Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What if... #16

What if our vacuum was only metastable and started decaying tomorrow morning?

This post is part of the 2008 advent series "What if..."


  1. It depends if in dissolving it becomes more than nothing or less than nothing? I guess I’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to be able to give you my answer; that is if there will be one :-)

  2. More seriously, when taken from the quantum mechanical perspective, where both positive and negative matter emerges from it both spontaneously and randomly, to only then quickly be canceled we could say from a Cartesian viewpoint it actually should be considered as being what represents physically zero? In this way zero becomes a threshold or a membrane and if it dissolved the result would be the biggest and longest bang imaginable.

  3. “What if our vacuum was only metastable and started decaying tomorrow morning?”

    The question only demonstrates the degree of ignorance and confusion about real world origin and dynamics within official science doctrine. It's not “if”, Sabine, it's clear that what you call “space” or “vacuum” is fundamentally unstable all the time and realisation of that instability is called world dynamics and evolution. What else do you think can be the consistent origin of the latter? A big explosion of obscure origin or what other “postulated” blunders of medieval scholastics they call “science” in all your “top-rated” universities?! So if tomorrow morning you still see things falling down in their usual way instead of arbitrarily flying in any direction, then it means that vacuum remains as unstable as it has always been and can only be in any structure-forming, living universe.

  4. Hi Andrei,

    “The question only demonstrates the degree of ignorance and confusion about real world origin and dynamics within official science doctrine.”

    I’m curious to know if it is more your location on the planet or rather that it relates to mind set that allows you to be so wonderfully and confidently assured? :-)



  5. Andrei, you seem to have misunderstood the words "vacuum", "metastable", "decay", and possibly many others. Please try again, but don't bother us with the results.

  6. Hi Phil: We're all inexplicable singularities in the developing vacuum instability. Some singularities tend to emit light of hope, others prefer to mainly absorb other instability products... As to the mainstream science state, it's unfortunately even too easy to be sure about it. If you are within a floating boat that starts gradually thinking, you may assume that there may be a problem with its solidity. When you see water appearing in the inside, you understand that there's definitely a trouble somewhere. And when you see fountains of water in the middle, it's rather time to look for a better vessel (a lightcone institute, so to say :)). Today's scholar science is rather in the latter situation, even though its leading priests are still trying to “amuse the public on deck” and pretend that the exploding fountains of unsolvable problems are in the programme of the show. No, I am not sure about anything, but the impression is that the SOS signal (Save Our Science) is already in the air...

  7. I mean, even the vacuum is a procrastinator????

  8. Sure, Rhys, we're not here to show our results anyway, only to bury those of others :). However, description of science as a series of growing misunderstandings seems not completely senseless... It is especially true for its dominating, “positivistic” doctrine: the more we know, the less we understand, etc. It's important to have progress with it: misunderstanding should grow deeper (rather than larger!). When there is no progress in deepness of our understanding, and thus misunderstanding, of reality and problems remain either unsolved or grow in volume over the same, unchanged surface of ignorance, then the situation becomes unfortunately too evident: the patient is definitely dead and shows only signs of progressing degradation. By contrast, I wouldn't mind your demonstrating here the surprising degree of your own misunderstanding of a problem.

  9. I would look forward for the price
    of apple saplings :=(

  10. Maybe it really is, but its timescale is much longer than ours so it only appears stable to us. I don't know. Seems like so many things are decaying already, but maybe it's just because I'm getting old! ;-)

  11. You could then still write down a fictitious Hamiltonian, H_fic, according to which the vacuum would not decay tomorrow. Now, the fictitious future states that would arise if the universe were to evolve according to H_fic actually exist today, albeit in a scrambled form:

    |future(t)> =

    exp[-i H_fic t/hbar]|today>

    So, we can say that because the universe does exist today, our future states also exist, finding them subjectively in the future, even if they "really" exist today in, according to us, a scrambled form.

  12. The walls of the false vacuum bubble would expand at the speed of light destroying all that we hold dear, but we'd never see it coming.

    Which would truly be tragic because it would constitute a classic excuse to knock off work early and get some beers.

  13. Hi, Andy,

    My very non-quantitative understanding of what it would like to be in the path of an oncoming domain wall is the same as yours: Life would go on precisely as before the bubble nucleation started out there somewhere until the wall hit us, completely without warning, at which time we would instantaneously cease to exist.

    Is there no chance, however, that a new vacuum would "bud" off of our own orthogonally, such that it makes no difference at all? I fear my intuitive grasp of the topology is insufficient to answer the question, or even know if makes any sense.

  14. LHC black holes will not destroy the Earth. LHC-triggered vacuum decay will destroy the Earth and the entire universe with it - the Vacuum Meltdown!

    We can prevent vacuum collapse with mandated Vacuum Credits. The Vacuum Hole can be healed if it is patched with money.

  15. Rae Ann said: “Seems like so many things are decaying already...” Ah, you too noted it! “... but maybe it's just because I'm getting old!” It's the opposite relation, of course, things degrade and we are getting older because of unstable vacuum decay underlying the entire show! Consider conscience-liberating advantages of such assumption :) ... At first sight, it may look terrible to accept that all the best, most attractive structures of the universe are also but products of omnipresent degradation. But you have probably noticed that not all but some patterns of even evident, banal decay may demonstrate a surprising elaboration of structure. Moral degradation being particularly widespread in fine artistic milieu is a well-known fact, alas. Clumsy children growing into beautiful youth is nothing but aging and degradation: they are getting older even much quicker than later ages. Remember the rise and fall of rock-and-roll within a small part of a generation life-time. After all, it's a non-stoppable, omnipresent time flow: stop degradation and you stop the time (impossible, of course). But as the basic time flow should evidently be related to degradation of the most fundamental levels of being, it follows that any really existing universe with a flowing time can only be based on a permanent vacuum decay. It was easy to prove!

  16. LMMI:

    As Lou Costello once said in a similar situation: "I don't even know what I'm TALKING ABOUT!!!".

    I suspect what would really happen if our false vacuum collapsed is that God would turn to Abraham and and say, "Abe, it's doing that THING again!"

  17. I wouldn't worry too much since you won't be able to notice it once it's there.

    It's kind of the opposite from Lasttuesdayanism: God created the world last Tuesday including preparing dinosaur bones in the ground and your brain in a state it thinks it has past memories.

  18. Then, it may be time to KYAGB...!

  19. I would ask myself what's exactly happening. BTW, thanks for all these "What ifs". I didn't know about metastable and false vacua.

  20. Anyone care to describe what's going on here:


  21. If the vacuum has started decaying somewhere then there exists a reference frame in which it starts decaying tomorrow morning.

  22. I was wondering exactly how one would die. Possibly all atoms would just fall apart? Also, are there maybe non-extreme transitions that one could survive? Or that maybe would just erase all lifeforms but not planets and galaxies? Has such a transition maybe already happened?

  23. Well, if you can download it [here:]


    you can read Coleman and De Luccia's classic paper about vacuum decay. There they say that, after vacuum decay, "not only is life as we know it impossible, so is chemistry as we know it."

    In any case, because the cosmological constant in our universe is so small, it is extremely likely that our vacuum would decay to one with fairly large negative vacuum energy [ie the steps are typically much larger than our vacuum energy density, so the decay would "overshoot".] The result, as Coleman and De Luccia also show, is a universe with a big crunch. So even if we somehow miraculously survived passing through the bubble wall, we would find ourselves in a universe which would rapidly collapse into a Crunch. This leads Coleman to probably his most famous "rhetorical excess" [his words]. Well worth reading!

    By the way, some physicists [such as Susskind] like to imagine that the decay might result in a vacuum energy which is *exactly* zero, thereby escaping Coleman's dispiriting conclusion. For this to work, the new vacuum energy *really must* be exactly zero. This is only possible, of course, if the "initial" vacuum energy [whatever that means] was an exact integer multiple of the step size. Since there is absolutely no reason to think that this is true, one has to wonder where they get this strange notion. I wouldn't rely on that if I were you, even if you think you can survive in a supersymmetric vacuum......

  24. Bee said: “I was wondering exactly how one would die.”

    So young and already thinking about dying! Come on, the end of an abstract science doesn't mean yet the end of the world (at least not according to a scenario from that abstract science)!

  25. Dr. Who,

    thanks for the reference to the Coleman and De Luccia paper. This seems to be also the situation discussed in the Hut/Rees disaster scenario:

    In that case our vaccum state might suddenly disappear if a bubble of real vacuum formed which was large enough for the bulk energy gain (equal to the product of the volume and the potential drop between false and true vacua) to exceed the surface energy density in its walls (proportional to the barrier potential). Such a bubble would expand at close to the speed of light, with enormous energy release, leaving a large attractive cosmological constant in the interior, with a geometry close to anti-deSitter space. This space-time is singularity-free if a strict vacuum, but any non-zero particle density would cause singularities to develop quickly.

    Hm, I always thought this vacuum decay is somehow related to a vanishing of the Higgs mass, but that's probably a different scenario then? Anyway, a world with zero Higgs mass would also be quite strange, even without gravitational collapse, I guess.

    Cheers, Stefan

  26. Hi Stefan, it depends on *which* scalar field one is talking about. In the case of the Higgs [which is what Coleman and De Luccia were thinking about] the decay would result in the electromagnetic U(1) being restored to the full electroweak SU(2)xU(1). I don't think we would enjoy that at all, even apart from being Crunched.

  27. "Has such a transition maybe already happened?"

    Maybe the inflaton was meta-stable before it decayed? Who knows, I'm sure exist two string theorists, each of who will make confident judgments (based on anthropic arguments) with opposite conclusions, to that question.

    I think quite a few transitions in the early universe are from somewhat-stable-states-until-the-universe-expanded-a-bit-more, but you have to take a few liberties [or be very long sighted :-)] to call those vacuum states...

  28. The valley would soon start to look a little different?



If the number of comments exceeds 200 you must click LOAD MORE at the bottom of the page to see all comments. This is also true for replies to threads. I know this sucks. Please complain to Google about this, not to me.

Comment moderation on this blog is turned on. Submitted comments will only appear after manual approval, which can take up to 24 hours.

Comments posted as "Unknown" go straight to junk. You may have to click on the orange-white blogger icon next to your name to change to a different account.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.