3

On https://www.livescience.com/17875-destroy-earth-doomsday.html, under total existential failure, it says that the earth could just wink out of existence. Assuming everything has an infinitesimal amount of uncertainty, could this happen?

Note: I think my tags are wrong, so I choses the closest one.

2
  • 3
    What they mean by Earth's atoms "simultaneously and spontaneously cease to exist" is likely not "wink out of existence" but spontaneously decay, which does have a very small but non-zero probability under the uncertainty principle. That is where those "greater than a googolplex to one" odds come from. We have much more to worry about from the impending Andromeda–Milky Way collision in about 6 billion years than from any of the fanciful scenarios in this paper.
    – Conifold
    Oct 4 at 19:26
  • That's a physics question
    – armand
    Oct 5 at 0:04
5

Sure, it's possible. There are several ways it might happen.

  • Scenario 1: All the particles involved in the Earth suddenly quantum-tunnel somewhere far away. No more Earth. This is the possibility the article mentions. Incredibly unlikely under our current understanding of quantum physics, but possible.
  • Scenario 2: You are living in a simulation. Earth is part of the simulation. The aliens running the simulation get bored and delete it. Hard to quantify how likely or unlikely this might be, but as far as we know, possible.
  • Scenario 3: You are a Boltzmann brain or a brain-in-a-vat, or in some other way just deluded into thinking there is an Earth, when there is no Earth. Earth doesn't exactly disappear in this one, because it didn't exist to begin with. The chance of this scenario is hard to quantify, but might actually be very high; under the assumptions in the Boltzmann brain argument, under our current laws of physics, it seems that almost all brains should be Boltzmann brains.
  • Scenario 4: There is some as-yet-undiscovered law of physics that will result in the sudden disappearance of Earth without any warning. Hard to quantify how likely or unlikely this might be.
  • Scenario 5: Inductive inference is simply invalid. There is no justified reason to think Earth will continue tomorrow, just because it has existed for a long time. Tomorrow it blinks out. Why? You can't ask why, because all empirical explanations are invalid.
1
  • 1
    False vacuum decay is a good possibility for scenario 4
    – user253751
    Oct 7 at 15:36
1

For the earth's atoms to simultaneously all wink out of existence at the same instant would break the laws of baryon conservation, energy conservation, angular momentum conservation, and linear momentum conservation. A universe where that is possible would be acausal and the probabilities of all possible outcomes in it would not add up to 1.

Such a universe wouldn't have us in it to observe it.

4
  • why the downvote? is my answer inaccurate? Oct 5 at 6:37
  • These laws aren’t sacred, they are based on observation and we know that spontaneous vanishing of a particle is extremely rare if it happens at all. While it’s a valid observation that particles obey certain rules during their ‘lives’ this doesn’t discount the possibility that these rules are not followed when a particle vanishes. This is not without precedent- every particle in the Universe has presumably come from somewhere and their creation does not fit in with the physics of the Universe as we currently observe it.
    – Frog
    Oct 6 at 18:39
  • 1
    these laws might be "non-sacred" but only to non-physicists. Your other points are incorrect. Post this question on the physics stack exchange to learn why. Oct 6 at 23:45
  • I think it’s disingenuous to state without reasoning that my other points are incorrect. However I shall ask the question in physics and await the fallout…
    – Frog
    Oct 7 at 7:46
-1

Current physics tells us that nothing happens without cause, even if we don’t fully understand what that cause is. For example, radioactive decay appears to be random, but with a large sample size it accurately follows a half-life and so there must be some underlying mechanism that we can’t see. Quantum physics tells us that an individual sub-atomic particle could vanish, but this is evidently quite rare. The likelihood of two nearby particles vanishing within a second (let’s say) is far less likely. And so yes there is a finite probability that all of Earth’s 10^50 atoms could disappear at once, but within the Universe’s predicted life of 10^20 seconds I won’t be holding my breath.

15
  • 2
    Current physics just tells us that quantum events have definite probabilities (which is enough to make the statistics of a large sample of events predictable with a high level of confidence, due the law of large numbers in statistics), but this isn't take to imply that the exact timing of each individual atom's decay must be due to "some underlying mechanism that we can't see" (that would be a hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics).
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 4 at 19:07
  • 2
    Quantum physics doesn't exactly say that "an individual sub-atomic particle could vanish," since it still obeys certain conservation laws, so perhaps this statement should be clarified.
    – Sandejo
    Oct 4 at 23:27
  • @Hypnosifl I certainly am of the view that there is some underlying mechanism that we can't see. After all, all variables are hidden until they are revealed.
    – Frog
    Oct 5 at 20:06
  • @Sandejo to clarify my understanding: a particle and its corresponding anti-particle can come into existence by quantum fluctuation and then vanish again as a pair. Whether or not this is how all the particles from which earth is built came into existence is unknown, but if it is then they could all annihilate, each together with its corresponding antiparticle, wherever that happens to be. This may explain the problems with other laws of physics that niels nielsen mentions if somehow the antiparticle had precisely the opposite energy, momentum and so on.
    – Frog
    Oct 5 at 20:14
  • 1
    Both of the answers to the first question say that you need a probability distribution, and the second question is asking how you "sample uniformly", i.e. assuming a uniform probability distribution. The person who asked the first question may not have understood that you need a probability distribution to answer the question meaningfully, but I'm pretty sure the OP there is not a mathematician, just an interested layman asking a question on the math stack exchange.
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 6 at 22:48

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.