Drama Royalty

“By far the most usual way of handling phenomena so novel that they would make for serious rearrangement of our preconceptions is to ignore them altogether, or to abuse those who bear witness for them.”


This, to me, is a self-evident truth. But there is a meta-level to this truth: even if everyone in the world recognized its inescapable veracity, that would have a negligible to zero impact on the way in which people lived their lives. Wisdom is vastly overrated, as is the notion that humans have a consciousness, something we periodically trot out as a talking point in regard to machines, and whether they have, or ever will, attain consciousness. Well, if we – a collective of preprogrammed NPCs – have consciousness, then so have some machines. Yeah, uh, so anyway …

I got an email from a friend with whom I attended 2 years of college, and 2 years of graduate school. He’d seen an online eyeball catching CNN article positing that some experimental physicists in Hungary may have found evidence for a 5th force, something for which the wildly successful Standard Model could offer no explanation. He wondered if my work offered an explanation. I replied (Pyrenees is a reference to the mathematician Grothendieck who left his family and career at some breaking point and headed to those mountains to live out his life as a kind of monk; my own personal Pyrenees consists of Paris cafes, whenever I can get to them):

“I settled in the Pyrenees long before I figured out everything that my model could imply or predict.  Everything it does predict (antimatter mirror universe and neutrinos being Dirac fermions) is either well established, or being actively investigated.  If the mainstream ever does agree there is an antimatter mirror universe, my work (2015 paper) will not be referenced.  A wise French Canadian mathematician (another grad school friend) told me that academia is a jungle.  

“Anyway, there is a whole 6-dimensional space connecting my matter and antimatter universes, but it carries SU(3) color charges, and anything passing through it would be completely altered in the passage. Is it possible to transverse through this weird space. No idea. I refuse to leave the peaceful Pyrenees in pursuit of an answer.”

Disappearing from the life of active research is a good way to disappear in reality. In 1993 I organized a workshop in Sweden on octonions in physics, called Octoshop. I did it again in Britain in 2000. A fellow, Tevian Dray, took up this series thereafter – once or twice. I was not invited, and to this day those that are aware of the Octoshops at all are unaware I ever had anything to do with them. TD, evidently, has a vested interest in my disappearance. That was a good start.

Then in the early 2000s a young woman (Cohl Furey) at the Perimeter Institute (the center of the world, for the uninitiated – just ask them) wrote a paper in which she used my ideas, but failed to mention my work beyond a weak footnote that made it seem, to CF, and those advising her, irrelevant. I complained, and my mention achieved something slightly above dismissive footnote status in a subsequent rewrite.

Not too long after that, Quanta Mag, a (once) respected online source of science journalism, cottoned on to her work (a couple of papers by then), and a female on the Quanta staff, delighted that she could extol the virtues of a female physicist doing work, she assumed, at the cusp … well, this Quanta journalist wrote and published an article about CF in Quanta Mag that was an excellent example of apotheosis. As to my two books and close to 30 papers on this very same subject, well, the article proclaimed that I had given up on my ideas in the 1980s having failed to cadge an academic position. Gosh … As I recall I finished my PhD in the 1980s, and then had a series of postdocs, … anyhum. My last paper on this line of research was published in 2018. My best paper in 2015. My 2nd book in 2011. Weird. History rewritten. It was now becoming part of lore. Wired republished the article, putting a layer of concrete over my grave.

My work is based on an algebra that has come to be called the Dixon algebra. And as I first put the thing together, and spent decades uncovering its mathematical oddities and connections to physics, that seems only fitting. Recently an interesting mathematical paper appeared in arXiv:2303.11334. This applied the Dixon algebra in a novel way to a well-known mathematical object, extending it in an interesting way. And the paper did a splendid job of littering its text with mentions of the Dixon algebra, and even applied my name to their new extension (Dixon-Rosenfeld lines). Great, right?

Well, here’s the thing: they referenced my work 5 times, the most recent reference to my 1994 book now published by Springer. The oldest reference was a 1986 paper in Phys Rev D. And nothing more recent. Furthermore, this failure was used to support a contention that I’d given up my work in this field in the mid 1990s. Sigh. And they further averred that work applying the Dixon algebra to physics was “revived” in the first decade of the new millennium by … care to guess? That’s right! CF! Not coincidentally, the authors thanked CF for several fruitful discussions.

In yet another paper appeared this: “Following on from work by Günaydin and Gürsey on the link between quarks, and octonions, and by [CF] on chains of octonionic multiplications, …” Oh, for fucks sake. 20 years before CF entered the picture, I developed and exploited these “chains of octonionic multiplications”.

But there it is. It’s like language. We may resist the ineluctable mutation of our native language under the assault of inventive youths, but resistance is futile. I have always been an oddball in the world of theoretical physics – an outlier. Not one of the gang, with no gang to support my priority to anything. TD now owns the Octoshops. CF is slowly but surely covering everything else of mine with her imprimatur. TD is a kind of Salieri like individual. CF is … you know, I’m borderline elderly now. CF is much younger, and trying to crystallize a life in academia in a field that is greatly diminished since the LHC put the kibosh on a majority of mainstream theoretical notions. I wish CF well in this effort, but she is not also a Salieri figure. I don’t want to think it, but she increasingly comes across as something darker. Machiavelli would be proud. https://youtu.be/GTQlnmWCPgA

Still, she is the only one pursuing work even remotely linked to mine, so, go Cohl! Bonne chance!

Moving on, members of the mainstream are actively investigating the possibility that our universe has an antimatter twin. My 8 year old prediction of this will doubtless form an integral part of this work … or it would do if anyone were aware of it … and if that integral inclusion would not tarnish the reputations of … So, yeah, academia is a jungle. https://arxiv.org/abs/1407.4818

Tony Smith once told me he likened himself to Beethoven, and me to Mozart. Well, thanks Tony, but this is a version of Mozart who has no acolytes, nor anyone interested in promoting his work. Defenseless, the jackals gather around, sniffing for weakness, growling … Bad dogs! (At the time I mentioned to Tony that I could hum some works of Beethoven, but none of Mozart.)

Today is 2023.05.11, a few weeks after the above was written. And truth be told, I wrote that more as a kind of self therapy, with no real plan to publish it. But tomorrow CF is slated to give a zoom talk on the Division Algebras and the Standard Model. If she pisses me off, I may in fact post this blog. Maybe.

On the other hand, maybe not. Among the small group of people who devote themselves to the role the division algebras play in the design of our physical reality, I am evidently becoming increasingly invisible, but that small group – while not completely invisible in the big picture – manages to make only the most ghostly and evanescent of presences in that big picture. Why should I be concerned that my presence is indiscernible in that barely visible smudge. The word quibbling comes to mind; as does the word querulous; as does the combination, “querulously quibbling”, and , I suppose, “drama queen”.

So, anyhum, if perchance this is published, and someone reads it, it is for reasons outlined below, and presently, not in possession of all the facts, (“Just the facts, ma’am”), what those reasons may be are mysterious to me, other than they will have given rise to querulous quibbling.

[Next day] So, yeah, she gave her talk. It was nice. On the other hand, although she’s the only person left in the world doing anything remotely like what I was doing, when I was doing stuff, if the approach she limned in her talk is correct, then I was rather an idiot in those days when I was doing my stuff.

She welcomed the youngsters out there, who’ve more recently begun to think the octonion algebra is a worthy direction of study, into the fold, but added a caveat that this study direction has proven historically to be an impediment to cadging a sinecure in academia. She herself has been hanging on by her postdoctoral fingernails for several years (or so I assume). I hope she manages to hang on for several more. She’s well short of the age at which I gave up the ghost, and from my new perspective, at a heavenly height above it all, was able to look down and say, “Oh, shit, that whole milieu is vapid dreck!”

Something must be said about the other speakers in this lecture series. Some few are senescent, dredging up work they’d done 30 to 50 years ago, adding a word about how maybe octonions could be incorporated. The most prominent of these was Roger Penrose. (He referenced me once, in a large tome on the shape of physics. But it was not a positive reference. His twistors, at least at that time, relied solely on the complex numbers, and he suggested that those trying to incorporate the higher dimensional division algebras into explanations of the design of reality were misguided. My first book was so referenced.)

I watched Roger’s whole talk on zoom. It consisted of almost an hour of slides I’d seen before – maybe close to 40 years before. Having been offered an audience, however, and, like many of his prominent cohorts, totally addicted to regaling a noncritical audience on the glories of their pasts, he filled us in on his stunning youth. And then – irony recognized – he briefly outlined how octonions could be shoehorned into his work.

The next speaker is 84 year old Stephen Adler. I always admired his work on quaternions, but the title of this new talk doesn’t interest me, so I won’t be letting it intrude on my upcoming EU vacation.

Two notes to finish off. Peter Woit recently mentioned in a blog that Stanley Deser had died. He was a listener to my PhD oral defense. He grumbled about it being overly algebraic, but I got through anyway. I ran into him by accident in Göteborg, Sweden, during Octoshop I. We recognized each other, nodded hello, then disappeared from each other’s lives. His wife was Swedish.

Another professor at that university, Marc Grisaru, is now an Emeritus. He it was who tried to get me kicked out of the PhD program because I had negligible interest in his idée fixe, supersymmetry (yes, the same supersymmetry that the LHC had failed to find any evidence of). So, Marc, I see you still list yourself as actively involved in SS. How’s it going? Good? Found a way around its many failings? Good, good …

Incidentally, after Cohl’s talk I sent Tejinder Singh, a co-organizer of the octonion lecture series, an email:

“I consider it a huge lapse that more mention of Murat Günaydin was not made, especially in regards to the exceptional Jordan algebra.  After Gürsey surrendered his work on octonionic SU(3), Günaydin carried on with his own investigations for decades.  I have a box of his papers in a closet, from the days when paper was the only format.


Part of the narrative of this present lecture series is that CF initiated interest in the field with her few papers. Not that they’re bad papers – they’re not – but my work, and that of Günaydin, predates hers by decades, and continued on for 2 decades after her initial foray into the field. To justify that narrative, however, it would be necessary to limit mention of those whose work would render the narrative null. She did mention the “Dixon algebra” (begrudgingly? Maybe. Maybe I was being over sensitive.), and she did list one reference: my 1994 book, highlighting the fact that I was old news. (You know, I didn’t seriously think of giving up on academic dreams until January, 2000, at which time I was co-teaching a course at Harvard with Sheldon Glashow. But it would be 18 more years before I stopped working on, and publishing, my stuff. And gol durn it and fuck it, I am going to publish this, for the sake of putting history somewhat right, for me, and the 1 or 2 people who ever read my … my … not sure what to call this. Let’s stick with querulous quibbling.)

Credit, where due

During my lengthy peripatetic life in academia I never once had a permanent position. As a consequence, for the two Octoshops I organized it was necessary, in each case, to enlist the aid of people who did have strong relationships with institutions that could host the bloody things. In 1993 that was Martin Cederwall in Göteborg, Sweden. Martin’s introduction of the octonion X-product is a beautiful, and underrated piece of mathematics.

In 2000 the Octoshop was hosted by Tony Sudbery at the University of York, but he handed the actual organizational work to his graduate student (or was she a postdoc?) Christine Barton. Tony and Christine worked together on the Magic Square. Their worked is still frequently referenced.

The point is, although I got the (golf) ball rolling in each case, without cups to roll into in Sweden and England, nothing would have come of my Octoshop dreams.