OK, short version. Dr Garrett Lisi (who is a surfer-dude, snowboarder and works outside the establishment, sort of) has managed to hang particle physics onto the E8 Lie group. That might be The Truth. It might be 42. It just might be. It’s beautiful and it has the conceptual advantage, over concepts like super-strings, that it only requires the four familiar dimensions. It is a hell of a long shot but I, with a mere MSc level understanding of General Relativity (the math is pretty much the same) can pretty much follow his schtick. The paper is here. This is the abstract:
All fields of the standard model and gravity are unified as an E8 principal bundle connection. A non-compact real form of the E8 Lie algebra has G2 and F4 subalgebras which break down to strong su(3), electroweak su(2) x u(1), gravitational so(3,1), the frame-Higgs, and three generations of fermions related by triality. The interactions and dynamics of these 1-form and Grassmann valued parts of an E8 superconnection are described by the curvature and action over a four dimensional base manifold.
The key bit is at the end: a four dimensional base manifold but I quoted the whole thing because that language is just beautiful to me. If Dr Lisi is right then that’s physics bed-rock. That is truth. And guess what? We might have some confirmation this year. 2008 might rank as a year to compare with 1666, Newton’s year of miracles.
Why? Lisi makes predictions that might just be confirmed when CERN’s Large Hadron Collider comes on line later this year. If that is so then just wow! I remember being in a lecture-theatre when something dull was interrupted for the announcement of CERN’s discovery of the T quark, sometimes known as the truth quark. This is something else, this might be the whole nine-yards. LHC might also catch the Higg’s boson.
If so then we can junk our vague books of ancient mythology for the E8 group and real magic. We will stand awe-struck yet again before the Universe and then move on because that isn’t an end. It is the beginning.
If it doesn’t work out, we will continue the quest. I may not be a part of that anymore but does that really matter in the grand scheme of things?
I shall leave the final words to Dr Lisi:
This is an all-or-nothing kind of theory – it’s either going to be exactly right, or spectacularly wrong. I’m the first to admit this is a long shot. But it ain’t over till the LHC sings.