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A Simple Theory of Everything

In Nashville -- in a coffee shop, reading the coverage of this Sean Taylor tragedy -- and feeling sick about the whole thing. We'll draw broader lessons when we know who, why, how, what the exact circumstances were, whether it was connected to Taylor's troubled past or was just another random eruption of violence in South Florida -- but for now you just have to feel terrible for Taylor's family and for the entire Redskins team, including Joe Gibbs, who may be another big step closer to his second retirement. Sunday's game suddenly doesn't seem so important.

In the meantime here's something entirely different to ponder, via Bill Powers: A surfer dude, A. Garrett Lisi, who has figured out the secrets of the universe.

" Lisi's inspiration lies in the most elegant and intricate shape known to mathematics, called E8 - a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887, but only fully understood by mathematicians this year after workings, that, if written out in tiny print, would cover an area the size of Manhattan."

Here's his website. The physics is gibberish to me.

[For example:

If we take seriously the idea that fermions may be gauge theory ghosts, there is one gauge theory in particular that stands out: that of a principal E8-bundle. The exceptional group of rank 8 is the largest of the exceptional Lie groups, and perhaps the richest in structure. Pirating an appendix from Superstring Theory, the 248 dimensional Lie algebra of E8 is described as:

e8 = so(16) + S(16)

the special orthogonal group (with 120 elements) acting on the space of 128 dimensional chiral spinors. This is remarkable as it is, since it says there's a Lie algebra in which the Lie bracket of two elements gives one element acting on another as a Clifford algebra element, B, of so(16) acting from the left on a spinor, Psi, of so(16):

[ B, Psi ] = B Psi ]

On his blog, Lisi writes: " It's unhealthy to be too attached to a particular theory. I try to make the rest of my life good enough that even if the physics I work on isn't successful, I will have had a good life."


In the Bruce Fein column posted this morning in the boodle by Mudge, one rather sweeping paragraph jumps out:

' American culture has degenerated since the Founding Fathers into a celebration of vice, ignorance, drivel and self-promotion. Money, beauty, sexual indulgence, athletics and fame are saluted as the summum bonum of existence. Exemplary are the wild enthusiasm for "American Idol," obsession with the tawdry comings and goings of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton and the apotheosis of professional athletes who contribute nothing to preserving government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is inconceivable that a Washington, Madison or Jefferson or Lincoln could emerge from the contemporary culture. '

Here's my thought: Anyone who invokes Paris Hilton to advance a cultural degeneration argument has to be instantly disqualified on grounds of cliche-mongering in the service of rhetorical overkill. Just like making a comparison to Hitler.

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 27, 2007; 3:39 PM ET
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