Research concludes there is no 'simple theory of everything' inside the enigmatic E8

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

Garibaldi did the math to disprove the , 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 .

"The beautiful thing about math and physics is that it is not subjective," says Garibaldi. "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 a bit of color to the story surrounding the theory. Although his paper was not peer-reviewed, and Lisi himself commented that his theory was still in development, the idea was widely reported in the media, under attention-grabbing headlines like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 . First identified in 1887, E8 has 248 dimensions and cannot be seen, or even drawn, in its complete form.

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 (which binds quarks); the (which controls ); and the .

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."

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Mar 26, 2010
Why not to consider some larger group, for example Monster group?


Mar 26, 2010
We will just have to wait until this "proof" has been widely disseminated for a period of time to see whether or not it stands up.

True. But given E8's origin my money is on Mr. Garibaldi.

Mar 26, 2010
jonnyboy: Remember that it only takes one test that causes a theory to fail to make that theory wrong. However, it would take a large number of tests that do not disprove a theory to give us confidence in the theory. In this case, a single test disproved the theory and everyone can now move on. Since even the originator of the original E8 theory agrees it fails this test, there is no need to wait for more analyses. This one is dead and buried. Don't get me wrong, something similar but different might hold up to testing - but this one is (as the mythbusters say) BUSTED!

Mar 26, 2010
.. that it only takes one test that causes a theory to fail to make that theory wrong...
This is very naive & schematic stance. Both relativity, both quantum mechanics violate mutualy or various observations, like cosmologic constant or vacuum energy density. Does it mean, these theories are wrong? After all, E8 gauge group was introduced by string theory into physics - not by Garrett Lissi.

Mar 27, 2010
This proof is itself open for debate, it hasn't even been published yet.
"Peer review" does not equal fact!
Lisi sent in a testable theory, and if this paper holds up that's great! We can move on to other theories.
And "frajo" "PERFECT scientific thinking based on the falsifiability of scientific theories."
"PERFECT" "frajo" "PERFECT"!
I hate to see that word even used anywhere near physicists! And since when has "string theory" been "falsifiable"!

Mar 27, 2010
E8 is an object of mathematics and can not be questioned by physics.
Usage of E8 has a robust meaning in many physical theories, because quantum foam gets more dense under shaking like soap foam. Particle structure exchanging energy with others via bosons can be considered as fractal mesh of closely packed hyperspheres, where hyperspheres representing particles of energy are sitting at the kissing points of hyperspheres, representing particles of matter.

Therefore the E8 Lie group answers the trivial question: "Which structure should have the tightest lattice of particles, exchanged/formed by another particles?". And such question has perfect meaning even from classical physics point of view! Such question has a perfect meaning in theory, describing the most dense structure of inertial particles, which we can ever imagine, i.e. the interior of black hole.

Mar 27, 2010
The second interpretation of E8 gauge group is relevant for cosmic scale and so called ekpyrotic model of cosmology and so called shock wave cosmology as proposed by J. Smoller and B. Temple [PNAS, 2002].


This model considers, the current Universe generation is formed by interior of giant dense collapsar, which is behaving like black hole from outer perspective. This collapse was followed by phase transition, which proceeded like crystallization from over-saturated solution by avalanche-like mechanism. During this, the approximately spherical zones of condensing false vacuum (branes) have intersect mutually, and from these places the another vacuum condensation has started in sort of nucleation effect.

Now we can observe the residua of these zones as a dark matter streaks and the dodecahedron structure of these zones should correspond the E8 group geometry, as being observed from inside.

Mar 27, 2010
As we can see, between various formal descriptions of Universe and their understanding at intuitive level exists certain barriers uncrossable by formal math, only by human imagination. Without it we cannot say anything about E8 model relevance for physics, because we cannot imagine nothing particular behind it. In my opinion E8 gauge model isn't wrong at all - it's just a bit schematic. After all, like every other formal theory. We aren't required to understand details, but we should understand their physical motivation, so I just making these theories accessible for people.

The schematic division of theories into good and wrong one doesn't work well here. At the moment, when such theory can predict something relevant about particle generations, it cannot be completely wrong - but it shouldn't be overestimated as well. Such theory is simply just another tool for Universe understanding and its relevancy can be only measured by number of theorists, which will extrapolate it further.

Mar 28, 2010
Here another heroic and sad GUT attempt

This article contains just a few abstract ideas and equations - with compare to Garrett's E8 model, which is fully fledged theory of many particle generations.

Mar 29, 2010
..Garrett's Model is as close as you can get to DOA..
String theory is waiting for its acceptation forty years. Now we're talking about theory, the acceptation/refusal of which we'll never live to see.

Mar 29, 2010
With compare to string theory, E8 validity doesn't depend only to confirmations by some mathematicians. This theory is matching 226 known standard model particles to most of 248 symmetries of E8 group and Lisi is able to predict the existence and quantum numbers of 22 new particles, three of these were already predicted by another independent theory (Pati-Salam model).

In such a way, E8 is a heavy weight between existing theories, because every opponent of it must be able to explain at the same moment, if this theory is wrong, why it fits properties of two hundreds particles so well. Because the very beautiful thing on math is, despite of what is saying or not, experiment always goes first.

Frankly, I wouldn't want to be at Diestler or Garibaldi place by now...

Mar 29, 2010
and not because it is not mathematically
String theory is indeed mathematically inconsistent, because it leads to extremelly large landscape of 10+500 possible solutions. For me it's even more substantial, string theory is inconsistent physically in its at least two main postulates: the Lorentz symmetry of special relativity and the assumption of extradimension, because every extradimension of 3D space-time would manifest just by violation of Lorentz symmetry.

Regarding E8 theory, if some theory fits less or better properties of 226 particles at the same moment, it simply cannot be completelly wrong - despite its formulation can suffer some inconsistencies. Problems in formulation can be corrected anytime latter. The REAL problems for E8 would occur, if E8 would violate some well known experiments. I presume, the fact, E8 is not a TOE is apparent for everybody, because our Universe simply doesn't appear like root system of E8 group - it's much more irregular.

Mar 30, 2010
Surfer physicist responds to claims that his E8 theory of everything doesn't work


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