Science fiction novels and comic books often talk about “saving the universe”. This implies that the universe, not only our local cluster of galaxies, in all its infinitude, is capable of being destroyed by malevalent forces.
What I want to know is: how does one go about annhilating existence? Is there an easy way to do this? How much does it cost, and what supplies will I need to carry this out?
It seems like the media is always whining about the threat to the world’s existence, astronomers are whining about the future collission of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way and its threat to our galaxie’s existence, but sci-fi writers are the only ones who really care about the threat to the universe’s existence…
So, are there any theories out there about how the infinite can be made nonexistent? I mean, besides the Big Crunch which always seemed way too difficult to artificially manipulate…
It’s also possible that the vacuum is unstable. The Universe as we know it contains certain fields whose values are determined by finding a minimum in some energy landscape; if the structure of the vacuum as we see it now is something called a “metastable state”, then it’s possible that it could tunnel into a lower-energy state without warning.
OK, maybe I’d better explain this in English. An analogy to this would be a ball rolling around in some complicated landscape, full of hills and valleys; eventually, the ball would come to rest somewhere in the landscape where, if the ball went a small distance in any direction, it would have to climb upwards. It’s possible, though, that the place where it settles down is not the lowest point of all the points in the landscape; it just happens to be the lowest in some small area.
According to intuitive, classical mechanics, once a ball reaches such a point it’ll stay there forever (unless someone comes along and gives it enough energy to out of the local minimum), and so the ball is stable. If we turn on quantum mechanics, though, it’s possible for a phenomenon called “tunnelling” to occur; essentially, there is a finite probability that the ball will suddenly vanish from the local minimum and reappear somewhere else in the landscape with the same height. If the ball can roll downhill from this new location, it’ll eventually find a new local minimum; if it can find another spot in the landscape at the same height as this new minimum, it’ll tunnel out from there and roll downhill some more. These local minimums are called “metastable states”, since the ball is likely to hang out there for some amount of time, but will eventually escape due to tunnelling. The process will repeat until the ball finds the absolute minimum of all the points on the landscape.
So what does this all have to do with the Universe? Well, the position of the ball could correspond to the value of a field which determines some of the constants of the Universe. Such fields are widely believed to exist; for example, the Higgs field is widely believed to determine the masses of all subatomic particles. If (big if) the Higgs field is currently hung up in some metastable state, it will eventually tunnel out of this state into a new, more energetically favourable state. In essence, a “bubble” would appear somewhere in the Universe, where the Higgs field has taken on its new value; this bubble would expand at the speed of light, and it would essentially leave a new Universe inside of it — one where the masses of all the subatomic particles had changed.
The best part? Since the bubble would be expanding at the speed of light, we would never see it coming.