Abstract:
The Hawking-Unruh effect of thermal radiance from a black hole or observed by an accelerated detector is usually viewed as a geometric effect related to the existence of an event horizon. Here we propose a new viewpoint, that the detection of thermal radiance in these systems is a local, kinematic effect arising from the vacuum being subjected to a relativistic exponential scale transformation. This kinematic effect alters the relative weight of quantum versus thermal fluctuations (noise) between the two vacua. This approach can treat conditions which the geometric approach cannot, such as systems which do not even have an event horizon. An example is the case of an observer whose acceleration is nonuniform or only asymptotically uniform. Since this approach is based on concepts and techniques of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, it is more adept to dynamical problems, such as the dissipation, fluctuation, and entropy aspects of particle creation and phase transitions in black hole collapse and in the early universe.

Abstract:
This essay is based on a physics lecture given at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on May 24, 2006, Hong Kong. It has 5 sections and one page of references and suggested reading. The section titles are: 1. Origin of the Universe and Quantum Gravity 2. Two major paradigms in Physics and Two directions of Research in Cosmology 3. The Mescoscopic Structures of Spacetime and Stochastic Gravity 4. One Vein of the Hydro View: Spacetime as Condensate? 5. Implications for the Origin of the Universe and other issues.

Abstract:
Concepts of quantum open systems and ideas of correlation dynamics in nonequilibrium statistical mechanics, as well as methods of closed-time-path effective action and influence functional in quantum field theory can be usefully applied for the analysis of quantum statistical processes in gravitation and cosmology. We raise a few conceptual questions and suggest some new directions of research on selected currrent topics on the physics of the early universe, such as entropy generation in cosmological particle creation, quantum theory of galaxy formation, and phase transition in inflationary cosmology.

Abstract:
We discuss the appearance of time-asymmetric behavior in physical processes in cosmology and in the dynamics of the Universe itself. We begin with an analysis of the nature and origin of irreversibility in well-known physical processes such as dispersion, diffusion, dissipation and mixing, and make the distinction between processes whose irreversibility arises from the stipulation of special initial conditions, and those arising from the system's interaction with a coarse-grained environment. We then study the irreversibility associated with quantum fluctuations in cosmological processes like particle creation and the `birth of the Universe'. We suggest that the backreaction effect of such quantum processes can be understood as the manifestation of a fluctuation-dissipation relation relating fluctuations of quantum fields to dissipations in the dynamics of spacetime. For the same reason it is shown that dissipation is bound to appear in the dynamics of minisuperspace cosmologies. This provides a natural course for the emergence of a cosmological and thermodynamic arrow of time and suggests a meaningful definition of gravitational entropy. We conclude with a discussion on the criteria for the choice of coarse-grainings and the stability of persistent physical structures. Invited Talk given at the Conference on The Physical Origin of Time-Asymmetry Huelva, Spain, Oct. 1991, Proceedings eds. J. J. Halliwell, J. Perez-Mercader and W. H. Zurek, Cambridge University Press, 1993

Abstract:
Methods and concepts for the study of phase transitions mediated by a time-dependent order-parameter field in curved spacetimes are discussed. A practical example is the derivation of an effective (quasi-)potential for the description of `slow-roll' inflation in the early universe. We first summarize our early results on viewing the symmetry behavior of constant background fields in curved but static spacetimes as finite size effect, and the use of derivative expansions for constructing effective actions for slowly-varying background fields. We then introduce the notion of dynamical finite size effect to explain how an exponential expansion of the scale factor imparts a finite size to the system and how the symmetry behavior in de Sitter space can be understood qualitatively in this light. We reason why the exponential inflation can be described equivalently by a scale transformation, thus rendering this special class of dynamics as effectively static. Finally we show how, in this view, one can treat the class of `slow-roll' inflation as a dynamic perturbation off the effectively static class of exponential inflation and understand it as a dynamical critical phenomenon in cosmology.

Abstract:
We show how the concept of quantum open system and the methods in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics can be usefully applied to studies of quantum statistical processes in the early universe. We first sketch how noise, fluctuation, dissipation and decoherence processes arise in a wide range of cosmological problems. We then focus on the origin and nature of noise in quantum fields and spacetime dynamics. We introduce the concept of geometrodynamic noise and suggest a statistical mechanical definition of gravitational entropy. We end with a brief discussion of the theoretical appropriateness to view the physical universe as an open system.

Abstract:
Statistical mechanical concepts and processes such as decoherence, correlation, and dissipation can prove to be of basic importance to understanding some fundamental issues of quantum cosmology and theoretical physics such as the choice of initial states, quantum to classical transition and the emergence of time. Here we summarize our effort in 1) constructing a unified theoretical framework using techniques in interacting quantum field theory such as influence functional and coarse-grained effective action to discuss the interplay of noise, fluctuation, dissipation and decoherence; and 2) illustrating how these concepts when applied to quantum cosmology can alter the conventional views on some basic issues. Two questions we address are 1) the validity of minisuperspace truncation, which is usually assumed without proof in most discussions, and 2) the relevance of specific initial conditions, which is the prevailing view of the past decade. We also mention how some current ideas in chaotic dynamics, dissipative collective dynamics and complexity can alter our view of the quantum nature of the universe.

Abstract:
In recent years a statistical mechanics description of particles, fields and spacetime based on the concept of quantum open systems and the influence functional formalism has been introduced. It reproduces in full the established theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime and contains also a microscopic description of their statistical properties, such as noise, fluctuations, decoherence, and dissipation. This new framework allows one to explore the quantum statistical properties of spacetime at the interface between the semiclassical and quantum gravity regimes, as well as important non-equilibrium processes in the early universe and black holes, such as particle creation, entropy generation, galaxy formation, Hawking radiation, gravitational collapse, backreaction and the black hole end-state and information lost issues. Here we give a summary of the theory of correlation dynamics of quantum fields and describe how this conceptual scheme coupled with scaling behavior near the infrared limit can shed light on the black hole information paradox.

Abstract:
Developments in theoretical cosmology in the recent decades show a close connection with particle physics, quantum gravity and unified theories. Answers or hints to many fundamental questions in cosmology like the homogeneity and isotropy of the Universe, the sources of structure formation and entropy generation, and the initial state of the Universe can be traced back to the activities of quantum fields and the dynamics of spacetime from the Grand Unification time to the Planck time at $10^{-43} sec$. A closer depiction of this primordial state of the Universe requires at least a semiclassical theory of gravity and the consideration of non-equilibrium statistical processes involving quantum fields. This critical state is intermediate between the well-known classical epoch successfully described by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity and the completely unknown realm of quantum gravity. Many issues special to this stage such as the transition from quantum to classical spacetime via decoherence, cross-over behavior at the Planck scale, tunneling and particle creation, or growth of density contrast from vacuum fluctuations share some basic concerns of mesoscopic physics for condensed matter, atoms or nuclei, in the quantum/classical and the micro/macro interfaces, or the discrete/continuum and the stochastic/ deterministic transitions. We point out that underlying these issues are three main factors: quantum coherence, fluctuations and correlation. We discuss how a deeper understanding of these aspects of fields and spacetimes can help one to address some basic problems, such as Planck scale metric fluctuations, cosmological phase transition and structure formation, and the black hole entropy, end-state and information paradox.

Abstract:
We note that in general there exist two basic aspects in any branch of physics, including cosmology - one dealing with the attributes of basic constituents and forces of nature, the other dealing with how structures arise from them and how they evolve. Current research in quantum and superstring cosmology is directed mainly towards the first aspect, even though a viable theory of the underlying interactions is lacking. We call the attention to the development of the second aspect, i.e., on the organization and processing of the basic constituents of matter (in classical cosmology) and spacetime (in quantum cosmology). Many newly developed concepts and techniques in condensed matter physics stemming from the investigation of disordered, dynamical and complex systems can guide us in asking the right questions and formulating new solutions to existing and developing cosmological issues, thereby broadening our view of the universe both in its formative and present state.