G: Because I think it's probably not how nature works.

    We have two very good models in fundamental physics, general relativity and the standard model of particles and interactions. A T.o.E. is a theory that combines these two, reproducing them in some limit. (Whether a T.o.E. exists is a separate debate.) It's a hard thing to build, since the structure of these two theories seems very different. GR is fundamentally geometric, while QFT has algebra all over the place. Nevertheless, if you think there is a T.o.E., and you're guided by simplicity, then there should be a unified theory that gives both of these others.

    Now, string theory started out with these same motivations, and had a lot of initial success. Back in the eighties people thought the standard model particles were going to naturally come out of the theory at any moment. But they didn't. In order to match the known particles, people have had to build very elaborate structures of branes and orbifolds using all sorts of contrived assumptions and hundreds of parameters. At this point, string theory is a giant kludge, much messier than the structure of the standard model it's supposed to describe. Because of this, I have to think it's probably just not how nature works.

    Now, I would never dictate what other physicists should work on. And I even think string theory is still promising enough that it's good for some people to work on it. It's just not for me. What I've been working on recently, as a T.o.E., is a theory that combines all fields of the standard model and gravity in a purely geometric Yang-Mills theory with a single connection.

B: As much as I think your approach towards a ToE is very interesting, I have to say to me that a connection looks neither simple nor beautiful.
    Yah, I used to feel that way too -- we see all this messy algebra. But what is a Lie group? It's just a large manifold, with a shape and symmetries described by vector fields -- the Lie algebra elements. A connection and its curvature is a description of how this shape twists around our four dimensional spacetime. And that's all there is to it -- it's purely geometric. This isn't the way physicists usually think of a connection, but mathematicians have been thinking of it this way for at least fifty years, and they've been having a lot of fun.

B: So isn't beauty a very subjective requirement?
    G: Yes, it is. But, you know, what makes us physicists and not philosophers is that, at least in principle, our theories need to agree with experiments.

B: You're living on an island, and keep your distance to the academical networks. Do you think that solitude and silence are necessary to our understanding of nature's ways?
    G: To a degree, yes. But mostly I spend time in Maui because it's beautiful and the surf is good. And although I work on my own, my wonderful girlfriend is usually around, painting or knitting. And I have friends to hang out with occasionally. Ideally, I think what one needs in life is balance. I like to spend a few hours a day working on physics in silence, and a few hours playing outside or goofing off.

    I've been thinking about what the ideal scientific work environment would be, and the best thing I've been able to come up with is a Science Hostel. I envision a large house where theorists could live and work on their stuff alone or in groups while having their meals and living space provided. The idea is to give researchers time, with an easily accessible but undemanding social atmosphere, and as little responsibility as possible. And, of course, it would have to be somewhere beautiful -- with good hiking and other things to do outside. For the past year I've been living near Lake Tahoe -- a great environment for thinking and playing. Anywhere in the mountains would probably be good for a Science Hostel -- even better if it's next to a good ski hill. :)

    The reason I've been out of the scientific network isn't because I thought it was bad, but because I didn't fit in it. I love differential geometry, GR, and QFT, but I don't care for strings. Ten years ago, when I got my Ph.D., the only postdoc positions available in these overlapping areas were in string theory. So, since I had some money saved up, I moved to Maui to work on the puzzle on my own, and learned how to windsurf. Now, ten years later, string theory isn't doing so well and there are starting to be other opportunities in foundational physics. The LQG community has grown significantly -- and they're a wonderful group of people. Also, the FQXi foundation liked what I was doing enough to give me a nice grant. So I felt the time was right to leave my quiet island and start talking with people.
B: Okay, thanks, I think this is sufficient. According to my estimate the attention span of the average blog reader is about 100 words. But most skip the middle section and read the bottomline. So, do you have some last words?
    G: Ah, an epitaph...
    Do what you love.

Garrett Lisi is a wandering surfer-physicist, working on nomothetic unification while searching for the perfect wave. After graduating UCLA at the top of his class and getting his Ph.D. from UC San Diego, Garrett took off for Maui to windsurf and do physics on his own. Last year Garrett won a research grant from FQXi, which he spent on food, a laptop, and a new snowboard. His work on unifying general relativity and the standard model as an E8 principal bundle was featured as a recent This Week's Find by John Baez . Impatient with the slow progress of technology, Garrett has been manually uploading his brain to the web as an open-source theoretical research wiki: Deferential Geometry. He also blogs occasionally at FQXi blogs and has a semi-secret personal journal. Garrett recently presented his work at conferences in Mexico and Iceland, is currently hopping around California, and is looking forward to visiting the Perimeter Institute in October.

See also the previous contributions to the inspiration-series byand my related guest post at Asymptotia 'Sabine Hossenfelder: My Inspiration' (most of these are also available as pdf-file).



  1. I think Coxeter had a really amazing insight into abstract imaging and dimensional analysis?

    There are two reasons that having mapped E8 is so important. The practical one is that E8 has major applications: mathematical analysis of the most recent versions of string theory and supergravity theories all keep revealing structure based on E8. E8 seems to be part of the structure of our universe.

    The other reason is just that the complete mapping of E8 is the largest mathematical structure ever mapped out in full detail by human beings. It takes 60 gigabytes to store the map of E8. If you were to write it out on paper in 6-point print (that's really small print), you'd need a piece of paper bigger than the island of Manhattan. This thing is huge.

  2. "Science Hostel"? Sounds like the PI to me. I mean seriously, here I am getting free living space, $40/day for food etc., and a wonderful environment for socializing (or not) as desired.

    I guess we'll see how Garrett likes it in October!

  3. Hey Domenic:

    PI is less a Hostel than a Five Star Hotel ;-) Besides this, there is the issue with... ah... you know, the white stuff that falls from the sky half of the year and so on and so forth. Best,


  4. Who couldn't think this "not" beautiful?

  5. Hi Plato:

    Admittedly, to me it's too symmetric to be beautiful. Isn't that much nicer?. Best,


  6. Hi Bee,

    Yes for sure it's beautiful. But is it really as detailed as "the possibilities" in regards to that dimensional perspective?

    Sure it made me think of "butterflies" but could we not imagine "a crystaline object?" Or, the dusting off the Wunderkammern in Arizona?

    Dynkin diagram as "points" on the Sylvestor surfaces?

  7. lol Bee, that is much nicer.

    I find the idea of Garrett Lisi's description of himself as "a three dimensional guy" interesting, but One IS multi-dimensional.

    Geometry can sometimes be a little too rigid - unless every point is literally free to join up with infinite points.
    Oscillating particles (and particle wave duality) still conjures up images of strings.

    But hey, it may just all be a matter of perspective.

    PS - Garrett one question
    What is gravity, and where do you think it is hiding

  8. What is gravity, and where do you think it is hiding

    Yes this would be a good question.

    Maybe Brian Greene has a "dual perspective" on it as well?:)Color could then take on a whole new meaning?:)

  9. plato:
    I only really got to know E8 a few months ago, but I've fallen in love. I think Coxeter's intuition, and the recent statements by mathematicians that E8 is a fundamental part of the structure of our universe, were more prophetic than I realized.

    Sabine's right -- what I have in mind for a Science Hostel would be much more low budget, but in beautiful locales. (That's sort of my style.) I am greatly looking forward to visiting PI, especially if the rest of the Perimeter folk are anything like the half who were in Morelia this summer. It seems like a fantastic place, because of the people -- and I wish it had existed ten years ago.

    That is a beautiful image, and behind it is a computational algorithm that is an interesting mix of simple and complex. In what sense is the algorithm beautiful?

    If you look around my wiki, you'll see about eight different mathematical ways of thinking about gravity. But my current take on it (and an answer I'm going to be using a lot) is that it appears to be part of the structure of E8. Specifically, the so(1,3) gravitational spin connection comes out as part of the E8 connection that interacts with another part that's the gravitational frame, and with other parts of the E8 connection that represent the standard model fields. This works very well. What I don't know yet, but only suspect, is how this symmetry breaking happens from E8 down to these subgroups and the right dynamics.

  10. Hi Garrett:

    It's some kind of a fractal I believe. I meant to express that beauty very much depends on the perspective and the observer. Also, I think one shouldn't overestimate the simplicity of YM theories. It's not done by writing down the symmetry group. You need to know the whole mathematical apparatus behind it. Call it an algorithm if you like. Best,


  11. In face of "symmetry breaking" how could E8 be so complex? I think Garrett summed it up earlier about what happens all around the three dimensions? I'm learning too.

    Uncle Al talked about the "bell curve" and as the ball on top of the hill sits so precariously, what comes of the action when it rolls downhill?

    This comes to the point about how far mathematically a genus three has been calculated(hope I got that right). The string landscape to me becomes very interesting.

    Lee has been talked too about this many times now.

    Mandelstam had progressed very carefully here?

  12. Jacques Distler :
    The proof of finiteness, to all orders, is in quite solid shape. Explicit formulæ are currently known only up to 3-loop order, and the methods used to write down those formulæ clearly don’t generalize beyond 3 loops.

    What’s certainly not clear (since you asked a very technical question, you will forgive me if my response is rather technical) is that, beyond 3 loops, the superstring measure over supermoduli space can be “pushed forward” to a measure over the moduli space of ordinary Riemann surfaces. It was a nontrivial (and, to many of us, somewhat surprising) result of d’Hoker and Phong that this does hold true at genus-2 and -3.

  13. Mr Lisi has much poorer knowledge about the current state of physics than an average high school student who has read at least one popular book about it.

    String theory didn't start as a theory of quantum gravity. It started as a theory to explain a meson-meson scattering - and the last ten years have shown, by the way, that this wasn't a wrong expectation either.

    Also, it is absurd to say that we are waiting for a Standard Model to come out of it. Standard Model has been proven to be a consequence of compactified heterotic string theory back in 1985, I mean by Strominger Horowitz Witten Candelas, and since that time, no one who has any idea about physics has any doubts that getting the Standard Model is not a difficulty at all.

    With these childish pictures, sorry, but this guy is just a crank.

  14. Thanks, Luboš, for the glowing endorsement I expected from you. ;)

  15. He was a chemist.

    Gee increases with depth until 50% toward the center. 1/r^2 proximity to the iron core beats 1/r cancellation of overlain rock.

    Chemists are dangerous. Physics could lose conservation of angular momentum and the Equivalence Principle by January 2008. How much fun would that be? Lots! We'll see.

  16. Lubos,
    There is this paper as well which is worth mentioning in the context of E8:

    "Geometrically Engineering the Standard Model: Locally Unfolding Three Families out of E(8)"
    Jacob L. Bourjaily
    arXiv:0704.0445 [hep-th]

  17. Yes, anonymous, what I'm working on is related to that paper -- since I'm also using E8 -- but other than that it's entirely different. Bourjaily is breaking E8 down to the so(10) GUT and using that to match the standard model gauge group. This is the same model as for heterotic string theory, and he appeals to a bunch of string machinery. I'm working on breaking E8 down to the standard model, including the fermions AND gravity, and just using a connection.

  18. Garrett, congratulations on the grant!

  19. Garrett, just hope you're not trying to quantize gravity by simply surfing water waves... From what I gather, it's best to exit the comfy classical waters of planet Earth and enter the treacherous waters of either a black hole or the primordial Universe--otherwise surfing for quantum gravity is all in vain...

    Because you place a great deal of emphasis upon this notion that "nature is a balance between simplicity and complexity", you oughta fit rather nicely in the camp of E's (for elegance) as opposed to A's (for anthropics)-- in the playful words of Lenny Susskind, that is.

    I've gotta admit I'm a bit leery of any scientists who receives funds from the Templeton Foundation. After all, this foundation smacks of intelligent design. On second thought, though, once it becomes fairly obvious that ID is nothing more than an illusion, then you can freely switch from the 'E camp" to the 'A camp' without feeling like you're under the gun to quantize God...

  20. Garrett: What an fun and unusual inspirations post! Thank you.

    I could never develop the proper balance, and constantly fell off the board when I tried board surfing (many years ago as a kid). Body surfing, on the other hand, was always easy and natural ... provided the temperatures were Hawaii ocean temperatures ... :-)

    Perhaps you are familiar with this site and links? Here is another who derives great inspirations from the waves.

  21. Carl: Thanks -- you should apply for an FQXi grant during their next round. I think you'd have a decent shot at getting one if you focused on fermion mass relationships.

    Cynthia: I'm counting on the LQG community to figure out how to quantize gravity as a theory involving a connection. What I've done is come up with a way of including all matter with gravity as part of a larger connection. So if/when LQG succeeds, we will essentially be able to just plug in this larger connection and have a quantum T.o.E.

    As an atheist, I too was worried about the Templeton Foundation being the main contributor to FQXi. But I scoured the FQXi website and couldn't find mention of a higher power. Now that I've attended the conference, I assure you there was no endorsement of ID or any such foolishness. As far as I can tell, the Templeton Foundation has accepted and endorsed FQXi's mission of foundational research and is not imposing any pressure whatsoever towards connections to religion. They might be hoping it happens, but that's their business and not mine. Here, I can end this issue with one fact: Sean Carroll is an FQXi member. Case closed.

    Amara: Surfing is hard and takes a ton of practice -- you have to learn to like falling of the board, since it happens so much. And, yes, it's much better in warm water. When I was traveling around southern Italy with my family, I kept looking out over the beautiful Mediterranean, wishing for some nice big waves to come in. It would never happen, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to leave.

    (And wow, mountainman's links have grown since I saw him on alt.surfing in the 90's.)

  22. Garrett, thanks for clearing up my misconceptions about the Templeton Foundation... Needless to say, for Sean Carroll to ascertain that FQXi is a god-free zone carries lots of weight!;)

  23. "no one who has any idea about physics has any doubts that getting the Standard Model is not a difficulty at all."

    As was said earlier: "Let us all work towards the day when making over-confident statements about things that nobody really understands will be regarded as a solecism, like spitting or smoking."

    Cough! Cough!

  24. Scientist float levitation theory
    "In order to reduce friction in the nanoworld, turning nature's stickiness into repulsion could be the ultimate remedy. Instead of sticking together, parts of micromachinery would levitate," said Professor Leonhardt.

    Though it is possible in principle for humans to levitate, scientists are a long way off developing the technology for such feats.

    "At the moment, in practice it is only going to be possible for micro-objects with the current technology, since this quantum force is small and acts only at short ranges. For now, human levitation remains the subject of cartoons, fairytales and tales of the paranormal," explained Professor Leonhardt.

    Nothing new, and not quite as much fun as surfing, or sky-diving, but way to go. Give Me Some

  25. Garrett: That' it then, the fear of falling. I didn't try hard enough. Children have less fear of falling, probably because they are closer to the ground, but still I hated to fall. That fear didn't prevent my falls, though, because I did (and do) being a natural klutz.

    When I was a kid, my family owned a sailboat in Hawaii, and we lived on it for a time, so then sailing lessons were part of our education. In our sailing lessons in the small "flying junior" boats, (which are essentially dinghies with sails), we had to capsize the flying junior, and then swim with the little boat while it was flipped over, to the dock of the club. I guess that was for the emergency aspect of our training, because it is impossible to flip those boats rightside up at that point and continue to sail. I hated that part so much, that I stopped the lessons. Bigger boats are more stable. Usually.

    Many years later, in 2005, two weeks before I visited Hawaii for a conference, I received news from a relative that my family's old boat had an accident on the rocks on Maui. She (the boat) was sold in 1973 when we moved to California; and I hadn't thought of her in decades. Seeing photos of her on the rocks, though, put a lump in my throat. (The bunk where I slept is the upper right part of the boat under water in that picture.) I suppose if one is a boat, then having a sensational ending is the best way to end one's life. ;-)

    May your surfboard have a happy and long lifetime and not end up on the rocks ...

  26. Garrett: What an fun and unusual inspirations post! Thank you.

    And what a great interview by our host :-)
    I'm keeping on beeing surprised by Bee again again!

    Cheers, stefan

  27. lol Amara,
    was the boat called Mad Cap
    or renamed before she broke her lines and crashed into the rocks.

    I guess "whatever floats you boat" would be most helpful on the rocks

  28. Quasar: There might have been a newspaper error on the name. 'Madcap' was her name when we owned her.

    Madcap: 1. To cause to go crazy; cause to lose one's mind; 2. To drive up the wall; go on someone's nerves. 3. To make mad; "His behavior is maddening."


  29. Garrett to Carl: Thanks -- you should apply for an FQXi grant during their next round. I think you'd have a decent shot at getting one if you focused on fermion mass relationships.

    Perhaps FQXi could take some initiative on their own and commission either Carl or someone other to write a report that actually could be useful to phenomenologists. It is a work nobody in the standard community is going to do. Our "long thread" ("all the...") in PF is a good starting point, but I would also look to decay constants, decay widths (the imaginary part of the pole mass) and the pion mass.

    They could call it the "FQXi Rydberg chair".

  30. Garrett:
    "Bourjaily is breaking E8 down to the so(10) GUT and using that to match the standard model gauge group."

    I did not understand your statement here. Look at Fig. 3 on page 6. SO(10) plays no special role here, it's just an intermediate step in the unfolding.

    "This is the same model as for heterotic string theory, and he appeals to a bunch of string machinery."

    This is very different from the Heterotic string! Dude, did you even read the paper?
    Unlike the Heterotic string, this is a local construction. The most striking outcome of Bourjaily's work is the prediction of EXACTLY three families in the Standard Model. In the old Heterotic compactifications, the number of SM families is related to the Euler character of the compactification manifold - a global parameter.

  31. Anonymous:
    "SO(10) plays no special role here, it's just an intermediate step in the unfolding."

    If you change this sentence of yours to:

    "SO(10) plays a special role here, it's an intermediate step in the unfolding."

    Then the meaning of my statement should be clearer to you. Also, there are no gravitational fields anywhere in Bourjaily's paper. What I am doing is related, but different, and it includes gravity.

    On a side note: why are you remaining anonymous?

  32. Amara:
    I remember that swell from Setptember of 2005 -- some say it was the best surf at Maalaea in thirty years. I paddled out, caught two screaming waves that blew my mind, then snapped my favorite board in two on the next one.

    It's heart wrenching to see a boat on the rocks -- so much time and love goes into them. I'm sorry about the Madcap. As adults we have memories of places and things from childhood that last our whole lives, and to see the related pieces of the world destroyed reminds us all too viscerally that we are mortal.

    I also sailed FJ's a bit as a boy, and I thought they sucked because they were so slooooow. I used to battle with the other kids to sail the Lasers, which were much faster -- and we used to capsize those for fun. I've daydreamed often about living on a sailboat. But I'd miss a fast internet connection and fresh produce.

  33. arivero:
    FQXi doesn't need to take initiative, they're giving away money. It's up to us to take initiative. There was some discussion during the conference regarding how few particle physics proposals there were. If you've got a good foundational idea that would be unlikely to get funded through normal channels, then by all means write it up as a proposal, take some FQXi money, do the work, and be happy!

  34. Garrett:
    My condolences for your favorite board...!

    I'm glad that Madcap died 'well', but I'm working on removing mortality from my vocabulary. :-)

    Regarding slow and fast little boats: My older sister was the lucky one who raced the Lasers. At that point, I had lost interest in sailing the little boats and was more interested in catching geckos and shrimp.

    Regarding boat conveniences: In the sixties in Hawaii we were using 300 baud acoustic modems for our pre-Internet technological purposes (usually predicting race results but also playing blackjack and wumpus). Inconveniently fixed to a telephone line, of course. Today, I think a GPS USB modem card in your laptop would provide a pretty good Internet service. No lines needed. Only a satellite. :-)

    Fresh fruit would be missed, out at sea on a boat, I agree, but many or most people living on boats live at the harbor, taking the boats out to sea on the weekends or for longer time during holidays. That was my family's situation because my parents had to go to their jobs and my sisters and I had to attend school during the year. One might say that the most distinguishing aspect of my family's living situation from my classmates were the large number of silverware accidently dropped off the dock when we washed dishes.

    And this is probably the closest to a wave phenomena that exists in the Mediterranean.

  35. Garrett:
    ""SO(10) plays a special role here, it's an intermediate step in the unfolding."

    Then the meaning of my statement should be clearer to you."

    Why did you single out SO(10) to play the "special role" and not E6XSU(2) out of the whole sequence in the table?

    "Also, there are no gravitational fields anywhere in Bourjaily's paper."

    Of course there are gravitational fields, the metric fluctuations corresponding to the blow-up modes resolve the singularities.

    "On a side note: why are you remaining anonymous?"

    Because I want to.

  36. anonymous:
    "Why did you single out SO(10) to play the "special role" and not E6XSU(2) out of the whole sequence in the table?"

    Because the SO(10) GUT is familiar to people.

    "Of course there are gravitational fields, the metric fluctuations corresponding to the blow-up modes resolve the singularities."

    Oh, gee, thanks, that clears it up.

    That's not in the paper. And, personally, I'd be embarrassed to write a sentence like that.

  37. "That's not in the paper."

    Because this is textbook material.

    "And, personally, I'd be embarrassed to write a sentence like that."

    Why??? Is there something incorrect I said?

  38. "The most striking outcome of Bourjaily's work is the prediction of EXACTLY three families in the Standard Model. In the old Heterotic compactifications,..."

    It is misleading to claim three families of the Standard Model. They are families of E6, with extra particles. What intrigues me is the justification about three families; he argues that [it is textbook material that] it comes because of E6 x SU(3), with SU(3) in the role of an horizontal symmetry. Thus in a way he connects with old "Strominger Horowitz Witten Candelas", where this SU(3) has a basic role in the argument about the Euler character Anonymous was mentioning above (perhaps he could take a time to tell us the content of the proof in SHWC).

    Personally I am uneasy with this SU(3); it factors out too soon. Family symmetry is very linked to SU(2) electroweak interaction, and it is also very related to the mass mechanism (and there the symmetry is badly, or interestingly, broken for the top sector)

  39. Well, inspiration can take many forms, some of them humble..
    I posted this "joke" of mine at Cosmic Variance's very fascinating thread "Unusual Features of Our Place In the Universe That Have Obvious Anthropic Explanations" a bit ago, and I hope it brings a bit of amusement:

    How did life start?

    From atom and eV.

  40. arivero:
    I think I agree with you on the
    e8 = e6 + su(3) + 54x3
    breakdown. My current guess is that su(3) is the strong (color) su(3) -- that never gets broken.

    I'm playing with this idea now.

  41. arivero:
    "Thus in a way he connects with old "Strominger Horowitz Witten Candelas", where this SU(3) has a basic role in the argument about the Euler character Anonymous was mentioning above (perhaps he could take a time to tell us the content of the proof in SHWC)."

    Without going into much detail, according to SHWC, one can show that the number of generations is equal to the index of the Dirac operator for chiral fermions which transform as (3,27) and (\bar 3,\bar 27) of SU(3)XE6 - the maximal subgroup of E8.
    One can then easily show that
    (Euler character of CY)=Index(3)-Index(\bar 3)=2*Index(3)

    Number of generations=Index(3)=(Euler character)/2

    Bourjaily's construction is local and the number of families has no relation to the Euler character of the Calabi Yau.

    "Family symmetry is very linked to SU(2) electroweak interaction, and it is also very related to the mass mechanism (and there the symmetry is badly, or interestingly, broken for the top sector) "

    The three families become massive once the Higgs mass parameter squared turns negative as you evolve it using the RGEs from high to low scale, mainly due to the large top Yukawa (so called Radiative EWSB). However, at high energies all the chiral fermions are massless for each family. Their masslessness is protected by chirality.

  42. Hi Garrett,

    I think it may be possible to construct a 3D version of E8?

    Harvard IIC project has developed 'AstroMed' ["best of two disciplines"] adapting medical imaging software to astronomy.

    The same might be done with mathematical onjects?

    1 - The E8 image of this thread is something like an axial perspective.

    2 - The AIM webpage for E8 also features a crystal graph for E8 which may either be a saggital or coronal perspective.

    3 - With modified medical imaging sotware, it may be possible to construct the missing perspective [coronal or saggital] to develop a 3D image?

  43. "Bourjaily's construction is local and the number of families has no relation to the Euler character of the Calabi Yau".

    Except that both ways to build families pivot about the same SU(3). On one side, Bourjaily argues that his construction gives three families because of the SU(3) of SU(3)xE6, and on other side SHWC get generations from this same group and some bits of index theory. It is a tiny or weak relation, but I would no qualify it as "no relation". Well, of course, Bourjaily could be wrong about his interpretation of his own result.

  44. arivero:
    Yep. Bourjaily does e8->e6+su(3), then flattens the su(3) to get 3 generations and uses e6->so(10) to get the standard model charge assignments. What I'm working on is e8->so(8)+su(3), then keeping the su(3) as the strong su(3), breaking so(8)->so(4)+su(2)+su(2) into gravity + W + B, and using the triality symmetry of so(8) to get three generations. The cool thing is the dynamics work correctly for this as a connection.

    I've been spinning the E8 root system around in eight dimensions, and projecting down to two. You might like this:

    E8 animation
    (warning, it's a 100M Quicktime movie)

    It would be straightforward to project from 8D to 3D, then project that to 2D with perspective and other tricks, but I'm not sure how useful that would be. Mostly that just hurts my head.

  45. Amara:
    How are you attempting to dodge mortality? (I encourage effort in this direction, I just consider the chance of success to be small for us.)

  46. Time... is an illusion. We're all immortal since information is never lost.


    B. (jetlagged)

  47. Hmmm... Usually scientists find immortality hard to swallow (thinking there would have to be some "stuff" inside that survives the death of the body.) Bee gave a hint of a possible way to have it though. You don't believe that "programs" die when the computer they originally ran on are gone, so ... maybe something of your mind can "run" somewhere else (depending on how like a process it really is, ironically better to have some process and not just "essence.")

    If you wonder where there'd be an appropriate computer, well there's the idea of platonic supercomputers that can run anything, and do. (If you are suspicious of Platonic entities, consider this:
    There is, serious as a heart attack, no genuinely logical way to define “existence” above and beyond logical description. IOW, no way to define “matter” aside from the structural descriptions of it, other than appeal (ironically) to metaphysical issues like the realness of our experience, etc. That idea is sometimes called modal realism. It is technically irrefutable AFAICT, but I don't agree with anyway due to issues of conscious experience etc, as noted.

    Now you might say, no big deal, since you can imagine just thinking of “the universe” as being pure mathematics/structure (which is evasive since it leaves out experiential qualities, but I digress.) The trouble then is, you have to admit all the other “descriptions” as being equally pseudo-real as well, like it or not. Then, you’ve got a mess on your hands, as I explained elsewhere. Sorry, but the whole “cold-blooded materialism” thing is empty posturing, and we don’t even know what “materialism” means when thinking gets beyond sound bites.

    But if there are realms where minds can be recreated, well, that would be a life after "death". Scary, hopeful...?

  48. "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying." - Woody Allen

  49. Hi Neil:

    Usually scientists find immortality hard to swallow (thinking there would have to be some "stuff" inside that survives the death of the body.)

    Ah yes. Depends on what you mean with 'death'. To me already the question 'is there life after death?' doesn't make sense if life is what ends with death. Anyway, I don't think there is much special about interacting molecules in my brain, except that they are somewhat clustered inside a fairly complex system. But whatever consciousness is, it also limits our perception beyond our own concept of 'consciousness'. I guess, you could place me somewhere nearby the Gaia hypothesis. We survive death in the memories of others and this so nicely sounding truth has a physical basis. If information can't get lost, but just diffuses and distributes after death, what we're left with is the question 'what is time?'.



  50. death, or more specifically its associated verb, is a big topic of study... in linguistics. It shares some characteristics with "to rain", but while in the later all the tenses forbid the first and second person, the former allows for future and even present tenses, it is only the past tense you can not tell as a truth.
    Paganism proposes a person able to tell "I rain". Spirit religions (including christians) propose a person able to tell "I died".

  51. It's a nicely poetic idea to think of my information diffusing through the universe, but I find that to be small consolation. I've watched people die quickly, and I've watched them die slowly. My graduate advisor died of a massive heart attack right in front of me, and I watched my charming grandmother decay and turn into a monster before she died through the course of Alzheimer's disease. Let me tell you, death sucks.

    Yes, my personality is just a pattern of molecules and electrical impulses. But this pattern is having a hell of a lot of fun, and I don't want it to end. If there's any chance that scientists like Aubrey de Grey can figure out how to dodge aging or mortality through technology, I'm all for it. I think the chance for this is tiny for us, but nonzero.

    And no, I don't believe in an after life -- it's hard enough to believe in this one.

  52. Well since there is no part of Me here NOW that was Me twenty thirty forty fifty tears ago, I have no problem with the notion of not having this body in ten twenty thirty or forty years time - yet still being Me.

    I Think (experience) therefore I AM
    Yet most people interpret that to mean I feel therefore I AM, but as we know there are people out there who cannot feel their bodies, yet clearly still are - and conversely there are those with moving bodies yet have lost their Mind, their Mind elsewhere?

    I can understand the decay and death even 'evaporation' of the body - but I cannot understand NOY Being. I guess there are mortal Minds, but never assume everyone else has to be or think like you.

    "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying." - Woody Allen

    Garrett, you mean holding onto to your present body for ever? even the stars only last 10 billion years or so. And as Bee says with her jetlag - What is Time?

    PS - If one could mathematically prove an afterlife, would that make an afterlife reality?
    The death of the body does not need maths to make it real

  53. Hi Garrett, Yes, I've been following Aubrey de Grey's work for some time, and other technologies such as cryonics, too. And there is the other angle of being long-lived through one's creative works and offspring.

    This particular topic appeared on Bee's blog not too long ago. Scroll down in the comments here into the conversation with Bee.

    I had the pleasure of talking with de Grey at a party last August 2006 in Helsinki. He's a kick. If you or any readers would like to hear one of his recent talks, here are two that he gave at Google recently: Prospects for extending healthy life - a lot, and WILT: taking cancer seriously enough to really cure it. Have fun (but I don't need to tell you that).

  54. Dear Garrett:

    *argh* I didn't mean to turn your interview into a discussion about death! I am sorry to hear about your experiences. According to my therapist I spend more time thinking about death than would be good for my health - not that anything comes out of it, but I usually keep it for myself. However, I think the unsettling part that we 'survivors' have to deal with isn't so much death but the process of dying. For one because I imagine it rather unpleasant, and it's painful to see somebody suffering. But also it's that to our best knowledge death is an irreversible process which we can't influence (not much) and that makes it scary. Whatever happens to consciousness, we know that the personality is lost for us. Wherever experience, humor, and intelligence goes, it's no longer accessible to us.

    What I find equally disturbing as the question where conscious thought goes to is where it comes from. I can't recall anything before my birth, where does it start? And is it the same 'nothing' that I will go back to? We don't usually worry about this because unlike death, we don't loose, but gain another consciousness in that process - but both questions are entangled with each other.



  55. I can't recall anything before my birth, where does it start?

    A "projection" into the matter states? Look at all those "types of neurons?"

  56. Hi Bee, imagine a photon or neutrino saying "I can't recall anything before my birth" therefoe I was nothing

    Yet particle physics is literally looking at what was their state before their birth.

    Also what happens to the Mind or collection of experiences, thoughts and memories should be just as much a question of theoretical physics and quantum physics. After all you cannot get much more quantum than consciousness and thought.

    I can appreciate some humans do not like thinking about these things, but whatever it is we look at contemplate or research - is part of the whole picture.

    We can mathematically speculate that the observable Universe must be some 13.7 billion years ola, yet we cannot mathematically explain how thought 'evolves' from there.

    If you've got jetlag, you probably need this conversation like a hole in the head - lol!
    But it is food for thought for any mathematician or Theoretical Physicist as much as quark gluon plasma QGP, quantum gravity QG, or the higgs field.

  57. Garret: I hate physical exercise in general, but there is one thing that I truly love, and that is snowboarding. I'm told it is similar to surfing, but without the possibility of drowning or being eaten.

    As far as beautiful boats go, to me they are very attractive, and also a hole in the water you put money into. If I save up to much money it starts to look like a boat. To fight the urge, I buy books like Total Loss, which details 45 yacht sinkings at sea.

    Thanks for the suggestion I should send something into FQXi. It would be nice for the professional stamp of approval, but I don't think I need the money much. And I'm not too motivated to publish things, which is something that they would frown on. I'm helping build an expensive ethanol plant and that should let me retire.

  58. quasar:
    I think of myself as a pattern that persists even as the substrate changes. But when that underlying matter breaks apart, the pattern will dissipate and I will be dead. I won't experience being dead, of course, but I will not experience being alive. It is difficult or even impossible to imagine not being, but logically that is what happens. It's equally difficult to imagine shapes in eight dimensions -- we have no experience with it -- but we can still reason about such things even if we can't imagine them. Based on what we know about biology, it is reasonable to consider the body might be improved to live longer, or that the patterns that make up our consciousness might be moved to a better substrate. I agree that death will probably still occur at some point, whatever our efforts -- but I want every minute I can get.

    I'm glad I made the correct deduction based on your mention of immortality and your scientific nature. It confuses me that Aubrey gets so little financial support, with his research program operating under such a low budget. I hope this changes as the baby boom generation ages and begins to die.

    I joke with a friend who researches artificial intelligence that we're racing to see who can find a T.o.E. faster -- me doing it by hand or him inventing a smart computer which would beat me to it. Aubrey points out that we should be working to extend our lifetimes, so we'll have a better shot at seeing success in these other endeavors -- and what's the point of getting anywhere if you're going to be dead and unable to enjoy it. I agree, and wish more people would tackle life extension head on.

    I think about death all the time. Most people avoid the subject, because it's traumatic, or they deny it completely with their daydreams of heaven. But it's on my mind every day -- it weighs on me, and motivates me to live as best I can while I can.

    I do fear death, but I'm not particularly afraid of the process of dying, as long as it's fairly quick. Even extreme pain isn't that hard to get past, if it's brief. It's ceasing to exist that scares the pants off of me.

    You're right that I've not existed before, and that wasn't so bad. That's a good way to think of it. But now that I'm here, I really don't want to leave.

    My therapist deals with these thoughts of mine by crashing saltwater on my head and thrashing me around. ;)

    It's great that you love snowboarding -- consider coming down to Tahoe this winter if you can. I'll have two extra bedrooms most of the ski season, twenty minutes from a good mountain. I snowboard three or four times a week. As long as I'm not, err, dead.

    I'll be happy to talk with you more about preparing an FQXi proposal when the time comes.

  59. "Aubrey points out that we should be working to extend our lifetimes, so we'll have a better shot at seeing success in these other endeavors"

    lol Garrett, someone asked the Egyptian astronomer why they spent so much time thinking about life after death ... to which the Egyptian replied "well one is going to be dead a long time ... so one is looking in the sky at night for a nice place to spend that time"

    After all it is only gravity and mass holding us (slowing us) down.

    "I think of myself as a pattern that persists even as the substrate changes."
    Increasingly it seems we are a collection of thoughts (and experiences) floating around our head, and we use the brain as the hardrive on which we write & read local (temporal) memory ROM & RAM.

    After all we don't often search for our childhood or teen memories, as time goes on we use more immediate memories ... so perhaps the disc was wiped clean whilst in the womb, perhaps some of our individual innate skills are imported from one stage to the next (and not necessarily thru our inherited DNA) but from another substrate or in a massless energy field.

  60. After all it is only gravity and mass holding us (slowing us) down

    Imagine thinking then with lightning speed. No constraints holding us to the "weight" of our thinking?:)Maybe this is like mentioning the God Particle I guess?:)

    Who cannnot help but think that going around once, one should be trying get it right?

  61. quasar:
    It's a nice fantasy, but there's no evidence for it. Of course, if string theory turns out to be true, I'll be more willing to believe all sorts of wild stuff. ;)

  62. Dear Garrett: I have a sense that his funding is improving, maybe even dramatically, especially with vehicles like his Methuselah Foundation. Aubrey has an insane travel schedule, and with his articulate presentation style, he is getting the message out. His SENS conferences are better attended by the experts every two years, also.

    Two years ago the Division of Planetary Sciences of the AAS meeting was in Cambridge, UK, the town of his SENS meeting, and at about the same time as his SENS meeting. I was at the DPS, but it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see strangers walking around town wearing Methuselah Mouse t-shirts.

    Snowboarding, hmm. There's an idea. I don't feel comfortable living in landlocked places, but I will be doing that this fall when I move to Boulder. I'll be salaried (for a little while) like I am here, but the salary will be livable, unlike here, so maybe I should try snowboarding, as I'll be in a good place for that.

  63. Well Garrett, we can measure brain activity - but this does not tell us what the person is thinking or seeing or listening too ...
    on the contrary we generally give them something to think about, to look at or to listen to - to measure where brain activity takes place.

    Amara, I like the Methuselah Foundation notion that aging is not inevitable (or irreversible) and there is growing evidence that all things being equal (no war, pestilence, cosmic radiation, or 'unhealthy' diet) we could and should live longer - unless we've inherited a myriad of broken & corrupt DNA, which perpetuates aging, congenital disease & decay.

    But biological life is precarious and short lived in the cosmic time frame - from all accounts having made an appearance a second before midnight.
    And when the clock strikes twelve?

    ... another day begins

  64. Garrett:
    "Also, there are no gravitational fields anywhere in Bourjaily's paper."

    Bourjaily is considering TypeII strings on a K3 fibered Calabi Yau. Anyone who is familiar with the basics of string theory knows that the closed sector of Type II string theory contains Type II supergravity. This is not mentioned in the paper because, well, it's been known for decades and can be found in any string theory texbook. The main point of the paper is about getting the correct spectrum of chiral fermions from pure geometry - hence the term "Geometrical Engineering". At the same time, supergravity is automatically a part of the spectum.

    To claim that "there are no gravitational fields anywhere in Bourjaily's paper" is like claiming that Type II string does not contain gravity.

    Even if you were unaware of the fact that Type II SUGRA was contained in Type II string theory you can see an explicit mention in the paper of the complex structure moduli. These correspond to a particular class of metric fluctuations and Bourjaily has explicitly used them to partially resolve (blow-up) the singularities to get the SM gauge group. In fact, this method of breaking E8 down to the SM by partially resolving the local geometry is another big difference with the old Heterotic string where the gauge group is broken by a Wilson line.

  65. anonymous:
    I'm not very familiar with string theory -- just familiar enough to think it sucks as a T.o.E., from the viewpoint of Occam's razor.

    If we take QFT and GR to be true about the universe, as far as they go, then we know the universe uses these mathematical structures:
    Fiber bundles -- to describe the fields of QFT.
    A metric and connection over a manifold -- to describe GR.
    An action, so these fields have dynamics, including symmetry breaking.
    Grassmann calculus, for the fermionic and ghost fields.
    The machinery of quantum mechanics, including renormalization.

    Now, the fibers needed for the standard model are kind of a mess. They use some seemingly arbitrary choices of Lie groups and representations, as well as a bunch of scalar fields. And when we glue them all together, for the interactions, there are about 30 free parameters.

    What I'm working on is unification. I've used a trick from the 70's to move the metric (as a frame) along with the Higgs scalars and the GR spin connection into a single principal bundle connection. Also, instead of appearing in some representations, the fermions are also included as Grassmann valued parts of this one connection for everything. And now, three months ago, I found out the gauge group for this one connection I've built may be E8. I'm not sure yet how many parameters this theory has, but it's going to be somewhere between 0 and 30. This is what unification is supposed to look like.

    So, I'm not exactly sure what string theory is, since no one's written down an action for M-theory. But there are textbooks and thousands of papers full of all this extra machinery. Just in the comments you've mentioned: TypeII strings, blow-up modes, singularities, K3 fibers, Calabi-Yau manifolds, Dirac operator index theory, supergravity, and complex structure moduli. Yes, it's all pretty mathematics, but this is much more complicated than the standard model it's supposed to describe. And how many free parameters do you need to start with to get down to the standard model from one of these string models? 100? And how many extra particles need to be swept under the rug? 100's? And how many different string models are there? 10^500? I may not know what string theory is, but it certainly is NOT unification.

    I'm sure you're having lots of fun with string theory, but to me it looks like a complete fiasco. It's hard to blame you for remaining anonymous.

  66. amara:
    It's great to hear that SENS is growing in participation and funding. I'll have to move my esteem for the world up a notch.

    You're moving to Boulder -- that place is very beautiful. A two hour drive will put you in the middle of the Rockies, near some great ski resorts. It's one of my favorite places in the world. If you think you'll ski or snowboard often, the big resorts sell season passes to locals in late summer for less than $400. If you're just learning, there's a small hill closer to Boulder called Eldora -- they sell discount season passes starting August 13 for around $200 I think

  67. Garrett: I agree Boulder is beautiful. Sunshine galore. Summer afternoon thunder and lightning shows. Brilliant sunsets. Highly educated cityfolk. Bikeable town. Young environment. I remember Eldora and ski places like A-basin from another 2 year stay in Boulder 25 years ago, too. And also 14 passes in the Rockies during a two week bicycle tour that changed my knees forever. (My bicycle was built there as well.) I think that Boulder is one of the rare islands of sanity in the U.S. and even though I feel like an alien every time I'm back in the States, it'll be a pleasure to be living again in that town. (Until the cultural strings yank me back to Europe. ;-))

  68. Garrett:
    "And how many free parameters do you need to start with to get down to the standard model from one of these string models? 100?"

    If you have indeed read Bourjaily's paper you'd count that there are 5 complex parameters:

    t, a, b, c and d

    needed to get from E8 down to the SM. See the last column in Fig.3

    " And how many extra particles need to be swept under the rug? 100's?"

    Three singlets denoted by S- a good candidate to explain the \mu parameter in the MSSM, and the Higgs triplets denoted by D - those typically decouple at the GUT scale via the doublet-triplet splitting. There are also three generations of Higgs doublets - which qualifies as a real prediction of this model.

    " And how many different string models are there?"

    Not that many - KKLT, large volume Type IIB compactifications, Type II A with intersecting branes, Heterotic on Calabi-Yau, M-theory compactifications on G2 holonomy manifolds, maybe a couple more.

  69. Garrett:
    " I'm not exactly sure what string theory is, since no one's written down an action for M-theory."

    We know well what the low-energy effective action is including the higher derivative corrections. This is good enough to do particle phenomenology as far as I know.

  70. Sorry if someone has already mentioned this. I'm really pressed for time and can't read all the previous comments.

    The Hindus have known about your E8 thing for a long time:

    I can't address the physics of it, but I can address the spirituality of it. Isn't it odd that a spiritual teaching has been so predictive of the "physical" basis of nature? How do you reconcile pure atheism with such revelations?

  71. Hi Rae Ann:

    This is great! I was looking for a mandela exactly like this but couldn't find a pic :-) It's quite interesting how universal the appeal of symmetry is. Best,


  72. Well, anonymous, you and a thousand others can play with string theory, and a few of us will play with my big connection, and we'll see who comes out ahead when the LHC results come in.

    Have to love that about physics.

  73. Hi Garrett,

    I finally got to see the 100M Quicktime movie 'E8 animation'.

    WOW! This is great!

    I am only slightly disappointed that I do not think that I saw anything resembling the AIM crystal graph of E8.

    I think that there is some resemblance to a torus, especially if the crystal graph is involved.

    The only way in which I can visualize 8D is with a nesting or embedding of 4D within 4D.

    That is 3-complex-space-D+1-time-D within a similar structure of different gauge.

    If possible, I would like clues on others ways to visualize 8D.

    I do tend to be oriented to mathematical game theory.

    Thanks for the animation.

  74. Well, The proof of the existence of five and only five polyhedra is about 2400 years old, older than some books from the Bible, and surely near the age of the systematics of mandalas.

  75. Hi Bee,

    This may be a matter only of semantics, but I want to pose an alternative to your comment of 11:53 AM, August 08, 2007, "Time... is an illusion. We're all immortal since information is never lost."

    I am pretty certain that that the T_1/2 of our protons is for all practical purposes immortal.

    I suspect that each proton may have multiple electron partners over time.

    The T_1/2 of other elements is relatively well known.

    Thus, I think that information is transformed, rather than never lost, since protons in different configurations may yield different information.

    A possible analogy is to think of the gastrointestinal tract as a black hole in which food or dink enters. These entities are generally transformed into nutrients or waste.

    With one passage the information of the food or drink might be deduced. Considering the food chain, this becomes more difficult with each passage.

    Sorry for the philosophy.

    Hawking and Beckenstein may be correct, but ...?

  76. Hi Bee, Rae Ann,

    The mandela pictured is related to chakra 4, Anahata (Sanskrit: Anāhata) heart, love based decisions.


    As I recall,
    The downward triangles represent material birth;
    The upward triangles represent spiritual rebirth.

  77. doug:
    I once joked with a vegetarian friend that by eating beef I was raising a cow to a higher level of consciousness. Did a little bit of the cow appreciate that joke, or only me?

  78. Garrett, if there is such a thing as soul, the cow's soul will have appreciated the joke.

    Which little bit of you appreciated the steak, your eyes, your mouth, your intestinal tract, your brain - or your big toe?
    pun intended lol

    Death is death whether it comes to us in our sleep, or the blow is delivered 'humanely', or in the bull ring, or we are caught in an atomic explosion.

    Being eaten alive like other species must be a bizarre feeling. But then again cancer, aging and decay - sort of eat humans alive - and it's a lot of a slower process.

    Knowing if there IS an afterlife could or would make euthanasia so much more attractive. Hey, we could even eat each other just for fun.

  79. Hi, Garret, I think I know, how your projections are working in context of AWT, at least conceptually. Anuway, I like your aproach, IQ and life style. You're on the right way definitelly. But the string theory is on such way too (the fact, you're sharing interest about E8 isn't indeed accidental). Don't waste your time by its ass. At the moment you'll understand why, you'll understand your "ToE" too.

    By my opinion you guessed it by observing and comparing of some real model of E8 and quark polyedra symmetries, is it true?

  80. So, gravity is not to blame for people falling in love?

    Waiting for the 9th wave many good rides are missed.

    Garrett have you heard of the Burning Man Theory?

  81. Nifty stuff Garrett...

    Anyhow I came by this blog after reading some slashdot article and then doing a quick google of your name just to see exactly where a surfing theoretical physicist proposing a theory of everything is coming from...

    Anyhow I'm too much of a layman type to really get involved in the math stuff, but I have fun speculating what it's about anyways.

    Then the little comment discussion here about consciousness seems to get a funny idea in my head. What if the quality of the essence that determines if something is alive or not is a dimension in itself? (Maybe something that drives entropy towards chaos or order?) A dimension with a value approximating 0 would be considered dead or inert, but a high value (or level of complexity) contained in this dimension would indicate something not only very much alive but full blown conscious and self aware. (Single cell things would be closer to 0. Multiple cells add up raising the value in multicellular beings. By extension how conscious are civilizations or the internet? Does the internet ponder over us as we do the cells within our bodies and vice versa? Maybe this applies to even larger structures?)

    Then of course there could be a "bad car analogy" applied to some idea of dimensionality involving consciousness. (Maybe I'm not getting it right, but who knows?) There's the idea of a car, it occupies no space (X-Y-Z would be 0). But the idea does occupy time, energy (the process of thinking), and consciousness (the thought comes from somewhere). Then with the aspect of the idea, matter, time and energy can be applied. Now the car is a tangible object with mass and occupies space. But the car in itself is neither thinking nor alive (unless you count the very very weak AI that goes into a modern car to make it run, but that's not going to be evident in a car's non-energized state), but by definition of what makes up a car - is a car. But now if somebody very much thinking and alive gets in the car, puts it in an energetic state (starts it running), and drives... For all functional purposes that car appears alive when it's being driven, since it behaves in an intelligent manner via the extention of the consciousness of the person driving it. Now does a car ponder what happens to it when the driver gets out? Does the idea of the car go away when the physical matter making it up breaks down and rusts away?

    Maybe there's more to the eastern philosophy way of thinking than we're giving credit for? (Too many of their ancient symbols and mandelas seem to relate strongly to modern known phenomena in a way that's just plain uncanny and weird.)

    But back again to the layman's perspective, think anyone will figure out how to cancel out or re-vector gravity to another attribute associated with spatial existance? (There's theory of course, but I'm thinking practical application wise. Akin to the difference between knowing why a nuke plant works and what you actually need to know in order to operate it.) It's always been the stuff of fanciful ideas, but if anyone could figure out how to turn gravity "on/off", tap into it as a resource, or maybe "pump it around" that'd be useful. (I'd bet you'd dig having a hoverboard.) Even if gravity wasn't a true force in and of itself but rather a displacement phenomena of some sort, knowing if there are ways to work the displacement media other than "just having mass be there" would be a great start.

    The fun part of a theory of everything will be reducing the huge schmeel down to formula sets with a few varables that can be used for mundane applications. (I'm guessing a lot will parallel with well known formulas, perhaps with more precision. But any new and novel stuff that could be derived would really be interesting.)

    BTW, sorry about the long-assed comment.

  82. Does this look much like you Garrett? ;-)

  83. For me, this is just another case of mathematical mysticism (which seems to be very popular among physicists) and should not qualify as rational science (even if it appears to reproduce certain aspects of reality). The scheme suggested reminds me vaguely of astrological models and Kepler's attempt to explain the solar system in terms of regular polyhedra (see, ),m and we all know what the scientific status of this is nowadays.

    Mathematics should be a tool, not an end in itself.

    Thomas Smid

  84. Mr. Garett's work is a sort of geometric mysticism in its current state indeed, but it still doesn't mean, it CANNOT have robust physical meaning. The most important point (which wasn't mentioned till now) is, the Lie group is not just void geometrical structure. It's root system is describing the tightest structure of kissing hyperspheres, where these hyperspheres are sitting at the centers of another hyperspheres, recursively. The Aether Wave Theory proposes at least two dual ways, how to interpret such structure.

    The cosmological one is maybe easier to realize: it considers, the current Universe generation is formed by interior of giant dense collapsar, which behaves like black hole from outer perspective. This collapse was followed by phase transition, which proceeded like crystallization from over-saturated solution by avalanche-like mechanism. During this, the approximately spherical zones of condensing false vacuum have intersect mutually, and at the collapsed zones the another generation of vacuum condensation has occurred (a sort of nucleation effect). We can observe the residuum of these zones as a dark matter streaks. The dodecahedron structure of these zones should corresponds the E8 group geometry, as being observed from inside.

    The second interpretation of E8 is relevant for Planck scale, i.e. for outer perspective. The dense interior of black hole is forming the physical vacuum, which is filled by spongy system of density fluctuations, similar to nested foam. Such structure has even a behavior of soap foam, because it gets more dense after introducing of energy by the same way, like soap shaken inside of closed vessel. Such behavior leads to the quantum behavior of vacuum and particle-wave duality. Every energy wave, exchanged between pair of particles (i.e. density fluctuations of foam) is behaving like less or more dense blob of foam, i.e. like gauge boson particle. Every boson can exchange its energy with another particles, including other gauge bosons, thus forming the another generation of interacalated particles. Therefore the E8 Lie group solves the trivial question: which structure should have the tightest lattice of particles, exchanged by another particles? And such question has even perfect meaning from classical physics point of view!

    Such question has a perfect meaning in theory, describing the most dense structure of inertial particles, which we can even imagine, i.e. the interior of black hole. From my point of view is rather naive to consider, some pure formal math can ever form the fundamental description of physics from the simple reason: both probability calculus, both differential calculus, even the Peano algebra relies to the existence of non-penetrating countable objects, i.e. particle concept. If you have no object to count, the contemporary math has no meaning. And the concept of countable colliding objects is closely related to the inertia concept of classical Newtonian dynamics.

  85. This comment has been removed by the author.

  86. The geocentric Kepler's model was based on so called model of epicycles, which can have its physical meaning, if we consider the motion of waves at the water surface, where the individual particles are moving along epicycloidal path. It's dual view from the internal observer perspective, where other planets are undulating on the hypothetical surface, defined by deferent plane.

    By such way, the geocentric model is not quite wrong view of reality, it's just dual to the heliocentric one and it can be converted into later one by proper space-time transform including concept of hidden dimensions. BTW, it seems, the surfing along water waves can be quite inspiring regarding to development of ultimate theories...;-) At least one half of my Aether metaphors are less or more related to the water surface analogy. In certain sense, we are all surfing along surfaces of aether foam like Lisi.

  87. At 7:50 AM, November 19, 2007, Zephir said...

    Mr. Garett's work is a sort of geometric mysticism in its current state indeed, but it still doesn't mean, it CANNOT have robust physical meaning.

    Well, you could have said the same thing when Kepler devised his geometrical scheme describing the planetary orbits some 400 years ago ( ), and in this case you still would have to say the same today. The point is simply that the arrangement of observational data into a certain mathematical ad-hoc scheme does not constitute a physical theory as such. There is the danger that one mistakes the former for the latter, and in this case it could even hinder the progress of science in this field. I do not necessarily question that such mathematical schemes may be worthwile observations, but they should not replace a proper axiomatic approach to science.

    At 10:20 AM, November 19, 2007, Zephir said...

    The geocentric Kepler's model was based on so called model of epicycles

    You may be mixing up Kepler's model with the Ptolemaic model here. Kepler's model was already heliocentric, but nonetheless still only a geometrical and not a physical model (which was left to Newton).


  88. Yep, you're completely right, thank You for correction. Of course, the Kepler's laws were empirical, but solely based on heliocentric model already.

  89. Hi, another layman here, my entire understanding of quantum mechanics and general relativity come from reading layman's books like Leon Lederman's "God Particle", Brian Greene's Superstring book, and now just recently the two anti-String books by Lee Smolin and Peter Woit. In fact, I was just in the middle of reading Woit's book when Garrett's discovery was publicized, and so I dropped reading that book to see what's going on here, but I hope to get back to it soon. :)

    Now I got some layman-type questions here, which I hope Garrett or somebody else could answer for me.

    (1) How do the equations of General Relativity connect to this theory? Do they connect at all, or will you have to combine this with another theory, such as Loop Quantum Gravity, or even some altered form of String theory to connect it to GR? From some other interviews I've read, it seems you were working on LQG trying to extend that theory when you hit upon E8: is that true?

    (2) Did the fact that E8 was only recently fully mapped out by the mathematicians (in March 2007) have anything to do with you deciding to use it? Would you have been able to use it if they hadn't fully solved it first?

    (3) It seems that even the Superstring Theory (SST) people were looking at E8 in their journeys. I don't know what they would've used it for. It seems to me that you are offering extra dimensions just like the SST people. The 6-dimensional Calabi-Yau spaces interacting with the familiar 4-dimensional spacetime membranes from SST sounds conceptually similar to your 8-dimensional E8 polytopes interacting with 4-dimensional spacetime manifolds -- at least at my layman level.

    (3) I understand that the big disappointment with the Standard Model is that particles appear in that model with no explanation for their masses. The masses simply get determined from experiments, but there is no understanding of why the masses are what they are. Can your E8 theory predict masses?

    (3a) Can you predict the mass of the Higgs boson with E8?

    (4) How did you know how to choose the exact right points (roots) on the E8 structure that corresponded to specific particles? Did you choose the first point at random and then find that all of the other particles just fit like a puzzle (i.e. intuition)? Or was the first point chosen based on some kind of a method?

  90. By my opinion, Mr. Garetts theory is describing, how the observable particles (neutrinos, electrons and quarks) are mapped to the fundamental particle structure. In this structure, the smaller particles are forming the surface wave of these larger ones, recursively. You can imagine this system as a structure of fluctuations inside of condensing supercritical vapor, which forms the foamy fluctuations ("strings").

    If such foam is very dense, its density fluctuations are very dense too, so they can behave another system of particles, which is behaving like another generation of condensing vapor ("space-time"), too. So it can create another foamy fluctuations, composed from these smaller ones. This is how, the Garett's theory is related to the string and LQG theories concepts by Aether Wave Theory. Currently I don't know about any other relevant physical interpretation of all these stuffs at the same time.

    Regarding to relativity theory is important, this nested particle system is behaving like dense elastic foam, where most of energy is spreading not through bulk phase, but along surfaces of fluctuations, i.e. by similar way, like the tiny waves at the water surface. With respect of such waves the surface is behaving like thin elastic membrane, where the motion of bulk phase ("underwater") doesn't interfere with the energy spreading along surface. You can observe such behavior in water streams: if the surface waves are sufficiently small, the ignore the speed and motion direction of water stream. We can say, the energy spreading inside of such system doesn't depend on the motion of its environment (its reference frame can be neglected) - which is exactly, what the Lorentz invariance of special relativity is about.

    While the link of Mr. Garett's structure to relativity theory can be expressed in few sentences, the formal explicit connection is by far not so trivial. As an indirect clue can serve the fact, the E8 theory predict the same particle symmetries, as follows from Standard Model, well - and the Standard Model is special relativity (and QM) based theory.

  91. Hi Yousuf,

    Try reading this, maybe it helps.

    Hi Zephir,

    This is nonsense.

    Everybody else,

    Would you please restrain from discussing Garrett's paper, or your own 'theories' in this comment section. This is not a forum. If you want to comment on the above interview, you're welcome.



  92. OK. For example, the Garett's theory is supported by Lee Smolin. Mr. Lee Smolin supports the LQG. The LQG supports the idea, the Universe is formed by interior of black hole. In general, every black hole is dense particle stuff. So I don't exapect any principial problems here.

    Well, now we can ask, how these particles can appear and how they can be arranged in such environment?

  93. bkA. Garrett Lisi may be right!

    He's given us a mathematical picture of the connections as we see them in our 3 dimentions of time and one dimension of space.

    This was the main problem that I saw with string theory.

    You may indeed have these other dimensions, indicated by string theory, but how are they seen by us in our 4D spacetime realm here?

    So Lisi may have given us the first math picture of the possible harmonic connections as seen by us in our 4D realm here.


    I've always known that we may well have these other dimensions that string theory tells us about. But if we cannot see into these other realms then what good is this knowledge to us?

    What Lisi's model is doing -- if it's right -- is showing us how these harmonic connections look to us here even though some connections might come from other dimensions.

    Lisi isn't saying string theory is wrong.

    He's saying it's gotten too complicated so look at this simpler way it's connected to us here.

    I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime.

    I'm hoping that there is a good chance he's right.

    Daniel P. Fitzpatrick

  94. I do not see how Lisi and El Naschie could be working in the same direction using the same or even similar theories. From the very beginning El Naschie starts not by classifying particles and fields but by determining the coupling constant of the different fields as well as that of grand unification and for quantum gravity. The inverse value for both turned out to be 42 and 26 respectively. In addition he follows Heisenberg’s student F. Winterberg and sets the Planck coupling to unity which is correct. He subsequently reasoned that the total number of particles in the standard model is the sum of all these values, namely 42 + 26 + 1 = 69 particles. Since he considers following M. Veltman that the standard model comprises 60 particles, he concludes that 9 particles should still be discovered, that is one graviton and 8 dimensional Higgs field of which a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 5 will manifest them selves as massive particles. Consequently the number of ‘real’ particles in the standard model are either 62 or 66. Interestingly when restoring all the broken symmetry like up and downs as well as super symmetry and shadow-real world symmetry by taking 8 copies of these numbers, then one finds (62)(8) = 496 which is the dimension of E8E8 or (66)(8) = 528 which is the dimension of Witten’s P=5 Brane theory in eleven dimensions. This is indeed an exceptionally simple theory, not for everything, but for at least the standard model and unification. I do not see anything of that in Lisi’s theory. If I am missing the point, I will be delighted to stand corrected. May I direct this question to Garrett Lisi via this site?

  95. no. but since i'm a nice girl i'll leave it standing here.

  96. The following question is directed to Dr. Garrett Lisi: Your theory is that of unification and not only grand unification but quantum gravity unification of all fundamental forces. In such a case the unification coupling constant is one of, if not the most important result. It is the illusive point where all the four fundamental forces meet. What is the value of this coupling? El Naschie claims that he found the exact value of this coupling to be 1 divided by 26 assuming super symmetry. So what is the value coming out of your own calculations?

  97. Dear Bee,

    Since Garrett Lisi seems to be extremely busy, with your permission may I direct my question to you?

    It seems to me that finite algebra may be the restriction from which Garrett could free his theory. With E10 you are outside the classical classification. You have an infinite algebra but here comes Mohamed El Naschie again and does a trick which if correct, seems quite neat. He has formally infinite dimensional algebra and consequently outside the classical exceptional groups but then again with some mathematical innovation related to Cantor sets, he is able to find an expectation value for the order of the algebra. In a sense he is doing what fractal people do enshrined in the poem of William Blake (to keep infinity in the palm of your hand….). In this sense Mohamed has his cake and eats it. He has infinite dimensional algebra but this infinite dimensional algebra has a finite expectation value. I thought this is truly new. What do you think? Your comments will be highly appreciated. You will find many comments regarding this on the other site: FQXi Community: Articles, Forums, Blogs, News . With best wishes

  98. Dear Bee,

    Since Garrett Lisi seems to be extremely busy, with your permission may I direct my question to you?

    It seems to me that finite algebra may be the restriction from which Garrett could free his theory. With E10 you are outside the classical classification. You have an infinite algebra but here comes Mohamed El Naschie again and does a trick which if correct, seems quite neat. He has formally infinite dimensional algebra and consequently outside the classical exceptional groups but then again with some mathematical innovation related to Cantor sets, he is able to find an expectation value for the order of the algebra. In a sense he is doing what fractal people do enshrined in the poem of William Blake (to keep infinity in the palm of your hand….). In this sense Mohamed has his cake and eats it. He has infinite dimensional algebra but this infinite dimensional algebra has a finite expectation value. I thought this is truly new. What do you think? Your comments will be highly appreciated. You will find many comments regarding this on the other site: FQXi Community: Articles, Forums, Blogs, News . With best wishes

  99. The vacuum is simple crystal of Planck singularity in which the particles to denote of flip of spin. The energy of singularityring is big, it may happen only to flip the spin with hbar value.The grid has hexagon symmetry, this shows on Garrett's figures.
    this reason of sqrt3/2 to be component of spin . Its sin60

    like this!.jpg

  100. put the mass into the matrix, and rotate...

  101. Great post! You want to kick String Theory's ass, well unacceptable. And i would definitely listen the next time a girl says ten words to me. :)) I am a college sophomore with a dual major in Physics and Mathematics @ University of California, Santa Barbara. By the way, i came across these excellent physics flash cards. Its also a great initiative by the FunnelBrain team. Amazing!!!

  102. Hi. I ended up in one of the blogs of this disgusting person lumo, who has the nerve to create an article of himself in the Wikipedia...and who beleives has made merits to criticize people who have actually published relevant papers. Envy must be killing this guy. I am sad that people like this are part of the physics community. I have to admit I do not have a very positive image of bloggers (they seem to self-centered and quite obsessed with getting more comments), based on past experiences...However, I did find this very interesting and humorous blog. But, as it couldn´t be any other way, morons are always lurking around in the blogosphere.

  103. I wanted to see the credentials of this lumo, so I unlickily entered his disgusting blog. I am sad that such people are part of the physics community. I don´t know what his knowledge on string theory might be, but as far as how scientific theories evolve, it´s lacking. Does this person understand what is meant by a toe? What bothered mw was not his comment per se, but the fact that Lisi seemed to know him already.


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