The universe might be on track to eat itself from the inside out.
Luckily for us, physicists studying the phenomenon, called “spacetime decay”, believe this is very unlikely. Still, the possibility is interesting enough to explore in mind-boggling detail, covering “bubbles of nothing” in spacetime, hidden extra dimensions, and a hypothetical observer hitching a ride on the outer surface of our universe.
The idea that in specific scenarios the universe would be entirely destroyed by an expanding bubble of nothing has been around since 1982, when theoretical physicist Edward Witten introduced the possibility of the universe eating itself in a paper in Nuclear Physics B journal. He wrote: “A hole spontaneously forms in space and rapidly expands to infinity, pushing to infinity anything it may meet.”
Given that a bubble of nothing has not in fact destroyed the universe, neither in the 13 billion years before Witten published his paper nor in the 38 years since, it would be reasonable for physicists to push it down the research priority list. But three physicists at the University of Oviedo in Spain and the University of Uppsala in Sweden argue that we can learn important lessons from an all-consuming, universe-destroying bubble in a wonderfully titled paper, “Nothing Really Matters”, submitted to the Journal of High-Energy Physics this month.
Sounds like someone is smoking too much dope while watching too many 80s Fantasy movies – and for once it isn’t me.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It is like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?!
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control. And whoever has the control has the Power.
[A large crash shakes the ground. Atreyu briefly loses his balance, but regains it and turns towards G’mork with a cold look]
Atreyu: Who are you really?
G’mork: I am the servant of the Power behind the Nothing. I was sent to kill the only one who could have stopped the Nothing. I lost him in the Swamps of Sadness. His name was Atreyu.
[The ground shakes again and Atreyu falls. He grabs a sharp piece of stone and stands up]
Atreyu: If we’re about to die anyway, I’d rather die fighting! Come for me, G’mork – I AM ATREYU!