TED 2008 — Garrett Lisi's E8 Theory of Everything

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA) Presenter:


Garrett Lisi is introduced as a surfing physicist working on a grand unified theory – E8. He wants to find all the particles and forces that make a complete picture of our universe. He starts by making fun of himself, coming onto the stage and saying "Woah dude, check out those killer equations!"

But he wants to talk about particle physics without using equations. He starts showing images of corals. Coral polyps branch into copies. So do universes. He shows a funny slide of the Shroedinger's Cat problem (for comic effect, he puts Erwin in the box, and the cat gets to run the experiment). We see Shroedinger branching like a coral polyp in the unopened box. Quantum physics says "Everything that can happen does."

The four different known forces have different kinds of charges. The hypothetical Higgs particle gives mass to things, and the Large Hadron Collider that's about to go into operation will hopefully prove the existence of Higgs particles.

Electric charges are combinations of two different charges, hyper charges and weak charge.

Strong interactions between quarks are happening millions of times a second, holding atomic nuclei together. These particles are at the very limit of our knowledge. The known pattern of charges could come from a more perfect pattern that gets broken. to do these we need to introduce new charges with new directions. He shows a colorful animated pattern of elementary particle interactions. The interactions are taking place in the 8th dimension. Some of the places where there should be particles are blank. They need to be filled in with currently unknown particles.

What's one reason E8 is so appealing to him? "At the heart of this mathematics is pure, beautiful geometry."

He finishes by showing photos of his three obessions: physics, love, and surfing. He has been living in a van in Maui.

The consensus around here is that even though Lisi avoided equations, it was pretty incomprehensible. That's why I'm attracted to Renny Gleeson's explanation of the talk: it was about Spirograph art.