Recently, I had an idea for a story in which a vacuum metastability event occurs. Would it be feasible in any way for an advanced civilization to alter the universal constants to prevent this or save themselves from that event?

I thought about whether it would be possible to create a shell with a thickness of say 50 meters (arbitrarily chosen number) that would keep the expanding vacuum bubble from a zone or enclose the bubble by setting the light speed constant to 0 within the 50 meters of said shell. Or is that too much of a stretch?

  • $\begingroup$ It would seem to me that inside a vacuum metastability, all of the universal constants have been completely redefined, if not nulled out completely, anyway. Much like, before the 'big bang', none of the universal constants were defined. Physics as we know it only became defined AFTER the 'big bang'. That is why, in some scifi, different universes have different universal constants. So, at the wave front, I would submit that these constants would be very pliable. In fact, it is entirely within speculation that the constant 'c' would be null and therefore meaningless inside this bubble anyway. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 17 '20 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ For a really interesting twist, consider that this 'shell' was some form of 'mirror', that reflected the wave back in on itself, thus destroying the false vacuum.But what happens at the center, when the reflected wave reaches the origin again? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 17 '20 at 14:51

Bizarre scifi is great! The trick is how to make it into a compelling story.

Universe-wide existential threat countered by godlike reality manipulation - ok. Somehow with that there needs to be a story. For example

  • How do they know a metastable vacuum bubble is coming towards them at light speed? If they have FTL communication did that tech somehow produce the bubble?

  • If they tap another dimension to contain the bubble, will they themselves wind up within this bubble? How does bringing the rules of a different dimension affect things that exist under current rules?

  • If you can bend space Alcubierre-drive style you could do what you want, which is capture the expanding bubble in a region of space where light is a different speed because space is stretched thinner or thicker. It might be a big bubble by the time you were aware of it. It might be easier to trap yourself in your bent space and let the meta vacuum bubble pass you by and the rest of the universe dissolve.

I posited an idea like this: save yourself by enclosing yourself in a time dilation field. What weapon of mass destruction could theoretically vaporize a whole solar system?

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for using time dilation to solve the problem. I wonder if a thick enough shell of matter wrapped around the expanding bubble would slow time enough to contain the event indefinitely. Granted, getting that much matter in place fast enough is no small feat. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 17 '20 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ What would time even 'look like' inside of this bubble? What would it look like at the interface? 'Relativity' would no longer apply inside of it, as there would no longer be a 'relativistic framework'. One would also, of course, not be able to use 'matter' to contain it. It would have to be some form of energy sphere, that would form from the inside, unconstrained by relativity. A 'seed' planted at some point in the field, that propagated around the sphere, using the boundary of the interface itself as the medium. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 18 '20 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thus, the containment vessel would not be a sphere, it would take the shape of the expanding bubble and look somewhat like a 3D 'heart', expanding at the speed of 'c' along with the bubble. Something like a crystal growing around the interface, but that grows at a speed equivalent to 'c'. (Of course, nothing limits the growth of this field to 'c' as relativity does not exist at the interface - it could be instantaneous). This assumes, of course, that the 'bubble' does not wrap around the containment field, like a foaming mass wraps around the opening of the bottle that contains it. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 18 '20 at 14:36

We know too little of physics to know whether it is indeed possible to change the cosmological constants to defeat a false vacuum collapse (which, also, is just theoretical), much less determine how to do it.

In Egan's Schild's Ladder, the expansion of the Void cannot be thwarted, but it is possible to "reprogram" matter and colonize the Void itself.

One possible way to set up the effect you describe might be to build a dense shell of neutronium or hide inside a event horizon (the latter strategy, for different purposes, is described in the Heechee series).

You must take into account that our very existence is tied to most of those universal constants, so manipulating them on large scales would be both exceedingly difficult and tremendously dangerous. This is one of the plot points in the Duchy of Terra series, where

it turns out that the Ancients, before known Galactic history, did change some of those constants on a galactic scale to vastly improve the efficiency of their stardrive. Unfortunately, one of the side effects was to kill most forms of life in the Galaxy, themselves included, until other forms of life could evolve that were compatible with the new constants.

As for the expansion speed of the vacuum collapse, it's anyone's guess. The hypothesis that it would proceed at the speed of light is just this -- a hypothesis. Since it would be a phase change in the space vacuum, it could expand at any speed between zero and c. For instance, sodium acetate trihydrate crystallisation does not proceed at the speed of sound in water, but rather quite slowly (the speed of water freezing, which can be quite high, is actually a phase speed and proceeds usually at the speed of the wind. There's one extreme and possibly incorrect instance (Hector Servadac: Travels and Adventures Through the Solar System by Jules Verne) in which it is pictured proceeding at the speed of sound in water.

  • $\begingroup$ An interesting speculation, this society would certainly have some form of 'worm hole' technology to get the knowledge ahead of the wave. Consider the possibility that 'worm hole' technology could bridge the wave from outside to inside the instability, such that one does not need to travel THROUGH the wave, much like we know, in biology (photosynthesis), particles can be on one side of a barrier, then on the other, without going through the barrier. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 17 '20 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ 'You must take into account that our very existence is tied to most of those universal constants' Which is precisely why us humans are so adamant that these 'constants' can not be adjusted. It is just absolutely too threatening to our existence to even think that they could be changed. It has nothing to do with the thickness of the physics textbook, but everything to do with human narcissism. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 17 '20 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ The universal constant that made carbon 12 possible, for instance? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 17 '20 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond "Which is precisely why us humans are so adamant that these 'constants' can not be adjusted" -- this is actually not true. There is, on the contrary, wide speculation on whether at least some of these constants might have changed in time (the ones I know have been questioned are the speed of light itself, Rydberg's constant and the proton/electron mass ratio), and why; or if they could change over space (e.g. the gravitational constant). $\endgroup$ – LSerni Feb 17 '20 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ The anthropic principle is alive and well. EVERY constant changed, because NONE existed before the 'big bang', Every one of them HAD to have 'changed'. And the entire concept around a 'vacuum instability' is that every constant gets nulled out INSIDE of the bubble. So saying that these constants can not be changed is basically invalidating the very premise and essence of the scenario. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 18 '20 at 14:41

A vacuum metastability event would propagate outward at the speed of light. Nothing moves faster than that, so no one would ever know that the event was coming. So even if manipulation of the universal variables was possible to thwart the expansion or reverse it, no one would know to even attempt such a thing because there's no early warning that the universe is unraveling. By the time anyone is affected by the problem, they already don't exist.

Even if you have some form of time travel, that still doesn't help you: no one would know, "Hey, I need to travel backward in time in order to stop this vacuum event from spreading," until it was already too late.

Therefore: no, there's no way to act to stop the vacuum expansion.

  • $\begingroup$ If travel through some form of 'worm hole' becomes possible, and there is absolutely no definitive reason why it won't be, in a sufficiently advanced civilization with a sufficiently thick enough physics text book, then the ramifications are such that members of this civilization could 'travel' ahead of the event, and warn the people that it is coming. Yes, it totally makes a mockery of the artificially constrained 'information can not travel faster than the speed of light', but such is physics. It doesn't really care about our contrived 'rules' and 'laws'. But be careful of 'fantasy'. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 17 '20 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond How would they know the event happened without being in contact with it? There is literally zero knowledge that travels faster than the void collapse. The entire galaxy could have already collapsed 1000 lightyears ago, and the sky from our point of view would look completely unchanged until the moment it hits us. There's no time to jump in a ship and fly off through a wormhole once we are touched by it. I'll grant that if you knew ahead of time, you could some how fly faster. But I don't grant a way for you to know in the first place. $\endgroup$ – SRM Feb 17 '20 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ How would 'they', or how would'we'? Your anthropic bias is showing. It is that same-old, same-old conundrum that is wrapped up in the fallacy of relativity. The only thing that is 'relative' is that our imagination is relative to our knowledge. No matter what universe we put ourselves in, no matter what relativistic framework we imagine we are in, we are still limited by our existing knowledge, and our imagination can not go past that. Use relativity itself to answer your question. Exactly how thick is the interface between our universe and this vacuum metastability? cont $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 18 '20 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ cont If this interface is sufficiently thick, and in fact what would 'thick; mean in such a situation, wherein even time itself would 'change', there is an intermediate phase where anything goes, and even 'relativity' becomes meaningless. The incompatibility paradox is that, inside this bubble, there is no 'c', so there are no limits to 'speed', and therefore there is no limit to how fast it can expand. In point of fact, the 'bubble' itself can not 'expand' as dimensions are meaningless. Only the interface can expand. But can it? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 18 '20 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ Everything about this is conjecture, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that a sufficiently advanced civilization would not be able to use quantum entanglement, for instance, or quantum tunneling, to instantly determine from anywhere in the universe that something was happening in a particular area that was no longer 'connected' to the quantum universe. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Feb 18 '20 at 14:15

If your question is about changing 'universal constants', then the answer has to be 'yes'. The only thing that keeps constants 'constant' is the human insistence that they can not be changed.

The uncertainty principle pretty much guarantees that these constants do change or at least could be changed.

If your question is about changing them in a specific direction to achieve a specific goal, that is currently unanswerable, which means that it could happen. However, if one bases an entire story on them being changed willy-nilly, then you end up with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, wherein anything is probable, and even more likely to happen the more improbable it is.


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