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Swaying quantum vacuum energy vs compelling charge

[“Models of the quantum vacuum” series]

Quantum foam illustration
An artist’s illustration of how the foamy structure of space-time may appear, showing tiny bubbles quadrillions of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom that are constantly fluctuating and last for only infinitesimal fractions of a second.
Creator:Chandra X-ray Observatory Center
Credit:NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

I read this article today “‘The Unknown Question’ — The End of Spacetime” (June 22, 2019) and watched the included YouTube videos. Something bothered me which I’ve been thinking about for years, namely, that even theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed sounded like he viewed the electron as like a spherical fountain (or shower head) spewing an electric field [quantized] into the vacuum. [6]

Classically, a charged point particle generates an electric field (the Coulomb field). An electron generates a field which comes FROM the electron. Sort of like a tiny sphere perforated with countless infinitesimal “holes” FROM which emanates an electric field — adding something to the vacuum, something flowing FROM the electron. Hmm.

Feynman explored the electron as a “sphere of charge.” [5] He concluded: “Clearly, as soon as we have to put forces on the inside of the electron, the beauty of the whole idea begins to disappear.We do not know how to make a consistent theory —- including the quantum mechanics —- which does not produce an infinity for the self-energy of an electron, or any point charge.

And Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson ask the question this way:

We all know that electrons have negative electric charge, but when you think about that, do you ever wonder to yourself: Where inside the electron is the charge? What is the stuff that gives it the charge, and is there room in the electron for that amount of it? Those questions seem silly because we think of charge as something a particle just has. It’s a label, and it can have lots of values: 0, −1, 2/3, etc. Try to think of mass the same way, and it will make a little bit more sense. — We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe

An alternative is that the electron has none of the structure (or “complex structure”) of the theories Feynman discussed. That it is not a “sphere of charge.” That we use a relational model in which “charge” is not an internal property per se. [5]

In the article’s videos, Nima Arkani-Hamed discussed how at least the “infinite energy” problem [5] in classical physics [maybe] was resolved by the cloud of virtual particles around an electron [screening] — a notion used in quantum physics for other forces besides the electromagnetic (EM) force.

I’d prefer to “flip” the perspective around. Rather than considering a point particle as a “fountain” of charge, consider an electron’s action as “biasing” [1] the quantum vacuum — inducing changes in the Grid [2]. That is, contouring its profile or gradient [3]. Symmetry is spherical in the ideal case, so the Grid is spherically stressed — field biased and vacuum polarized [4]. Grid energy density and flux are perturbed.

Metaphorically, consider a stream or pond with an outflow point in the bed or bottom. That point does not (symmetrically) pull or push water. What it does is create localized gradients in the flow of water. An object caught in those gradients is moved, as if a force is pulling / pushing it. The outflow point does not have a property of attraction (or repulsion).

The notion of charge may require a new perspective. That for all “forces,” particles of various kinds “carry” [a property of] charge. In a qualified sense, the “charge” of gravity is mass [and interacts with the metric field]. And in quantum chromodynamics (QCD) quark color is a type of charge.

For example, Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson write:

In the case of a particle, you can also think about gravitational mass as a gravitational charge. When two particles have electric charges, they feel electrical forces on each other, and the electrical force is proportional to the charges. In the same way, when two particles have mass, they feel a gravitational attraction proportional to their masses. Oddly enough, you can’t have negative mass, so there’s never gravitational repulsion, only attraction.” — Ibid [7]

Frank Wilczek writes:

In … QED, we can simply say that charge is the thing that photons care about.

[In QCD] The color charge of a quark creates a disturbance in the Grid — specifically, in the gluon fields — that grows with distance. It’s like a strange storm cloud that blossoms from a wispy center into an ominous thunderhead. Disturbing the fields means putting them into a state of higher energy. — The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces.

So, instead of the term “charge,” let’s try another term, say, “sway.” Different particles at different energy levels with “sway” bias vacuum energy, creating gradients which may be characterized as forces — interactions (gravity, EM, weak, strong). “Sway” is a relation with the quantum Grid.

And then we also may need to revisit vacuum polarization, for the properties of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs, eh.

Other posts

Empty Dumpty and Cosmological fact and fiction

Notes

I tend to approach quantum physics from sort of a fluid dynamics point of view.

[0] Reference: Electric charge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_charge

[1] For lack of a better term — bias: to “cause … inclination … for or against … something.”

[2] Using Wilczek’s term the Grid as a space-filling medium: “The entity we perceive as empty space.”

Our deepest physical theories reveal it to be highly structured; indeed, it appears as the primary ingredient of reality.

The new theory sees a world based on a multiplicity of space-filling ethers [layers of structure], a totality I call the Grid.

I will use the word Grid for the primary world-stuff. [Layers of structure: dark energy, condensates, metric field (“that gives space-time rigidity and causes gravity”), quantum fields, “empty” space.]

In particular, the Grid is aboil with virtual particles, and these can screen or antiscreen a source. That phenomenon, for the strong force, was central to the stories that unfolded in Parts I and II. It occurs for the other forces too.

The Grid, with these aspects, is present always and everywhere. Ordinary matter is a secondary manifestation of the Grid, tracing its level of excitation.

Wilczek, Frank. The Lightness of Being. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

And quantum field as a space-filling entity (layer) within the Grid: “… the field is there, whether or not there is a charged particle around to sense it.

Thus fields have a life of their own. … any two electrons, anywhere in the universe, have exactly the same basic properties. Both were made by the same field! … the average values of electric and magnetic fields in deep outer space are zero, or nearly so, but the fields themselves extend throughout, and support the propagation of light rays over arbitrarily large distances.

Ibid.

[3] Where the context of the term “particle” is a localized vibration or excitation in a quantum field. And “charge” perhaps changes the quantum vacuum’s energy topology or geometry or symmetry, perturbing or ordering its [the Grid’s] “natural” randomness, in a probabilistic way, such that net effects are what we measure.

[4] And positive charge biases the quantum vacuum with a different gradient, an opposite flux.

[5] The infinite energy” problem of a point charge was discussed by Feynman in the (pre-quark era) Lectures Volume 2 here.

There is an infinite amount of energy in the field surrounding a point charge. … The quantum effects do make some changes — the formula for the mass is modified, and Planck’s constant ℏ appears — but the answer still comes out infinite unless you cut off an integration somehow — just as we had to stop the classical integrals at r=a.

As to the mass of an electron, Feynman also said: “And there is the thrilling possibility that the mechanical piece is not there at all — that the mass is all electromagnetic.” But in pursuing that question (which turns out to be fruitless), note the charge model that he uses: “Now if we have a sphere of charge, the electrical forces are all repulsive and an electron would tend to fly apart. … The charges must be held to the sphere by some kind of rubber bands —- something that keeps the charges from flying off.”

And he concluded:

Clearly, as soon as we have to put forces on the inside of the electron, the beauty of the whole idea begins to disappear.We do not know how to make a consistent theory —- including the quantum mechanics —- which does not produce an infinity for the self-energy of an electron, or any point charge. And at the same time, there is no satisfactory theory that describes a non-point charge. It’s an unsolved problem.

We would like now to discuss how it might be possible to modify Maxwell’s theory of electrodynamics so that the idea of an electron as a simple point charge could be maintained. Many attempts have been made, and some of the theories were even able to arrange things so that all the electron mass was electromagnetic. But all of these theories have died.

Anyway, an alternative is that the electron has none of the structure (or “complex structure”) of the theories Feynman discussed. That it is not a “sphere of charge.” That we use a relational model in which “charge” is not an internal property per se.

Here’s what Lee Smolin says about a relational model:

I believe that Leibniz’s insight of a world that optimizes variety, subject to “the greatest order possible”, is a powerful concept … I believe we ought to see variety as a measure of complexity which applies to systems of relationships. These are systems of individual units, which each have a unique set of interactions or relationships with the other units in the system. … In a Leibnizian world, an object’s properties are not intrinsic to it — rather they reflect the relationships or interactions that object has with other objects. — 2017 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC TERM OR CONCEPT OUGHT TO BE MORE WIDELY KNOWN? (Jun 27, 2019)

[6] Here’s how Nima Arkani-Hamed discussed the “infinite energy” problem in the article’s video:

For instance in the early part of the last century physicists were very confused by the fact that if you took the electron (and the electron they didn’t think had any size) [then] well, the electron is surrounded by an electric field [and] that electric field carries energy in it, and if you look at the energy in that electric field that appears to be infinite, and so the electron would by equals mc-squared, the electron should have an infinite mass, which it certainly didn’t have. One possibility is … that appears to be a colossal fine-tuning, but there was an explanation which in fact the people in the early part of the century couldn’t have known, but that in fact as you get closer and closer to the electron because of quantum mechanics, you start seeing that it’s actually surrounded by a cloud of virtual electrons and anti-electrons okay, and that cloud invalidates this computation that tells you there’s an infinite amount of energy. In fact when we take the cloud into account, the infinity largely goes away, and you don’t have the same problem. Okay so in that case one could have made a prediction that something should happen at a specific distance away at some specific distance scale that cuts off this problem and indeed it did. It was quantum mechanics and positrons (anti-electrons) and so that’s what worked.

[7] Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson also say it this way:

Gravity is sort of the same way, but not quite. You can think of mass as the “gravity charge” of a particle that determines how much gravity it feels. But there is no “negative” mass. Gravity doesn’t repel particles with mass. This is important because it means that gravity can’t be canceled out. This is what happens to the electromagnetic force at large scales.

[8] Quantum fluctuations visualization

Ahmed Neutron [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

[9] Visualizations of Quantum Chromodynamics by Derek Leinweber, Professor of Physics, Department of Physics, School of Physical Sciences, University of Adelaide.

My explorations of QCD-vacuum structure [were] featured in Professor Wilczek’s 2004 Physics Nobel Prize Lecture.

6 thoughts on “Swaying quantum vacuum energy vs compelling charge

  1. Searching online regarding some questions (below) about charge found a variety of ideas and even some theories. Here’re some examples.

    • Can electrical charge exist without mass?
    • Can mass exist without charge? — for elementary particles.
    • Is ‘mass’ the ‘charge’ of gravity?
    • Is the gravitational force ever repulsive?

    An undated paper [https://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0010050.pdf] with references from the 1990’s describes a concept of Condensed Electromagnetic Radiation (“individual electromagnetic wave units are squeezed into a closely packed wave packet”). The degree of polarization of CER particles explains their various charges. “This identification will also explain the charge unit of the electron and the positron as corresponding to the maximum polarization possible.”

    An article on the Boston University Physics site states: “Comparing these two forces, it is clear that the charge in electrostatics plays a similar role to that of the mass in gravity. A major difference is that while the gravitational force is always attractive, the electrostatic force can be either attractive or repulsive.”

    And there’s some speculation that “dark energy [negative energy density] could be a repulsive gravitational force that only acts over large scales.”

    There also are threads on physics.stackexchange and Quora.

    1. https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/224254/why-doesnt-gravity-have-charges

    2. https://www.quora.com/Is-mass-the-charge-of-gravity

    No. Mass is concentrated energy, not a property of energy like charge. What we perceive as gravity is simply the curvature of space due to mass. This means mass causes gravity, and is not an effect.

    As far as scientists can tell, gravity is always electrically neutral, and doesn’t really have a functional equivalent to charge. Currently, it’s a subject of both debate and investigation.

    3. https://www.quora.com/Why-is-gravitational-force-always-attractive-in-nature

    [2017] Gravity is always attractive, as far as we can tell, because we have never discovered “negative mass” → which, we can also say as, “negative energy;” or, if you want to be really proper, “negative energy-momentum.”

    Energy is the “charge” in gravity theory. We have never observed negative energy [energy density is always positive]. If we were to discover negative energy, we would expect it to be repulsed by positive energy. This would symmetrize gravity, such that it is both attractive and repulsive.

    Another post [2018] in this thread includes an entensive excerpt from A Grand Unification Theory — a theory of the vacuum in line with many aspects of the loop quantum gravity theory (granular, discrete space — “an extremely fine fabric or network ‘woven’ of finite loops”) and Einstein’s field equations (stress–energy tensor). Key postulates: strings of energy, singularities (with characteristics such as “absolute unit of time”). Other terms: quantum spinning loops (spinors), supersymmetry, helicity, coupling.

    The above thoughts experiments confirm the similarity between these two forces. The gravitons and virtual photons are both generated by the coupling and decoupling of strings of energy of disturbed SP [*], leading to their emission and absorption. This lead to the creation of the spinors which compose the relevant flux lines responsible for the specific force fields. The virtual particles roles are restricted to the creation of the relevant flux lines. They are not force carriers but Force Fields builders. …

    [* SP = space particles. SP are “foam-like bubbles of energy pressed into near hexagon-like geometry by the centrifugal force of their singularities. … 12 singularities form the nuclei of a space particle.”]

    Electric charges

    The net spins’ directions of the singularities within the nuclei of the fermion and space particles account for the intrinsic neutral, positive and negative charges of the relevant particles. Paired singularities, with different spin directions, add up to zero electric charge. Singularities with the same spin direction repulse each other, while those with opposite directions attract each other. We term this force, for consistency with current literature, “Electrostatic Force (EF).”

    Space Vacuum

    The SP [space particles], which constitute the assumed space vacuum, have all of the properties that a particle may have such as spin, energy, magnetic moments, etc. On average, these properties cancel out due to the equal number of singularities which are spinning CW [clockwise] & ACW [anticlockwise], and the equal number of strings with left-handed and right-handed helicities. This is what constitutes the vacuum at its “rest state geometry” and gives the perception of a vacuum that is “empty”. The vacuum SP exhibits zero charge and zero spin. These are similar to the characteristics associated with the elusive Higgs boson particles.

    Formation of fields

    When VSP [vacuum space particles] are disturbed by fermion particles, their energy level changes, leading to changes in their geometry and conversion to a network of spinors. These changes in the VSP geometry turn them into FSP [field space particles] and noted as the increased curvature in the fabric of space. Therefore different fields are mere manifestations of the different disturbances in the geometry of the VSP. The FSP turn the SP into spinning bubbles of energy (network of spinors) with different accelerations and specific vector orientation determined by the types of disturbances. This also leads us to confirm the quantization of the various force fields.

  2. Curious about models of the quantum vacuum? Here’s a 2008 NBC News article on “the Grid” — The Grid we live in (September 24, 2008).

    In Wilczek’s view, mass arises because the Grid is permeated with a not-yet-understood property that “slows down” some of the interactions in the field, just as electrons are slowed down in a superconducting medium. In the medium known as the Grid, we perceive that slowed-down quality as mass.

    “It’s as if we’re very intelligent fish, or super-dolphins, who have figured out after careful scientific study that we are not living in empty space but that we live in water,” Wilczek said during a book-tour stopover in Seattle. “We’re used to it, but we should understand this material – and we haven’t yet figured out what this material is made of. That’s really a close analogy to what’s going on with finding the Higgs particle.”

    “The Grid is my term for what we normally perceive as empty space. It’s a medium in many senses.”

  3. And here’s a link to a paper (PDF) by Wilczek for the MIT Physics Annual 2009, “What is Space?” The paper is a useful recap of the history of space — so-called empty space, the void, the plenum, ether; and ends with a brief overview of a toy model of quantum reality.

    What is space: An empty stage, where the physical world of matter acts out its drama; an equal participant, that both provides background and has a life of its own; or the primary reality, of which matter is a secondary manifestation? Views on this question have evolved, and several times changed radically, over the history of science. Today, the third view is triumphant. Where our eyes see nothing our brains, pondering the revelations of sharply tuned experiments, discover the Grid that powers physical reality.

    Not only gluons and quarks, but all forms of matter, in their virtual form, come to be and pass away everywhere and every when. When energy is fed into space, virtual particles become real. They are like magma beneath the surface, ready to erupt if allowed an outlet. In this sense, the cosmic effervescence is the primary reality, from which particles are born.

    Besides the fluctuating activity of quantum fields, space is filled with several layers of more permanent, substantial stuff. These are plenums, or ethers, in something closer to the original spirit of Aristotle and Descartes—they are materials that fill space. In some cases, we can identify what they’re made of and even produce little samples of it.

    Physicists usually call these material ethers condensates. One could say that they (the ethers, not the physicists) condense spontaneously out of empty space as the morning dew or an all-enveloping mist might condense out of moist, invisible air.

    The best understood of these condensates consists of bound quark-antiquark pairs. Here we are talking about real particles (σ mesons, to be precise), not those ephemeral, virtual particles that come and go spontaneously. The usual name for this space-filling mist of quark-antiquark pairs is “chiral symmetry breaking condensate,” but let me just call it what it is: the QQ– [overline above 2nd Q] (pronounced Q-Q bar, for quark-antiquark) background.

    The QQ– background forms because perfectly empty space is unstable. Suppose that we clean out space by removing the condensate of quark-antiquark pairs. … Having done this (we compute), quark-antiquark pairs have negative total energy. The mc^2 energy cost of making those particles is more than made up by the energy you liberate by unleashing the attractive forces between them, as they bind into little molecules. So perfectly empty space is an explosive environment, ready to burst forth with real quark-antiquark molecules.

    No reactants (other than empty space) required! Fortunately, the explosion is self-limiting. … When there’s no longer a net profit, the production stops. We wind up with the space-filling condensate, QQ–, as the stable endpoint.

    [A parable] Suppose some species of deepwater fish, that never break the surface, evolved to become more intelligent, and started to do theoretical physics. At first they might formulate the laws of motion for the world they live in, and presumably would take for granted, namely the laws of motion for bodies moving through water. Now we humans know that the laws of motion for bodies moving through water are complicated, and they are not the most basic laws. The laws of motion for bodies moving through empty space are the most basic laws, and you can deduce the more complicated laws for bodies in water by applying those more basic laws to water molecules (deriving hydrodynamics) as well as the bodies moving through them. Eventually the fish-physicists would realize that they could get a nicer version of mechanics by assuming that they lived in a medium — call it water –complicates the appearance of things. In this way, they’d realize that what they hitherto regarded as “nothingness,” their ever-present environment, is actually a material medium. And then they might be inspired to do experiments to try to make ripples in the medium, to find its atoms, and so forth.

    Well, we’re like those fish. Human-physicists have discovered that we can get nicer, simpler accounts of how particles behave by assuming that we’re embedded in a medium, whose presence complicates the appearance of things.

    And as to the interplay of “charge” and field for all the forces …

    When space-time is curved, even the straightest possible paths acquire bumps and wiggles, as they must adapt to changes in the local geometry. Putting these ideas together: bodies respond to the topography of space-time.

    We can describe general relativity using either of two mathematically equivalent ideas: curved space-time, or metric field.

    Once it’s expressed in terms of the metric field, general relativity resembles the field theory of electromagnetism. In electromagnetism, electric and magnetic fields bend the trajectories of electrically charged bodies, or bodies containing electric currents. In general relativity, the metric field bends the trajectories of bodies that have energy and momentum. The other fundamental interactions also resemble electromagnetism. In QCD, the trajectories of bodies carrying color charge are bent by color gluon fields; in the weak interaction, still other types of charge and fields are involved; but in all cases the deep structure of the equations is very similar.

  4. My guess at a table …

    Interaction/force Sway (‘charge’) Field(s) Boson(s)
    Gravity Energy-momentum Metric Higgs
    Electromagnetism Electric U(1) EM, photon Photon
    Weak Weak isospin SU(2) W, Z W, Z
      Weak hypercharge    
    Strong Color SU(3) Gluon Gluon

    Wiki: The weak interaction does not produce bound states nor does it involve binding energy – something that gravity does on an astronomical scale, that the electromagnetic force does at the atomic level, and that the strong nuclear force does inside nuclei.

    Wiki: At high energy the weak force and electromagnetic force are unified as a single electroweak force.

    References:

    Wiki: Charge (physics)

    Wiki: Special unitary group – The group of unitary matrices with determinant 1.

    Wiki: Unitary group – More general unitary matrices may have complex determinants with absolute value 1, rather than real 1 in the special case.

    Thanksci: Gauge Symmetries

    “Charges of various kinds are always carried by fields which are complex.” – Leonard Susskind, New Revolutions in Particle Physics: The Standard Model Lecture 7, Stanford, YouTube (2010).

    So far we have considered particles moving around in real space. Space translations. Time translations. Space rotations.

    Now we will investigate internal space transformations: U(1), SU(2), and SU(3). Call them gauge transformations.

    • Electric charge, and electrons and positrons transforming as representations of U(1)
    • Weak charge, spin, and isospin, and electrons, positrons, quarks, and anti-quarks transforming as representations of SU(2)
    • Color charge, and quarks and anti-quarks transforming as representations of SU(3)
  5. James Owen Weatherall provides a historical overview of the “physics of nothing” in his book “Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing (Foundational Questions in Science).”

    Indeed, understanding how the physics of nothing has changed with the advent of general relativity and quantum field theory is essential to understanding both what these theories tell us about the world and how dramatically they differ from classical theory.

  6. I found these remarks by science communicator and Forbes contributor Ethan Siegel interesting, in his Forbes article, “Ask Ethan: Are Quantum Fields Real?” (Nov 17, 2018), which contains some useful visuals.

    When all we had were classical fields, we stated that the fields must have some kind of source, like particles, which results in the fields existing all throughout space.

    In quantum physics, though, this seemingly self-evident fact is no longer true. Whereas classical physics defines quantities like position and momentum as properties of a particle, and those properties would generate a corresponding field, quantum physics treats them differently. Instead of quantities, position and momentum (among other quantities) now become operators, which allow us to derive all the quantum weirdness you’ve heard so much about.

    … in quantum field theory (QFT), quantum fields aren’t generated by matter. Instead, what we interpret as “matter” is itself a quantum field.

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