In March of this year, a team of researchers based in Antarctica announced they’d detected gravitational waves which were faint echoes from the first moments of the Big Bang. This discovery has enormous implications for cosmology, the world of physics and the way we understand our universe.
When explaining the early evolution of the cosmos, one particular question always comes up: where did the singularity that started the Big Bang come from? It often becomes a chicken vs egg discussion when it comes up in conversation. Up until recently, physicists and cosmologists have said it’s possible our universe came from nothing – as wild and counterintuitive as that sounds. Without proof this seems like a statement of faith, impossible to prove or disprove and therefore outside the purview of true scientific discussion. Falsifiability is the demarcation between what is scientific and what is not. It felt like this might be the point where the scientific method would have to give way to the origin stories of myth. Or perhaps not.
A team from the Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics in China has made the first rigorous mathematical proof that the Big Bang could have spontaneously generated from nothing. The Wuhan team, led by Qing-yu Cai, developed new solutions to the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, which sought to combine quantum mechanics and general relativity in the mid-20th century. This may be as important to our understanding of the Big Bang as was the detection of gravitational waves.
According to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, quantum fluctuations in the metastable false vacuum – a state absent of space, time or matter – can give rise to virtual particle pairs. Ordinarily these pairs self-annihilate almost instantly, but if these virtual particles separate immediately, they can avoid annihilation, creating a true vacuum bubble. The Wuhan team’s equations show that such a bubble has the potential to expand exponentially, causing a new universe to appear. All of this begins from quantum behavior and leads to the creation of a tremendous amount of matter and energy during the inflation stage.
This description of exponential growth of a true vacuum bubble corresponds directly to the period of cosmic inflation resulting from the Big Bang. According to this proof, the bubble even stops expanding – or else it may continue to expand at a constant velocity – once it reaches a certain size. The idea of a multitude of multiverses being generated by processes similar to those that gave rise to our own universe is not new. But this is the first time we’ve actually identified the mechanisms that may have been involved. In discussing this with one of the authors, Qing-yu Cai said he thinks their work “supports the multiverse concept.” Whether this process would result in the exact same physical laws that we see in our own universe remains to be determined, since according to these equations only limited conditions could result in an exponentially expanding true vacuum bubble.
Ultimately, this mathematical proof needs to be checked out by others and ideally put to some yet-to-be-determined tests. In the end, the work may or may not be accepted. That is, after all, how the scientific method operates. Our universe and the physics at its foundation are incredibly complex and will continue to yield new knowledge about our past, present and future for a long time to come. Perhaps until the end of time.[Read the whole story here.](http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/05/22/is-all-the-universe-from-nothing/)