So, it seems that some random guy, in this case a poor surfer/snowboarder who plays with physics as a hobby, has come up with an impressive Theory of Everything. Bitchin, dude, pass the bong.
This surfer, Dr. Lisi to you, has spent the past several years using his doctorate in theoretical physics to perfect his skills at surfing in Hawaii and snowboarding in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. The newspaper stories say he’s fairly poor, a believable claim given that a PhD in theoretical physics isn’t exactly a path to riches even when one does have a university affiliation. Which he doesn’t, mainly due to his not being able to stomach the pressure that mainstream academia places on one to toe the line regarding string theory. His varied selection of employment, such as being a snowboarding instructor, has given him enough spare time (another benefit of not being affiliated with a university) to pursue his hobby of searching for the holy grail of physics, which he might just have found.
Theories of everything are quite in vogue nowadays; it seems that everyone has one. The problem is that most, like string theory, are more similar to religion than they are to science. What makes this one interesting is that it is simple (for suitable values of ’simple’). It’s beautiful, as one would suspect that any theory for our universe would be. And even better, it might even be real science.
If I sound like I’m being unduly hard on string theory, it’s only due to being really tired of having to endure complaints from some quarters about religion’s lack of ability to produce falsifiable predictions. There’s no denying that testable predictions are nice to have when you can have ‘em, and having some should indeed be the goal of any theory. But there’s also no denying that science can be done in the absence of such things. Scientists have spent a lot of time and research money on string theory, with the result of knowing an awful lot about a bunch of invisible things. Theists get called on it when they posit the existence of one Invisible Pink Unicorn (May Her Hooves Never Be Shod), but string theorists get a pass when they posit the existence of 10500 of ‘em. Whatever.
Of course, this new theory has a long ways to go before there can be any celebrations. The paper hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, and while it has gained a good reception so far amongst some, there are others who are saying that it is wholly impossible. Personally, I’ve noticed that when an elderly but distinguished scientist says something is impossible, he’s generally wrong, but when the same type says that something is possible, he’s generally right. Very similar to how it turns out that when religion makes a scientific claim, it is always wrong.
Fortunately, we’ll might see fairly soon. According to Lisi, “This is an all-or-nothing kind of theory - it’s either going to be exactly right, or spectacularly wrong.” His theory predicts the existence of a few new particles, some of which may be within the power of the new Large Hadron Collider to detect. That is, if they ever get the thing online (and if it doesn’t accidentally create a black hole large enough to eat us all *lol*)
For the science/math heads, there’s a good discussion about this (including comments by Dr. Lisi) is going on on Backreaction and Not Even Wrong. Another meta-blog has appeared on the scene to track the various news items, blog posts, and other information related to this new theory.
If you can’t understand the discussions above, this comic strip answers the question “What do you call a physicist who’s an expert surfer?”