It’s 2025 and I still couldn’t believe it that I’ve got a job at CERN, the location where people discovered Higgs boson, and wrote it into that textbook I used in 2017, “the Higgs field is believed to have a non-zero vacuum expectation value…, blah blah?”
One other thing that I still couldn’t take in is that I became an experimentalist. My life is short, shorter given my interest in theoretical physics. Alas, at last it’s still utmost relevant to get a job. I could feel better of course, I’m still hanging in the tumbling 4-D spherical reflective perfect elastic projectile in free space called physics.
So yeah, I trained myself for this, picking up almost all the omitted experimental physics since my freshman year in Auckland, to be part of humans particle physics research on the next energy level — Genesis level, I hear that word a lot.
What am I doing exactly? I understand that your attention spans are probably shorter than mine, and my story sounds distancing. It was December of 2017, when I was working on my end-of-year project, that I first mathematically contemplated this experiment — rest assured, I didn’t make any breakthrough discovery then; science progresses slowly and even not so, there’s always faster drivers than I am — A pity given our short lives, but also making my such occupation quite spiritual.
I needn’t divert our log too far. It’s supposed to stay a brief and informative short piece. I don’t consume caffeine, and that’s why I got to stay in and write such logs when all colleagues head out every afternoon at 4pm. Most of my free time was rather spent on fixing typos though⋯ After ten years of redesign, Apple’s software keyboard still fail to be… usable (but why do I keep trading in for new iPads?)
That’s how the story went. I hypothetically described that phenomenon in an assignment — plugging in conditions into equations on text book, to be exact — vacuum decay. Remember that there’s still energy in the calmest observed Higgs Field? If there’s an even lower energy state possible, a magnificent enough disruption in a patch of such field will drive all neighbouring Higgs fields into that lower energy state. Nature loves doing thing like that: it’s like telling water in Lake Erie that there’s a Lake Ontario — Niagara Falls, energy — hell, there even an ocean nearby, want to behold something more significant?
As a helpful side note, the Higgs field fulfils it’s daily routine to do one job: preventing all other fundamental particles from becoming massless, non-interactive vagabonds (quite like me in the dining hall, not true for the ‘massless’ part).
Therefore, if we succeed in triggering that thingy, (or in other words, fail in many other ways), my existence will be shattered into space, followed by our planet and pretty everything that’s on it. Another way to cut the life of human civilisation short.
We can be very short ones indeed. Remember the calculation that a beam of light can circulate (if it’s willing to) the earth 7 times in one second? If anything happens after the next experiment, the very chemistry of everyone — everything — on this tiny planet will cease to exist, before a single neutron could fire, before another sodium ion could return to the comfy sofa called the Na/K pump protein… Our lives end, as,
Very short ones indeed. Other than EM waves we broadcast into space (that turn into or stay as noise), within months, the sphere of destruction would have consumed even our furthest-travelling artefacts. Unless you’d say that this vacuum decay itself is a momento of human existence, we could be wiped out cleanly, leaving millions of years for the other denizens of the galaxy — which we hadn’t found any, sadly — to not notice our disappearance. Oh, given that time still makes sense after our demise.
Billion years’ worth of evolution for this curiosity that may lead to its doom, and yet I never ever stopped from wondering, “what’s the universe like ‘down there’?”
It’s worth it, I think. Once I read somewhere a funny argument that evolution could never defy the laws of physics — avian life forms can refine the aerodynamics generation by generation, but last time biologists checked, there’s no antigravity birds.
Unlike those examples, this time we might just do it, as a mistake in the experimental design though — as an idea that scientists don’t share at lunch but all contemplate themselves when late — we could rip physics apart and see what persists down the next energy level. It feels ethereal.
I also, for a brief moment considered how lucky we are, given the continued assumption of vacuum decay, that there’s likely no one else whose curiosity blew this cosmic death bubble towards us first, that no unforeseen cosmic distruction events have visited this world before our science and technology could go this far (speed of light is annoying, anything cosmically destructive hurdles towards us the same rate their heralds do, rendering prediction often futile) , that although “there’s no hint that help could come from elsewhere to save us from our selves, we lived. Short ones, one after another, on an ever changing planet, intertwined in ever-changing dynamics, towards a self-designated mastery of civilisation and survival.
Hopefully it’s all just a wild daydream. We haven’t verified anything about vacuum decay yet, and the Universe apparently doesn’t care if we did.
I turned on shuffle on my iPad – “My Heart Would Know”, Cars Soundtrack from 20 years ago. I looked at the pictures on my desk. I like printing photos, for my wife, mentors and parents, in particular.
My colleagues are walking in. I hear that they cut off half of Europe’s electricity supply for us.
28 Aug, 2025, 16:29, GMT+1.
It’s time to go for the experiment.
An 50 minutes’ Effort at Physics Astronomy Library (PAL),
Despite being plugged in, my iPads battery dropped from 35% to 27% during the writing process.
28, Aug, 2017, Berkeley