Wipeout?; April 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Graham P. Collins; 3 Page(s)
"Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything." So ran a Daily Telegraph headline last November. The story circulated and quickly achieved widespread notoriety (even my dentist asked me about it). The physics blogosphere carried long threads of comments attacking and defending the theory and then attacking the tone of the discussion. The shouting and acrimony have died down, and the mainstream physics community remains largely unconvinced that the theory can stay afloat. In the words of Marcus du Sautoy, a University of Oxford mathematician writing in the Telegraph in late January: "Unfortunately, the consensus, after investigation, is that it is impossible to use E8 in the way Lisi was hoping and produce a consistent model that reflects reality." Not everyone, of course, agrees.
A. Garrett Lisi, the surfer dude in question, came up with his theory while dividing his time among surfing, snowboarding and speculating about physics. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, San Diego, but has held no academic affiliation since then. He presented his ideas at conferences and invited seminars months before the media furor. From the start, he has been quick to comment that the chances of his theory being correct are very small, but he considers string theory (the approach most favored by physicists) to be even less likely.