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    Light Higgs Discovered And About To Destroy The Universe
    By Sascha Vongehr | December 9th 2011 12:33 AM | 35 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    The anticipation among physics enthusiasts is almost palpable: In three, four days from now, December the 13th, the discovery of a rather light Higgs particle is going to be officially announced - well, at least the "observation" or whatever the official term will be. Fitting to the ‘lucky’ number 13 date, this could well spell the end of the world, literally!


    According to rumors (Woit, vixra), the Higgs has been found in two different experiments, CMS and ATLAS, and both agree that it has a rather low mass. It is not fundamentally important whether the Higgs is found or not - except maybe for the so called "Higgs ether" clashing with the orthodox interpretation of Einstein relativity. Physicists have hedged their bets and made theories work either way. In fact, the Multiverse allows both to be true simultaneously. However, if the Higgs particle is below a certain threshold of mass, our best theories of our own universe will imply that the vacuum is unstable! It means that the universe decays much like a radioactive particle. Its average life expectancy depends on the Higgs mass.


    The lower the Higgs mass is, the shorter the average life time. If the mass is below the threshold, which is indeed suspected to be in the same range as the discovered Higgs mass, the universe may only be expected to last a short time – we have perhaps just been lucky it did not decay yet! The Higgs has been dubbed “God particle” before. If it is really the harbinger of cosmic death, the name might be finally justified.



    What worries perhaps most: The decay of the vacuum, also called “False Vacuum Decay”, can be triggered by high energy events like cosmic collisions or high energy particle experiments! The latter, so those who want to experiment keep assuring us, are far below energies reached in naturally occurring astrophysics, yet other parameters, say the density of particular types of particles involved in the experiments, may approach values that are never reached in any natural astrophysical event, at least not outside of a black hole.

    If a vacuum decay is triggered anywhere in the universe, say inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the vacuum will fall down into a lower energy state and thus trigger the surrounding vacuum to decay, too. A wave of destruction will be triggered, sweeping the whole universe with the speed of light, destroying everything in its way.


    The details of the decay are somewhat intricate:


    It has been known for about twenty years that for a low Higgs mass relative to the top quark mass, the quartic Higgs self-coupling runs at high energy towards lower values. At some point it would turn negative indicating that the vacuum is unstable. In other words the universe could in theory spontaneously explode at some point releasing huge amounts of energy as it fell into a more stable lower energy vacuum state. This catastrophe would spread across the universe at the speed of light in an unstoppable wave of heat that would destroy everything in its path. …

    As it turns out a Higgs mass of 125 GeV is quite a borderline case. The situation was analysed taking into account the best recent valued for the top mass and weak coupling constants by Ellis et al in 2009.                                           Source: vixra


    Do we need to worry? Let us assume the average life time of one cubic mile of vacuum is only ten days. What would that mean? This would mean that very likely right this moment already, somewhere close to earth, the vacuum decays and a wave of destruction starts to roll through the universe. An if not, the vastness of space out in the rest of the universe would make it ‘overwhelmingly likely’ that the vacuum has already decayed some place further away and the waves of destruction are coming at us from all sides as we spea … . Ups - that was it - all over. This is not even exotic physics:


    Decay of a false vacuum is an extension of a theory that’s well known in chemistry and the physics of the phases of matter. The theory applies to the different “phases” of empty space as well, and those phases are called vacua. The same physics that governs water converting to steam as you boil it applies to empty space. Kind of like when you boil water and at the bottom of the pot there are these little bubbles fluctuating, we expect tiny “bubbles” of other vacua to be forming around us all of the time.

    Source: Vice– in this case about as informative and reliable as any physics website. Go figure.


    What you get when searching for pictures on “vacuum” on the internet. Well, at least google has its priorities straight. This is much closer to reality than a lot of the other stuff.


    So should we worry? These decays of the universe travel with the speed of light. Once they arrived, they already destroyed you. Nobody can ever observe them. On principle, nothing can observe this decay. If it traveled with only half the speed of light, we would see it coming from all sides, but since doomsday propagates as fast as light, we cannot ever see it coming - on principle - go ask Einstein.


    So what happens? Nothing! In fact, the universe could as well have a 'semi-fundamental' description where any grapefruit sized part decays with an average life-time of only a millisecond. Nothing would be different. If you like, you can phrase this in Many World language and say that this is so because all the “parallel worlds”, where the universe decays, “disappear” without any observer noticing. Those parallel worlds where the universe still has not decayed, well, they still have not decayed – nothing more to say.


    A God’s-eye view of what it would look like if a false vacuum bubble universe formed and detached from the “real” universe. Does not destroy the universe but could be observed and would therefore be actually dangerous! Source: Vice


    Before any confusion arises: This is not wild speculation grounded on a multiverse concept. A multiverse is expected but not necessary. This issue is also not to be confused with semi-religious “quantum immortality” or say the anthropic principle. Although many will want to push this discussion under such labels, it does not fully belong there, though similarities and connections are present. All it “needs” is a proper understanding of the Many Worlds concept, which is true simply because nothing else can be consistently expressed.


    Of course, a theory that did describe all physics closely according to what observers actually observe would be more satisfying and ultimately fundamental. However, physics today still deals mostly with theories that describe the universe as something that is directly really “existing” in some sense even without observers, as if it is made out of “real stuff” (which it is fundamentally not). In those theories, which are after all the best theories we have, there is no guaranty that a consistent description can be found where the universe is stable. Nothing to worry about.


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    Comments

    dorigo
    Hi Sascha,

    December the 13th, the discovery of a rather light Higgs particle is going to be officially announced.


    I suggest to hold on your horses... There will be no discovery announced whatsoever, of this you can bet whatever is dear to you.

    Cheers,
    T.
    vongehr
    Just because you personally cannot say anything like this because you are the wage-slave of the godfathers who like to have it to themselves, that does not mean others cannot. ;-)

    ATLAS has a 3.5 sigma excess at 126 GeV while CMS has 2.5 at 126 GeV, combined perhaps 4.3 sigma for the 10/fb data, according to rumors (which you usually like even if they are only a tau on the hump of half a sigma). Sure, even six sigma is no evidence according to you if it is about stuff you do not like, say faster than light neutrinos, but since the Higgs is rather sluggish ...

    Yes, yes, there are holy ways in which certain particle physics collaborations now claim "observation" and "discovery" and so on as their private definitions, but again, the rest of mankind is not depending on their pay slips. Would you be satisfied if I change it to "observation"?
    dorigo
    No, what you describe, if true, is not a discovery nor an observation, in the jargon of HEP. For two reasons. One, that even 4.3 sigma are not enough. Two, that the two experiments are not combining their data yet -the latest combination was produced four months after the latest results came out; and "officially" they only can do that (because of the partly correlated nuisances involved in the calculation, only them can do it, although unofficial results by e.g. Gibbs get very close to the real numbers).

    So you should change not one word but two: "discovery" and "officially". Discovery it is not, but I am with you that the press will make it sound like one; official discovery is really the opposite of the truth, however.

    Cheers,
    T.
    vongehr
    in the jargon of HEP
    Well, yes, that is what I just said, no?
    the two experiments are not combining their data yet
    Didn't claim that. We can do that on our own for a rough estimate.
    So you should change not one word but two: "discovery" and "officially".
    They will officially present results that normal people call with a certain word. I do not care much for what term will be used in the ongoing spin on everything because every fart big collaborations do is political and about funding etc. That is your world; I do not envy you. I have as yet not sold my soul. ;-)
    Daniel Burnstein
    "However, physics today still deals mostly with theories that describe the universe as something that is directly really “existing” in some sense even without observers, as if it is made out of “real stuff” (which it is fundamentally not)."

    The Universe existed long before there was any observer or theories to describe it. Do I need to say more?
    Daniel L. Burnstein
    vongehr
    Do I need say more?
    Yes. You would need to firstly supply your definition of "exist" of course.
    Daniel Burnstein
    Having intrinsic physical properties is to exist.
    Daniel L. Burnstein
    vongehr
    What makes this sort of definition (one kind of several that have been advanced) interesting is that it would argue on my side in the endless discussion about the existence of light over here. Maybe you want to go over there and back me up then.
    Quentin Rowe
    ... and secondly, you would need to supply a definition of 'observation'.
    Daniel Burnstein
    Observer and observation are anthropocentric concepts. The same with the anthropic principle which is nothing more than a generalization of solipsism disguised as science.
    Daniel L. Burnstein
    Thor Russell
    So if the LHC could do that, would that make us alone in the universe then, or do you believe that every single advanced civilization would be smart enough not to test things? How about your global suicide hypothesis, if that is correct don't we have a moral duty to destroy the universe ;)
    Thor Russell
    vongehr
    You missed the most important part of the message. If it goes with the velocity of light, it is not going to be observable.

    Last time anyone messed with the Higgs field, space inflated by 1E26 times in all directions, over ~ 1E-32 seconds.

    So if it runs true to form second time round, the "flame front" will have a region of exploding space behind it. If the decay process is exponential until the fuel starts to run out,  that's ~ 80 doublings in 1E-32 seconds. But only one doubling is needed for the space swept out by the advancing front to double in size and carry the rest of the "fuel" out of causal contact with the flame front. So the front only sees ~ 2^-80 of the trigger flux that a quasi-static picture would suggest. I presume the flame goes out long before then. ~1E-35 seconds. I'm not sure what to make of 1E-27 cubic metres of space appearing in the middle of a collider, but it's got to be less of a problem than "a wave of destruction, sweeping the whole universe with the speed of light, destroying everything in its way." I suspect the uncontrolled beam dump will be more of an issue :)

    BTW My figures may not be entirely accurate.


    vongehr
    To blame inflaton fields on this specific vacuum decay and to prefer a very specific scenario is your private interpretation (not saying it is wrong; what you describe sounds similar to the third and last picture in the article). However, the 1E-27 m^3 inside of the collider is confusing issues. The amount of space-time would come in when calculating spontaneous decay, not triggered decay.
    Damn.
    I bought party hats, lawn chairs, a barbecue and a large CD player with Molly Hatchet's Flirtin' with Disaster and was going to invite my friends to sit out on the lawn at the LHC for a front-row seat for the Big Decay.
    Now your telling me it ain't gonna happen.
    I mean, your not even going to make the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees?
    How about tooth decay? Can you guys make that speed up?
    Nuthin?
    Geez; you physicists know how to ruin a perfectly good Universal Decay Day. I'm gonna take my party hat and go back to my universe...
    :-)

    (Seriously, your article is great mind candy. I think there should be more physicists like you who can translate the theories and procedures into fun, thought-provoking ideas like those you write. Thanks for posting it! )
    ~yak

    vongehr
    Thanks Yak. A welcome break from people who comment that I am an idiot after they only read half the article because the important bit went over their head.
    You're quite welcome. Credit where credit is due.

    A couple of years ago, in the weeks leading up to First Light at the LHC there was a lot of discussion that a fellow (I think from Hawai'i) started about several kinds of universe-ending events that operating the LHC could (and I think he thought Would) create. Magnetic monopoles, mini-black holes and several other kinds of disaster mechanisms that would make the Hollywood science fiction writers proud.

    Are the events that you are referring to like any of those that his hubbub was about?

    ~yak

    vongehr
    Well, the main difference as far as this article here is concerned is that those problems, if they would have been problems, are observable. You would feel something going wrong if a black hole is munching away on earth's core.
    The "important bit" being that many worlds (loud cheers) allows us to be one of the survivers no matter how unlikely that may be.

    Yeah got that.

    And bye-bye anthropic arguments.

    Got that too.

    But why exactly is this the most important bit?

    Didn't get that. Not even a little bit.
     
    vongehr
    The "important bit" is the whole part after many stopped reading. Didn't exactly say it is Many Worlds and nothing else. You can equally just talk about observable stuff only and never mention "Many Worlds".
    Oh go on, you old tease! You know as well as I do, nobody would rise to the bait if you talked about "Not Very Many Worlds" or "How Many Worlds?". The whole point about "Many Worlds" is that for most people, me included :P  it's "Far Too Many Worlds" already.

    Anyway, the important bit isn't some arbitrary rule plucked out of ontological despair: "thou shalt only talk about observable stuff" it's what people go away and make of it. I shall defend my right to believe there is a single reality out there no matter how often you prove my belief to be semantically null!

    Takes all sorts to make "A World".
     
    vongehr
    I shall defend my right to believe there is a single reality out there no matter how often you prove my belief to be semantically null!
    You have all right in the world to believe the moon is made from green cheese.
    My apologies. I should have said "intellectual right". I assumed that would be a "given".
    You have all right in the world to believe the moon is made from green cheese.

    Well, of course, it is - in one (some) of the many worlds. Admittedly the density of observers who find it to be green cheese is going to be a lot less than that of those who don't but as there's no way of getting probability from a superposition, we can't invoke the Born rule. So, as you correctly point out, I have all the right in the world to believe the moon is made from green cheese. You, however have no right whatsoever to deny it. I don't mean legal or moral right, I mean intellectual right. For some observer, stone cold sober, no salvinorin in his past light cone, the moon is made of the finest Stilton.
     
    My belief, however is that there is some layer on top of these quantum distributions. Call it a prejudice or a superstition I prefer the term metaphysics. I would be delighted if it emerged from QM like decoherence suddenly did after being overlooked for half a century, but I'm not hopeful. Whst I am more hopeful about is that it can be formulated without weasel words. Even that I'm beginning to get pessimistic about. I fear that the "terrible states" may exist with their occupants suffering unbearable agonies of body and mind along with moons made of green cheese and, least likely of all, quantum physicists agreeing.

    vongehr
    My belief, however is that there is some layer on top of these quantum distributions. ... Even that I'm beginning to get pessimistic about. I fear that the "terrible states" may exist
    I am not going to discuss on intellectual rights or belief or hope/pessimism, but it is indeed a suspicion of mine that the layer that you feel there may be is indeed there and comes from the "next level" (again), this here referring to the consistent description of QM and consciousness phenomena. The terrible state is something that may indeed not exist. If I just had the liberty to work on this and only this, maybe I could advance. My advantage, one of several, is that I do not hope for any result.
    If terrible states do exist (and I do not define them via degree of suffering but degree of internal inconsistency - the suffering is just a hook that sells the problematic as relevant to a wider audience), we will come to understand how we would deal with it. As far as I have thought about it, if I find myself in a terrible state, there is no way to decide whether I not have plainly become mad. That would be indistinguishable (in the sense of measurement theory / operationalism / "instrumentalism") from quantum tunneling or plain classical freak brains, and thus an equivalent description anyway! I suspect such thinking is at the very core of the "next level".
    Sacha
    In your post at 7:18 AM you mention 'fart big collaborations' - are these restricted to physicists, or can anyone participate?

    Larry Arnold
    Now either this thing exists or it doesn't but if it does, it has done so before any statistical significance is announced or has it?

    Where is Bishop Berkeley when you want him?  If the Universe had blinked in and out of existence a quadrillion times between my beginning to write this and my finishing it, would it really have made any difference? From my point of view I got to the end of the post after starting it, and so it appeared to be a continous act. (of was it?)
    vongehr
    If the Universe had blinked in and out of existence a quadrillion times
    One needs to define what "existence" means in terms of an assumed model. If the definition is far enough removed from phenomenology, say like with the existence of virtual particles, then there is no problem.
    Larry Arnold
    Well the notion that anything can be proven by direct observation, has been receding rapidly ever since Berkeley started to challenge the absurdities of Newtonian Physics and there certainty. Dr Johnson may well have thought he could refute it all with a swift kick and a stubbing of the toes, but of course no one can now experience Johnson's observations other than vicariously can they?

    I was sort of referring to Husserl obliquely there. Time as we experience and understand it is in itself a construction.

    It is quite obvious that what is experienced by one person as a continuity can for the external observer have it's breaks and discontinuities, as with my post. What seems to be one post can be broken by the "time" it takes to fix a sandwich or make a cup of tea.

    Never mind the impossible noumenosity of time itself, statistics as a branch of mathematics does not either prove or confirm the existence of anything other than itself, it merely suggests to the suggestible, who accept as a social convention within a given community that it does.

    In the muddy field of what calls itself cognitive neuroscience, impossible conclusions are reached through the use of statistical tools all of the time, a lot of which subsequently turn out to be mutually exclusive of each other. I don't see why it should be any different in the world of high energy physics. The LHC is just one very big tool extending physical reach in the same way a hammer does, a hammer can miss the nail if we don't watch what we are doing, and thus the strike failed in it's intersubjective existence. Mathematics is a tool too, by which one can measure the trajectory, and energy of the hammer, but no matter how many times it hits the nail, if it misses once, then there is still room for doubt.

    You find one Higgs boson, you find one Higgs boson, where are the rest of them?

    What is the probability that when I hit the send button, it triggers an implosion event then?

    Is this decay of the universe a consequence of the quantum triviality?
    I'm not a Higgs expert, so my other question is: how can a fundamental scalar exist, when the Poincare' group has no non-trivial scalar representation? (Below the Planck scales, or where Lorentz invariance breaks)

    Hi Sascha,

    I just read this article and I like it a lot :-)

    I always think these vacuum transition scenarios would make good movies too (choking). For example about everybody underestimating the menace intdcated by the lightweight higgs of about 125 GeV, then suddenly it starts, etc :-P ...

    You seem to write many nice articles about cool physics stuff I`m darn interested in ha ha :-)

    Just keep this going (and dont let Tommaso Dorigo irritate You too much, he calls the wrong fellow blogger(s) his friend(s) anyway ;-) ...)

    I`ll certainly come back to read more of Your articles

    Cheers

    (The CAPTCHA s are very hard for humans too here ...)

    vongehr
    Thanks for the encouragement.
    dont let Tommaso Dorigo irritate You too much, he calls the wrong fellow blogger(s) his friend(s)
    That made me chuckle. Just these days surprised me about how similar his BFF is, for example in terms of barely hidden arrogance. Do they overcompensate for being reduced to bottom feed from the glam of LHC/Stringtheory without a chance to ever contribute anything substantial? That they apparently feel unconsciously threatened by powerless, nameless me is quite a validation.
    Hm, I dont know what exactly picks these people who that strongly dislike cosmology, BSM particle physics , theoretical physics, etc, and string theory in particular ... :-/

    Tommaso Dorigo at least writes some decent articles about experimental particle physics, whereas the only purpose of the SOURBALL of sourballs 's blog (and life ...?) is to negatively impact science and to destroy research into what he dislikes. This troll is neither interested in serious discussions about physics nor in explaining stuff to other people.

    About more than a year I´ve decided to look on the bright side of the blogosphere (where Your site belongs to too ;-) ...) and to avoid clicking troll sites.

    I`m much happier now and I`d give You the same advice; just ignore the sourballs and trolls and look on the bright side of life :-)

    Cheers

    I know this article is from late last year, and there will be a more updated announcement on LHC findings in the coming week, but as an outsider reading this (and I do apologize for my question most likely sounding as dense as I feel reading some of this stuff) I'm kind of confused. I was led to believe a metastability event would basically destroy us all, but I'm seeing comments that speak of the universe "blinking in and out" without us knowing it and the "Many Worlds" theory "protecting" us from such a thing...which is true? Or is it all purely speculation? Also, have your thoughts on the possible mass of the Higgs and the implications of it in relation to vacuum metastability changed since the publication of this article?
    Thanks in advance, and again, sorry that I'm not at the level of the insiders!

    vongehr
    I know this article is from late last year, and there will be a more updated announcement on LHC findings in the coming week,
    Well, not from me. There is no important news, just more hype about what we know already.
    I was led to believe a metastability event would basically destroy us all, but I'm seeing comments that speak of the universe "blinking in and out" without us knowing it and the "Many Worlds" theory "protecting" us from such a thing...which is true?
    Hmm - I think I have explained precisely this in the article. Not sure what to add. Perhaps it helps to read my recent articles on "many worlds".
    Also, have your thoughts on the possible mass of the Higgs and the implications of it in relation to vacuum metastability changed since the publication of this article?
    No! I write on profound insights with future relevance, not about little humps on statistical bumps, inconsequential numerical values that are different in other universes anyway, and especially not on rumors (look to Motl, Dorigo, vixra blog and so on for that kind of time wasting trifle). Nothing in my articles ever turns out to be wrong after a few weeks, which is assured simply because I refuse to waste time with any such issues. I deliberately ensure that what I write is tautologically true and will be recognized as more and more relevant as time progresses. This is the very difference that distinguishes my science column from the rest (consciously and from the very start) and I do not care if people cannot grasp this difference and hold such claims arrogant.