“What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents.” –Jay Griffiths
At the earliest times, we can trace the history of our Universe back to an inflationary state, where the energy inherent to space itself caused a rapid, exponential expansion. At the latest (current) times, billions of years after inflation ended and the Big Bang occurred, dark energy has come to dominate the Universe’s expansion. These two states are very different in magnitude, but they’re similar in a lot of ways, too.
The hot Big Bang resulted from the end of cosmological inflation. But that still required the existence of space, time, and a large zero-point energy. Where did all of *that* come from? Image credit: Bock et al. (2006, astro-ph/0604101); modifications by E. Siegel.
They both drive the Universe towards a cold, barren, empty state. They both lead to an exponential state of expansion, inflating all other matter away. And they both may be inherently unstable, eventually decaying to a more stable state. But they could be completely distinct phenomena, too, unlinked by anything expect the coincidences we notice.
If inflation is like starting off at the “top” of a full soda bottle, then dark energy is like realizing the bottom of your bottle isn’t totally empty. In both cases, there’s an energy inherent to space itself; inflation’s was much larger, but dark energy’s is non-zero. Public domain images.