Garrett Lisi’s Exceptional Approach to Everything

LisiARTICLE Greg Boustead in Seed:

When Lisi published his physics paper, “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything,” to an online archive last year, it created a media buzz about his lifestyle and an onslaught of support and skepticism about his model. Although the verdict is still out on whether Lisi's theory will prove predicatively accurate, the means by which he released and vetted his research point to a larger trend in the scientific community.

Barriers to data are falling, a cross-disciplinary community of commenters is replacing journal-selected peer reviewers, and “information to the people!” is becoming the raison d'être of the science information superhighway. The movement, combined with an evolving image of the contemporary scientist, is redefining how society interacts with science.

We checked in with Lisi recently for an update on his theory, his thoughts on publishing, and his pursuit of life.

You left academia to study physics on your own. Why?

Freedom. When I got my PhD, I really loved general relativity, quantum field theory, and differential geometry, and I wanted to continue my research in these areas. But at that time the only funded research options available in these combined fields were in string theory, which was and still is the dominant research program in theoretical particle physics. I had learned a bit about string theory, and some things about it are pretty cool, but I thought string models were kind of far-fetched and probably not relevant to our universe. So I took off for Maui — the most beautiful part of the world I could find — and worked on the physics I wanted to, while squeaking by financially. Recently, research grants from small private foundations (FQXi and SubMeta) have allowed me to travel a bit and talk with other physicists, but I still spend most of my time on Maui.