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I feel like I’ve been neglecting the literary side of this blog for a while now and will remedy that in the near future. However, today I want to address a conceptual problem in the (often theistic) claim that the universe could not have appeared out of nothing because that is a violation of physical laws. Well, guess what? It’s not.

I’ll try keep this post short and easy to understand, so just keep in mind there are decades of scientific study and evidence going into this, and it is in no way as simple as I can make it seem. Let’s start from the beginning.

Matter, antimatter, and photons all consist of positive energy. However, this energy is exactly balanced out by the negative gravitational energy of the everything in the universe. Essentially, we have a universe where the total energy is zero (J.M. Pasachoff and A.V. Filippenko, 2001). If you remember Einstein’s famous equation, you’ll know this means all matter is also equal to zero. Basically, we live in nothing, but fortunately, the nothing is separated into the positive and negative parts. To use Stephen Hawking’s analogy, it’s like a man building a pile of dirt on a flat land. As he digs up dirt, the pile of dirt is exactly the same size as the hole he is digging. They balance each other out.

Now to see why gravitational potential energy is considered negative because potential energy is considered negative by convention in science. A quick explanation for you guys would be to consider this: an object at rest an infinite distance away from a source of gravity will be said to have zero kinetic energy (as it is resting) and zero gravitational energy (as it is infinitely far away, so it does not experience gravity). As the object gets closer to the gravitational source, it gains kinetic energy (by moving towards it due to the attraction), but this energy is exactly balanced out by the negative gravitational energy. This energy is negative because to counteract the energy of the system, you would have to put in more energy (to push the object away from the gravitational source).  If you have to add more energy to get back to zero, then the potential energy of the attraction is obviously negative.
Together, this is known as a zero-energy universe and, along with inflation, suggests that all that is needed is a tiny volume of energy to get things started and the universe will experience inflationary expansion without creating net energy. So essentially, the universe is still nothing, just in positive and negative states (where we live in the positive state).

Well, those of you that are sharp enough to pick up on the details will be asking “where did this tiny volume of energy to get things started come from?” which would lead you back to the original question, how to get that little something from nothing? Here comes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. This is a long established scientific law that allows for particles and antiparticles to appear out of nothing and then annihilate each other without violating conservation of energy. These pairs are known as virtual particles and appear in a process known as quantum fluctuation. Studies have shown quantum fluctuations to appear everywhere at all times, so really, something is appearing out of nothing all around us. Although the virtual particles annihilate each other, they leave a very real effect on the energy levels of atoms. Originally, the Uncertainty Principle (part of quantum theory) was to help account for experimentally measure energy levels disagreeing with predicted levels, and introduced quantum fluctuation, which had to be accounted for to arrive at correct answers.

Again, the smart ones will see where I’m going, and it’s almost done. If we understand that energy can appear out of nothing, then it is entirely possible and even likely that our universe appeared out of “nothing”. There’s possibly one last argument that can be made – the Uncertainty Principle only applies to tiny particles. Well, let’s not forget the singularity that exploded in the Big Bang was, by definition of singularity, an infinitely small point. As Hawking has said, the universe is the “ultimate free lunch”. We got it out of nothing without violating any laws of physics.

Here’s a little bonus to add on to the concept of a zero-energy universe where the positive and negative are separated. Scientists at the University of Michigan developed a mathematical model allowing a super-high-energy electron laser to rip apart nothingness (a vacuum) into its matter and antimatter components ( Basically, what we call “nothing” is actually a perfect balance of positive and negative components – our universe could essentially just be an expanding “nothingness” caused by quantum fluctuation.

So, recently scientists reported the discovery of a particle with observable effects likening it to the Higgs Boson. That’s a very complex way of saying “they think they found the Higgs Boson”. Some of you may not think this is a big deal. To those people, I say “I don’t believe you understand the gravity of this matter”. That’s the first of some of the Higgs jokes popping up.

Anyway, this is a huge scientific breakthrough and it pretty much shoots the whole neutrino affair out of the water. Why is that? Well, there was a lot more hype over the neutrino potentially surpassing light speed because geeks and opportunists started an avalanche of ill-informed statements. The most prominent of these was the whole “faster than light” travel fiasco. I wrote an article on the neutrino for a course at uni but I can’t be bothered finding it so I’ll sum up quickly why this is a stupid idea: the neutrino is also known as the “ghost particle” because it can travel through matter with minimal to no interaction. If something with that kind of amazing ability can’t surpass light speed (or was in doubt of surpassing light speed at the time that these faster than light dreams started multiplying) then what hope do humans have? Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose the neutrino did manage to break the light speed barrier. Well, you might say humans will use that technology to develop super-light speed travel. Errrrrrr. Wrong. What are you going to do, make a spaceship out of neutrinos? Let me remind you that neutrinos do not interact with matter. You’ll have a better chance at resolving the atheist-theist war than ever making even a seat out of neutrinos. There’s a lot more to the neutrino than that, and maybe I’ll put the information up here some time, but for now, rest easy knowing that we’ll always be stuck at sub-light speeds.

I sort of went off at a tangent here. The point was that the neutrino buzz was a fad; there was never really any substance to it. This Higgs boson ordeal, however, is mind boggling. I mean that literally. Even with my reasonable grasp of science, it’s a bit hard to wrap my head around. I asked my mom and stepfather (both PhD physicists who were top of their field in Australia before retirement) for a bit of clarification and arrived at the understanding I have now. I’m going to give a brief explanation of the Higgs Boson and Higgs field in the following paragraphs; if these do not interest you, you may skip, but that leaves you with a bigger question – what are you doing reading this if you’re not interested in science?

Ok, so let’s start with the Higgs field. Why? Because the Higgs Boson is a particle associated with the Higgs field in the same way a photon is associated with an electromagnetic field. The difference here is that the Higgs field permeates the universe. This is a bit hard to understand without an analogy. Let’s say that the universe is submerged within a tank of water – that is, all the planets and stars and galaxies are objects within this tank. The water would be the fabric of time and space – as well as the Higgs field. It is everywhere, in more ways than one. For example, you can bend the fabric of space time (with our analogy, that would be a ripple in the water). Whilst this may shorten the “distance” between two points, the ripple does not eliminate the space time in between – it merely distorts it.

So now that we’ve determined that the Higgs field pretty much encompasses the entirety of the universe (Einstein theorised a similar space time fabric, though I forget the exact name), what you need to know is that particles travelling through the Higgs field, and thus interacting with it, are affected by the Higgs  Boson. The Higgs Boson is a class of particle whose category is known as a Boson. It’s special because it transfers mass to certain elementary particles and thus explains why some particles have mass and others do not. Without mass, there would be no gravity and thus no universe – which is why you’ll hear that the Higgs Boson “holds the universe together”. You’ll also hear it called the “god particle” but Higgs dislikes that name – originally he wanted it called the “goddamn particle” but his editor thought it would be more attention grabbing if it was named the “god particle”.

Anyway, if we delve a little deeper (and further outside my comfort zone), we can attempt to explain how this mass is transferred. Most particles have a positive or negative, non-integer spin. This means that at each energy level of the particle, only one type of spin can exist for the orbiting electron. This is known as the Pauli exclusion principle. The difference with the Higgs Boson is that it can have zero spin or integer spins, thus allowing it to exist alongside another spinning electron at any given energy level. This essentially means that it can exist in multiple states (you may have heard of this quantum mechanics term before, especially since the popularisation of Schrodinger’s Cat). Because the Higgs Boson can exist where no other normal particle should, it has the potential to transfer mass (this is actually my own speculation, don’t quote me in any academic papers).

Anyway, that’s about as far into it as I’ll get. The crux of the matter is, the simple model has been completed. Scientists used this model for 50 years with no proof that the Higgs Boson existed, and now, finally, we have that proof. In short, we’ve discovered something that was fundamental to not only our creation, but everything we see around us in the universe.

The title of this post also mentions world powers, but I’ve rambled on a bit now. I’ll just leave with a quick paraphrasing of the well known Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. “On the day that we Americans like to tell ourselves that we’re the best (July 4), Europe reminds us how far behind we’ve fallen in science (Higgs Boson)”. Dr. Tyson has a deep concern that scientific power will shift away from the US, and wishes to reignite his country’s passion for science. I agree with his forecast; due to the nature of brilliant minds, the next generations of scientists will go to Europe instead of the US for their scientific goals, due to the infrastructure Europe can offer (Large Hadron Collider vs. the now closed Enrico Fermi reactor in the US). A large part of the US’s success is due to the infrastructure and opportunity available within the country, which attracted immigrants and geniuses together. As Dr. Tyson also points out, the greatest scientific achievements made by the US were made by immigrants (a German scientist started the US space program, for instance), and if their infrastructure falls behind, inevitably, their science will too. This will have a widespread effect that will eventually see the US removed as the world superpower (among other factors).

Well, those are my thoughts for the day. Forgive me for any errors in my scientific talk – as I said, the details of quantum physics elude me and I haven’t had the time to research the Higgs Boson as much as I did for the neutrino. Let’s just leave with a picture of the second (and perhaps more prominent) reason why Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is so famous now.


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