The "exceptionally simple theory of everything," proposed by physicist Antony Garrett Lisi in 2007 does not hold water, according to a particle physicist and mathematician writing in Communications in Mathematical Physics.

In November of 2007, Lisi published an online paper entitled "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything." The paper centered on the elegant mathematical structure known as E8, which also appears in string theory. First identified in 1887, E8 has 248 dimensions and cannot be seen, or even drawn, in its complete form.

The enigmatic E8 is the largest and most complicated of the five exceptional Lie groups, and contains four subgroups that are related to the four fundamental forces of nature: the electromagnetic force; the strong force (which binds quarks); the weak force (which controls radioactive decay); and the gravitational force.

In a nutshell, Lisi proposed that E8 is the unifying force for all the forces of the universe. Lisi spent much of his time surfing in Hawaii, adding a bit of color to the story surrounding the theory. Although his paper was not peer-reviewed, and Lisi himself commented that his theory was still in development, the idea was widely reported in the media, under attention-grabbing headlines like "Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything."

But math doesn't care what the media have to say, the researchers say.

Using linear algebra and proving theorems to translate the physics into math, authors of the new paper not only showed that the formulas proposed in Lisi's paper do not work, they also demonstrated the flaws in a whole class of related theories.

"You can think of E8 as a room, and the four subgroups related to the four fundamental forces of nature as furniture, let's say chairs," explains says Emory University mathematician Skip. "It's pretty easy to see that the room is big enough that you can put all four of the chairs inside it. The problem with 'the theory of everything' is that the way it arranges the chairs in the room makes them non-functional."

He gives the example of one chair inverted and stacked atop another chair

"A lot of mystery surrounds the Lie groups, but the facts about them should not be distorted," Garbaldi says. "These are natural objects that are central to mathematics, so it's important to have a correct understanding of them."

Jacques Distler, Skip Garibaldi, 'There is no "Theory of Everything" inside E8', Communications in Mathematical Physics, March 2010; doi:10.1007/s00220-010-1006-y