What is the Physics of Nothing?

Published: 2019-11-08 09:30:00
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The Universe is currently composed of unfathomable amounts of matter, including the human population, plants and the non-living as well as artificial objects. In particular, with the incessant and unstoppable advancement in technology, and the continuously burgeoning human population, it is hard to imagine what would become of the Universe suppose everything was to disappear from the face of it. Correspondingly, it is common to wonder what composed the Universe before everything currently in existence. The immediate and the easiest response to such questions is nothing. In the normal usage, the pronoun nothing connotes the inexistence of anything and is associated with nothingness. It is a common position that something cannot come out of nothing. The assertion is particularly true for most practical applications of the day-to-day life. However, the application of this assertion in science would mean that everything on the earth today came from something and not nothing as it is often insinuated. Otherwise, science has an alternative view and definition of nothing. Consider a classical specification of an electric field from the core of Maxwells equations. One readily pictures an electric field in a manner that the field fills space. In this case, the field can even be felt. For instance, if one places their hand next to the screen of an old-style television, it is possible to feel the static electricity. It is hard to imagine completely turning down the electric field to the point that one is left with a vacuum (nothing). On another note, with the same field and replacing the Maxwells equations with quantum electrodynamics, follow the same procedure. In this case, at the classical level of the field, there are fluctuations resulting from the uncertainty principle of energy, time. Thus, in this case, unlike in the classical description, the field may entirely disappear, but the fluctuations will remain. The quantum vacuum differs from the classical vacuum since it comprises fluctuations even after completely turning down the field. The physics of nothing draws from the quantum vacuum and is an exploration of the concept of universal nothingness.

The concept of the physics of nothing is an admittedly challenging concept whose basis is untenable in a literal sense and interpretation of the word nothing. Quantum vacuum is the most feasible, and easy way to explain the physics of nothing. In this case, it is considered the lowest state of energy of an empty space. It is also noteworthy that according to quantum physics, zero-point energy, also known as the ground state of the Universe, is not a state of zero energy, but a finite value (Siegel, 2016). The value is observationally measured and noted to be almost equivalent to the energy of the mass of one proton per cubic meter at a resting position. Additionally, it can be theoretically calculated. However, it is mysterious how the zero-point energy is static with respect to time. Contemporarily, the constancy of the zero-energy across the space is constrained at approximately 8% (Siegel, 2016). However, with the advancement in technology, the figure is expected to reduce drastically and give more reliable measurements. An actualization of the claim that the zero-point energy is constant throughout the Universe can only be realized through the measurement of the expansion of the earth over the years from different geographical locations across the globe. It is not lucidly clear whether that would equate to nothing in the sense of physics and science. Even so, the current understanding of science is not a mere illusion, but a firm ground for gaining a comprehension of some of the most pivotal aspects of the Universe, especially regarding the concept of nothingness.

An ideal case of nothingness is that in which the Universe has nothing completely in it. Such a situation would mean no energy, matter, spatial curvature or radiation. The only providence of such nothingness is the freedom to contract or expand as described by the nature of the particular nothingness. However, on the Planck scale (the tiniest physical scale), the space-time is not considered entirely flat. The empty space not only vibrates, but also curves, leaving an uncertainty in the content of the energy of the space-time at any time. On such scales, the quantum vacuum shows the basic uncertainty through a spontaneous creation of pairs of particles, and antiparticles for some time. Consider an ideal vacuum with two parallel and uncharged metal plates placed in it. Without any fluctuations, the force between the plates would largely be gravitational. However, if brought together, the plates would attract each other due to the vacuum fluctuations. In this case, the attractive forces are entirely quantum and depict the physical nature of nothingness. Remember that the empty space-time is also capable of expanding. Therefore, suppose the Universe is capable of expanding fast enough, the fluctuations can engage in the expansion of the space-time in a manner that they fail to re-annihilate and stretch across the empty space-time of the Universe (Siegel, 2016). Thus, it follows that if the Universe earlier existed in the state of false vacuum, the fluctuations would be ongoing for as long as it remains in the same state. However, the state is temporal, and the Universe would reach a relatively stable state eventually. At this point, matter and energy will move from the metastable state to the newly attained stable state (reheating). The previously stretched quantum fluctuations then become regions of averagely imbalanced matter or energy. As the Universe stays in that state, the denser regions grow under the effect of gravity resulting in the existence of galaxies, stars and clusters that fill the contemporary Universe.

The physics of nothing further studies, explores and attempts to clear the confusion surrounding the concept of nothing, especially amidst the raging misunderstanding of the concept by scientists. Several definitions have been forwarded in an attempt to explain nothing. Besides the ground-state energy explanation, other scientists postulate that the concept may describe a state outside of both space and time with the emergence of space-time from a real state of nothing. Currently, there is no body of evidence pointing to the existence of such a state. On another note, the nothing could also mean the nothingness of the Universe we live in, whose premise may differ from that of other areas of the Multiverse. Finally, it may also mean the cosmic vacuum with varying virtual energy. Many physicists contend that there is no holistic way to gain an understanding of any universal aspect without understanding nothing. However, the current human and scientific understanding of nothing is partial and inarguably insufficient. It is insufficient in the sense that there is a complete comprehension of the fundamental laws governing the empty space-time while the origin of those laws is not yet clear and whether the laws qualify as a thing. From that point of view, it suffices to say that the Universe is a product of nothing and may asymptote to the same nothing after a considerably long time. However, that would only be possible following an acceptance of the physics of nothing as true nothingness.

Reference

Siegel, E. (2016, September 22). What Is The Physics of Nothing? Starts With A Bang. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/09/22/what-is-the-physics-of-nothing/#504412341451

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