By Patrick Appel
A surfer may have done Einstein one better:
A few weeks ago, Lisi posted an academic paper called "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything" to arxiv.org, a site for scientists that's maintained by Cornell University. The paper outlined his attempt at a theory that would lay out the physics of the universe in one tidy package. For half a century, researchers have sought to reconcile gravity with the three forces that operate inside atoms, where gravity seems to hold no sway. No onenot even Einstein, who spent the later years of his life tryinghas been able to explain how these four forces can coexist.
To understand fully Lisi's own stab at the problem requires a grasp of mathematics far beyond all but a handful of people, but the basic premise is that all physical forces and particles can be explained by mapping them onto an incredibly complex geometrical structure known as E8. If Lisi is right, his theory would give an elegant shape to the physics of the cosmos, and E8 would become as significant as E=MC2. This would be a remarkable feat coming from any of the most accomplished physicists alive. Coming from a surf bum, it would be beyond extraordinary.