Eric Weinstein’s Controversial New Approach to Theoretical Physics


3 years ago



Eric Weinstein

6 appearances

Eric Weinstein is a mathematician, economist, and managing director at Thiel Capital.


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Black holes, wormholes & other things I'll never understand


And today's podcast. Today's podcast, so first of all, you can reach it now. I finally got a website, which is And I told you that we have to leave this planet and that... It's hard not to laugh. Sorry, just hard not to laugh. But you're serious. We have to leave this planet. We have to leave this planet. Why? Why do we have to leave this planet? Because we can't all be... This planet has the best beaches. This planet also has China, Russia, Iran and the United States under ridiculous leadership. There's lots of reasons why we have to leave this planet. We're not good stewards. We're not wise enough to stay on this planet. We're too powerful. We went through this. And by the way, you pointed out this quote, which is, God's but for the wisdom. And that became a meme. So that was very interesting. The... I gave these lectures, I think in 2013. It's one of the best quotes ever, isn't it? Don't know. At Oxford... Who originated that quote? It was me. That was you. When did you say it? On your program. What day? I don't know. Which one? Do you remember which one? You probably turned into a clip. I was thinking about... It just came off my tongue and you... It's one of those ones where I'll drive down the street and it'll pop in my head. You're like the nicest person to tell you. No, no. It's a fantastic quote. But it's so right. It's like every now and then someone can get the whole thing in a sentence. We're now gods but for the wisdom. So that's why we have to get off this planet and diversify. Because too many people have god-like powers. Donald Trump commands a tremendous amount of god-like power thanks to our physics community. Well, his ratings. See how high they are? So hard to stay hard-focused. Sorry. Okay. So, there's too much god-like power. Right. So, the best hope that I can come up with, and it's a slim one, is that if we could figure out what goes beyond Einstein's theory, the Einsteinian speed limit might be bendable or breakable because we would be in a framework that was larger than Einstein's. People often interpret this as what they call FTL or faster than light travel. But that's not what I mean necessarily. What I mean is that the underlying source code gives us opportunities that we don't normally have. So, seven years ago I tried giving these lectures at Oxford, which is probably the university that is spiritually closest to what I care about, because they care about geometry and physics and they're in a relationship. They've kept the faith with that tradition through people like Roger Penrose and Michael Atiyah. And I released this theory of geometric unity, or rather I released the video of the lecture that introduces this theory. So, this was the first time since 1983, 1984, that I talked in public. When I started this program, when I was 18, 19, something like that, and I just released the video today on our YouTube channel. And it's the video of you giving this discussion. Yeah. So, it's introduced by Professor Marcus DeSotoi, who has Richard Dawkins' old job as the Simone professor for the public understanding of science. And he met me in a bar, and he got me a little drunk, and he said, okay, what are you really working on? And I told him, and at first it sounded crazy, and then he started thinking about it. And he asked me more questions, and he brought me over to Oxford. He got me an appointment, had me talk to their experts, and then he decided that he wanted me to give these what he called special Simone lectures. And they are an attempt to go beyond Einstein to look for a unified theory of physics between the two major branches that have resisted unification. Now, that's usually, in the modern era, confused with the idea of quantizing gravity. But the quantum gravity imperative is a political program that comes out of what would have been the quantum field theory community before it became the string theory community. The idea is we have to take Einstein and make him submit to the will of Bohr. And I don't think it's exactly like that. I think they got it wildly wrong, and they synchronized themselves and sort of took the field off the cliff, and they weren't able to ship a product they couldn't deliver on any of this promise. And so when I saw that they were about to go off a cliff, I switched fields as an undergraduate into mathematics. I used mathematics as a stalking horse to study the same sort of underlying structures, but not to get swept up in the politics of physics. And I had this theory, which I can now talk about for the first time in like 37 years or whatever it is. And like today is the first day that I'm sort of free because I've kept this to myself. So if you want to ask me any question about geometric unity— But why? Why did you keep this to yourself? Because I don't trust these people. You don't trust these people in the—like I know there was some people that have written some articles. It wasn't Sean Carroll's wife. No, whatever. It doesn't matter. It's not them. It's an entire system that believes in peer review, that it believes in forced citations. You have to be at a university. You have to get an endorsement to use their preprint server. It's too few resources and too many sharp elbows. Do you think that there's a logic to that method? No, I think— To preserve it from charlatans and crackpots. Yeah. That are just want to publish stories. Yep. So this way you have to be sponsored. It makes sense, right? Yes, but whatever I'm doing, whatever mistakes I'm making— I assume I'm wrong about it, about this theory. That's just fine. I'll find out that I'm wrong. Give me the layman's version of the theory. All right. First time ever. Yeah. Do you know that—let's start off with Escher's drawing hands. Jamie, do you have a picture for that? The key problem that we have in a fundamental theory that people don't think about is not, why is there something rather than nothing? I don't think we can answer that. It's, why is there so much that is rich out of almost nothing? And so this issue shows that if you had a piece of paper, could you will into being the hands holding pens using ink to draw each other? Right? That problem is akin to the problem that we face in a fundamental theory. If you had the canvas, how would the canvas bring all of the richness that you see around you into being? And what I did was I said, okay, we have to go below Einstein. So we have four degrees of freedom, but they're not yet space and time. It's proto-space time, but before. And then I said, okay, those four degrees of freedom are like the stands in a stadium. And the stands somehow need to build the pitch. And the pitch is a 14-dimensional space. So if, let's imagine that you had, okay, we've got four objects here, right? So the four degrees of freedom correspond to four objects. Then we need a ruler to measure how much of each of these four objects we have. So that would be four additional variables. And then you have angles, because length and angle is what Einstein gave us in space time. So the angles between any two objects are the same as the reverse of the angle. So then you can count it up, and there are six angles to be had. So there's four degrees of freedom plus four rulers plus six protractors, which is 14. So there's a 14-dimensional auxiliary space. And in my estimation, you and I are in some ways potentially having this conversation in a 14-dimensional world that we perceive back in the stands rather than on the pitch as a four-dimensional conversation. That is, we are in a three-dimensional room going forward in time. So I've called this the observer's. And the observer's is two spaces rather than Einstein's one space. Can I stop you right there? Sure. Why 14 dimensions? Because I'm saying that the fields, that is the stuff, is dancing not mostly on the four dimensions that we think we perceive, but it's also dancing on the rulers and the protractors. So in other words, if I have x, y, and z, I need rulers in the x direction, the y direction, and the z to measure things. And I need a watch, which would be like a ruler in the time direction. So those four rulers are in fact in play as well. And the protractors, because space time is four degrees of freedom plus rulers and protractors, I'm saying work over the space of all rulers and all protractors as part of where these particles and fields can dance. So the rulers and the protractors are part of the system, not just a choice of particular rulers and particular protractors. So by choosing particular rulers and particular protractors, Einstein is grabbing a tiny filament of the space of all possible rulers and protractors. So in effect, space time is recovered as the act of the observer's contemplating itself. That's a little bit poetic, but I mean that the choice of a space time metric inside of the space of all metrics is a section of a 14 dimensional bundle over a four dimensional space. Now, that's the first sort of mind bending weird things, is that this is not happening in one place, it's happening in two places. In X and in Y, the stands and the pitch. They're things that are happening in the stands and they're things that are happening in the pitch. So you know when a guy's like trying to make a free throw and everybody's waving their giant noodles trying to get him to miss, there's an interaction between what's happening in the stands and what's happening on the floor. And the observers is the bundling of two spaces and saying, hey, you're confused as to what's going on here. Some fields are happening in the stands, some fields are happening on the floor, and everything feels as if it's happening in the stands because that's where you're sitting in some weird way. Then you've got this really crazy stuff, which I think one aspect of it is everybody in theoretical physics is looking to figure out whether there are three or more generations that is copies of matter. Everything in this room is generation one. It's all made up of up quarks, down quarks, and electrons. Up quarks and down quarks give you protons and neutrons and electrons give you the sort of interesting personality of the various chemical elements. They're also neutrinos, but they're streaming through us, so I'm not going to count them. And that's all generation one of matter. So everything in that, think of that as like plastic Lego. Then there's another Lego set made out of wood. And then there's another Lego set made out of like lead. And we don't see those other two Lego sets except if we're doing very energetic experiments. So there were three copies of matter, and everybody was trying to figure out three or more. And I thought maybe it's two or fewer. And so one of the aspects of this theory is that the third generation of matter is an imposter. It looks like this generation of matter in terms of its particle personalities. But if you were actually to heat up the system, it would unify with a bunch of particles nobody's ever seen before. And so there are predictions for what those new particle properties would be. There's also a fourth pseudo generation of what would be called spin three halves matter, which is not prohibited, but has never been seen as a fundamental. So it makes predictions for the particle properties of new spin half and new spin three halves particles. It attempts to say that there are sectors of matter that I think decoupled, that the universe is not in fact left-right asymmetric, which would be called chirality. And if you think about the weak force, so if you have a neutron on a table, it'll decay. And I think something like 17 minutes on average half-life. When it decays, there's an asymmetry in that decay called beta decay. And that was found by a woman, bring up Madame Wu from Colombia in the cobalt 60 experiment. So in the 50s, this gal, Madame Wu, who should have won a Nobel Prize, discovered that when cobalt 60 decays through beta decay, the electrons come spin out one side and not the other, meaning that the universe is like Marilyn Monroe or Cindy Crawford having a birthmark that lets you tell the left from the right. So this is like the ultimate experimental badass who never got recognized fully. And she did an experiment based on work of Yang and Li that for the first time showed that the universe had a preference of one of its left over its right, if you will. I don't believe that preference is fundamental. I believe that there's another copy of matter that, so the analogy I give is that if you think, if you look at your three fingers in the center of your hand, your middle finger, which is my favorite, is obviously symmetrical by itself. Your digit ratio two and four is pretty close, but is determined by the amount of testosterone you're exposed to in utero. And then your thumb and your pinky are wildly off, but you could try to make it symmetric and say, well, you know, a pinky is like a lame thumb, which it isn't. If you're just looking at your hand, you're trying to figure out why is my hand asymmetrical? But you don't realize that you've got another hand and it's thumb to thumb, not thumb to pinky. So when you, you know, place your fingertips together, you see that if you didn't know if you were like Oliver Sacks out and you could only see part of your body, you'd think about the world is asymmetric. Well, my belief is that in weak gravitational situations, this other matter decouples. So you only see one hand or the other. And we're all in one handedness. So what I'm starting to do is that I'm terrified of talking about this stuff. I don't have the right credentials, not a physicist. I've been out of this game for forever, so I often say the wrong things and break rules and who knows what. And I haven't really talked about it. This is like really a very lone. I mean, I've been completely alone on this project all my life. What do you think the end result of this project potentially could be? Because you're saying we could get off this planet. What do you would like, what are you talking about in terms of the actual implementation of this, this theory of yours? So Jamie, if you could bring up my answer to the final edge question, which is what is the last question? John Brockman asked when the final year that he conducted the annual edge question. And that is the annual edge question. Yes, he would ask like 200 people, many of them physicists or biologists or mathematicians. He would ask a question and they'd write an essay. And then every year he'd publish it as a book. And so I did that for 10 years. Finally, he got tired of it. And he said, OK, this is my final year. We've exhausted this. What is the last question? So this is the question that I asked. So does something unprecedented happen when we finally learn our own source code? Now, nobody picked up on this, but that's what my concern is, which is what happens when the universe finally contemplates itself, when we are the first? Like, we're always worried about the AI becoming self-aware a la Skynet. OK, we are the AI. And we're about to become self-aware if we can figure out what our own source code is. So we are a Skynet. So you're talking about the source code of reality itself. Yep. And that our limited perceptions of reality are giving us a distorted view of what the landscape actually is. I'm trying to make sure. I was somewhat holding this back because I'm afraid of what it unlocks. And now that I know that we're willing to elect Donald Trump, not store masks, play footsie with China, be Putin's bitch, all of this stuff. To hell with this. We're going to mismanage this planet into Armageddon if we don't get some grownups into the room. And so I don't know that I'm a grownup, but I'm willing to vie for leadership by putting something up, having it investigated and seeing where it goes. What is your number one fear about this source code being, for lack of a better term, mastered? Well, the last time we gained some serious insight into the way Nuclei worked, that with a little bit of geometry from Stanislaw Ulam and Edward Teller gave us the namesake of the bikini. That was a terrifying moment. Everything changed in 19... I think that was 1954? The namesake of the bikini? Yeah, Bikini Atoll was an island in the Pacific where we blew up a hydrogen device. Is that those insane images where you can see the water going a mile high into the sky? Gorgeous. Yeah, is that what that is? Yeah. But they did that a lot, right? Well, they did it for a period of time. And so to your question, what if... So it's still expensive to create fusion devices, so we don't know of any individuals who own the ability to create fusion devices. If you recall at some point, somebody made a functioning nuclear reactor out of discarded smoke detectors. And we only got like 500 smoke detectors, took out the radioactive element, created a reactor. Really? I think so. Probably a kid, right? Yeah. Probably a kid who couldn't get into Harvard. So we have a situation in which we don't know when ordinary humans will gain limitless destructive power. You know, try to imagine the Columbine kids weaponizing viruses or something like that. So one of the great dangers is that great power... I can't tell what the power would be if the theory is correct. It might give us the ability to escape. Now when you say escape, though, why do we have to escape? This is what I'm always so confused about. Like, because even when Elon talks about going to Mars, like, Mars sucks. Mars sucks. Can you fix here? Wouldn't that be the best approach? Well, you and I agree on that. Yeah. What we don't agree on, I think, is that I'm convinced that we don't have the ability to steward this place. Why? Don't you think we're better at it now than we were a thousand years ago? No, no, no, no. No? So Genghis Khan was doing a better job? Genghis Khan was doing a better job because he didn't have limitless power. Just try to imagine a full-on nuclear interchange, and then we're having this conversation afterwards. So you're concerned that nuclear war is not just possible but inevitable? It's certainly inevitable given the long enough time series because all these weapons simply will become cheaper. There's no countermeasure that we... It's too easy to destroy things relative to building them, right?