Frankly, I’d always been rather skeptical of the idea. It always seemed something of an arrogant quest, to assume that we humans could understand everything in a single theory. My skepticism aside, however: this, I like. Devised by a surfer dude called Garrett Lisi in Hawaii this is probably the first theory since General Relativity to be essentially geometric (at least to my somewhat limited knowledge). Lisi sounds like an interesting guy too. Aside from teaching snowboarding, he apparently backed away from the academic world for fear he might be shoehorned into working on string theory or some other “mainstream” alternative hypothesis.
The theory is that the fundamental properties of the universe are described by E8, a mathematical shape. In fact, it’s an 8 dimensional polytope with 248 vertices. Each of these points, according to the theory, corresponds to one of the fundamental particles or forces (currently described by the ugly-as-sin ‘Standard Model’). By contrast, E8 is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful shapes in all of mathematics. Filling in the particles already known, relationships between things like quarks and gluons can be shown with basic geometry. Basic geometry! Of course it’s not complete yet. There are 20 or so spaces left to fill.
Part of me really wants them to prove this one right. Science should never be ugly. Could the universe really be based on a shape this beautiful…?