Theory of nothing, something, and everything in between

Then we saw Wallace-Wells’s “Surfing the Universe,” in the July 21 issue, and we quickly skipped to this Annals of Science piece; for since seeing the Nobel Prize winning physicist Robert B. Laughlin lecture locally, our old curiosity to know if the physicists will ever solve their “Theory of Everything” has been expanding. 

There’s apparently enough string theory going around that if the physicists studying it were Christo they could wrap the universe. We like Lisi’s new idea for a Theory of Everything because while it exposes string theory for the cat’s cradle it is, it also makes use of something called E8, at once suggesting an error on a guitar chart (he must mean E7, or E9 – what’s an E8 shaped like?), and our old drill sergeant at Fort Bliss (an E8), Fall 1969, who also toyed around with a theory of everything.

We had our own theory of everything nearly completed, but it contained no math, actuarially speaking, though it was based on the number system we developed to illuminate the guitar fretboard. Like many of our great ideas, it was written on one of our Joe Mitchell note sheets, got left in a back pocket of a pair of jeans, and went out with the wash.

Criticizing string theory in his book A Different Universe, Laughlin says “A measurement that cannot be done accurately, or that cannot be reproduced even if it is accurate, can never be divorced from politics and must therefore generate mythologies” (p. 215). In lecture, Laughlin was a card. Expecting a mega-PowerPoint, instead we got cartoons from an overhead. “Just look around you…Even this room is teeming with things we do not understand” (p. 218).

Anyone lucky enough to have surfed, that is, surfed in the water, salt water, in real waves, may not understand physics, but certainly comprehends that, as Laughlin says, “there is much, much more yet to come” (p. 218).