Quantum Graphity
August 21, 2012 6:31 AM   Subscribe

The start of the Universe should be modeled not as a Big Bang but more like water freezing into ice, according to a team of theoretical physicists at the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. Results published this month in Physical Review D (abstract) (via ABC Science).

"Think of the early universe as being like a liquid," [lead researcher James Quach] said. "Then as the universe cools, it 'crystallises' into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice."

The Sydney Morning Herald has an audio clip of Quach describing the theory.
posted by davidjmcgee (33 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll take mine neat, please.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:54 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Big Crystallization just doesn't sound as cool.
posted by maryr at 6:55 AM on August 21, 2012


Nonetheless, it all ends with a whimper.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:56 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Big Chill?

(Great soundtrack, at least)
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just as ice cubes in our fridge crack, so did space, the theory goes.

Ice cubes in the fridge also sublimate. Wonder if they worked that into the model?
posted by three blind mice at 7:03 AM on August 21, 2012


One of my favorite moments in Physics is when my modern physics professors (who specialized in theoretical physics) explained that, in reality, the big bang is really just our word for a point in space time that marks where our conception of the laws of physics and observable reality just stop making any sort of sense.

We don't know what that fact means; whether there was anything before that point in time or what laws affected behavior of mass and energy around that time. All we know is the laws of classical physics work pretty well on a human scale, quantum physics works pretty well on really large and really small scales, and prior to 15 or so billion years ago neither works well at all from what we can observe about the universe at that point in time. Maybe it's because the universe was a different, "liquid" form. Maybe the universe was infinitely dense speck of hot proto-matter. Maybe god was playing with a completely different set of dice. Who knows. All we know is we don't know anything about what it looked like.
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:03 AM on August 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


The big freeze?
posted by Renoroc at 7:06 AM on August 21, 2012


I really don't like it* when these new ideas about the very early universe get framed as being in disagreement with the Big Bang. The Big Bang theory is broadly that the universe started off hot and dense, and after that expanded and cooled, and this is not in disagreement with what the BBT says about the later evolution of the universe as far as I can see.
It's especially frustrating when the issues with the 'standard' relativity-only Big Bang having a singularity turns up, as everyone knows there's a problem with that but it doesn't stop the rest of the theory being useful - just like evolution not being able to describe abiogenesis doesn't mean evolution is not correct for everything that happens after.
*Should say I blame the media here, not the physicists who do this stuff
posted by edd at 7:07 AM on August 21, 2012


Just as ice cubes in our fridge crack, so did space, the theory goes.

The sad thing is that our universe was formed in one of those novelty ice cube trays lost in the back of the freezier, getting grottier and grottier until no one will ever throw it into a cocktail to "liven up" a party. The best we can hope for is a quick end when they scrub the thing out and refill it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm hoping that there is a parallel Universe born of scotch whiskey, because if we could get our ice Universe together with that other one then we would really have something.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:23 AM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


these new ideas about the very early universe get framed as being in disagreement with the Big Bang

In this case though, isn't it not so much the science of the Big Bang that's being framed as in disagreement with this alternative model as it is the narrative metaphor used to interpret the science? Individual results don't become meaningful without larger contexts and metaphorical framing structures to contextualize them; we've known for a long time now that its possible to construct many different self-consistent theoretical models to account for the same experimental results. But the particular model we choose does make a difference because it influences how we design future experiments and how we interpret the results. To me, this seems like a pretty significant departure from older, more rigid and simplistically linear formulations of Big Bang theory. If these ideas hold up to scrutiny, this new model changes the very nature of what we mean by the beginning of the universe--in fact, it completely dodges the question as most of us probably understand it (which is a good thing I think).
posted by saulgoodman at 7:26 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So are we at the ice stage of universe formation, or are we at the Slurpee stage? And if we are at the Slurpee stage, what flavor?
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So the universe is... A Dark Crystal?
posted by jscalzi at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Crystalline Entity?
posted by davidjmcgee at 7:32 AM on August 21, 2012


Water is best.
posted by Segundus at 7:34 AM on August 21, 2012


In this case though, isn't it not so much the science of the Big Bang that's being framed as in disagreement with this alternative model as it is the narrative metaphor used to interpret the science?

The article comes up with a lot of things that we ought to see if it's a correct model, so it has that over many other models of the start of the universe....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:34 AM on August 21, 2012


Score one for Ginnungagap.
posted by QIbHom at 8:03 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume this analogy is so vague because I wouldn't understand the actual concept at all. But what dores this mean? What is a crack in the universe? So there are just faults in reality somewhere?
posted by cmoj at 8:09 AM on August 21, 2012


What is a crack in the universe?

That's how the light gets in.
posted by yoink at 8:16 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, we are all special snowflakes after all?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:23 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


PKD called it.
posted by rory at 8:38 AM on August 21, 2012


What is a crack in the universe?

It's a sign from the Plumber of All Things, as above so below.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:14 AM on August 21, 2012


So there are just faults in reality somewhere?

Seems to me these might be evident as gravitational warping in space/time. As it turns out, many recent experimental attempts to replicate pre-big bang conditions in lab settings have resulted as a biproduct in the creation of a strange new kind of plasma (often described as a "perfect liquid"), that displays near frictionless flow. Could be this is the liquid that the model calls for--a universally ubiquitous super-fluid. It's almost like we've come full-circle back to positing the existence of a luminous aether.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:19 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's almost like we've come full-circle back to positing the existence of a luminous aether.

It's funny how these things keep coming back around again. Roger Penrose has recently suggested a model of the universe that feels a little like the old Steady State Theory.
posted by Hubajube at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2012


Wonder what seeded this original amorphous existence? The initial construct that started this descent into the 4 dimensional matrix we call space time. Perhaps an awareness described poetically? In the beginning when the void was without form, let there be Light and the first Gauge Bosons an eternal entity with no mass to measure sprang up then mesons the meeting of two quarks soon after the couple discovered the threesome we call baryons and its "evil" twin anti-baryons.

We next meet Fermions divided into leptons and baryons again. Leptons true solitary voyagers neutrinos and electrons (positron) then the muons chasing the tauons. The Baryons here described by Fermi and Dirac are a mixed bunch the non strange baryons need no introduction they are better known as the protons and neutrons. The next non strange baryon leads a charmed existence Lambdac. The next three baryons here are strange, stranger, and strangest (or strange class 1,2,3) lambda and sigma, Xi, finally omega-. (the last strange baryon).

This quantum zoo reality or construct of the mind? With spooky action at a distance, the uncertainty of Heisenberg it is a story we tell ourselves as we look at shadows on the wall forever living in the past if our senses. Many people never hear this story they get confused and discouraged as they try and fit the pieces together. They cannot see the majesty or feel the mystery.
posted by pdxpogo at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2012


There's not a lot there to interpret, but it seems like the response to this is yes and no. Yes, there's there's a phase transition where things are cooling, but that doesn't capture the sense of expansion you get from the "bang".
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:24 AM on August 21, 2012


Yes, there's there's a phase transition where things are cooling, but that doesn't capture the sense of expansion you get from the "bang".

Maybe it does. If the super-liquid stuff is freezing and cracking, and these cracks are getting deeper and space/time is getting denser over time. Suppose these cracking and freezing effects account for the observed expansion of space/time.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:57 AM on August 21, 2012


(Obviously, I'm just speculating though, since I'm not really a cosmologist or theoretical physicist, and am also left scratching my head over parts of this idea.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2012


Domain boundaries are a common prediction from theories of the early universe - the physical origin of the ones talked about in this paper is somewhat different than the 'classic' topological defects (the one you are most likely to have heard of before is cosmic strings; 0-d or 2-d defects are known as monopoles and domain walls, respectively), but the phenomenon is similar.

Such boundaries tend to occur any time the universe transitions from a highly-symmetric state (e.g., one where all the forces are unified) to a less-symmetric one (like our own universe with 4 forces), as different regions may transition in a slightly different way / to different states that you can't always continuously transform between (physicsmatt likely could provide a better/more accurate explanation). Because they are a common prediction, astronomers have been looking for evidence of defects for a couple of decades and have found nothing convincing to date.

The authors here seem pretty far from a predictive theory, though; to quote their paper "Although there is no precise method to predict the probable domain size in our model at present... As our universe does appear to be isotropic and we do not see such scattering effects, the length scales of the domains must either be very small (sub-microscopic) or very large (astronomical)." Figuring whether you are dealing with physics at scales that are subatomic or larger than the observable universe would be a good start...

Regardless, despite the press release their paper does nothing to avoid a Big Bang - they are just presenting a new way to get even more topological defects (when none have been observed so far). The paper takes the existence of a beginning as a given (e.g., they frequently refer to the 'early universe' in the text).
posted by janewman at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I took that to mean the earlier, frictionless liquid state of the universe. No telling how long it hung out in perfect stasis in its liquid state, but even then, clearly the universe already was something--in fact, something in a perfectly stable, unperturbed liquid state.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:11 PM on August 21, 2012


Prefectly smooth, even, stable, unchanging state. Until it changed. Something always changes.
posted by Goofyy at 6:21 AM on August 22, 2012


Ars has its own criticism of the press this is getting Why you don't overturn the Big Bang via a media interview.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:23 PM on August 22, 2012


I can't wait to find out what happens at the end of this thread!

SPOILER:

It gets archived and closed to new comments.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:53 PM on August 29, 2012


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