Also archived at: arXiv:gr-qc/0309135 v1 30 Sep 2003 Observationally, the universe appears virtually critical. Yet, there is no simple explanation for this state. In this article we advance and explore the premise that the dynamics of the universe always seeks equilibrium conditions. Vacuum-induced cosmic accelerations lead to creation of matter-energy modes at the expense of vacuum energy. Because they gravitate, such modes constitute inertia against cosmic acceleration. On the other extreme, the would-be ultimate phase of local gravitational collapse is checked by a phase transition in the collapsing matter fields leading to a de Sitter-like fluid deep inside the black hole horizon, and at the expense of the collapsing matter fields. As a result, the universe succumbs to neither vacuum-induced run-away accelerations nor to gravitationally induced spacetime curvature singularities. Cosmic dynamics is self-regulating. We discuss the physical basis for these constraints and the implications, pointing out how the framework relates and helps resolve standing puzzles such as "why did cosmic inflation end?", "why is Lambda small now?" and "why does the universe appear persistently critical?". The approach does, on the one hand, suggest a future course for cosmic dynamics, while on the other hand it provides some insight into the physics inside black hole horizons. The interplay between the background vacuum and matter fields suggests an underlying symmetry that links spacetime acceleration with spacetime collapse and global (cosmic) dynamics with local (black hole) dynamics.
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