Never has so little been written under such an expansive heading, but I’m gonna do it anyway. If you want to read more on this from someone who actually knows what they are talking about, I once again suggest Brian Greene. But my synopsis for the layman is as follows.
As it turns out, quantum effects, despite operating at such small scales, also help us develop theories for the origins of the universe.
One of the consequences of the ‘jiggly’ nature of the quantum world as I described way back in Part 1 is that the microscopic world does not just passively sit there waiting for stuff to happen. In practice, particles pop into and out of existence. This is not some supernatural occurrence; at these very small scales, quantum uncertainty allows energy to briefly convert into particles and their anti-particles, which then ‘annihilate’ once again, without changing the overall energy balance – this is called conservation of energy. And because of this behaviour, the fabric of our universe is often described as a ‘quantum foam’ – because of the image of it bubbling away as particle/antiparticle pairs come and go.
By the way, this is not just conjecture. Because of the random nature of this ‘bubbling’, at any one time there can be an imbalance of particles and anti-particles, so that even in the vacuum of space, there is a non-zero energy (also called the vacuum energy). This can be demonstrated experimentally via the Casimir Effect.
Ok, so I said something about the origins of the universe? Well, I getting to it, hold your horses.
Theories for the origin of our universe abound, but include:
- God did it
- It’s always been there
- It spontaneously arose in a ‘big bang’
Again, for a great discussion of these, and their various flavours, it’s Brian Greene.
But for now I’m going with the third one, since the first two are a bit unsatisfying. No. 1 for obvious reasons. No. 2 because it doesn’t answer the question – it still must have got there to have always been there.
So how does something ‘spontaneous’ happen – it must have a cause, right?
In short, our current theories blame that imbalance in vacuum energy I mentioned above, which in turn led to ‘inflation’. To quote Wikipedia,
inflation is the theorized extremely rapid exponential expansion of the early universe by a factor of at least 1078 in volume, driven by a negative-pressure vacuum energy density.
Yes, that’s some nice blah-blah, and all very Star Trek techno-babble. So instead, imagine this jiggling foam of energy bubbles, but with one of the bubbles of the foam going beserk and growing enormously, to create our universe. That’s all it’s saying. So here’s how it happens.
Adherents of this theory ask us to picture a virtually infinite number of universes popping in and out of existence.
As it happens, in one of these universe-bubbles, the conditions were right for the formation of matter from the huge energy released – by virtue of a slight excess of matter over anti-matter.
In turn, this allowed the formation of stars about which planets could form, and the right balance of ‘star-stuff’ to enable organic life to develop on those planets.
Thanks to the ability of that organic life to evolve to adapt to the changing earth, those life forms reached the point where they could learn things about matter and energy and quantum particles, and write about them in blogs.
Wow. If that isn’t the quickest summary of the evolution of life on earth, I’m Deepak Chopra.
And that’s about it for now. I think I’ve covered the length and longth of the quantum world, and hopefully got the message across that things quantum are real, useful, and fascinating. That’s why I get so pissed of when the concept is debased by charlatans for their own dishonest ends.
Here endeth the lesson, but please fire in any questions if you have any. Happy to tackle them, as long as they relate to this universe.