Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rock climber takes on surfer's theory

By Carol Clark

The “exceptionally simple theory of everything,” proposed by a surfing physicist in 2007, does not hold water, says Emory mathematician Skip Garibaldi.

Garibaldi, a rock climber in his spare time, did the math to disprove the theory, which involves a mysterious structure known as E8. The resulting paper, co-authored by physicist Jacques Distler of the University of Texas, will appear in an upcoming issue of Communications in Mathematical Physics.

"The beautiful thing about math and physics is that it is not subjective," Garibaldi says. "I wanted a peer-reviewed paper published, so that the scientific literature provides an accurate state of affairs, to help clear up confusion among the lay public on this topic."

In November of 2007, physicist Garrett Lisi published an online paper entitled “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.” Lisi spent much of his time surfing in Hawaii, adding an alluring bit of color to the story surrounding the theory. Although his paper was not peer-reviewed, and Lisi himself told the Daily Telegraph that the theory was still in development and he gave a "low" likelihood to the prediction, the idea was widely reported in the media, under attention-grabbing headlines like “Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything.”

Garibaldi was among the skeptics when the theory hit the news. So was Distler, a particle physicist, who wrote about problems he saw with Lisi’s idea on his blog. Distler’s posting inspired Garibaldi to think about the issue more, eventually leading to their collaboration.

Lisi’s paper centered on the elegant mathematical structure known as E8, which also appears in string theory. First identified in 1887, E8 has 248 dimensions and cannot be seen, or even drawn, in its complete form.E8-inspired graph. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, J. G. Moxness, an emulation of a hand-drawn original by Peter McMullen.

The enigmatic E8 is the largest and most complicated of the five exceptional Lie groups, and contains four subgroups that are related to the four fundamental forces of nature: the electromagnetic force; the strong force (which binds quarks); the weak force (which controls radioactive decay); and the gravitational force.

In a nutshell, Lisi proposed that E8 is the unifying force for all the forces of the universe.

“That would be great if it were true, because I love E8,” Garibaldi says. “But the problem is, it doesn’t work as he described it in his paper.”

As a leading expert on several of the exceptional Lie groups, Garibaldi felt an obligation to help set the record straight.

"A lot of mystery surrounds the Lie groups, but the facts about them should not be distorted," he says. "These are natural objects that are central to mathematics, so it's important to have a correct understanding of them."

Using linear algebra and proving theorems to translate the physics into math, Garibaldi and Distler not only showed that the formulas proposed in Lisi’s paper do not work, they also demonstrated the flaws in a whole class of related theories.

“You can think of E8 as a room, and the four subgroups related to the four fundamental forces of nature as furniture, let’s say chairs,” Garibaldi explains. “It’s pretty easy to see that the room is big enough that you can put all four of the chairs inside it. The problem with ‘the theory of everything’ is that the way it arranges the chairs in the room makes them non-functional.”

He gives the example of one chair inverted and stacked atop another chair.

“I’m tired of answering questions about the ‘theory of everything,’” Garibaldi says. “I’m glad that I will now be able to point to a peer-reviewed scientific article that clearly rebuts this theory. I feel that there are so many great stories in science, there’s no reason to puff up something that doesn’t work.”


  1. Dear Skip Garibaldi and Jacques Distler,
    You are totally wrong about your proof that there is no theory of everything regarding the mathematical (and physics) application of the special lie groups and their existence -functioning- within the entropic boundaries and lie groupings of the process known as "The Theory of Everything". You are probably totally right in disproving the Claims of a "surfer dude" who has made unsubstantiated "claims of proof" while admitting that he did not finish his work (e.g. he did not have conclusive proof to substantiate his arguement).

    I do have the ability to prove the existence of this unifying theory which you claim to be able to disprove.
    My claims are exactly opposite of your claims and therefore we are at opposite ends of the table.

    We are mathematical combatants.

    I challenge you to support your claim and to prove my ability to prove you wrong as being a wrong proof of my claim that you are wrong.
    The beauty of mathematics is that you only have to prove a solution wrong once to prove it wrong.

    The burden of proving something wrong is lighter than the burden of proving something right!

    I claim you (Skip Garibaldi and Jacques Distler) are wrong about your claim of non-existence of this theory.

    I can prove that there is a unifying theory of everything which ties together the 4 fundamental forces of nature using the structural components of E8 [arranged furniture in a room as you call it].

    I might be right about the surfer dude but you are wrong about the non-existence of a unifying theory...Einstein's dream of a "Theory of Everything".

    Take the challenge I offer an put up conclusive proof that I am wrong or simply go climb a tree and wait for me to prove it to the rest of the world in due time.

    John Albers of Louisville, Kentucky.

  2. Why don't you just prove it to the rest of world. I don't understand the challenge. If you have the proof then publish it. To make this a racing game is ridiculous, science and math should be about working with each other and if one is person is wrong I'm sure they would love to hear the reason as to why you think they are wrong but all you keep saying is your wrong, your wrong. Well, why is he wrong?

  3. He, the author(s), wrong because he accusses someone else of being wrong while he claims to be right. He claims that his assumption that there is no possible solution that there can exist an answer to the problem which he defines as not being possible. The author(s) claim to be able to prove their ability to be right that there is absolutely no solution to the theory of everything.
    Yes, Science and math should work together but the politics of governments gets in the way of unencumbered futherance of science and math. The Governments of the world control the advances of science and math in their unending attempt to obtain economic advances over other governments. There is a total absence of the existence of Individual Freedom in this world as the governments have their control mechanisms on the scientific and mathematical communities (Universities, labs, educational entities,chosen corporate partners, etc).
    I have a reservation at the upcoming International Congress of Mathematics in Hyderabad India on August 19-27 2010. If and when I disclose my knowledge it shall be in a manner which No Government shall be able to twist into an entity to meet their wants and needs. There is way too much control, deception, individual rights usurpation, back-stabbing, betraying, etc. going on in the world today. Even patents applied for are subject to the unlawful egress by those who are empowered to protect them. There are greedy bad people everywhere. Individual actions which are designed to provide fame &/or fortune at the expense of others are deeds which are self-serving. There is way too much of that in this world and for someone to claim that something is impossible because they are tired of other people asking their expert opinion is exactly an attempt to seek solstice at the expense of others. I do not have a wanting for fame and fortune but seek solitude and peace of mind as much as the person who claims that the unsolved is impossible. Everything is possible with enough faith, work, the right angle of perspective, and the mental capacity to understand functional relationships. He, the Author(s),is wrong for more than one reason but he is profoundly wrong to try to belittle others by claiming that there is absolutely no possible way that the impossible is possible. History has proven claimants of impossibility to be wrong time after time.

    "Special Relativity" is the key to understanding the functional relationship which makes the theory of everything possible.

    The answer to the theory of everything is the same answer to all of the Clay institute of mathematics millenium questions. The accepted answer to the Poincare Conjecture does not fit the confines of the question. The question posed was regarding simply connected inner curves not curves superficially attached to the surface.
    Studies by Poincare were centered in the inner functionings of n-spheres.
    The answer described by the awrd winner does not have the contextual confines of being an "Inner simply connected curve" although it is one perspective of solving the solution.
    there is a simple way to explain the thoery of everything. a way which answer Hilbert's 24th question.
    shall I see you in India in August mr Annomymous (probably the author)?

  4. Just wanted to invite responses to a thread on this debate between Lisi, and Garibaldi and Distler at Sapo's Joint.

    Both sides are welcome!