Archive for July 16th, 2008

Also in the New Yorker

July 16, 2008

An article (they only have the abstract online) about Garrett Lisi, the surfer dude physicist with the E8 Theory of Everything. My own worthless comments (from before I started blogging) are here. I haven’t thought about it or kept up with new developments (have there been any?) since I wrote that, so I have no updates to make.

The New Yorker article quotes MIT math professor Bertram Kostant:

It is easy to arrive at the feeling that a final understanding of the universe must somehow involve E8, or, otherwise put, nature would be foolish not to utilize E8.

Kostant is practically the Platonic form of “brilliant and eccentric MIT math professor.” I took what was supposed to be a Lie algebras course from him. It turned out to be… I never figured out what exactly. I mostly had no idea what he was talking about, but it was entertaining having it all go so far over my head. At the time he was working on his own Theory of Everything, based (IIRC) on SO(3, 3) and how it sits inside SO(4, 4). SO(4, 4) was nice because of triality (what that might have to do with physics I was never even close to figuring out, and may not have been important to Kostant), and I’m sure there was some beautiful reason to pick the (3, 3)/(4, 4) real forms. “If only I could figure out what to do with the extra two time dimensions…”

That New Yorker Cover

July 16, 2008

2008_07_21_p323 I wish I had seen that New Yorker cover—the one with Angela Davis and Osama bin LadenMichelle and Barack Obama—before I had seen all the outraged reactions, and the bemused counter-reactions. I’d like to know what my own response would have been. Most likely I would have thought it mildly amusing and then immediately forgotten about it.

I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out what there is to be outraged about here. I wouldn’t think there would be too many people who will see the cover and not get the joke, even with the vastly extended audience the furor will have gotten it. The outrage I’ve seen seems to be mostly from the professionally outraged.

Ta-Nahisi Coates (who’s not particularly outraged) makes the best anti-cartoon point I’ve seen:

I think the problem is that it’s very hard to satirize the rumors around Michelle and Barack. Satire needs overstatement. But the cover doesn’t actually overstate the beliefs of the scaremongers.

And given the factoid that 13% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, maybe I’m wrong about people getting the joke.