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Surfer Dude's Theory of Everything - The Movie

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 6:01pm GMT 21/11/2007

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Hollywood is now chasing the "surfer dude," who last week electrified the scientific community with his theory of everything, so that his extraordinary story can be told in a movie.

  • Telegraph TV: See 'surfer dude' in action
  • Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything
  • Is this the fabric of the universe?
  • Such a theory aims to unite Einstein's General Relativity, which explains how the universe works on very large scales, with that of quantum mechanics, which describes the world of tiny elementary particles.

    See Surfer dude in action
    See Surfer dude in action

    Now, after a decade of effort, a candidate idea for such a theory has been set out by Garrett Lisi, 39, who has a doctorate but no university affiliation and spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii. In winter, he heads to the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he snowboards.

    "Since I'm not in academia, I only publish papers when I think I've found something cool," he says. But the response to his ideas has been anything but. Yesterday, he said that the feedback triggered by an article on, has been "phenomenal."

    "I have also received many emails of encouragement from the general public, which have been wonderful and completely overwhelming."

    Meanwhile, a representative of a Hollywood film production company has been in touch with the Telegraph saying that "I loved the article and think it has great potential for a feature film."


    And at least one major agent is scrambling to sell publishers a book that will tell the story of Garrett Lisi and his struggles to comprehend the cosmos.

    The reason Lisi has captured the imagination is that he does not work in the scientific establishment. Backed by a little money from a privately funded research institute called FQXi, he has introduced his new theory of everything, based on E8, the most elegant and intricate structure known to mathematics - a complex pattern in eight dimensions with 248 points that was first found in 1887.

    What Lisi realised was that he could link the various elementary particles and forces on E8's 248 points. What remained was 20 gaps which he filled with new particles, some of which might be detected at the Large Hadron Collider, the new atom smasher that will go into action next year in Geneva.

    Physicists have long puzzled over why elementary particles appear to belong to families, but this arises naturally from the geometry of E8, he says.

    Surfer dude: Garrett Lisi stunned physicists with his theory of everything
    Surfer dude: Garrett Lisi stunned physicists with his theory

    So far, the interactions predicted by the complex geometrical relationships inside E8 match with observations in the real world. And it could be possible to test predictions. "How cool is that?" he says.

    "It is futile to argue with nature, if she says your theory is wrong. This E8 Theory is mathematically and aesthetically beautiful, and so far it seems to agree with the physics we know. But it is a new theory, and not completely understood yet, and, of course, it may turn out to be wrong."

    Ever since an article on his work appeared last week online on he has become something of a celebrity and he admitted yesterday that he was finding the attention overwhelming - indeed he has refused to appear on television.

    "I'm currently spending the bulk of my time corresponding with physicists, which I consider to be of prime importance. "

    Although he spends most of his time working on wave theory, the video of him snowboarding was shot in Colorado by videographer Lowell Hart. Lisi says he will split his time this coming season between working on E8 Theory and snowboarding at Mt. Rose in Tahoe.

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    I like it.
    Find the right number and everything fits.
    Posted by Peter Ramsey on January 10, 2008 12:47 PM
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    Everything is a wave, or is not a wave, dude!

    Posted by PJ Parent on December 28, 2007 4:54 AM
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    I would be perfectly content if the surfer dude's theory explained the 'how'. You see, I'm not convinced there is a "why" for everything, let alone a bigger "why".

    In spite of overwhelming proof to the contrary, the majority of humans continue to believe that not only there is such an overarching "why" out there to be discovered, but it's all about them!

    And once found, it will be the answer to their emotional pain, fear of death and unequal financial status...
    Posted by E.M. on December 5, 2007 3:38 PM
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    i love all the surfer prejudice. anybody remember kerry mullis, the guy who invented PCR?

    is it a surprise that the requisite individualism and innovation needed to push the boundaries of our paradigm horizon aren't found in the sticky cocoon of academia's jizzy safety nets?
    Posted by bob on December 3, 2007 4:21 PM
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    Chris wrote: To Gevin Giorbran:
    What's the difference between "how" something works and "why" something works? To explain why something works, you'd have to know how it works. Without the "how", the answer to "why" would be "just because." But with knowledge of the "how", the answer to "why" would be, "because of how it works."

    The difference is time. "How" things work is time dependent. The physical world has particular characteristics, for example there are elements because there are discreet particles, and specific forces, rather than arbitrary particles and forces. Sometimes we think we understand the "why" of elements by understanding characteristics such as quarks or probability mechanics, but we actually only more clearly understand the characteristics of nature. We really only understand more clearly "how" the world is, or "how" it works. As much as science has accomplished, it is important to appreciate that we presently have no answer to "why" particles and forces are discrete and not arbitrary. The problem is of course time. We discover "how" things work in time, but the "why" the world is this way cannot be found inside of time. Let's say E8 becomes a master mathematical description of all forces and particles. Why not E9? Why not six forces of nature, 5 elementary particles, and 583 elements? The reason science hasn't provided any "why" answers is because it looks at the world from the bottom-up. This leaves us in the dark about why, which leaves people to conclude the only answer is "God", which is just saying "something outside of time, something apart from our universe", is the reason "why". But this is really not an answer is it, it is just the realization that you cannot explain this specific universe from within. You can only increasingly improve your understanding of "how" things work. You can only improve your mathematical descriptions. In order to understand the "why" you have to step outside of this specific world. You have to study the idea of a universe, the idea of time, the idea of space and matter, from a top-down perspective. You have step outside of time and study all possibilities in order to learn why this world is so special. It may seem as if we cannot do that, and quite a surprise to discover how easy it can be done.
    Posted by Gevin Giorbran on December 3, 2007 10:59 AM
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    Dear mister Lisi,

    For all sake I hope you did found the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) we all are waiting for the past 30 years.
    But according to Occam's Razor this GUT should be clear, nice and simple. From what I have seen till now your work is nice but is it also clear and simple. Can it for instance explain electric charge and why totaly different particles like electron's and proton'n have the same electric charge. I hope so. Otherwise physics of today have to break down to the bottom and build up again from the beginning (Kepler 1620 AD) and found "The forgotten physics".
    Posted by Boy Boer on December 2, 2007 12:19 AM
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    Very interesting. But I still don't see how these
    formulas can be a theory of everything. What
    bearing will they have on the problems that affect
    people in every day life-emotional pain, fear of
    death, war, inequality, poverty, corruption etc etc?
    Posted by Dan on December 1, 2007 10:54 AM
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    Chris Huston,
    I think you need to do some background reading, use your eyes and actually read the article.

    It is not about the theory, although it explains the basics, it is purely about the interest generated by it.

    If you read even the first line of the article it states his theory "...electirified the scientific community." It even had a link to the article that has generated interest where I think you may find that several leading scientists have in fact endorsed the theory.

    But that actually isn't the point. Why does something not being endorsed by leaders in the field make it wrong? I'm thinking about Einstein, the bloke who discovered plate tectonics...

    If it is wrong, why don't you go and prove it? But judging by your inability to read, and the fact you have to be told what to do and think by other people, you probably won't be able to.
    Posted by PJ on November 28, 2007 12:50 PM
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    Dude - CHAW!
    Posted by Gary Larry on November 27, 2007 9:59 AM
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    to Chris,
    Gevin may be referring to God. Initially, "why" questions can be satisfied with the understanding of "how." Like, why is the sky blue? Because of the way light reflects of the particles in the sky. But ultimately, all why's lead to the big "why" which can only be resolved by God. It's not the purpose of science to explain why, but only to discribe how. It is up to God to explain why. Regardless i would love to see what advances may come of a fully developed E8 Theory
    Posted by austin on November 27, 2007 7:53 AM
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    A few weeks ago German scientists discovered particles within light that go much faster than light. This immediately negates Einsteins Theory of special relativity and opens up a pandora's box in the world of Quantum mechanics. (link) Overlay this with Chaos theory and fractal geometry and there you have it....
    Posted by Cheifos on November 27, 2007 7:22 AM
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    I think this video is great, and I think some of the "scientific community" is Hard on the guy, JUST BECAUSE HE HAS FUN ! and at the same time, he is a GENIUS. I am an EE and I read his Paper, it is Great Work.
    Posted by JohnWW on November 27, 2007 12:38 AM
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    I've assembled some useful links into my blog.

    Posted by J. Harvey on November 26, 2007 5:12 PM
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    To Gevin Giorbran:
    What's the difference between "how" something works and "why" somethign works? To explain why something works, you'd have to know how it works. Without the "how", the answer to "why" would be "just because." But with knowledge of the "how", the answer to "why" would be, "because of how it works."
    Posted by Chris on November 26, 2007 4:10 PM
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    What was the opinion of the REV guy in 1905? He was laughed at - not any longer! Was he a part of the excepted group? No he worked in a patent office. This is a good parallel. An earlier post stated that the universities stagnate new theories and I agree - the same problem with congress.

    I cannot find the paper to read. what I have tried has backfired.

    Posted by Richard Lee (Oz) Ozenbaugh on November 26, 2007 3:45 PM
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    Jesus probably knew this 2000 years ago. He knews lots of stuff. And he could surf like a ninja turtle.
    Posted by jesse on November 26, 2007 6:47 AM
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    GIL, this theory is testable which can't really be said for string theory. I imagine they will find one of Surfer Dudes exotic particles before an escaping graviton is found to confirm string theory. This Mandala of the universe offers an explanation of gravity so we may finally have a workable understanding of this force. It is certainly worth exploring, all will agree with that, and its testable. If a theory isn't testable-like string theory- then you are writing fiction not facts.
    Posted by on November 26, 2007 6:17 AM
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    Dear Garrett Lisi,

    I don’t mean to take anything away from your discovery as I am intrigued, and this looks like it may turn out to be important and useful. However, even if E8 maps out how particles and forces are interconnected, the math only tells us "how" everything within nature works. For that reason this shouldn’t be billed as a "theory of everything" any more than string theory. A theory of everything explains the "why" of everything. We discovered the expansion of the universe is accelerating in 1998, but the science section of my hometown book store has been shrinking. Why? Because science has failed to provide any knowledge about why a universe exists rather than nothing, or why the universe is so orderly and systematic rather than chaotic. Why 248 dimensions rather than 247, or 10, or 10K? Why aren't there infinite many? I will continue to follow your work but as you develop this try to think of the top-down reasons for "why" rather than just the bottom-up of "how" things work.

    Posted by Gevin Giorbran on November 26, 2007 4:30 AM
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    At first I thought this was a hoax. But it's no less sound than a lot of other "unification" theories bouncing around out there. Way to go, dude.
    Posted by Darko714 on November 26, 2007 1:41 AM
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    I'm particularly struck by how in this article....there are no mention of actual physisists commending his work. There's talk of Hollywood and commenters at, but no actual scientists lauding his theory.

    If someone like Steve Weinburg says this is something we should pursuem, then I'll give some credence. The fact Hollywood seems much more enthusiastic about Lisi than the scientific community makes me suspect this theory is bunk which is easily hyped cause it's a surfer scientist
    Posted by Chris Huston on November 25, 2007 11:50 AM
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    Thanks for another astonishing story about a theory of everything. I am entirely unconvinced. I only agree that mathematics are important in finding the solution. The solution to the problem of a universal theorem must lie in understanding the nature of space, time and numbers. In fact I am convinced that the current theories are as a house of cards. They can only reflect reality never be more than theory. Something fundamentally wrong is being proposed in modern physics (Quantum Mechanics, Big Bang). Why am I so sure - well the German chemist and mathematician Dr Peter Plichta wrote a book "God's Secret Formula”, published in Great Britain in 1997. Dr Plichta's book may have been largely overlooked, but I am a believer in the triple nature of reality - the one triple infinity of space, time and numbers. I do agree with Plichta that we need to see reality from a new perspective.
    Posted by Neil Williams on November 25, 2007 3:35 AM
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    Why can't we have more stories like these?? It's just wonderful. As a northern Nevadan, I am so happy he finds inspiration on the slopes of Mount Rose!
    Posted by Debbie on November 24, 2007 11:44 PM
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    What is 'for sure' is that there is 'in reality' a way that everything works and is put together. All we have to do is find it!!

    It's really refreshing to find people like this who are pushing the frontiers.

    All we need now is a cure for the human 'ego'.....that can obviously be 'explained' too once we start to understand the basics.

    It's all about 'energies' methinks!!

    Posted by Trevor Andrews on November 24, 2007 5:59 PM
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    Thanks for some of the best early coverage of this interesting development. I have since been visiting your site more frequently for science news. You strike a good balance between stodgy scepticism and breathless credulity.
    Posted by Vincent DiCarlo on November 24, 2007 4:29 PM
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    he's being modest, so don't diss him especially just because he's a surfer.. i mean what's wrong w/ it anyway?
    Posted by zoo on November 24, 2007 11:50 AM
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    I think there is something to be said of the value of maintaining one's distance from academia. I have long though that working in the thick of it reinforces standard dogma which then becomes a stifling bias. Perhaps it helps a person to think outside the box and focus on fresh ideas, in this case refreshing an old one. Einstein was nowhere near the mainstream when he first burst on the scene. Perhaps standard theorists have mined existing theories to exhaustion and it is time to move in a new direction. I think it is long overdue and hopefully this will be a start. Or it could be a dead end, but the process of exploring it will be refreshing.
    Posted by Greg on November 24, 2007 7:55 AM
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    Gleng is absolutely correct...!
    Posted by cvb on November 24, 2007 6:27 AM
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    Oh Joy! An evening free to spend with the Telegraph. This Surfer Dude is something; sort of like my doing Financial Analysis while chasing trains. (I chase after them in my car to take pictures of them and for the thrill of it. Because America has freight trains and they run fairly slow it is possible to do this; for fast trains (Acela, Union Pacific, etc.) one waits for the trains to show up. The dull British version of Trainspotting is not done here. If you had more slow trains in Britain (say the Great Northeastern Railway (incompetent turkeys)) I say you could take up train-chasing now that fox-hunting is illegal.)
    Back to the Surfer Dude. The real point however is the latest article this story is linked to, namely those "scientists" who claim that our looking at "dark matter" has "doomed" the universe. Poppycock! Drivel! Highly unlikely, because otherwise what with all the "scientists" poking around Physics "observing" things the Universe should have ended years ago. Maybe yanking their research grants would allow the universe to survive; they won't do any more pokings into "dark energy".
    However, one should note that what has really doomed the universe, say some Darlings of Physics. Mother Nature stored some of this "dark energy" squirrelled away in Northern Rock; the missing "dark energy" may someday be found in a branch office in, say, Dorking, or Milton Keynes; more than likely it has met an equal quantity of Bank of England paper and the two quantities of money have mutually annihilated each other to the taxpayers' loss. Recent studies in Brownian motion have borne this out, I am told. The Fall of the British Empire some purists believe began in the 1860's, about the time that Overend & Gurney failed. Hmmm... Quantum Economics, anyone?
    Got to go post elsewhere..

    Posted by Nathan Redshield on November 24, 2007 2:05 AM
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    Sounds quite interesting. It looks like Lisi has the right scientific attitude: "of course, it might turn out to be wrong".

    @GIL: The 20 gaps is nothing unusual. Remember when the periodic table of elements was discovered there were a lot of gaps too. All of them have been closed by now.
    Posted by Stephan Wissel on November 24, 2007 1:36 AM
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    It's good to have a HYPOTHESIS (not theory) with testable predictions. Regardless of whether or not it's correct, this guy should be applauded for at least trying to push science forward.

    Hollywood, however, should wait until some of the predictions come true before lifting this guy up on their shoulders. If he's wrong, then it just looks like the scientific community jumped on to an idea without testing it. We're already accused of that enough, tyvm.
    Posted by Michael on November 24, 2007 1:29 AM
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    The thing is, we'll know pretty quick. Those 20
    particles are either going to be there are they're
    not...I just have a gut feeling that he's found
    something profound and that they will be exactly
    where he says. I can't wait till they turn the LHC on!
    Posted by Joe C on November 23, 2007 10:12 PM
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    As a rule natures solutions are by far the most elegant and sometimes simple. Take DNA's double helix or the fabonnici pattern and how it relates to the shape of a snails shell and the way nature grows flowers with those elegant shapes.

    Einstein did some of his best work as a pattent clerk. I can't think of a better way to get in touch with nature than sufring waves in the summer and snow boarding in winter.

    Way to go dude and don't wear sneakers when you recieve the nobel prize.
    Posted by Gareth Roberts on November 23, 2007 5:20 PM
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    I believe that Einstine, also had the insight to condense and combine the work of others to form his theory of relativity and postulate the old E=MC2 theory. Gil neglects to include that Lisi's work agrees with all of the know stuff while predicting some new stuff--not a minor accomplishment. As Lisi puts it, his theory stands on the confirmation of its predictions --a modest and refreshing attitude. This could be a very exciting time!
    Posted by Charles on November 23, 2007 4:48 PM
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    Well I commend Mr. Lisi for taking someone else's idea from 1887 & giving it potential to become the new standard atomic model for everything...unfortunately like Einstein's Gravity Constant Fudge Factor, the odds of conveniently discovering 20 brand new exotic forms of sub-atomic-matter "to fill in the twenty gaps" using the brand new atom smasher are somewhat dubious...However I congradulate Mr. Lisi for original thinking in the application of E8 theory, and I hope
    he can decrease the unknown variables in the present standard atomic model down to practical ways of testing newer, & better theories.
    Posted by GIL on November 23, 2007 5:54 AM
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    Way to go!!

    It takes a mind at peace to come up with genius!

    More people should surf and snowboard especially
    George Bush!

    Posted by Sparky on November 22, 2007 10:25 AM
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    Maybe there are no comments because hardly any of us understand the E8 Theory...
    Posted by Gleng on November 21, 2007 11:23 PM
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