Also in the New Yorker

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…”

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2 Responses to “Also in the New Yorker”

  1. Garrett Says:

    Hello Michael,

    Your previous comments don’t look worthless, they seem mostly reasonable.

    Since you’re interested in Kostant’s point of view, you might want to see this:


  2. mrlauer Says:

    Thanks! To anyone who happens to read this: the thread Garrett cites contains a big chunk of email correspondence between Kostant and the author of the New Yorker article, and it’s worth reading.

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