It doesn't take all that much to create a universe

edited July 2006 in Nature
Creating a UniverseIt doesn't take all that much to create a universe. Resources on a cosmic scale are not required. It might even be possible for someone in a not terribly advanced civilization to cook up a new universe in a laboratory. Which leads to an arresting thought: Could that be how our universe came into being?

"When I invented chaotic inflation theory, I found that the only thing you needed to get a universe like ours started is a hundred-thousandth of a gram of matter," Linde told me in his Russian-accented English when I reached him by phone at Stanford. "That's enough to create a small chunk of vacuum that blows up into the billions and billions of galaxies we see around us. It looks like cheating, but that's how the inflation theory works—all the matter in the universe gets created from the negative energy of the gravitational field. So, what's to stop us from creating a universe in a lab? We would be like gods!"


"You might take this all as a joke," he said, "but perhaps it is not entirely absurd. It may be the explanation for why the world we live in is so weird. On the evidence, our universe was created not by a divine being, but by a physicist hacker."

Linde's theory gives scientific muscle to the notion of a universe created by an intelligent being. It might be congenial to Gnostics, who believe that the material world was fashioned not by a benevolent supreme being but by an evil demiurge. More orthodox believers, on the other hand, will seek refuge in the question, "But who created the physicist hacker?" Let's hope it's not hackers all the way up. - The Big Lab Experiment
The idea that universes somehow 'evolve' stems naturally from this.
  1. A universe capable of maintaining life expands, cools and grapples with its own entropic forces
  2. The life evolving within that universe has enough time and resiliance to acheive a level of intelligence equal or greater to our own
  3. That life becomes aware of other universes (perhaps of an infinite variety) residing in higher dimensions of reality
  4. The desire to join in the multiversal fun grows beyond all reason...
At this point a baby universe is made in a lab, or by whatever means, and branches off. The baby universe contains enough of the 'genetic' information of the parent universe for it to be deemed a relative.

Perhaps intelligent life tweaks the contributing factors in its baby universe, effectively altering its composition to suit their self-reflective needs. In this way universes would evolve, intelligent life being their means of procreation. Perhaps all reality is this way. Perhaps our universe is still in its infancy, a larger, protective parent exherting its gravitational force across the many planes of the multiverse.



  • edited July 2006
    I like this hypothesis.

    It's not unlikely that our universe has already spawned a baby universe, fostered to life by an intelligent species in some far off galaxy that had a head-start on us. I wonder what sort of universe they have created?

    But here’s a question…

    We speak of spawning baby ‘universes’, but perhaps we can only really create galaxies/worlds within a single sub-universe, or more precisely, a single reality, the one which is created by our hands in our reality. How can I explain this…?

    When and if we create a baby universe of our own, I think that it could be a part of the same sub-universe as the one created by the hypothetical ‘other’ intelligent species in some far away galaxy.

    So their baby universe is really just a part of the sub-reality in which our own baby universe is a part…

    And it keeps cascading downwards, one reality at a time…

    Although it’s possible that because the nature of the consciousness of each species (human, extraterrestrial) is different (is it, I wonder?), then the universes we create will naturally be separately realised.

    Either way, it’s an intriguing question. However I believe our universe is beyond its infancy… we can’t guess at the extraterrestrial chances of self-reflexion, but when man first perceived the world and himself, it was then that the universe changed… like a blind baby recently emerged from its mother’s womb, opening its eyes for the first time. But more analogously, I think our universe is akin to a child that can begin to remember, that can speak and make sense of its thoughts. Its growing up as we grow up.
  • I'd be interested to know how Linde's theory comes to terms with the first law of thermodynamics -- while it's probably pointless for a non-pysicist such as myself to wonder about such things, the technical details of a pocket universe would seem to offer some clue as to their nature.

    F'rinstance, assuming that they do obey the laws of thermodynamics -- that no energy is created in the creation of a new universe, and that they simply subsist on the energy of the tiny chunk of matter that they are created from in the parent universe, does that mean that their energy levels are simply "scaled down" from ours? And what of the sizes of fundamental particles? Are their protons small than our protons? But that would seem to contradict one of the most interesting passages in the article, namely that such constants are variable:
    But then Linde thought of another channel of communication between creator and creation—the only one possible, as far as he could tell. The creator, by manipulating the cosmic seed in the right way, has the power to ordain certain physical parameters of the universe he ushers into being. So says the theory. He can determine, for example, what the numerical ratio of the electron's mass to the proton's will be. Such ratios, called constants of nature, look like arbitrary numbers to us: There is no obvious reason they should take one value rather than another. (Why, for instance, is the strength of gravity in our universe determined by a number with the digits 6673?) But the creator, by fixing certain values for these dozens of constants, could write a subtle message into the very structure of the universe. And, as Linde hastened to point out, such a message would be legible only to physicists.
    (Insert here the obligatory reference to Contact. Note also the relationship between the present topic and Stephen Baxter's excellent Manifold trilogy, in which (spoilers) the first book resolves the Fermi Paradox by positing multiple universes, some sterile, some life-bearing, and one (ours) just lucky enough to eke out one sentient civilization -- a fluke -- but a fluke that enables the protagonist to have a hand in the creation of another, more promising universe.)

    But then, perhaps pocket universes do not obey the first law -- at least in the sense that we know it. Let "Existence" denote the sum of all universes and pocket universes. Perhaps the total amount of energy in Existence is constant, but fluid throughout its constituent universes. That is, energy does exit and enter any given universe* while coursing through the totality. This idea could gel in several ways with Dr. Orphusi's ideas of multiple realities; i.e., energy is constant within a reality, but does not travel between them. This would still mean, though, that there is a "direction" to the flow of energy throughout Existence. That older universes die while young ones are born, the energy leaving them and pouring into the new creations, and actually, unless there is some bracketing factor such as Orphusi suggests, the multiplicative proliferation of new universes would demand more energy than Existence is able to provide, and none of the pocket universes would have the energy to develop into universes at all, much less life-bearing ones. Essentialy, it's heat death all over again. Or have I missed something essential?

    *Note the presence of undeveloped and probably incoherent ideas here about dark energy and the weakness of gravity. Prompted in part by Danieru's poetic conclusion "across the many planes of the multiverse," and in part by some Scientific American article I read long ago about gravity's strange weakness compared to the other fundamental forces, perhaps accountable by its operation through many universes.

    There is also the question, returning briefly to my inquiries about scale, of instability below the Planck length. If, as the article says, a pocket universe would not expand outward, consuming its parent, but would curl inward until it is imperceptably tiny, at what point do new universes become impossible because of the random energy fluctuations that permeate space? Or does it possess its own space? I hope someone here knows more about physics than I do...

    Annnd, winding up now, for now, let us not forget virtual universes, a subject near and dear to my heart. What are the possibilites, if any, for sentient life (or simply life, if you see a difference...) to develop in a virtual universe? Such a universe would necessarily be limited by the physical constraints of its parent universe (its largest possible scope being the parent universe itself, if you buy the idea of our universe as a giant computer), but as we have seen on the Exponentially Small Planet Earth, one hardly need simulate a universe to obtain life. It would seem not to, in fact, take a village to raise a child, if by "village" you mean galaxy or interstellar community, and if by "child" you mean us. Many more thoughts here, but methinks I ought best stop typing.
  • edited July 2006
    Many thoughts I'll dare to dwell on... Lovely replies...

    Gravity is the only force thought to permeate the dimensional barriers. As Ishmael alludes to, gravity is undoubtably the weakest force we have knowledge of (a magnet the size of a pea can overcome the gravity of the entire planet Earth when used to pick up a paper clip). Yet gravity is the true craftsman of reality, carving pathways which galaxies, planets and people can roam; building pockets of entropically divergent matter where life finds time to evolve.

    I like the idea that the beginning of the universe, i.e. the big bang, is a black hole in reverse (a white hole). Michio Kaku manages this image better than I:
    If the singularity at the centre of a black hole lies in the future, representing a final state, the singularity of a white hole lies in the past, as a beginning, as in the big bang. So if our universe is a white hole, the big question is: is there a black hole universe on the other side of the big bang? - more on this here
    So, you've spawned your baby universe in your massively expensive laboratory, but you are worried it will off-set the balance of nature (the first law of thermodynamics)? What if that first law could be balanced both in and outside the system we understand as this universe?

    The baby universe is on the opposite side of a black hole for all intents and purposes. Perhaps it continues to feed off the energy of its parent, or maybe its black hole status is short lived; the bubble segmenting off from our reality and floating off into the multiverse alone. Either way, because energy is mass (Einstein says hello) and because all matter exerts gravity across the multidimensional planes, the baby universe and the parent universe would balance each other out. The baby universe might be obtaining energy from this reality, but in turn its gravitational presence acts as a stabilising force, effectively keeping equilibrium in check across the planes.

    Now, my physics here is shakey, granted, but you get my over all point: nothing, not even a universe, is completely self contained. Beyond the temporally formalised singularity we call 'the beginning of time' there is surely a primeaval source of energy, and beyond that countless infinities more besides. Perhaps, if you take the perdurantist view on temporality, time itself should not be factored into the model we have drawn. In this way energy could enter the system at any point along the time axis, just as long as the first law of thermodynamics kept balance in balance in balance in balance throughout the entire system*....

    Gets you thinking though for sure. Do all black holes lead to baby universes?

    *The entire system in the perdurantist's view encompasses all the universe from the 'beginning' to the 'end' of time. Imagine time as a 4th dimension, effectively turning the universe into one fat 4 dimensional block of cheese. Slice through the cheese at the 14.3 billion year mark and you'll find me typing this, you reading this or an empty forum in want of a conversation. Only by looking at the whole of the cheese can you be said to be perceiving the universe...
  • I can't quite get my head around the fact that I'm looking at the inside of a sphere, which has a radius of the distance travelled by the light of the big bang; when I'm seeing the outside of the smallest sphere imaginable, seeing as how I look back to the beginning of time in all directions.
  • edited July 2006
    I find that pretty messed up too. In fact, I sent in a related query to AskMefi some months ago now and received some superb replies. Check out the full discussion for sure, here is a round up of what went on there...
    My question:How do astronomers account for the temporal distinctiveness of their galactic subjects in their calculations? I understand that observations of the red shift of quasars delinates a speed increase in the expansion of the universe - yet my brain explodes when I try to understand how the enormous expanse of time is factored into these models.

    The hardest concepts for me to conceive are ones that factor the enormous AGE of the universe into their workings. I understand that by observing quasar red shift and comparing it to the shift of 'nearby' galaxies astronomers have determined that universe expansion is actually increasing. Surely though the fact that these quasar entities exist 'back in time' alters the nature of the data streaming from them? The photons of light astronomers gather in their observations have not just travelled great distances of space, but also great expanses of time, yet when the light was first emitted from these 'distant' objects their distinction in space was not as great as it is now (i.e. when the universe was smaller) a weird conflict indeed... This is where I reach the event horizon of my understanding.

    Why doesn't the time aspect completely alter the nature of evidence gathered? Working with data that comes from billions of years hence must make calculations incredibly obscure.

    In what ways is this temporality a help and a hinderance? How are the factors of time, space and motion / change plotted to form the model?
    posted by edd:I think the brief answer to the original question is that you can build mathematically quite simple models of distance, time and redshift relations which let you 'do things right' and allow for all these factors properly, all deriving from General Relativity. This lets you do things like work out how big an object appears at cosmological distances, and as you are getting at when you talk about the distant universe being smaller, this 'angular diameter distance' isn't monotonic, so more distant things start looking bigger rather than smaller as they get further away. wikipedia link.
    Me again:I definitely get the most confused when thinking about the speed of light, the speed the universe is expanding (and the way this has changed through time), the distance between objects now compared to when the light was first emitted. on top of this, surely we have been moving away from all the light sources also? The red shift is not just a factor of an object's motion in relation to us, but in both our motions in relation to each other.

    And yet this motion means nothing at any one point on the time axis because the radiation (light etc.) we gather the information from was emitted when the universe was arranged completely differently.

    All this together causes severe confusion.

    Is there a good analogy to the 4 dimensional model of our universe (time + 3 space)? If I could visualise us now in relation to the motion, the distance, the time etc. I might have a better grasp of all this (the trumpet idea mentioned thus far is the kind of thing I mean).
    More answers:
    posted by edd:You're right to worry about the distance between objects now and that when the light was first emitted. To work around this, cosmologists work in 'comoving' distance, which basically factors out the universe's expansion, and they can then work out from that the distance between the objects then, the distance now, the distance the light travelled and how far away it actually looks - all of which are generally different. The important thing is that our models of how the universe expands tells us quantitatively how they are different, so we can handle this all fine. It does generally cause severe confusion when one tries to think about it, but you can with practice get to grips with it, and most importantly as I've said, we've got equations that tell us exactly what happens.

    What I think you're getting at with regards to 'our motions in relation to each other' is if we've got some velocity through space towards an object, or if the object has some velocity through space towards us, ignoring the expanding space bit. That's 'peculiar velocity', and is impossible to measure for most galaxies, and we have to satisfy ourselves with the fact that this effect is small compared to cosmological redshift, and that it statistically speaking can be averaged out and accounted for in other ways quite often.
    posted by andrew cooke:it is hard, and there's no easy answer. astronomers use mathematical models of how the universe evolves to help understand their observations, but these models themselves are uncertain.

    so you end up with astronomers doing two conflicting things:

    1: looking at distant objects because they want to understand the early universe (how stars and galaxies first formed, for example). in research like this, you use the models to calculate how far back in time you are observing etc etc and you are hoping to find things that are different to how you see them today (eg "baby galaxies")

    2: trying to find distant objects that are the same as those nearby so that they can use the apparent difference to calibrate the models. in other words, if you take something far away, and correct your observations using maths based on the models, you should end up with something that looks like things nearby (and if you don't, you can learn something about the models for how the universe evolves). in research like this you are hoping to find things that are the same (intrinsically) to those you find today (nearby).

    so there is a conflict/balancing act because both (a) what the early univese was like and (b) how the universe has evolved are both uncertain, and given an observation you typically assume one to find the other.

    in fact, current ideas suggest that objects in the universe changed quite a lot right at the beginning, but then didn't do much more. so for well over half the age of the universe, things have been pretty much the same. you can probably see how that helps - models of the universe can be calibrated by looking back "not too far", and then are extrapolated to the very early times.

    disclaimer - this is a bit simplified, but i think it's basically right.


    trouble is, cosmology just changed :o)

    poking around on the net turned up this - is that any good?

    this is pretty hard (especially angular size) in my opinon. just take your time...
    Full discussion here...
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