Objectivist Physicist in the News

Phil Steele's picture
Submitted by Phil Steele on Sat, 2007-11-17 18:58

FOX News: Laid Back Surfer Dude May be the Next Einstein

Garrett is a long-time friend of mine, who I met through Objectivist/atheist groups here in San Diego. When I asked him if it was OK to characterize hims as "Objectivist" in posting this message, and he hedged to "objectivist-leaning," which is probably wise given the way some people split hairs over the "O" word.

It's exciting to see him hailed as a potential Einstein, and no matter what comes of his theory, it's going to be interesting to watch it shake things up!

I guess I'll have to stop making fun of him for being an itinerant surfer bum now.


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Stephen Boydstun's picture

Cool Colors and Textures

James S. Valliant's picture

And Phil was kind enough to give me a couple of those rocks for some favor I can't recall now... was it helping you move, too, Phil?

Linz - yes

Phil Steele's picture

Linz, yes we met at Jim's book event and the Limber house, too.  Well, the rock story is long, but I'm short on time, so the brief version.  I helped Leonard Peikoff move (many years ago), and while sorting out the stuff in his garage, we found Ayn's rocks, gathered mostly while she did research for Atlas in Colorado.  Many of them nicely organized and labeled of course.  He decided he was tired of lugging them around and gave them to me in exchange for my help. (He also gave me a bullet-proof vest that he wore at Ford Hall Forum when he was getting death threats, but that's another story).  I could tell you a few more interesting things about all this next time you're in San Diego (some I wouldn't want posted in public).



Good links from /.

Lance's picture

Original Slashdot article /.

New Scientist video presentation

Also, recommended background reading from /.






For a much more straightforward explanation (lifted from /. also. NOT MY WORK):

Okay, the context is that you've got particles, and they're fundamentally all the same, but they're "turned" in different ways. Think of a ball with 3-color LEDs inside: you can rotate it around three axes, and move it in three directions, and you can also cycle its color and change its blinking pattern. Particles are like that, except that the topology is weird: it's not back to the same orientation until you turn it around 720 degrees, instead of 360 like normal objects. The "gauge group" is the rules for how you can change things. For example, the total color of the universe is white: if you turn something from red to blue, you have to turn something else from blue to red; but you can also create a pair of a green and a purple (anti-green). They write all these rules up in math, and it's tricky because a lot of the features vary continuously (that is, you can rotate something an arbitrarily small amount). And due to the interaction of the rules for one property with the rules for other properties, there are only certain combinations of properties that you can get. They work out all the combinations that you can have and those are what you see as "different" particles that your experiments show. Of course, we don't know what the rules are, and we're trying to figure that out from what combinations of properties we've seen and which ones we're speculating are impossible. And it's hard and takes a lot of calculation to figure out what a candidate set of rules would even mean as far as results. And people are looking at known results and trying to describe them better than "we've done a billion things, and a billion things happened".

Now, the math of rules for how things can interact turns out to be sort of limited; there are basically 4 normal cases, which are boring, and then there are a few exceptional cases, which are interesting. Of these, the hardest to prove stuff about is E8, and it's just now becoming clear what combinations it allows. It's like one of those puzzles where you press a corner and lights change, and you have to turn off all the lights, but it's got dozens of corners and dozens of lights and every time you press a corner a bunch of things change at once, and there are different kinds of corners and it also matters exactly what angle you're holding it at, so there are hundreds of things you can say about each move.

And the mathematicians working on E8 recently said, "well, you can get positions like this and not like that", where "this" and "that" are big complicated lists. And this physicist read that paper and said, "hey, those lists are familiar; I made similar lists of particle interactions". So the proposal is that particles work like E8 in what kind of rules they follow. And it's a really nice theory, because E8 is essentially the most flexible set of rules you can have without it falling apart into just anything being possible (and some rules or properties just not mattering).

So Phil

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Did I meet you at James' book-launch?

And, since you ask us to ask ... how DID you come to own Ayn's rock collection (I hope that's as in large stones rather than headbanging caterwauling Smiling).

Have started reading the

Mark Hubbard's picture

Have started reading the paper and am thinking I might just follow the Fox news summaries Smiling

 The first paragraph was a walk in the park, but then followed the formulae and those diagrams.

This is very, very

Mark Hubbard's picture

This is very, very impressive. Thanks for this Phil, and the link James, I've downloaded the paper and am looking forward to 'trying' to read it - love the sciences.


Stephen Boydstun's picture

To be taken seriously by David Finkelstein indicates something to be taken seriously.


James S. Valliant's picture

Here's the paper.

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