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Thursday, November 15, 2007


posted by on November 15 at 12:38 PM

Ladies and gentleman, this may be the shape of your 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.

E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional. Lisi says “I think our universe is this beautiful shape.”

What makes E8 so exciting is that Nature also seems to have embedded it at the heart of many bits of physics. One interpretation of why we have such a quirky list of fundamental particles is because they all result from different facets of the strange symmetries of E8.

Lisi’s breakthrough came when he noticed that some of the equations describing E8’s structure matched his own. “My brain exploded with the implications and the beauty of the thing,” he tells New Scientist. “I thought: ‘Holy crap, that’s it!’”

UPDATE: To get in the mood, let’s listen to Linda Perhacs’s psychedelic celebration of geometry, “Parallelograms,” from her album by the same name.

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Our universe was designed on a Spiralgraph??!! WTF???

Posted by New Deal Deomoncrat | November 15, 2007 12:42 PM

More importantly, the dude who came up with idea is more of a surf bum than Spicoli!

Posted by StrangerDanger | November 15, 2007 12:44 PM

Trying to explain complicated math to the lay person is awfully hard. Here they show us a 2 dimensional picture and tell us that it is "a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern" and that it "encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional."

Er... um... okay. I guess I'll take your word for it. (Even if I'm not exactly sure what all those words mean.)

Posted by M | November 15, 2007 12:49 PM
Posted by This one | November 15, 2007 12:52 PM


The Wikipedia entry on the E8 system has a photograph of a 3D plastic model. I just liked the mandala representation because, well, obviously.

Posted by Nick | November 15, 2007 12:56 PM

But, I would imagine even a lowly three-dimensional representation can't come close to doing justice to the complexity of E8.

Still, it's beautiful, regardless of the number of dimensions in which it's represented.

Posted by COMTE | November 15, 2007 1:09 PM

Nick@5: yeah, I like the pretty pictures too. I was just commenting on the fact that we all have no idea what we're talking about here. It's not like the photo of the 3D plastic model helps us to understand any better. (a 2D picture of a 3D model of something which is both 8 and 248 dimensional and which "encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional". Um... huh?)

Posted by M | November 15, 2007 1:09 PM

For those of us confused by multi-dimensional ideas I would recomend watching "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan. There is one episode where he describes dimensions beyond just the three we can see.

Posted by Just Me | November 15, 2007 1:11 PM

That was a great episode! I think it was about a two dimensional creature getting swept up in a three dimensional world.
I can almost hear "Popcorn" now.

Posted by Tim | November 15, 2007 1:18 PM

@9, it is kinda cheesy but makes the point. I liked when he cut the apple in half and dipped it in ink to show what a 2 dimensional world would see of a 3 dimensional object.

Posted by Just Me | November 15, 2007 1:30 PM

There is no such thing as a universe.

Posted by Mr. Poe | November 15, 2007 1:31 PM

Ok, who took my pens?

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 15, 2007 1:34 PM

If his theory is correct, then the proper way to visualize E8 is to look out the window.

Posted by Pat | November 15, 2007 1:36 PM

Ummm... WHAT??

Posted by durrr | November 15, 2007 1:42 PM

3D vs. 2D model of E8 illustrated perfectly.

That picture of the universe looks like the cover of Hissing Fauna: Are You the Destroyer?

Posted by tabletop_joe | November 15, 2007 1:48 PM

@15 that photo works very well. Thanks.

Posted by inkweary | November 15, 2007 1:55 PM

The weirdest part is that at the beginning of the story they say that the theory requires only 3 spatial and one time dimension, and then goes on to discuss the elaborately-dimensioned E8 without any attempt to reconcile the two.

Recommended reading: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Posted by Levislade | November 15, 2007 1:56 PM

That's fine if yer just gonna crib stuff from Mefi. But PLEASE don't link to the guy-with-tree-hands thing. I hope I live long enough to forget ever seeing that. Don't say you weren't warned.

Posted by ejamadoodle | November 15, 2007 2:52 PM
Posted by chris | November 15, 2007 3:00 PM

Oh. now that was cool.

Posted by Tlazolteotl | November 15, 2007 3:11 PM

@ 19

Ooooo. Thank you.

Posted by tabletop_joe | November 15, 2007 4:35 PM


Now THAT makes math interesting. Cool link.

Posted by Irena | November 15, 2007 6:11 PM

@15 & @19:

Thanks, those were great.


Posted by COMTE | November 15, 2007 9:54 PM

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