Home > Cosmic Origins > Are Vacuum Fluctuation Models Dead?

Are Vacuum Fluctuation Models Dead?

In 1973, a new model for the origin of the universe was born when physicist Edward Tryon published a paper (pdf) asking the question, “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?”   This model suggests that the universe as a whole is something like a long-lived virtual particle; a random (and extremely large) fluctuation of energy in the quantum vacuum. And although William Lane Craig refers to Tryons proposal as a “bizarre speculation,” it sparked a buzz for the better part of a decade with many physicists proposing different variants on the model (Ex. 1, Ex. 2, Ex. 3).

The problem with all the above models is that they presuppose a background space from which our universe arose. But where did this background space come from? It could have begun in the past – an unsatisfying answer which only pushes back our question of origins another step – or we could say that it is simply eternal. Craig, however, doesn’t like this second answer and raises two objections:

Within any finite interval of time there is a positive probability of such a fluctuation occurring at any point in space. Thus, given infinite past time, universes will eventually be spawned at every point in the primordial vacuum, and, as they expand, they will begin to collide and coalesce with one another. Thus, given infinite past time, we should by now be observing an infinitely old universe, not a relatively young one.

The second objection, that we should be observing an infinitely old universe, seems easily answered by the anthropic principle – an infinitely old universe would have infinite entropy where observers cannot exist. However, the first objection does make sense – given an infinite past of this meta-space, there should be universe-sized fluctuations occurring all over (i.e. our universe should be colliding with other universes, but we don’t see that).

Craig then drives his objections home by quoting physicist Christopher Isham:

According to Isham this problem proved to be “fairly lethal” to Vacuum Fluctuation Models; hence, these models were “jettisoned twenty years ago” and “nothing much” has been done with them since.

The citation for these fragmented quotes points to a 1990 paper by Isham titled  “Space, Time, and Quantum Cosmology,” which I have been completely unable to locate in any book or journal – and according to Google Scholar, this paper has only ever been cited by Craig and various other religious apologists.

Luckily, I was able to find two other papers by Isham which were on the same subject: “Creation of the Universe as a Quantum Process” (1988) published in the book Physics, Philosophy, and Theology and “Quantum Theories of the Creation of the Universe” (1993) published in the book Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature – both of these papers are highly critical of Tryon’s proposal.

. . . Except there is one variation of Tryon’s model which are immune to both Craig’s and Isham’s criticisms: Alexander Vilenkin’s model (pdf). This model, unlike the others, does not propose any sort of background space. Rather, Vilenkin suggests that the universe was a quantum tunneling event “from nothing” – though not “absolutely nothing” (this will be discussed further in a future post).  In fact, Isham writes in his 1993 paper that, “a scheme like Vilenkin’s might have some approximate validity.” Although, Isham cautiously goes on to say that we won’t know for sure until the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity are unified.

So, are vacuum fluctuation models dead? Well, Tryon’s model  has some serious problems – there’s no doubt about it.  On the other hand, Vilenkin’s variation on Tryon’s theme is still alive and kicking.

On a final note, I’d like to quote a bit of Isham’s 1993 paper (page 50) which seems relevant to this discussion (though you’ll never see Craig using it):

A variety of reactions is generated by the idea that the universe may be temporally finite . . . For example, a rather naive reaction is to posit a God who performs creation at the precise point where the theory breaks down but who is such that the subsequent development of the universe is described exactly by the existing theoretical structure.  The invocation of such a Deistic creator is psychologically understandable even if it cannot be justified logically.

Categories: Cosmic Origins
  1. Thomas
    10/22/2010 at 11:06 PM

    If the multiverse is an infinitely large space, then, just by chance, there should still be some areas of this space in which no universes have begun to exist. Suppose the multiverse is finitely large, rather than infinite. Then, given an eternal past, there will have been an infinite amount of time for this multiverse to fill up with universes. However, if these universes are appearing randomly, there is at least a microscopic chance that even in this finitely large multiverse, no universes ever appear. It’s possible, is it not? Just as it is possible that if you flip a coin an infinite number of times, you will always get heads. But in an infinitely large multiverse, there is an infinite amount of space, so if one were to travel through this multiverse, in a spaceship for example, flying past all these universes that have existed forever and collided and coalesced into one another, one should eventually come upon an area of space where no universe has yet appeared. The reason for this is that while for any given area in the multiverse, the chance that this area of space in the multiverse has always existed and yet no universe has yet appeared, is absolutely miniscule, unimaginably improbable. But yet it’s possible. And so, given an infinite number of such possibilities, we would eventually find some empty space in the multiverse. And in such an empty space, our universe might have fluctuated into existence 13.7 billion years ago. So I don’t there’s a problem with the Tryon model like Craig thinks there is. What do you think?

  2. 10/12/2012 at 11:50 AM

    I understand your concern about this. On one hand I say “To each their own.” On the other hand it is possibly counterproductive to understanding the true evolution of the universe and how life evolves and is likely a hnd-me-down process that seems to be confirmed by the discovery of universal DNA structure.

    As for vacuum fluctuation and even the associated Casimir effect, you’ll have a new variation to debunk, if you can, soon. So “coming soon” is an argument against the so-called multiverse, but also a probable failing theory to the Big Bang. Leonard Suskind esentially failed his own multiverse in his book “The Cosmic Landscape.” He describes a scenario where one gargantuan universe assimilates smaller ones. In that, an ultimate universe, based around infinity would become the main universe, although galaxies COULD be thought of as a sub-universe.

    I don’t intend to publish my papers prematurely. They don’t pop up overnight. One major issue is the so-called Higgs field/particle mechanism. We seem to know, now, the field, thus its particle, does exist. What is still not understood is the mechanism.


    “But in an infinitely large multiverse, there is an infinite amount of space, so if one were to travel through this multiverse, in a spaceship for example, flying past all these universes that have existed forever and collided and coalesced into one another, one should eventually come upon an area of space where no universe has yet appeared.”


    The infinite vacuum would tear the spaceship apart at the most primordial level. You are very correct in imagining the eternal, infinite void of nothing. The void would have potential simply because it is infinite. That potential must overpower anything finite and once a single particle occurs, it will initially have that infinite power, till the void forces it to collapse. That must happen close to the same velocity as the initial expansion. The process will, during the collapse, intersect, thus bifurcate, or break the symmetry of other particles expanding in the next frame. Thus the field is constantly in motion. Constantly colliding. Constantly forming the slower regions of this single, massive, finite quantum and defining the position of our fingers on the keyboards, our minds and our souls. Thus, Newtonian physics’ basic theory of f=ma holds true everywhere, where e=mc^2 only holds true in the areas (ours) where these bifurcations have created light.

  3. LauLuna
    03/06/2014 at 12:53 PM

    Maybe, an infinitely old universe need not have infinite entropy if it is not isolated but colliding and merging with newborn universes.

    • Amateur Academic
      04/14/2014 at 4:04 AM

      I actaully don’t think it’s possible for Universes to merge. I think a paper by Alan Guth (sorry, I don’t have a link) said Universes don’t connect, and even if they could they could they would immediately disconnect.

  1. 08/11/2010 at 5:53 PM
  2. 08/28/2010 at 6:40 PM
  3. 01/31/2015 at 10:38 PM

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