The quest to come up with a successful “theory of everything” is one of the guiding lights of modern theoretical physics, reconciling general relativity and quantum mechanics. The inventor of such a theory would no doubt be hailed among the all-time intellectual giants of science, and Eric Weinstein really wants everyone to think it’s him.
Weinstein is primarily an investor, but also a self-styled public intellectual. He graduated with a PhD in mathematics from Harvard, and is currently a managing director of Thiel Capital, which invests in technology and life sciences. He also belongs to and coined the name for the “Intellectual Dark Web,” largely a crew of reactionaries with public profiles that includes Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. He is also the inventor of what he calls “Geometric Unity,” a theory of everything that he’s been flogging since 2013.
At that time, Weinstein―by then long out of academia and working as a consultant for a New York City hedge fund―made waves after promoting his theory by giving a lecture at the University of Oxford and scoring a write-up in The Guardian, instead of writing a scientific paper. The Guardian article was titled: “Move Over Einstein, Meet Weinstein.” Typically, researchers produce a paper containing equations that is then pored over by the wider community of scientists; this element of peer review and discussing ideas and evidence in the open is generally accepted to be a critical part of the scientific process. Weinstein’s audacious approach earned as much criticism as the theory itself, and his latest move has ignited furor all over again.
Earlier this month, Weinstein finally posted a paper describing Geometric Unity online and went on Joe Rogan’s immensely popular podcast to discuss it. There’s even a website called pullthatupjamie.com full of videos and resources on Geometric Unity that was created to make it easy for Rogan’s tech guy, Jamie Vernon, to pull up videos on the podcast.
The appearance on Rogan’s podcast, which has been previously used as an uncritical platform, has generated both new interest in Geometric Unity and intense criticism from scientists who remain unconvinced.
On a previous episode of Rogan’s podcast, in 2020, Weinstein said that his theory is an attempt to go “beyond Einstein” and push theoretical physics forward that could unlock amazing possibilities or terrible power.
”I was somewhat holding this back because I’m afraid of what it unlocks,” Weinstein said, “and now that I know 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.”
When Rogan asked what the main fear is, Weinstein recalled that “the last time we gained some serious insight into how nuclei worked,” nuclear weapons were invented. But, if the theory is correct, it might also give us the needed insight to make humanity into a multi-planet species, Weinstein said.
“One of the great dangers is, great power.... I cant tell what the power would be if the theory is correct, it might give us the ability to escape,” he said.
Rogan, for what it's worth, didn’t seem overly impressed with Weinstein's theory in 2021. In an attempt to explain his complicated theory, Weinstein handed Rogan a water wiggle (one of those cheap toys that looks like a small balloon filled with water), and explained how it symbolizes the mathematical concept of a U(1)-bundle. Rogan looks down at the toy in his hand while Weinstein speaks and gets progressively, visibly confused and angry.
"I don't know what the fuck you just said," Rogan finally says. "How about that?"
So, what is Geometric Unity? At the moment, modern physics has two frameworks that do not nicely unify: general relativity and quantum mechanics, which describe reality at two vastly different scales. Whereas other physicists might try to square this circle by attempting a quantum version of general relativity, Weinstein's proposal was to begin with general relativity and its geometric descriptions of reality to try and discover equations describing the universe in its mathematical reality instead of our observable one.
At its core sits the idea of a 14-dimensional "observerse" which our four dimensions (the three spatial dimensions, and time) lie within. A Guardian article at the time described the interplay between these two dimensional spaces as "something like the relationship between the people in the stands and those on the pitch at a football stadium" in that we are observers who can see and are affected by the observerse, but cannot possibly notice or detect every detail. Weinstein's theory proposes that there is a set of equations in these 14 dimensions that encompass Einstein’s equations, as well as several other famous equation sets, that altogether account for all fundamental forces and particle types.
Timothy Nguyen, a machine learning researcher at Google AI whose phD thesis intersects with Weinstein's work, co-authored a paper based on Weinstein’s Geometric Unity lecture evaluating the idea in February. The paper identified gaps in Weinstein’s theory “both mathematical and physical in origin” that “jeopardize Geometric Unity as a well-defined theory, much less one that is a candidate for a theory of everything.”
In a blog post accompanying the paper, Nguyen wrote that the theory does not actually bring in quantum theory, relies on a poorly-defined “Ship in a bottle” (Shiab) operator of Weinstein’s own invention, and contains anomalies as well as a dubious assumption about supersymmetry in 14 dimensions. After Weinstein published his paper, Nguyen wrote on Twitter that it “addresses none of the technical gaps presented in our response,” although he did describe it as a “testament to perseverance.”
“If you’re interested in technical gaps, the gap most glaring arises from the ‘Shiab' operator. It is one of several uniquely idiosyncratic operators of Geometric Unity (it does not exist anywhere else in mathematics), unlike supersymmetry which is already a well-established and well-defined notion,” Nguyen told Motherboard in an email. “Weinstein fails to define the Shiab operator properly and so his theory does not even make mathematical sense, a more egregious problem than having desirable physical properties.”
Nguyen said that Weinstein’s initial PR splash was confusing at best, and that the resulting paper didn’t clarify the most important points.
“Much of Weinstein’s Geometric Unity involves using obscure notation for objects that nobody else has defined and which he disingenuously expected others to understand from watching an over 2 hour long YouTube video,” Nguyen added. “Now that he has released a paper, we find that even Weinstein does not know how to construct the Shiab operator (he makes many qualifications that he no longer has the details).”
Richard Easther, a cosmologist and professor at the University of Auckland, pointed out some eyebrow-raising aspects of the idea in a 2013 blog. For one, a Guardian op-ed by Marcus du Sautoy―Weinstein’s chief academic promoters―seemed to hint at a dynamic constant in the universe, while most physicists support the idea of a constant that is, well, constant. What Weinstein eventually published didn’t impress him, he told Motherboard.
“The theory itself has had no visible impact, and what Weinstein actually delivered looked massively undercooked after the buildup it got from du Sautoy,” Easther said in an email. “A throwaway comment at the time suggested that it might predict a time-varying cosmological constant, but I haven’t seen any meaningful developments about this.”
Weinstein did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
All of this matters because despite the criticisms, Weinstein only finally released a paper this year after years promoting the theory in public forums while questioning the legitimacy of peer review, lamenting the need to provide evidence, and otherwise dismissing critics or skeptics hesitant to accept his theory with open arms. In a May 2020 interview, he said skeptics that wanted him to publish a paper on his idea for verification were simply “irritated” and “pissed off” at “themselves.”
On Rogan’s podcast in 2020, Weinstein painted the academic field of physics as being generally untrustworthy and stifling, which is why he didn’t share his theory.
“I don’t trust these people,” Weinstein said, referring to physicists at universities. “It’s an entire system that believes in peer review, it believes in forced citations, you have to be at a university, you have to get an endorsement to use a preprint server. It’s too few resources, too many sharp elbows.”
Nguyen said he was spurred to evaluate Weinstein’s idea after this attitude set off alarm bells. At first, “It was refreshing to see a former part of my life being discussed outside the cloistered walls of academia and in the wider context of the world," Nguyen said. But after multiple conversations with Weinstein and watching how he interacted with his fans, Nguyen says he realized none of it was "consistent with my image of how a good-faith scientist engages with his audience."
Many scientists do in fact unveil their work before peer review on popular sites such as arXiv. However, they do it in paper form (“preprints”) and with the goal of submitting their ideas to the wider community for approval or rejection. Authors do have to have an endorsement from someone in academia to post on arXiv, specifically, but in theory that shouldn’t have been an insurmountable obstacle for Weinstein; du Sautoy has posted several papers to arXiv. Besides that, papers can be posted anywhere, even a dedicated website as Weinstein has now done.
“Even if the physics isn't interesting, this story does say interesting things about the science. Einstein wrote up his ideas [and] submitted them for peer review just like everyone else―but many self-described ‘outsiders’ portray the scientific community as a closed shop,” Easther told Motherboard. “There is undoubtedly ‘sociology’ at work in the community at times, but anyone making a serious attempt to sell a new idea knows they are asking for busy people to give them a slice of their time and attention―and one of the ways you do that is by making your work as accessible as possible to the people you want to understand it.”
Releasing a paper did not silence the critics. Nor did it vindicate Weinstein’s PR-focused approach to sharing his theory. And all of this may well end up being rather pointless, because the paper ends with disclaimer that Weinstein "is not a physicist and is no longer an active academician, but is an Entertainer and host of The Portal podcast." The paper, the disclaimer ends, is merely a “work of entertainment.”
Now that Weinstein has finally published a paper describing his theory, it’s entirely possible that further analysis and investigation may show it to be more interesting than its critics have so far found. As Weinstein said on Rogan’s podcast in 2020, “I’ll find out [if] I’m wrong.”
But for now, it seems the only relevant question is: Are we entertained?