A pretty full first day at TED 2008 yesterday, as can be seen from TED's Bruno Giussani's post here (Ethan Zuckerman and Boing Boing also have great posts on the day's proceedings). There were emotional extremes with speakers discussing the various forms of Evil in this world, and our definition of Beauty.
" Garrett Lisi is introduced as a surfing physicist working on a grand unified theory - E8. He wants to find all the particles and forces that make a complete picture of our universe. He starts by making fun of himself, coming onto the stage and saying "Woah dude, check out those killer equations!"
But he wants to talk about particle physics without using equations. He starts showing images of corals. Coral polyps branch into copies. So do universes.
He shows a funny slide of the Shroedinger's Cat problem (for comic effect, he puts Erwin in the box, and the cat gets to run the experiment). We see Shroedinger branching like a coral polyp in the unopened box. Quantum physics says "Everything that can happen does."
The four different known forces have different kinds of charges. The hypothetical Higgs particle gives mass to things, and the Large Hadron Collider that's about to go into operation will hopefully prove the existence of Higgs particles.
Electric charges are combinations of two different charges, hyper charges and weak charge.
Strong interactions between quarks are happening millions of times a second, holding atomic nuclei together. These particles are at the very limit of our knowledge. The known pattern of charges could come from a more perfect pattern that gets broken. to do these we need to introduce new charges with new directions.
He shows a colorful animated pattern of elementary particle interactions. The interactions are taking place in the 8th dimension. Some of the places where there should be particles are blank. They need to be filled in with currently unknown particles.
What's one reason E8 is so appealing to him? "At the heart of this mathematics is pure, beautiful geometry."
There were a number of presentations at TED by rocket scientists laying out the latest bits of how we understand the universe. Garret lisi was the first one to suggest, and show with beautiful animations, how the equations that describe these theories, may come together into something that is utterly beautiful and symmetrical (I'll update this post with links of the presentation and animations from TED when available).
A lot of this is still unknown, and a lot more needs to be researched and understood. But it was good to be able to think that the universe could be a deeply pretty picture.