The Theory of Everything

The theory of everything has been put forth by someone who's got a lot of time on his hands - a surfer dude who probably has a lot of quiet time and space to contemplate what makes up the fabric of reality itself.

The group of symmetries of this strange geometry called E8 is one of the most intriguing structures that Nature has left for the mathematician to play with," commened Prof Marcus du Sautoy of Oxford University, currently in Auckland. "Most of the time mathematical objects fit into nice patterns that we can order and classify. But this one just sits there like a huge Everest.

What makes this group of symmetries 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. I find it rather extraordinary that of all the symmetries that mathematician’s have discovered, it is this exotic exceptional object that Nature has used to build the fabric of the universe. The symmetries are so intricate and complex that today’s announcement of the complete mapping of E8 is a significant moment in our exploration of symmetry.

E8 has been used to explain forces in the universe - like gravity - and how they all work together in a single unified theory.

The ways that E8 manifests itself as a symmetry group are called representations. The goal is to describe all the possible representations of E8. These representations are extremely complicated, but mathematicians describe them in terms of basic building blocks. The new result is a complete list of these building blocks for the representations of E8, and a precise description of the relations between them, all encoded in a matrix, or grid, with 453,060 rows and columns. There are 205,263,363,600 entries in all, each a mathematical expression called a polynomial. If each entry was written in a one inch square, then the entire matrix would measure more than seven miles on each side.

The result of the E8 calculation, which contains all the information about E8 and its representations, is 60 gigabytes in size. This is enough to store 45 days of continuous music in MP3-format. If written out on paper, the answer would cover an area the size of Manhattan. The computation required sophisticated new mathematical techniques and computing power not available even a few years ago.

It's hard to wrap my head around this stuff, but it's really impressive to see all of this math, all of these calculations, together in a single visual representation.