back to article Stuff string theory - try E8 to explain the universe

The mathematics that underlie the E8 Lie Group, a 248-dimensional puzzle that was finally solved in March this year, have already been put to use in developing a new Theory Of Everything. A representation of E8. Credit: Peter McMullen A representation of E8. Credit: John Stembridge, based on the work of Peter McMullen …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Red Bren

    And he can use a Spirograph?

    So can I, can I have a PHD now?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Okay hands up anyone who understood what that was all about?


    Sigh, I thought I had a decent grasp of pure mathematics until I started trying to read about Lie groups and realised that 30 years after A level pure maths, my brain seems to have ossified!

  3. Anonymous Coward

    the next great screensaver...

    This crap is just as worthless as string theory. It's all just mathematical masturbation. Quantum physics is so full of errors in its fundamental theories, that have been compounded by all the other theories that rely on them, that nothing worthwhile will ever emerge. They need to quit looking for something new to make them famous and try admitting what is flawed and work on fixing it.

  4. Kevin Campbell


    My brain hurts...

    (you guys really need to consider a Python icon)

    You can just imagine the following conversation:

    "Dude! I was, like, TOTALLY hanging ten this morning and, check this out! The waves were bitchin', man, and I thought what if [begins ludicrously complex scientific theory]..."

    "Wow, that's heavy dude. Maybe you should write that down or something."

  5. Christos Georgiou
    Paris Hilton

    If they're 248 dimensions...

    ...then probably the group should be called F8 rather than E8. (I won't add the necessary prefix to make it more obvious, although I just helped).

  6. red floyd

    Gives new meaning...

    To the term "Wave Mechanics"

  7. Lexx Greatrex
    Thumb Up

    Before y'all start shovelling shit over this theory...

    Lisi's theory has had great support from a few prominent mainstream physicists and nobody that I know can fault it mathematically. The excellent thing about this compared to similar GUT's, is Lisi's theory can produce testable predictions that can be verified as early as next year when the LHC comes online in Geneva.

    For those of you who find the maths of E8 hard to understand, New Scientist produced this excellent vid explaining how Lisi mapped the standard model and general relativity onto the E8 structure, and how it all seems to fit together exactly. Physicists have noticed remarkable similarities between the maths of E8 and quantum physics for a long time..

    PS @ the author... love headline

  8. John Savard

    String Theory Can Survive

    From the simpler explanation "for the mutant geniuses", this is, as I thought, just an extension of stuff like Murray Gell-Mann's work with SU(3) (the arrangement of particles that later got simplified into building them out of quarks) to include gravity. So it's an add-on to the Standard Model.

    Supergravity didn't contradict the Standard Model, and it's just one special case of string theory. So even if E8 turns out to be true, there'll still be a case of string theory that corresponds to it.

    And it's not just a case of taking your pick. After all, it's nice to know that gravitons have spin 2, but sometimes you want to use General Relativity to figure out the corrections for bent space, and so you'll need to resort to string theory at times even with E8.

  9. Steve


    Typical. Life, the Universe and Everything, and it turns out to have an E-number.

    Just pass me that string vest as I go.

  10. Charles

    Good math = bad physics?

    It is at times like this that I recall one of my favorite math/physics quotes, I forget who said it, I think it was Stanislav Ulam. He said "insofar as mathematics accurately describes reality, it ceases to be interesting."

    And that's the problem with crap like this. It's interesting math but it's useless as physics.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Q: how long IS the piece of string?

    A: there is no answer.

    A length is a continuum of points, String theory has no points, only strings. That's why string theory gives such Alice in Wonderland measurements for its dimensions: branes the size of the universe, or tiddly widdly things much smaller than sub-atomic particles. Try fitting the state of Denmark into it.

    OTOH it might just let you get the proverbial camel thru the eye of the needle. All it needs is another research grant.

  12. Nick Reid
    Thumb Up

    £50 says this guys takes drugs

    Any takers?

  13. DavCrav


    I didn't used to believe in any of this GUT-type stuff, but I've started to read the arXiv preprint (the one for the not-so-faint-hearted) and it sort of makes sense.

    Basically, all the normal things we know about (gravity, eletromagnetism, weak nuclear force--radiation essentially, and strong nuclear force--what keeps particles together) can be described in terms of algebraic objects, and each of these objects sits naturally inside the simple Lie group E_8.

    Still, it's a nice thing to play around with for a bit, before I get back to writing my lectures.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    even if it's wrong

    Garret's a fucking alien, hobbies; surfing, snowboarding, particle physics.I am going to lie down now and when I get up all this better be gone.

  15. Yousuf
    Dead Vulture

    Physicists' gang violence

    There were two books that came out this year about the deficiencies of Superstring Theory as the most popular Theory of Everything (ToE) candidate. One book was Peter Woit's "Not Even Wrong", and the other was Lee Smolin's "The Trouble With Physics". Both lamented how Superstring Theory (SST) was getting the lion's share of the publicity (and the funding) and how all alternative theories were getting the shaft. How SST theorists were hogging all of the plum jobs at universities and forcing (indoctrinating) young post-docs into research on SST rather than any other approaches. So it came as no surprise that two of Garrett Lisi's mentors in this endeavour were both Woit and Smolin: they would love nothing better than to stick it to the SST cool-kids with a theory that will make them obsolete.

    On the other side, you have Lubos Motl, the attack-dog of the SST community. He has already dismissed Woit and Smolin as "cranks" and "crackpots". So it was with even less surprise that he has immediately labled Garrett Lisi as one of them. That's because Lisi has already stated that he didn't join a university after getting his Ph.D. because he would rather surfboard than have to study Superstring Theory. Forget about any of the science that comes out of this, what's going to be more interesting is the war of words between the two camps.

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Lexx Greatrex


    You are so right about Motl. He's the physicist version of a rabid pit bull. Motl was fired from Harvard University last year for his shameful behavior; which appears to have actually increased the size of the chip on his shoulder.

    It's SST zealots like Motil and their monopoly on research funding that made Lisi shun mainstream academia for the last ten years. Maybe it was a good thing that he did.

  18. Lexx Greatrex

    "gravitons smavitons"

    Yep, nobody has ever seen a graviton, but just like you can't normally see the wind, but you can see the effects of it, it may be possible to see the effects of gravitons as gravity waves in the near future:

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Can I have some of what he's smoking?

  20. Sillyfellow


    This work is really very very good.

    problem with physics is mostly down to how many of the pieces of the puzzle that are still missing, which is a lot.

    this man should be taken very seriously..

    oh, and over the years i've noticed that the smartest and wisest of us are usually the ones who know how to have fun and enjoy life. because they know that existance is pointless without that!

  21. Greg

    All those incompetent, full of themselves readers

    15 or so contributions, three of them from stupid, completely full of themselves readers who know nothing about anything in the field, who probably haven't ever done physics or maths at a worthwhile level (oh yes, I'm sure THEY consider it a worthwhile level, trouble is, they don't even know what the scale is, they probably think they could understand more than 5% of what there is to know to have an interesting opinion).

    That's really funny seeing those guys, a bit like people who would say that science has to follow democracy. 90% of people can't understand something? then it has to be useless and be masturbation.

    Get real. You're not geniuses, you're just basically dumb people, just like average Joe, and if it hurts to admit it, that's more your problem than the problem of String theory or E8.

    Since you have NO WAY to have a meaningful opinion on the topic (neither can I by the way, though I have a phD in mathematics, it's still too hard for me without spending months learning what would be needed to get a grasp of it), why not shut up?

    Charles, Anonymous coward and all, do you really feel an irresistible urge to be ridiculous by saying that this or that is crap?

  22. Alien8n


    Little bit OTT there. The majority of people rather than being dumb are ignorant. I include myself there and I AM a genius (even had the Mensa score to prove it).

    However when it comes down to theoretical physics and multi-dimensional algebra I will hold my hand up and say "what the hell are you talking about?" Not because of being dumb, but simply because it's not something I've ever been interested in enough to immerse myself in.

    What I found interesting is the way the SST brigade wade into Lisi's work. Rather than saying "hey, interesting theory. I don't agree with it though" they instead label him a crackpot. Well guess what? Pretty much every physicist and mathematician at some point is labelled a crackpot if they come up with a new idea. The respected ones don't invent new theories, they work oon existing ones. Einstein was ridiculed at first. Even Stephen Hawking was labelled as a crackpot back in the 70's with his black hole theories.

    Lisi also shares another psychological trait with Hawking that in my mind leads to greater credence of his work. He admits that he might be wrong. His theory is based on his work but he's not blinded by zealotry into assuming that there's no other theory that might work better. This tends to be true of many truly inspirational physicists, when creating their theories they admit their limitations, it's the bigots that follow that cause problems with their blind subservience to what they have learnt.

    This is true of all scientific theory. Even Darwin's Theory of Evolution falls into this category. While it is currently the best guess and a model that fits it's still a theory and doesn't explain the whole process fully. We know from observation that there are gaps in Darwinism, a theory that if taken to a logical conclusion would state that lions and tigers are actually a single species due to the fact that they can breed. This is clearly not the case. So it is that there is only one thing that we can say with all honesty, and that is in the grand scheme of things we know next to nothing and all things are valid, whether you agree with them or not.

    So instead of calling him a crackpot the SST theorists should instead be trying to disprove the E8 theory. Then again though I would find it immensely amusing if the cosmic joke turned out to be that SST was actually a subcomponent of E8 theory...

  23. Yousuf

    Ironically, Superstring Theory was looking at E8 too

    At one point, SST was looking at incorporating E8 into itself too, albeit for a slightly different reason: they wanted to use E8 as the model of their extra dimensions. SST currently forecasts that there are 10 dimensions in the Universe: 3 space, 1 time, and 6 folded up extra dimensions. The 6 additional dimensions are called Calabi-Yau spaces, and it appears this has gotten SST stuck: they weren't able to produce any concrete predictions. So perhaps there weren't enough extra dimensions in their current model to produce new insights? Add 2 extra dimensions, and 6-dimensional space (Calabi-Yau) will become 8-dimensional space (E8).

    But now that somebody outside the String community has produced it first, there will be a war with entrenched positions for a couple of years. Then somebody will decide that the two approaches are complementary, and they produce a new theory called Stringy E8, or something.

  24. Greg


    OK, right, I went a bit far there.

    The ones who are dumb are the ones above who say "it's crap" whereas they're not a bit qualified to judge and can't even understand they're not qualified to have an opinion.

    The vast majority is just, as you say, ignorant, those above included, but they have something more than ignorance, that is outrageous pretension.

    For the rest, as I guess you understood, I wasn't saying that competent people who either agreed or disagreed were right or wrong or whatever, what the hell do I know about it...

    As for the link between mensa score and being a genius, I'll take the occasion to disagree with what I hope was just a joke on your part. Having a high mensa score just means you've got a high IQ, and having a high IQ just means you've got a logical mind, certainly not that you're a genius. You can be dumb as Rainman and have a 160 IQ, that won't make you anything else than dumb, certainly not a genius (and if you wnoder, no I'm not jealous, and yes, I too should know, since I also have quite the score, which noone in his right mind should give a f*** about)

  25. Paul Smith

    E8 vs Strings

    The E8 theory has a so many wonderful advantages over all the popular varients of string theory, that I really hope it stands up to investigation. It is simple. It is predictive. And most importantly, it can be proved wrong.

    One irate poster with a PhD told everybody else to shut up as they couldn't possibly understand enough about string (or super string) theory to comment, and they were correct to a point, but E8 is simple enough that it can be understood by 'normal' people. It doesn't need super massive particles to work (that have never been seen). It doesn't require 10, 11 or 21 dimensions of space time (depending on who you listen to). There is no need for pan-galactic branes or entire universes wraped up in the eye of a needle.

    E8 predicts the existence of objects that have never been seen before, but which a new machine should be able to measure next year, and it can describe how those objects will behave.

    But most of all. The absolutly amazing bit. Physics will return to its original purpose. Even if this theory doesn't work out, another will follow it, fixing its problems and moving foreward. Physics will no longer be the domain of self-serving individuals chasing research grants but will return to individuals asking the same question in different ways. How does the universe work?

  26. JeffyPooh

    Blog of links

    I put together a quick blog with all sorts of related links:


    The amazing thing is the connection from fundamental physics to E8. Even with the few 'rough edges', it appears to be way too much to just be a coincidence. And those rough edges may turn out to be, or to lead to, major discoveries.

    Isn't there a novel (probably by Arthur C. Clarke) - where the theoritician is on the phone trying to stop the experiment, but his call is a few seconds too late and the Universe ends. ;-)

  27. Bob C

    I'm not qualified ...

    Unless surfing counts. Maybe some day I'll see this guy in the water. But I know just enough math and have just enough knowledge of cosmology to find this fascinating. The politics of science too often gets in the way of new ideas. So it's also fascinating to watch that play out.

  28. Greg

    @Paul Smith

    >One irate poster with a PhD told everybody else to shut up as they couldn't possibly understand enough about string (or super string) theory to comment, and they were correct to a point

    I am afraid you misunderstood me.

    I didn't tell everyone ELSE to shut up. I include myself in there, the point on the phD was precisely "I am quite scientifically literate, and yet I'm not crazy enough to declare after 5 minutes on elreg that it's 'the problem with crap like this. It's interesting math but it's useless as physics.', as someone put it"

    And I wasn't saying people should shut up, just that people who don't know anything should be aware of their ignorance and not dare say that this or that is true or false, useful or useless.

    Even if E8 is simpler, it is still out of reach of most people. Maybe some can grasp the results if sufficiently simplified, but they still can't emit an informed opinion. If they see a vulgarisation article explaining the thing, they still won't be able to say "this is crap" without being full of themselves dumb-asses.

    and that's not about people knowing more or less than me, quite the opposite. It's just that I don't go stating definitive judgments on things I know nothing about.

  29. bobeldritch


    Even if this is the correct "theory of everything" and is based upon the standard model of quantum theory, it could only explain everything that are effects caused by the known forces or interactions alone.

    So such a theory can't explain how atoms, mlecules and living organisms exist since these could be described a persisting despite the action of all the forces.

    And there are problems in present cosmology that at present are only inadequately explained by theories of inflation and dfark matter, which has not been directly detected in any experiment despite it suposedly comprising some 90% of all matter in the universe.

    What will explain the presently observed form of the universe that includes life on Earth will be a theory of everything that can't be explained as or just as effects caused by the forces.

  30. Anonymous Coward


    > So such a theory can't explain how atoms, molecules and living organisms exist since these could be described a persisting despite the action of all the forces.

    That's the problem with physics referring to GUT's as "theories of everything"--although the physics community uses the term advisedly, it's still misleadingly broad.

    OTOH I don't think it's accurate to say that atoms, molecules, and life "persist despite the action of all the forces." The action of the forces on and within atoms and molecules is relatively well understood and has been extensively observed. Biological systems are macroscopic, complex, and dynamic so are probably too complex to model as a mechanical interaction of subatomic particles at any useful scale--coarser models will have to suffice.

    Why physicists are looking for GUT is *not* because they don't understand the *effects* of the forces, but that they don't understand the relationship of the forces to *each other*. That's critically important to understand, but it's not "everything".

  31. Ash

    @Greg, Alien8n, and a comment

    Big IQ scores eh? Well, my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Damn right, it's better than yours!

    Geeks comparing penis size; it's ammusing.

    I don't understand this concept, understanding this concept will not help rebuild the RAID array this morning without bombing out.

    If it helps someone in 10, 20, 100 years time do something miraculous with renewable energy, interstellar travel, preventing Allopecia, then all the better. Right now, however, it's just a guess.

  32. Alien8n


    My point was that it doesn't matter how intelligent you are, there's always something you don't know. It's not a matter of "geeks comparing penis size".

    However my experience is that the more intelligent among us recognise that fact and look at research like this with an open mind. Lisi may be onto something here, or he might not be. It's a cycle that has been followed for as long as there's been science. Just look at Copernicus and Galileo, they were ridiculed at first but today we simply ask "why weren't they believed at first?"

    The answer in their cases was simply religion, the religious doctrine at the time was that they couldn't be right. It's not that much different to the almost religious adherence to string theory among most of the scientific community today. String theory does answer a lot of questions, but E8 theory appears to do that as well. That's not to say that either theory is actually correct, just that they should both be recognised as equally possible models.

    As for the use of string theory or E8? No one knows for sure how it can be used. Maybe it's the solution to warp drives or matter transportation? I doubt we'll know in my lifetime, but then again the scientists of the late C19th probably doubted that there'd be any such thing as atomic energy within their lifetimes too.

  33. Alistair

    Regarding "uses" "usefulness" and "functionality"

    The scientists and theoreticians who worked out quantum theory didn't at the time know of any practical use for the new discoveries They just new they were delving into the fundamental properties of the universe.

    Nowadays we take much of the technology derived from this science for granted.

  34. Paul Smith
    IT Angle


    "understanding this concept will not help rebuild the RAID array this morning without bombing out."

    It might help in designing a RAID array that wont need to be rebuilt.

  35. Yousuf

    @Paul Smith

    ""understanding this concept will not help rebuild the RAID array this morning without bombing out."

    It might help in designing a RAID array that wont need to be rebuilt."

    The secret to a successful RAID array is to design it like a doily? :-)

  36. FurQ


    And there I was thinking that science was about having an open mind, surely that's what being a 'scientist' is about, or should be. Sadly, as a number of these comments illustrate, most would be 'scientists' have far from open minds (and thus aren't even scientists). It seems that many only want to hear confirmation that their own views are the only correct ones, or to ridicule those they don't agree with (or maybe just don't understand).

    It's (almost) amusing to see an another fine example of a 'scientific' discussion that is almost indistinguishable from religious dogma, and much of it seems to just be an excuse to boast of academic qualifications and Mensa scores (of all things).

    At least Lisi happily accepts the possibility he could be wrong! Perhaps you should try snowboarding?

  37. This post has been deleted by its author

  38. FurQ


    "You're wrong, and you're a grotesquely ugly freak"..

  39. Lexx Greatrex


    You missed the whole point of science. Theories are testable models capable of predicting something. You can never prove a theory right but you sure can shoot one down if it fails to predict what it claims to. This is the beauty of Lisi's theory: When expanded it will be able to produce predictions that can actually be tested as early as next year. In physics this kind of thing is golden! You are right to be skeptical. All scientists are skeptics, including Lisi.

This topic is closed for new posts.