Don’t let the Bermuda shorts and surfboard fool you. Garrett Lisi knows his stuff. Actually, he might just know everything.
Mr. Lisi, who has a PhD in physics from the University of California, spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii. In winter, he teaches snowboarding in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Somehow, he found time to write a paper called An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything, which is making waves in the physics community.
“This is an all-or-nothing kind of theory — it’s either going to be exactly right, or spectacularly wrong,” Mr. Lisi told New Scientist magazine this week.
For years, theoretical physicists have been searching to find the relationship underlying all the particles and forces in the universe — a unification model. There’s been a model around for 30 years, dubbed the standard model, but it’s lacking one somewhat well-known force: gravity.
Some physicists have looked to string theory, which proposes that all particles are made of tiny strings, to bring gravity into the fold. But Mr. Lisi disagrees, claiming that the string theory is full of holes. In fact, pressure to agree with string theory enthusiasts led Mr. Lisi to abandon books for surfboards.
However, an organization called the Foundational Questions Institute last year awarded Mr. Lisi a research grant to pursue his own theory, which is based on finding parallels between particle relationships and the points on a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern called E8.
“I think the universe is pure geometry — basically, a beautiful shape twisting around and dancing over space-time,” Mr. Lisi told New Scientist. “Since E8 is perhaps the most beautiful structure in mathematics, it is very satisfying that nature appears to have chosen this geometry.”
Mr. Lisi’s theory also makes room for gravity, the force responsible for all those leaves on everybody’s lawns this time of year. This has earned him kudos in the physics world.
“Lisi has made a bold conjecture about the unification of the standard model with gravity,” said Lee Smolin, a founding member of Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in an e-mail to the Citizen.
“Many things need still to be developed and checked, but it is the kind of high risk/high payoff ‘shot on goal’ that is all too rare these days. The idea, while bold, has a surprising mathematical elegance and fits beautifully into the mathematical language of quantum theories of gravity. It offers a new way to extend that language to incorporate naturally the standard model of particle physics with the geometry of space-time. ”