In an even hotter and denser state, protons and neutrons decompose into quarks and gluons, collisions at high enough energies will allow the spontaneous creation of equal amounts of matter and antimatter, and energy, temperature, density, and the expansion rate will all increase tremendously.
According to Planck, the satellite that measures the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, the simplest, slow-roll inflation models are the ones that are most favored by the data.
There is no reason for the field to start at the flat part; in principle, it could have started anywhere. In fact, in order for inflation to work properly, the central, flat part of this potential needs to be very flat. If we want to talk about what happened earlier, such as in earlier stages of inflation, hypothetically what (if anything) came before inflation, or what (if anything) caused inflation to start, we have to rely on theory alone at this point. What’s often cited as a far more likely possibility is to consider that, when the Universe was at a higher energy at an earlier time, different regions of space had different values of the potential, since they were indistinguishable. In most regions, if the energy-level (the level of the dotted line) is allowed to drop, inflation won’t occur, or the wrong type of inflation will occur. When a region of the Universe undergoes exponential expansion, it creates more Universe in every region that’s expanding exponentially. You can see that both sequences go to infinity, but one of them goes to infinity much faster than the other! These things have some fun names: the idea that the field could have started anywhere (the diagram with the black, dotted line over the potential) is known as chaotic inflation, while the idea that the inflaton is a quantum field, spreading out, and will persist for an eternity, is known as eternal inflation.
When inflation ends and energy is transferred to matter, what kind of coupling is there between the inflation field and ordinary matter fields?
And in 100 years time we will have another 200 speculative theories about what happened prior to the end of cosmic inflation, none of them observable or testable, because, as Ethan says, all information has been erased.
Ethan, you’ve written about the subject before, and with each new article some aspects are getting clearer and some new questions arise. From the photon’s point of view, no time or distance appears in the travel between the point of production and the point of absorption. I had some doubts about the relationship between Big Bang and Inflation, and this post finally cleared them.

I noticed David (Comment #1) asked similar questions as to that fundamental and puzzling initial condition of the universe. If it is expanding but not exponentially, then it HAS stopped expanding exponentially, hasn’t it! This was actually how I understood it, but of course I can easily misunderstand things (previous comment). In reference to my earlier query, I somehow managed to jump from the previous blog to the comments on this one. There is of course abundant physical evidence for the *necessary* existence of God, while there is no physical evidence for the *necessary* existence of dark energy whatsoever.
If we abandon the Copernican Principle and place Earth near the center of an under density or void, we can account for observations without the need for dark energy. It is of course often done in the blogosphere (to ban those with whom one disagrees), if one cannot answer the points they raise. Why is it that some people with a certain worldview are so anxious to suppress other points of view? Since the light of stars take so long to reach us, how do we know that we are not seeing the same stars many times over at different times of their lives? This forum has strengthened my faith or belief, which is beyond the knowable by science as described above, in God. I am allowed to believe that He has entered space time from outside (extra dimensional ) to reveal himself to his creation. Why is it that cranks with a whacked-out worldview want their words protected from the just criticism they deserve?
Liberalism means you’re free to spout whatever crap you like and others are free to laugh uproariously and make fun of it and you. The Big Bang tells us that the Universe was hotter, denser, and expanding at a faster rate in the past.
In fact, you can go back even farther, to when it was hotter and denser, and atomic nuclei themselves couldn’t form, creating just a sea of protons and neutrons.

It does not have to be a scalar field; it could be a spinor, vector, or tensor field, but we model it as a scalar for simplicity. There are plenty of potentials that do this in many branches of physics, particularly when the energy of a system drops over time. It’s sort of like if you flooded the graph, below, with some type of fluid that filled it up to the dotted thick line.
This means that some of the new regions that get created, due to this quantum spreading effect, will actually have their inflaton field higher up on the flat part than they were before; this is the beauty of having a slowly-rolling, flat potential! If no time passes, then there’s no time for any expansion of the distance to manifest and change the speed required to move between these two events. So what is the difference (if any) between Cosmic Inflation as an expanding Universe, and expansion that is happening today? At least, any attempt to measure it has been met with failure for all sorts of godbotherer post-hoc rationalisations. Very unlike God, Whose necessary existence had already been derived by the philosophers millennia before the physicists were required to invent dark energy.
Space was expanding exponentially, the quantum fluctuations that occur, which normally stay localized in our Universe today, are stretched out across the Universe, and cause the slight imperfections in energy density that permeate our observable Universe. That’s right, except for the last 10-20-to-10-36 seconds of inflation (depending on the exact model parameters you choose), we have zero information in our Universe today about what happened prior to that. The information to know the answers to those questions might not exist within our Universe. Liberalism once had connotations of tolerant debate, a willingness to examine all points of view.
Of course, they are also the same in a more fundamental description like tautological model realism (TMR).

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